Hong Kong Skyline Pano
Hong Kong, photo by Mike McD

I generally support HB 1490, the TOD bill that TCC and Futurewise support and is now working its way through the State House.  The bill, which we’ve discussed here, here, here, here and here, among other things, requires zoning that would allow densities of 50 units per acre in a half-mile radius around “high capacity transit” stations. 50 units per acre is not exceptionally dense, about three stories of apartments, but even that much density can change the character of neighborhoods. Certainly we need more walkable communities and more housing around stations means more riders for transit, which means we get a better value out of our investment. But is this the best way to get it?

While I want those neighborhoods to change (that’s the point), the people living in those neighborhoods may not, and that’s where I get concerned. Won’t the increased density requirements make NIMBYs, who likely already don’t support train stations in their neighborhood, even more opposed? Won’t it make building light rail stations we’ve approved more difficult? Won’t it also give the NIMBYs more ammunition to fight against future rail expansions? They will easily be able to say “a vote for more light rail/commuter rail/etc is a vote for the destruction of your neighborhood!” This may not be a concern now, since we aren’t going to be voting on more light rail any time soon, but I’d hate if the reason that a future transit expansion vote was rejected was because residents in that area fought against it. I fully expect land around light rail stations to densify eventually, simply because the demand for denser communities has been rising steadily over the past decades. But does a one-size fits all system really make sense right now? South Bellevue is a very different place than Northgate or even the Rainier Valley. Would HB 1490 be a success if it pushed the station to the 405 alignment?

I still support the bill generally, but the potential answers to questions worry me, and just saying, “tough, NIMBYs are going to have to deal” is not a good answer. The last time Seattle told NIMBYs to keep quiet, they passed the CAP initiative and many other anti-development bills that increased sprawl dramatically. I know we need to do something about TOD, but I think we need to make sure we do it right.

68 Replies to “TOD Bill Concerns”

  1. Are those the right questions?

    How about these:
    If we don’t build density around stations and ridership is low, will we get new expansions?
    If we don’t build density and nothing around the stations changes, will other neighborhoods and cities want to spend their money building light rail?

    1. Those are good questions, certainly. It’s sort of a balancing act between making sure we get a good return on our investment, make sure the lines are successful, but don’t turn people off from building more transit.

  2. If a neighborhood doesn’t want dense areas around their station, then they shouldn’t get a station. Send it to my neighborhood instead.

  3. Right now South Bellevue really is ground zero for HB 1490, isn’t it? Surrey Downs is making the most noise and pushing for the 405 alignment. However the possibility of an upzone around South Bellevue P&R or SE 8th is sure to both harden the opposition and increase their numbers.

    1. Certainly. It’ll make what’s going on in the Rainier valley look like a pillow fight in comparison.

    2. South Bellevue is really the outlier as far as TOD goes. There isn’t much of anything along Bellevue Way directly, but the neighborhoods to the west are incredibly low-density and separated from the arterial by the hillside. However, the 1/2 mile radius would extend about half-way to Lake Washington, which is a very big part of the Enatai neighborhood. The same applies to Surrey Downs, as the SE 8th station (in alignment B2) would have a half-mile radius that covers the entire neighborhood. East Link will be delayed forever if this is the case.

      I’d say this is a case of one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. I like the bill in general but there should these two stations should be able to get an exception because they primarily serve park-and-rides (South Bellevue P&R and Wilburton P&R). The worst thing, in my opinion, would be for the Surrey Downs NIMBYs to succeed and the 405 alignment to be chosen.

      1. Do we want park-and-rides to be a long term solution? Doesn’t that increase, rather than decrease sprawl? People keep telling me that P&R’s are ok because some day they’ll turn into TOD. Exempting a station because it has a P&R sounds like we’re moving backward.

      2. It all depends on what the P&R is used for. Bellevue is an interesting case because most of its available land is already being used for low-density housing, and as a result there’s no place to make new sprawl. Also, the low density leads to infrequent and circuitous bus service. Even if we build lots of TOD, Link can serve a whole lot more people in Bellevue via P&R than via walking/transit alone.

        The solution to this would be to densify more of Bellevue (not just downtown and Bel-Red), add better local transit service, and eventually downsize the P&Rs, but that’s a process that could take decades. In the meantime we have to accommodate the transportation paradigms that already exist. This shouldn’t count as promoting sprawl because it won’t lead to new development on previously-unbuilt areas.

      3. As far as I can tell that’s the current usage pattern. Anyone coming from farther away already has better alternatives, in terms of direct bus routes from Renton or Issaquah to downtown. I highly doubt someone is going to drive all the way from Sammamish to South Bellevue P&R, just to take the train across the lake; they’ll just drive the entire way.

      4. Have they decided how high the tolls might be yet?

        Even with tolls though, aren’t going to drive to Bellevue just to take Link. If someone is amenable enough to transit to drive half-way and transfer to the train, they’re more likely to park at a P&R in Issaquah and take the 554 directly to downtown. I would say that P&Rs farther from the city (for example, Issaquah Highlands P&R) do encourage sprawl to an extent, but they’re not getting high-capacity transit anytime soon.

      5. The cost of parking is absolutely a reason people will take transit rather than driving. In fact based on my personal experience I believe it is a bigger reason people use transit to commute to work than traffic is (at least for workers in Downtown Seattle).

        I believe the plan with East Link is to have routes like the 554 that currently use I-90 terminate at South Bellevue P&R. I’m not sure what the current catchment area for this P&R is, but it is already a large and well-utilized P&R.

        I’d prefer people walk/bike/use transit for 100% of their trip, however if they drive to a P&R somewhere then take a bus and/or train to their final destination it still beats having them use a SOV for the entire trip. If providing service (bus and/or rail) to park & rides is what is needed to get more people to use transit and to get more political support for transit then so be it.

      6. But you’re missing the sprawl argument. What we’ve effectively done is make it easier and cheaper for someone to live in North Bend and commute to downtown. You’re saving the emissions from a few miles of car travel at the expense of a sprawled, forest encroaching, high square footage, high consumption, high heating and cooling energy lifestyle.

        The argument against this has always been that P&R’s are a short term fix until we can build up density around the stations. This is the last station that should be exempted.

      7. The thing is, South Bellevue P&R is at least 20 minutes away from anything I would consider to be new, ‘forest-encroaching’ sprawl. By this I’m referring to all the new development on the outskirts of Issaquah and Sammamish. Anyone from these areas is already served by Issaquah TC, Issaquah Highlands P&R, and South Sammamish P&R (which have >2000 parking spaces between them), and if they’re going to Seattle will just take the 216, 554, or 556 instead of Link. If you’re worried about sprawl it’s these P&Rs you should worry about, not ones that are in the middle of already-developed areas.

      1. No, my question was more of trying to educate myself from people here who know more about this stuff than I do. I’m trying to wrap my mind around why increasing density in the suburbs isn’t encouraging sprawl.

      2. Sam,

        I’m not the ultimate authority on the subject, but I’ll give it a shot.

        In my mind, sprawl is bad partly because it causes people to live far away from work and have time-consuming, expensive, polluting commutes. However, another bad impact is that your typical exurb has large lots, low densities, and total car dependence for all functions outside the house. This causes pollution, destroys habitat, gives money to terrorists, and is really bad for the health of people who live in it.

        People living in S. Bellevue are clearly not far from job centers in the scheme of things, although those neighborhoods have the bad suburban form. Running light rail through there will create the incentives to create a more walkable neighborhood.

      3. Sam

        Why don’t you wikipedia it to educate yourself? Then you could educate other people. You must be an expert at using wikipedia by now.

    1. Newly building over unbuilt areas would be sprawl (and the likely result of a new station without the upzone), but with upzoning at least some of the new demand for housing can be satisfied on already built-on land. So rather than encouraging sprawl, that would make existing suburbs less sprawly.

  4. I think much of the angst from SE Seattle resulted from surprise. Those neighborhoods went through a laborious neighborhood planning process and then a station area planning process, both in the late 1990’s, and they thought they had a neighborhood plan that met the needs for more density and TOD. Neighborhoods are already being re-engaged by the City in yet another round of neighborhood planning to update the now 10-year-old plans.

