The Seattle Weekly brings up a Futurewise argument that zoning restrictions near the “Central Link” are too restricting to attract the sort of TOD that is necessary to create walkable neighborhoods (the post’s title about gentrification is a little bit misleading). Futurewise’s with several other agencies are encouraging the city council to create “demonstration projects” near Link stations that will allow for taller buildings and faster design reviews with taller heights. Land-use blogs have been calling for taller buildings near rail stations for some time.

It’s true that most of the zoning near the stations is still four stories max, and that really isn’t enough. The worry I have is that the area near the stations gets built to the current max very quickly, and that after the taller heights are proposed, it’ll be too late for the taller buildings to get constructed; there’s little money to be made tearing down a three story building to construct an eight story building. It does look like at least one huge piece of land near a link station could be available in the next few years, the Loews site on Rainier Ave near the Mt Baker station. According to the Central District News Loews might move into the Goodwill development on Dearborn and Rainier, which could open up about ten acres for possible TOD a block and a half from the station that is supposed to be the South End’s hub for transit. What would be a better test than that?

What do you think, do we need higher zoning near light rail stations?

9 Replies to “TOD Demonstration Project”

  1. As someone who lives very close to a station, yes, yes, yes.

    Not only is there an environmental imperative to pack as many people as possible close to the few stations that exist in this region, but also having more households around will make it easier to provide some of the amenities within walking distance that are currently lacking (e.g., a grocery store near Columbia City station).

  2. Just look at our neighboring Pacific NW cities: Vancouver and Portland.

    Vancouver has probably done the best job. If you look at the city of Burnaby from far away, you can see a strip of beautiful high-rise condos stretching from east to west, surrounding the east-west Skytrain Expo line. Need I say more?

    As for Portland, their TODs are a bit smaller than Vancouver’s, but it’s still pretty good. Closer to the suburban stations, TODs consist of townhouses or four-story condos, but I think that’s fitting for Portland’s smaller population (compared to Seattle and Vancovuer).

  3. I also live very near a station (3 minute walk to the platform!) and think higher zoning for for-profit development would be positive. However, what’s the history of high rise buildings in a valley? Perhaps high rise buildings make more sense on Beacon Hill (6+ stories) than in Rainier Valley where buildings would only look out into the side of the hill.

    Part of the problem of the mt baker station area is how devoid of light it feels almost any day of the year – wedged there between two hills. It seems like density in the form of high rise buildings together with large open spaces (not parking lots) would make it a more inviting place to dwell in.

  4. Definately upzone. Here and at all stations. I’m not sure why it wasn’t done before we even started the central link project, but it’s not too late. Without TOD at stations, we’ve really built just an airport-downtown connector.

  5. Low density zoning is what has kept this region sprawling. Some of it is due to pressure from residents (I can’t believe Capitol Hill was just upzoned not too long ago) and some of it due to SDOT’s level of service models saying the roads can’t take more population. I hope their models are reflecting that the roads will be less impacted by having rail transportation. Otherwise, we will never be able to upzone or we will remain in the road-building mentality where all increases in density must be accompanied by increase in road capacity (look at Bellevue’s plans for the Bel-Red area, alongside the rail alignment they are planning on humongous roads which are “required” to accommodate the growth). Besides sucking the life out of areas, ginormous roads encourage more driving and make taking transit less attractive, undermining the whole idea of building an awesome rail network.

  6. Yes, by all means let’s do some upzones around Link light rail stations (two stations still have single-family zoning at their doorstep!), but please, let’s do it in the context of neighborhood planning.

    Yes, it’s more “Seattle process” but if done right, with some hard deadlines and genuine engagement, we can achieve some neighborhood buy-in. Certainly much more so than following the usual City Hall-driven, top-down model. No sense starting neighborhood wars again if we don’t have to (and I’m a veteran of many).

  7. 4 stories? 8 stories?

    You should be thinking 40 stories or 80 stories. To maximize the usage of transit, people are happiest when they don’t have to walk far to get it. To really accomplish this, you have to think big and build some serious skyscrapers.

    The purpose of the skyscraper is NOT to have a great view (though sometimes you get one as a side-benefit). The goal has and always been to maximize land usage. An apartment one block from a station is far, far nicer than one that is 4-10 blocks away.

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