City Council makes three requests for stemming Seattle microhousing ‘tsunami’

Data provided by the Capitol Hill Coalition at one City Council hearing illustrated the "tsunami" of microhousing hitting the city

Data provided by the Capitol Hill Coalition at one City Council hearing illustrated the “tsunami” of microhousing hitting the city

Powered by a set of community meetings to discuss the issue, members of the City Council have sent a set of “amendment requests” to the Department of Planning and Development as City Hall works to change the rules by which microhousing developments are regulated in Seattle. The full memo from Council members Tom Rasmussen, Nick Licata and Sally Clark is below.

The document calls for the development type — boarding house-style apartments that currently fit through wide-open loopholes in the city’s building and review codes — to be better defined and for new requirements that will pull the projects into a more regulated design and environmental review process. Here are the three amendment requests:

  • A new definition of “microhousing” for inclusion on the Seattle Municipal Code;
  • New design review thresholds that would apply specifically to microhousing; and
  • A revised method of counting dwelling units in microhousing projects for the purposes of SEPA review and tracking progress toward the achievement of 2024 neighborhood growth targets.

The memo also includes a secondary set of areas for DPD to review and provide more analysis about. You’ll find DPD has been set on task to review whether private bathrooms should be required, for example.

The full memo is below:

Microhousing Memo Final052413 by Chs Blog

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

5 thoughts on “City Council makes three requests for stemming Seattle microhousing ‘tsunami’

  1. The process of new regulations for microhousing seems to be going at a snail’s pace, but at least it is in the works….way overdue, and only because community groups are pushing for this (thanks, Real Density Seattle!).

    Some of the apodments that have been already built, or are nearing completion, are built to the property lines and tower above the other buildings on their street…..which seems a real insult to those who live nearby, and for that matter all that live in the neighborhood. I would like to see a height restriction to make them more compatible with existing structures, and also some setback requirements to make them less bulky/intrusive.

  2. “Some of the apodments that have been already built, or are nearing completion, are built to the property lines and tower above the other buildings on their street”

    “I would like to see a height restriction to make them more compatible with existing structures, and also some setback requirements to make them less bulky/intrusive.”

    I presume that DPD is holding them to the height, bulk, setback requirements in force for the zones in which they are being built: any other new building in that zone could be as bulky. People living in older, smaller homes in multifamily zones are often unaware of the zoning possibilities, and are surprised when large structures replace smaller ones. Zoning rules are deadly dull and technical, but I do recall that DPD did all the expected outreach when they were proposing changes a couple of years ago. I doubt that many of us paid much attention.

    Single family zoned areas are immune to the sudden appearance of large multifamily buildings next door, but of course come with the cost premium that reflects that. I suspect that is why many of us (consciously or not?) elected to buy less expensive single family residences in multifamily zones. During the long market depression that worked out well for us, but now we’re seeing the consequences.

    If we accept that growth and new residents need to be accommodated, then buildings have to go somewhere. Most of our city area is zoned single family (> 60%?) with only a small amount (7%?) in the multifamily housing zones that are the target of all the new growth: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cms/groups/pan/@pan/documents/web_informational/dpds022048.pdf

    ANY attempts over the last decades to increase density in single-family zones have been fought vehemently and successfully by the money and power of the people living there.

  3. Andrew, thanks for your insights. Yes, I would guess that the apodments are being built to code, which seems to allow building to the property line in multifamily zones. If so, I think the code should be changed to insist on at least some setback from property lines and to avoid the “shoehorned-in” look of these new buildings. No code should be set in stone for eternity.

    But what about the height of some of these apodments? Why are they being allowed to soar above surrounding buildings by several stories? (one example is the apodment in the 300 block of Summit Ave E). Are the developers exploiting a loophole to get additional height because the units are “affordable”? I hope this issue will be re-examined in the new regulations.

  4. Pingback: Steinbrueck makes his case for mayor with slow-growth base on Capitol Hill — ‘It’s not Not in My Back Yard’ | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  5. Pingback: City Council gets first look at Capitol Hill Station ‘transit oriented development’ plans | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle