About Matt Gangemi

Matt Gangemi is a mechanical engineer. He has commuted by carpool, bus, bike, scooter, feet, Monorail, and once by snowshoe.

Seattle with an 80m Sea Level Rise

There was recently a Grist article about Andrew Thaler’s easy technique to visualize sea level rise.  His maps show the near complete loss of some cities with the worst-case 80m sea level rise.  This is roughly the level at which the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have completely melted, along with the world’s glaciers. I’m not a climate scientist, but WUnderground has a good description of the current (3.1mm/yr) and predicted future sea level rise.  They describe the IPCC’s prediction for “most likely” rises of 0.8 to 2 m by 2100.  I include this to say the 80m level is a long, long time from now and only if things go terribly wrong.  But for entertainment purposes, here is Seattle at 80m sea rise, with more after the jump:


Boeing Field no longer looks like the best use of land.

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The Seattle Transit Gender Gap

Earlier today Frank posted an article about designing cities to help serve women and their transportation needs.  I thought I’d take a look at numbers for Seattle’s current mode splits.  All numbers are from the 2012 American Community Survey, and the percentages you see are the total number of commuters of a given mode and gender over the total number of commuters of any mode in that gender.

First, let’s look at the similarities.  There are similar numbers of commuters overall, with only 7% more male commuters than female (189,929M, 176,274F).  Male and female Seattleites drive in almost identical proportions (49.3%M, vs. 49.2%F).  They walk to work in similar proportions (10.1%M, 9.7%F), and work at home in similar ratios (7.2%M, 6.8%F).  But when we start looking at transit, the numbers start diverging.

Looking at “public transportation” as a group, women are well ahead of men (21.5%F, 18%M), and they keep this advantage when looking at buses in particular (20.5%F, 17.4%M) and “subway or elevated” (0.5%F, 0.3%M).  Even carpools have women leading men (9%F, 8%M).

Where men lead in alternative commutes is bicycling (5.6%M, 2.5%F) and taxis (1.8%M, 1.3%F).

Of course, one weakness of the ACS is that it only tries to capture commutes.  Like Vienna, it seems common in Seattle to have traditional gender roles of women running more errands than men, which might explain the 7% difference in number of commuters.  I’d love to see a study here that captures all trips, not just commutes.

As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that our STB meetups seem to have many more men than women, and all of our regular writers here are men.  Considering women dominate Seattle’s transit scene, it’s strange that we’re missing out on the female perspective or even a female voice.  If you have something to contribute, send it to us at contact@seattletransitblog.com.

Camping by Bus: Tolt MacDonald Park

Container

Shipping Container Cabin

Living in the Seattle area means having access to nature, even by bus.  There are blueberry farms you can ride to, hiking trails, and recently I discovered a campground with a bus stop at the entrance.

King County’s Tolt MacDonald Park is unlike any campground I’ve experienced.  It’s very close to the Seattle area, and just outside the city limits of Carnation.  From the campsite it’s a 13 minute walk to the grocery store, complete with Starbucks.  I wouldn’t be surprised if pizza delivery was available. [Read more...]

New Technology might make Queen Anne Subway Station Easier to Build

VSM

Girona, Spain – Shaft excavation under extremely confined conditions.

Last year King County tried out a new technology for the first time on US soil in Ballard. It’s called a Vertical Shaft Machine (VSM), and it’s a little like a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), but gravity makes the process easier. A TBM is a complicated machine that bores horizontally, pushing its way forward, carrying dirt out the side, and carrying concrete sections in. A VSM, however, can remove soil using a pumped water slurry. Also, concrete sections are simply added to the top, dropping down as the machine digs deeper. This results in a much simpler operation than a TBM, yet one that’s faster, safer, and requires a smaller footprint than traditional shaft construction. King County Project Representative Marty Noble says “In the 35 years I’ve been in this business I’ve never seen a shaft constructed in such difficult soil and ground water conditions and turn out as well as this one.” He says that caisson shafts are normally limited to 60-70 feet in depth but the VSM shaft was 150 deep and is “the best looking shaft I have ever seen.”

The Ballard shaft was only 9 meters wide, but could such a technology be used for building subway tunnels? The shaft built to reach the Beacon Hill station was 15 meters wide. Sebastian Berblinger of Herrenknecht, the maker of King County’s VSM, says that they currently build 16 meter wide VSM’s and have plans for up to 33 meter VSMs in the research and development stage. Sebastian tells me that a 16 meter wide VSM can generally build an 85 meter deep shaft, which would more than cover the depth we’d need for a Queen Anne station (Uptown has an elevation of around 43 meters, and the top of the Counterbalance is around 114 meters). And it could build it fast – up to 5 meters deep per work shift. VSMs have been used to build subway lines in Italy, Russia, and a high speed rail line in Spain.

