Pro-growth group tries to halt height rollback in Seattle’s lowrise neighborhoods


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.

11 thoughts on “Pro-growth group tries to halt height rollback in Seattle’s lowrise neighborhoods

  1. Does our neighborhood really need the “thousands of housing units that otherwise could be built”? There are already thousands of units in the works, to add to what is already here. Enough is enough!

    Smart Growth Seattle is clearly a developer group, and they are not altruistically interested in adding more density to our City. It’s all about the additional profits they would make….on the backs of neighborhood residents.

    • I would not assume it is purely profit-motivated, but SGS and Valdez in particular show no regard for the livability of the neighborhoods. To hear their descriptions of what they want sounds like sterile downtown Bellevue with Soviet housing blocks. Valdez et al promote growth and transit at all costs, but always fail to include the livability, charm, historic context and preservation, and diversity of lifestyles.
      Aside from the buildings erected by non-profits, there have been no new buildings on Cap Hill that offer affordable studios and 1-2 bedrooms, only apodments. As the article says, we are still waiting for all that supply to lower the rents.

    • The short answer is “Yes,” our city really does need those thousands of units of housing that may be prevented by downzoning. Why? Because people are deciding to move back into central cities. Those who lazily blame “greedy developers” as the cause for the changes going on in Capitol Hill have it backwards. When a property owner completes a new apartment project, he doesn’t have to round-up hundreds of people at gun point to move into his new building. Rather, the building is filled by demand that already exists. And if that demand isn’t already in place, then the developer loses money, and other developers will take note and not build. That’s how it works in a free market economy. Blame the greedy developer, fine. But the initial force driving all the residential construction are the multitude of individuals–your neighbors–deciding they want to live in a dense, transit-rich neighborhood like Capitol Hill.

      Also, your slander of Roger Valdez as taking money for his views on density or fronting for a “developer group” are unsupported. If you have information that proves this, then post it. Otherwise, don’t denigrate the discussion by resorting to Tea Party tactics of exaggeration and extreme hyperbole. Please have more respect for your neighbors than that.

  2. I look out at a 6 floor building constructed in a LR3 zone so our current zoning laws aren’t working out very well. The way we zone property in Seattle needs to be rewritten and loopholes closed. I wish the city would buck up and take a stance, making zoning laws clear and enforce them.

    I’m all for changing height restrictions along transit corridors. The last thing we should want are stubby buildings built sidewalk-to-sidewalk rather we should favor taller, slender buildings requiring a percent be dedicated to those with lower incomes so the city is livable for everyone – not just those that can afford 3k/mo for a 1bdrm apartment.

  3. The antigrowth group is all elderly retired people who’s only concern is the value of their homes. Unfortunately they’re too dumb to realize that increased density and commercial activity will actually make their homes more valuable.

    • If you call 41 elderly then….ok. I’m gladly a proud member of this group of ‘dumb’ people when all I want is responsible density and livability of the city I love, but can’t get around anymore due to the outrageous growth and poor infrastructure planning. Soon the people farms will have taken over most of the cute urban villages that make Seattle Seattle – and I (dumb according to you) will be enjoying a lovely retirement off of my single family home when I sell it. Future generations won’t be so lucky in this town when all that can be found are 300 square foot cubes stacked on top of each other…but what do I know? I’m just old and dumb.

    • Your statement is not only an inaccurate generalization, but it is insulting and disrespectful to those who disagree with your point of view on this issue. I am a (small) homeowner, and I could care less about the value of my home…..that does not affect my slower-growth view in any way.

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