UPDATE: Following a wave of criticism, the City Council’s land use committee has unanimously voted to strip out commercial zoning changes in lowrise and midrise neighborhoods from the Regulatory Reform package.
Allow ground-floor commercial uses in Lowrise 2 and 3 (LR2 and LR3) zones that are within urban centers or station area overlays (with permitted uses and standards similar to those in Midrise and Highrise zones)
“We need to do a better job of engaging with the community and having a dialogue,” Council member Mike O’Brien said.
Committee chair Richard Conlin said that he supports the amendment to remove the new zoning but that he still believes the changes in commercial zoning would be beneficial and that this part of the legislation might be taken up again. He also left the door open to punting on the idea altogether. “We may be wrong in our assessment,” Conlin said of the process that led to the creation of the small retail proposals.
Conlin said the remainder of the legislation will move forward.
Original Report: Capitol Hill residents again filled the City Council chambers Wednesday morning as Richard Conlin and the Council’s land use committee pushed forward on Regulatory Reform legislation that would overhaul the city’s development process and open up areas of multifamily-zoned neighborhoods to small commercial uses.
“I’ve just been in shock that my city council would even think to work this way,” one homeowner who addressed the committee said Wednesday morning.
Many called for the committee to postpone any decisions on Regulatory Reform until a more complete community process on Capitol Hill can be completed.
“Have you realized yet that you have awakened a sleeping giant?” another speaker asked. “You have united the people of Capitol Hill in a way that we’ve never been united before,” the man said.
Many speakers said they were longtime homeowners who had just become aware of the reform legislation last week as the Capitol Hill Coalition group increased its effort to spread the word about the potential commercial changes (see their flyer below) and the Capitol Hill Community Council approved a resolution opposing the measures.
Another speaker said the Council’s actions could “destroy an oasis of residential goodness forever.”
While the reform package is a citywide set of updates to zoning laws and regulations, some of the elements focused on areas near transit stations and within official “urban centers” apply singularly to Capitol Hill.
CHS began reporting on the sprawling Regulatory Reform legislation in March. In the time since, the council committee has attempted to shape the “corner store” elements of the package so that commercial changes would be limited to arterials, smaller retail spaces and even by restricting certain types of businesses in specific areas like banning restaurants from the lowrise/midrise commercial zones on Capitol Hill.
The proposed set of code overhauls was set in motion by a City Council resolution last spring setting up a framework for changes to Seattle’s regulatory structure to boost the economy and create more jobs in the city. City planners then worked with “a roundtable of business, environmental, and neighborhood leaders” to craft seven proposals that range from raising the number of living units a development must contain before triggering an environmental review to codifying home-based businesses.
The Seattle Times looked at that “roundtable” process and documented what it calls the power of “developer interest” in driving the eased development rules. “Records show the mayor’s group worked to stay out of public view and communicate “more confidential stuff,” as one put it, via private email,” the Times writes.
Beyond the issues around public process and the encroachment of mixed-use development into residential areas, other elements of Regulatory Reform have been lauded for its elimination of minimum parking requirements in areas served by mass transit and helping to potentially untangle the increasingly byzantine process of developing property in Seattle.
The committee is considering seven amendments that Council members hope will shape the legislation to help alleviate the fears voiced by the community members who spoke Wednesday morning:
- If commercial uses are ultimately allowed in Lowrise 2 and Lowrise 3 (LR2 and LR3) zones in Urban Centers and Station Area Overlay Districts, decrease the maximum permitted floor area of such uses from 2,500 to 2,000 square feet.
- Prohibit any commercial enterprises that locate in eligible LR zones from installing electric signs (non-illuminated signs and externally illuminated signs would be permitted).
- Allow businesses that locate in eligible LR zones to apply for street use permits to place merchandise displays in certain portions of the right-of-way.
- Require DPD staff to provide an annual report to the City Council on the number, type, and location of new commercial uses that may be permitted to operate in LR2 and LR3 zones in Urban Centers and Station Area Overlay Districts.
- Require commercial uses in multifamily zones to meet the same odor standards as apply in commercial zones.
- Clarify that the nightlife disturbance provisions in the Municipal Code apply to nonresidential uses located in any zone (see Item #7 on the agenda for the May 23 PLUS Committee meeting).
- Allow renewals of temporary use permits with terms of up to six months to be processed as Type 1 decisions, except for renewals of permits issued for transitional encampments and facilities for light rail transit construction, which would remain Type 2 decisions. Retain all other existing rules regarding the issuance and duration of temporary usepermits.