Of course there would be other technical issues with a deep subway station such as elevator speed and capacity. But it’s encouraging that this new technology has the potential to make the physical depth of construction a smaller problem.

Hertz joins the Car-Sharing mix in Seattle

First there was Zipcar*, offering a membership-based car sharing service with cars distributed throughout the city.  Then came Car2Go, as a one-way, park-most-anywhere complement to Zipcar’s service.  Add in bicycles, regular taxis, all of the taxi alternatives (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar), our extensive bus system, streetcars, a monorail, and our light rail system, and there are real alternatives to car ownership in Seattle.  Rental cars have always been an option as well, but with their typically slow checkout systems it’s been hard to justify renting one for less than a 24 hours.

Enter Hertz 24/7.  The newest car-sharing strategy has started small** and without fanfare in April of this year in Seattle, though they’ve had some version of the service since 2008 in some cities and college campuses.  There are currently only seven cars in the Seattle area, spread among five Hertz locations, and one car at the Auburn airport.  Like Zipcar, they’re round-trip rentals, they charge by the hour or day, there’s an app to find and reserve a car, and you use a key fob to rent your car without any paperwork.  Unlike Zipcar there’s no membership fee, but they aren’t parked in neighborhoods - you have to visit a Hertz location.

The five available cars currently run between $9.59 and $12.78 per hour on a weekday depending on the car.  Daily rentals currently start at $71.89 – a price that actually beats the cheapest traditional daily rental from the same lot ($84.37 after tax).

One interesting aspect of Hertz 24/7 is that in New York City they have one-way rentals to airports.  Hertz tells me they will offer this in Seattle in the future.  Considering the cars start at around $9 an hour this can be a very convenient choice for frequent flyers that don’t live near Link.

One odd piece of their marketing strategy is that “Hertz is taking the lead in installing ‘on demand’ technology in its entire fleet with its Hertz 24/7 service, thus bringing the car sharing/hourly rental option out of urban environments and into the suburbs.”  First, I’d think suburban car sharing might be limited in usefulness based on the difficulty of accessing a car without good transit.  Second, there aren’t any cars available outside of Seattle or airport locations in the Seattle area.

* originally Flexcar in Seattle

** And by “small” I mean very small – out of the  35,000 vehicles they equipped for this service, the Seattle ended up with 7, plus one at the Auburn airport.  Hertz tells me this will increase and maybe we’ll get a larger share of the 500,000 vehicles they plan to have available by 2016.

Vote by Tomorrow

Tomorrow is election day. So finish your ballot and mail it in.

STB’s endorsements for the primary are here and here.

DPD to Double Required Parking for aPodments

 

Micro-housing project, photo from DPD

Micro-housing development, photo from DPD

Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development has published recommendations regarding how micro-housing should be regulated.  The changes include:

  • Double required parking from 1 space per 8 micros (up to 8 micros per “unit”) to 1 parking space per 4 micros.
  • New requirement for bike parking: 1 space per 4 micros.
  • Potentially adding design review by setting design review levels based on square footage rather than number of units.
  • Prohibits new construction and major renovation of single family homes that include micro dwelling units with bathrooms

This fourth point is particularly strange.  Single family homes presumably will still be able to rent out up to 8 rooms, as currently allowed by code.  Therefore it appears to only outlaw adding bathrooms to single family homes.  The trouble of course is deciding what is a micro and what is just a bedroom with a bathroom.  They do add a requirement that “micro dwelling units are to be indicated and noted on plans and permits”, which seems to leave it up to the developer whether you’re building a micro-unit or just a bedroom with a bathroom.

I understand DPD’s desire to keep control over this new building style, but the best way to make micro-housing affordable is to keep regulations light.  Adding parking and design review will add cost to these projects, which will result in fewer units being built.

Draft Waterfront Streetcar Study Released

Terse cynical version of story:

Breaking: Study finds that buses are cheaper to run on the waterfront than streetcars. Metro not asked whether bus route 99 was a hit, or whether electric buses would be quickly value engineered into regular diesels.

