A bill designed to scale back the size of new housing projects, including future microhousing and townhouse developments around Capitol Hill, is finally moving forward with the Seattle City Council after nearly two years of wrangling between neighborhood residents and pro-density advocates.
However, one provision was left out of the bill after members of the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee said it would discourage developers from maximizing the living space inside their buildings. Then-City Council member Sally Clark initially proposed to remove an existing 4-foot height bonus and another floor-to-area ratio bonus for developers that included basement units in their projects.
The HALA committee, along with the developer-backed group Smart Growth Seattle, argued the bonuses were key to getting developers to build cheaper units and better amenities inside their buildings.
Basements provide space in projects for storage, mechanical spaces, laundry, bicycles, parking, as well as relatively affordable housing units. Removing the FAR exemption for partially below grade basements would encourage developers to create buildings without useful functional features and/or to move features from enclosed space to the building exterior and roof. This change could also discourage creation of less expensive market rate units in the partially below grade story.
Smart Growth director Roger Valdez said he was happy to see the provision left out of the current bill. “It doesn’t do the damage that the previous legislation would do in Lowrise 3 (zones) … It’s better, because its not going to wipe out a bunch of units,” he said.
Council member Mike O’Brien is slated to introduce the bill during Monday’s council meeting. The Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee will have its first hearing on the bill on May 19th.
The plan will establish an upper-level setback on street-facing facades and restrict the size of rooftop structures in order to prevent their use as additional floors. It also makes smaller tweaks to the calculation of the floor-to-area ratio, which compares interior floor space to the size of a structure’s plot.
The proposed zoning adjustments are a reaction to Clark’s 2010 changes to the multifamily zoning code that allowed for bigger buildings in areas zoned for lowrise development. Many neighbors later complained that new buildings were 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 create five stories in tightly packed apartment and microhousing buildings. In response, Clark put forward a set of code adjustments that were then approved by the Department of Planning and Development.
In October, the Seattle Hearing Examiner rejected an appeal from Smart Growth Seattle, which argued the new adjustments ignore increasing demands for development in the city.
Last fall, the City Council passed new legislation to better regulate microhousing in a set of rules that left the door open to more of the aPodment-style buildings to be developed in areas of Capitol Hill and the Central District.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee is on the clock for its May deadline for delivering recommendations for a plan to make Seattle a more affordable place to live.
UPDATE: Related to the discussion around the new legislation and the city’s affordability efforts, the Seattle Times posted a report this weekend about where population density is increasing fastest. You can check out the report and the interactive map here. “The densest census tract in Seattle — and for that matter, in the Pacific Northwest — has about 53,000 people per square mile. It’s located on Capitol Hill, just west of Cal Anderson Park,” the Times’s FYI Guy Gene Balk reports. Can we just put those “Belltown is more dense than Capitol Hill” arguments to bed now?