A pro-development advocacy group is taking a page from the slow-growthers of Seattle with an appeal of proposed City Council legislation seeking to roll back increased height limits in the city’s lowrise neighborhoods.
“Today Smart Growth Seattle filed an appeal of the City’s Determination of Non-Significance (PDF) for legislation that would roll back a decade of progress toward welcoming growth in transit oriented neighborhoods,” the organization’s director Roger Valdez wrote in a Thursday statement to media about the move.
In its appeal, Smart Growth Seattle’s contends that the city’s lowrise zoning is working well.
“If adopted, the currently proposed Lowrise Multifamily Zoning Code Adjustments would substantially restrict the development capacity in the City’s lowrise zones, eliminating thousands of housing units that otherwise could be built,” the appellant states. “Smart Growth Seattle’s position is that the current lowrise zones are working well, allowing appropriately scaled and a wide variety of multifamily housing that meets much of the housing needs in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill.”
The appeal was filed by the Cairncross and Hempelmann law firm. The full document can be found at the bottom of this post.
CHS reported earlier this year on some second guessing at City Hall as Council members faced criticism from anti-growth and slow-growth groups and neighbors who opposed larger developments and microhousing that they said was out of character with their neighborhoods. Planners told CHS lowering the height limits would mean fewer surprises for neighbors of new developments and would ensure those developments fit with the character of lowrise neighborhoods.
2013 was marked by a continued rise in housing costs on Capitol Hill as rents continued to soar and solutions like rent control became a serious part of political debate in the city. A report touted by the Seattle Times predicted that the city’s soaring rents may “stabilize” in 2014 — something that we haven’t seen any sign of… yet.
Typical of its style, Smart Growth Seattle used fighting words in describing the purpose of its appeal to the Hearing Examiner:
Last year a group of disgruntled and angry neighbors worked up an petition demanding a downzone in Seattle’s Low-Rise, or LR Zones. This petition was completely without any merit. Unfortunately, Councilmember Sally Clark embraced the petition and had legislation drawn up to impose a massive downzone of the City’s densest neighborhoods best equipped to handle coming growth.
Smart Growth Seattle is asking that the City start over and assess the serious impact on the environment that this legislation will have. To please angry neighbors, Councilmember Clark and the Department of Planning and Development are undoing the mandate of the Growth Management Act, shutting the door to new people moving into our city, forcing them to pay more for housing or, worse, living outside the Urban Growth Boundary.
Unfortunately, this legislation may not be grabbing headlines, but it is perhaps the most serious threat to smart growth the City has made in the last decade, threatening to remove lots of new housing supply. We hope the appeal is successful and the that the City reverses course, choosing instead to support efforts to welcome growth in our our most transit friendly and diverse neighborhoods.
The groundwork for the lowrise conflict was laid in 2010 when Sally Clark spearheaded an update to the multifamily zoning code that included allowances for higher buildings. With the first generation of buildings under the new code constructed, many neighbors have complained the buildings are too big and too tall. Where lowrise development is generally thought of as three to four-story townhouses and apartments, some developers have used incentives to cram five stories into tightly packed apartment and microhousing buildings.
The Hearing Examiner process has played out in a few Capitol Hill-related land use disputes in recent years. In 2011, the examiner ruled the plans for the Bullitt Center could move forward despite a neighboring landowner’s objections. More recently, anti-microhousing advocates temporarily put the brakes on new regulations for the aPodment-style developments before the Hearing Examiner ruled in favor of allowing the legislation to move forward.