Slightly longer and less biased version:

Waterfront Seattle, Parametrix, and LTK Engineering Services have produced a set of documents that provide a detailed analysis of what it would take to reinstate the Benson Waterfront Trolley as well as a complete comparison of two classic trolley options, a modern streetcar option, and two bus options.

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Lagos gets a Free Gondola System

They started last year, and plan to have their system running in 2015.  They’ll have 13 stations, 8 miles of travel, and expect 250,000 passengers per day at opening with a full capacity of over a million passengers per day.  It will be a privately funded system, paying for itself with farebox recovery.  Because of poor power reliability in Nigeria they’ll build two redundant generators at each station that needs power.  They’ll have cameras and intercoms in each of the 300 cabins.  The total cost of the system will be $500M, and fares will be between $1.28 and $1.92 per trip.

I’m not proposing we build such a large system here, and such a system would certainly cost more in Seattle than Lagos.  But surely a line or two connecting our subway system to areas of potential ridership couldn’t be that bad an idea.

Infographic from Trico Capital

(via The Gondola Project)

The Cheapest House in Seattle

Tiny Home (Google Streetview)

The house in front of Seattle’s cheapest house (Google Streetview)

(edit: as pointed out in the comments, the correct house is hiding behind the home in the picture)

Real estate blog SeattleBubble runs an occasional series titled Cheapest Homes, where blog author The Tim finds the cheapest homes in Seattle.  I love this month’s cheapest house.  $136k, 0 bedrooms, 360sf.  Apodment meets single family home.  With a 30 year mortgage assuming no down payment and 4% interest that’s $650 a month (well, plus taxes, insurance, and utilities unlike aPodments).  Not nearly as walkable as aPodments, but you get quite a yard (there’s more behind the house).

Note that the 3,000 sf of land it’s on, that could fit more than 8 of these cottages, is well under the nominal minimum lot size for Seattle of 5,000sf.  You simply couldn’t build on this “small” of a plot of land without being grandfathered in.

Of course, in a logical world we’d let people build, say, 4 of these on that piece of land, each with up to a 390sf yard, and this would tend to make them even more affordable.  If enough people wanted this type of housing it would boost densities in our single family neighborhoods without changing their character, which could lead to better retail nearby and better transit.  Seattle’s coming to a reasonable compromise on our rules for some new small homes, allowing them on lots as small as 2,000sf* in exchange for not allowing them to be built tall.  But I’d love to see us go further and remove minimum lot sizes for tiny homes like these.

* But only for plots that were created before 1957, with the correct documentation.  This does not change the minimum of 5,000sf in most cases, and you can’t simply divide existing lots.

aPodments move to the Exurbs

Snohomish2

Homes near Snohomish HS

What do the neighbors say when a real estate company tries to convert a run-down single family home in Snohomish that’s been empty since 2008 into “aPodments” renting for $400 to $500 a room?  Sing along, I think you know the tune by now:

But the plan is upsetting neighbors, who argue that the proposal would hurt the character of the neighborhood…

[neighbor Ardie McLean] worries that apodments chiefly attract people without any investment in the community.

To be fair, this Snohomish rooming house will be in a single family zone, whereas Seattle’s aPodments are being built in multifamily zones.

I’m strongly in favor of car-free dense housing in general in the more transit-friendly places in our state’s most transit-friendly city.  But what about in the far suburbs?  I’m generally not a fan of adding housing in the exurbs: they’re generally sprawled, take a large amount of resources, and require a large amount of driving both for a commute and for daily tasks.  But on the other hand, I prefer to pull population toward our cities by allowing more people to live here, not by outlawing homes in the exurbs.  I’m having trouble imagining who would want to live in a $500 room in Snohomish, but I don’t see any reason to block the development.

So what do you think.  Exurban aPodments: for or against?

An Appeal to Megacommuters

commute time 2

Average commute times, WNYC map.

There was an excellent piece in the Slog on Monday, based on both NYU work and a US Census graphic, showing that the Seattle area both ranks 10th in longest commutes, and that we have the 3rd fastest growth for long commutes.  The census piece introduced me to the term megacommuter, someone that commutes over 90 minutes and 50 miles each way.  One out of every 122 full time workers in the US is a megacommuter, and 10.8 million in the US commute more than an hour each way.  With so many megacommuters out there, I’ve decided to address them directly.

Dear Megacommuter,

I don’t know your situation.  I can think of at least a few tragic life situations that would keep me commuting with over 20% of my waking, non-working life(1).  But if you’re similar to a friend of mine that commuted this far just to have a large home, I’d like to make sure you have really thought through your choice.

Let’s take a look at the money you’re spending on this commute.  Looking at only tangible vehicle costs, ignoring softer numbers like the increased number of accidents you’ll be in, the cost of your reduced health from increased hours of sitting, etc., you’ll spend around $220,000 over the length of a 30 year mortgage by driving 50 miles each way(2).

Now let’s look at these 15+ hours a week you’re spending commuting.  If you plowed just half of those back into work by living close by, and made the median income in Seattle of $61,000, over those same 30 years you’d make an extra $229,000 after taking a third out for taxes and assuming no bonus for overtime or promotion for all of your dedication(3).  But rather than working those hours you could spend time with your family, start a hobby, or go to school.  Or you could take 293 extra weeks of vacation(4).

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To get Frequency, we need Speed

Bruce’s excellent post boils down the importance of frequency.  If there’s currently a long time between vehicles, cutting this time in half can shorten travel times even more than speeding up trips.  However, it’s important to consider how a city or county can go about increasing frequency.

Option 1: Provide more transit.  In theory this is easy.  Double the number of vehicles and drivers, and you cut wait times in half.  Of course in the real world we often live with fixed budgets, and adding buses and drivers simply isn’t an option.

Option 2: Condense service into corridors.  Instead of adding service, we can remove some routes and move buses to others.  This results with a set of frequent buses, but a further walk for some riders.

Option 3: Speed up service.  Although Bruce’s post contrasted speed with frequency, one can actually benefit the other.  If a single vehicle and driver can run a route twice in the time it used to take them to run it once, then you’ve doubled not only speed, but also frequency and vehicle capacity as a bonus.

As Seattle builds up a streetcar network, let’s not forget Option 3.  Giving streetcars their own right-of-way, giving them signal priority, and designing the street for quick boardings can speed them up tremendously.  And with this speed comes higher frequency at the same operating cost.

#27, #60 will Detour through April

The quick and easy trip up Yesler will be a little less quick for the next few months, starting this Saturday.  Those that frequent the #27 know that construction for the First Hill Streetcar has been getting more and more involved on Yesler between 8th Ave E and 12th Ave E, and starting tomorrow this stretch of road will be closed for three weeks.  However, the buses that run on this route will continue to detour until April 4.

For more on the detour, visit SDOT’s First Hill Streetcar page.

27 reroute

Land Footprint – Seattle is Not Dense

This is part 2 of a series.

In the previous post on this series, I looked at the idea of a residential land footprint – the amount of land each person takes up for their home.  I also created a chart (updated here) that shows the different living conditions in the Seattle metropolitan area.

The best use of this land footprint curve is to have an easy way to compare the land use of our region to other regions.  I chose five metropolitan areas that I thought would be interesting to compare to Seattle.

NYC

New York City stands alone in the US with regard to land footprint.  The average person uses far fewer square feet of land.  This is accomplished by stacking residences, allowing more people to share the same amount of land.  Note that peak of 300 sf per person might be uncomfortable in a single-story world (keep in mind this includes your share of yard, street, and alley), but by building up each person can have as much floor space to live while using the same amount of land.

LA, SF

I was surprised by these two.  I had imagined Los Angeles to be more sprawled the San Francisco, but they have very similar curves.  It’s interesting to see where the curves cross – SF has more very dense construction, then the curves cross at around 500sf/person.  LA has more moderate density units, and at around 4,000sf/person they cross again, leaving SF with more spread out housing than LA.  Of course, LA’s metropolitan area only includes LA County and Orange County – and the sprawl I always think of extends beyond these areas.

Portland, Seattle, Phoenix

Portland and Seattle are similar.  Seattle has more dense housing, Portland had more mid-density housing, and they align again as housing spreads out.  However, the most common living condition is significantly more dense in Portland than Seattle (~3,000sf/person vs. ~4,000sf/person).  I had included Phoenix just to show what I thought of as a large sprawling city, but was surprised by the curve.  Yes, Seattle has many more people living 2,000sf/person than Phoenix, but Phoenix peaks near Portland at 3,000sf/person then stays lower than Seattle up through the higher footprint homes.

My Interpretation of the Curves (I’d love to hear yours in the comments)

Comparing Seattle to these five cities, it’s clear that we have a large land footprint.  In the most common living condition, a Seattlite takes up a tenth of an acre for their share of their home alone.  Add in the roads and freeways to get to your home (road area likely increases with land footprint), your children’s school footprints (there aren’t many multi-story schools around here), your workplace land footprint, the footprint of your grocery store, and we’re talking about a large amount of land per person.  This is wasteful of our forests, our farms, and increases the distance and time needed to travel to any destination.

How do we move the peak of our footprint curve to the left?  One way is through good transit.  NYC started with an above ground railway over 140 years ago, which continued as a great subway system, and expanded from there.  Building good transit that takes up little street space helps encourage development with small land footprints – your commute is shorter the closer you live to a transit stop, so building up allows for more people to live at these valuable locations.  SF and LA had similar histories, except using streetcars and cable cars.   Streetcars aren’t quite as good at concentrating residences as subways, as they stop more frequently.  Seattle and Portland also had streetcar histories, but much of our growth came after streetcars were removed and cars became the standard mode of transportation.  Of course there’s a lot more to land use than transit – for instance we’ll need to allow growth through zoning – but good transit is certainly a strong force in creating a small land footprint.

 

All cities percent

 

 

Land Footprint – Update

In the first post in this series, there were some great recommendations on how to change the land footprint graph.  In my original version, I graphed the number of blocks in our region that fall into a given land area per person.  The suggestion was to instead plot the number of people living at a given land area per person.  I’ve taken it a step further and plotted percentage of people living at a given land area per person.  For example, 0.52% of people in our region have a land footprint of around 600sf per person, which corresponds with the Capitol Hill picture below (the bottom left). Graphing using the percentage of total population will allow me to compare regions of different size on the same graph, which will be useful in my next post in this series.

Seattle Density Curve w pics percent

Connecting the Dots on Housing

tannerwood 2

Tannerwood, North Bend. The developer calls this “low impact development”.

It’s not often that national news and policy affects us directly, but there’s at least one issue that affects everyone: housing.  The US has built in incentives to sprawling houses for decades, and a recent report estimates this subsidy at $450B a year.  The Atlantic Cities published an excellent summary of this report this Tuesday that’s worth reading. 

Smart Growth America’s report counted 50 federal programs that lean on the real estate scales in some way, whether through tax credits like the home mortgage interest deduction, loan guarantees through the Small Business Administration or Federal Housing Administration, or grants for low-income housing. The report did not count investments by so-called “Government-Sponsored Enterprises” like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It didn’t include non-direct spending on things like transportation or water infrastructure that also has a major impact on real estate. And it didn’t include federally owned real estate (of which there is a lot)…

Stepping back and looking at the whole collection, it’s clear that the federal government has favored many types of development at the expense of others, often with weak or outdated logic. The government dramatically favors homeowners over renters. Its support is heavily skewed toward single-family homes over multi-family developments (the FHA, for instance, funneled just one-tenth of its $1.2 trillion in loan guarantees over the past five years toward multi-family housing).

The mortgage interest deduction – a program first created in 1913 with the ostensible aim of boosting homeownership – curiously encourages investments in second homes. As we’ve written before at Cities, that massive tax break also primarily benefits upper-income households, despite its billing as a boon for the middle class.

In another story published in the Atlantic on the same day, it’s estimated that sprawling development will kill off tens of millions of acres of forest in the US by 2050:

Scientists at the U.S. Forest Service and partners at universities, non-profits and other agencies predict that urban and developed land areas in the US will increase 41 percent by 2060. Forested areas will be most impacted by this expansion, with losses ranging from 16 to 34 million acres in the lower 48 states. The agency highlighted the results of a new study in a press release issued last month.

And forests aren’t the only land we’re losing:

In 2010, a study by the American Farmland Trust found that 41 million acres of rural land had been permanently lost in the preceding 25 years to highways, shopping malls, and other development. The rate of recent farmland loss at the time of AFT’s report was an astounding acre per minute.

Bringing this all back to a local discussion, let’s look at for-sale housing inventory in King County:

Another record low for inventory, dropping below 4,000 single-family homes for the first time on record.

The next building cycle will probably come sooner rather than later, and if we get federal policy right maybe we can build up instead of out, saving the farmland and forests that help make this region great.

Garages are Not for Cars

I came across an interesting statistic the other day.  A public radio Marketplace episode cited 2/3rds of all garages aren’t used to store cars.  Searching the web for more details I found it’s estimated that 70-80% of Seattle’s garages are used only for non-car storage, and a 2001 UCLA study found that “Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store cars because they were so packed with stuff.”  This was a small but detailed study, and I’d love to find better data.

This brings up a few land use points:

1. Why are we requiring new residential homes to build parking?  Not only does this make housing significantly more expensive, we’re likely wasting most of this money.

2. I wonder how elastic street parking is.  My guess is very elastic.  Our streets are all lined with cars parked for free on the street.  How many of these cars would be moved into garages if parking was difficult or expensive enough?

3. Man we have an addiction to stuff.  I’ve stayed with people in Indonesia and India that had very little, yet seemed very happy.  What is it about our culture that requires so much clothes, toys, and knicknacks.

Land Footprint – an Introduction

This is Part 1 of a series.

Just as we each have a carbon footprint, we each have a land footprint. A three person household in a home on 6,000 sf of land (including half the street in front of their home and half the alley) takes up 2,000 sf each person. As the average land footprint decreases, the square footage each person lives in might even remain the same as one story houses go to two or as two story apartments go to six, but the distance they have to walk to the store is lower. In addition to being more walkable, areas with smaller average land footprints can have better transit, pave over fewer forests and farmland, require less roads, sidewalks, sewer lines, electricity distribution, etc.

Using US Census data, we can see what kind of land footprint distribution an area has. This can tell us the most common living conditions in an area, and allows us to see how far apart people live in that area. This can also be helpful in comparing land footprints of different cities. Simply dividing the land area of a city by the number of people doesn’t work, since city boundaries are different and politically defined.

Below is what I’m naming a residential land footprint curve. The smallest geographical elements the US Census publishes data for is called a “block”. In cities these are often physical blocks bounded by streets, and outside of cities geographical boundaries are generally used. The Census Bureau has divided the US into 8.2 million blocks. All I’ve done is taken data from Seattle’s metropolitan area (the census definition is: King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties) and sorted the number of square foot per person in each block into “bins” of 100, then plotted the number of blocks in each bin. For example, there are 2 blocks in Metropolitan Seattle that have a density of between 0 and 100 square feet per person, 15 blocks between 100 and 200, 29 between 200 and 300, etc.

This curve allows us to easily identify the land footprint characteristics of a metropolitan area. For Seattle we can see that the most common living condition is around 3,800 square foot per person. Below that there’s a fairly linear distribution down to the densest blocks. This is mirrored above 3,800 until we reach around 7,000, where we start seeing a more gentle decrease. Few “blocks” (however they’re defined in rural areas) have 40,000 or more square foot per person inside our metropolitan area, but they do exist (I’ve truncated the chart to keep it readable).

In the chart below I’ve added pictures of actual blocks, to help visualize what these land footprints look like. The picture on the bottom left is a block on Capitol Hill, one of the 81 blocks with a density between 400 and 500 sf per person. At the top of the curve is a block in Magnolia, one of the 654 blocks with a density between 3,700 and 3,800 sf per person. On the right is an area in Renton, one of 47 blocks that have between 14,900 and 15,000 sf per person.

In my next post in this series I’ll compare Seattle’s land footprint curve to curves from other cities.

Seattle Density Curve w pics

There are More than Two Sides to Small Lots

The Seattle Planning Commission held a panel debate this Wednesday featuring two sides: the developers v. the neighbors, with a Planning Commission representative in the middle.

The Issue

Over the past year there’s been construction of single family homes on small lot sizes, using loopholes in Seattle’s land use code. Because our building codes were written for certain minimum lot sizes, many of these homes have smaller than usual setbacks, and often feel like they’re quite tall (though technically built to the same height allowed for other homes). Also, because these small lots were at one time pieces of other lots they are sometimes located in what would normally be a back yard. The result can be a tall home built in a back yard with little setback, which understandably generated neighbor complaints. Last month this resulted in emergency legislation to end small lot construction until permanent rules could be put in place. Wednesday’s discussion was the next step in creating permanent rules.

The Panelists

On the developer’s side, Michael Ravenscroft (actually a realtor) described a vision of busy neighborhoods, dense neighborhoods, and continued housing construction. He argued that single family construction is needed drastically, and because of limiting codes very few homes have been built in Seattle.

In the middle, architect Brad Khouri advocated for diversity of structures in our neighborhood. He wants something supportive of the growth that’s happening in Seattle, and wants to find some room for affordability.

On the neighbor’s side, John Taylor explained that we buy homes rather than rent them because we want predictability, to control our house and to some extent control our neighbors. He believes standards should be well understood and not change. He used quite a few anti-development talking points (“out of character”, “open space”, “blocks light”), and implied that there should be a strict minimum of 2,500sf lot size in Seattle.

The Compromise
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