    Then to have a bill filed in Olympia, without so much as a courtesy phonecall heads-up, that appears to mandate an arbitrary mile-wide density zone at each station, well that was just too much. (That half-mile radius walking distance, taken perpendicular to main arterials, can get you several blocks into traditional single-family neighborhoods that nobody has ever suggested should be rezoned to anything higher. And at 50 units/net acre, that gets you development potential for +/-15,000 units at each station. 15K is not enough at Capitol Hill Station, and it’s too much at Beacon Hill Station. One-size-fits-all planning, we don’t need.)

    Bill promoters erred in failing to engage neighborhood folks in SE Seattle. Not the first time well-intentioned people received bad strategic advice. There are many in SE who actually support greater density at rail stations but resent the high-handedness exhibited by the way this bill has been handled. I believe they can be brought back around.

    Fortunately there’s a damage-control mission under way, and I think folks are getting a better grasp of the bill. Plus some needed amendments are being drafted which should better tailor the bill to real-world conditions.

    1. People can argue about the specifics of this bill, but the notion that there should have been a “courtesy phonecall” is ridiculous. Who are the recipients of this call supposed to be? Everyone who currently lives within the half-mile radius of the stations? That would be practical. Filing the bill was the courtesy call — we’ve all been notified. Unless, of course, by “courtesy call” you mean “let all the NIMBYs have a say in the bill.” Given the Seattle consensus model and its ineffectiveness, I can understand why the bill’s authors didn’t try to get everybody’s agreement before filing it.

      It isn’t an “arbitrary mile-wide density zone” (but it is true that a half-mile radius equals a mile-wide diameter). People are willing to walk up to a half-mile to get to transit, so it’s based on people’s behavior and what is likely to be most effective.

      1. Sigh. Courtesy calls go to the leadership of local neighborhood organizations, some of whom — surprise, surprise — actually support density increases around rail stations, when it’s done right. One of those leaders was consulted, in fact, but the consultant chose to omit any mention about the pending bill. Big mistake.

        If anything, bill advocates should have been seeking out those neighborhood folks who support density, seeking allies, rather than just writing them off (as you apparently do) as hopeless NIMBY’s. Density supporters could have suggested language improvements that would’ve made the bill less controversial.

        Yes, people will walk up to 10 minutes to get to a rail station, but that hardly means that all developed lands within that radius should be in the redevelopment calculation. Like I said, 15K units is not enough at Capitol Hill station, too many at Beacon Hill station.

      2. Your comment that “some support density increases when it’s done right” implies the result of this bill will be density that is done wrong. I’m not aware of this bill specifying how neighborhoods achieve the density — it has an allowed net density. It is not “one-size-fits-all planning.” If folks want to be involved in the process of how development is done in their neighborhoods, they should be. This bill does nothing to prevent that.

        I didn’t write anybody off. But I’m suspicious of folks who supposedly support the goals of this legislation, but because they didn’t get a courtesy call are apparently not going to support this bill. I hope their egos recover soon, and they end up supporting the bill. The bill hasn’t passed yet, they can still get involved and improve the bill.

        Why shouldn’t there be TOD around all of the stations? Why must Capitol Hill absorb all the units and Beacon Hill doesn’t? There needs to be high density near the stations to make the system effective.

      3. I think people might be surprised how much development the existing zoning allows if it was fully built out. The thing is just because zoning allows a certain density doesn’t mean it will get built out right away.

        Your 15,000 number assumes there are no dwelling units within the 1/2 mile station circle. Even if it is all single family there will be roughly 2400 housing units assuming Seattle size lots. Some station areas like Capitol Hill probably already have more than 15,000 housing units within 1/2 mile. The zoning already in place likely would allow that to at least triple if it was fully built out.

        The SE Seattle station areas quite likely already have more than 2400 within 1/2 mile. Furthermore the existing zoning likely allows for 15,000 or more units within 1/2 mile. Just because it isn’t built yet doesn’t mean it isn’t coming.

        If anything allowing some large multifamily or mixed-use development likely will take some pressure off single family neighborhoods. Those ugly townhouse “4-packs” have already completely taken over many parts of Seattle. We’re going to see more unless some alternatives are allowed.

  5. The way I heard it, this bill came after people on Beacon Hill started talking about downzoning around the new station. Naturally, other people started saying “That’s a hell of a note, spend good money on a transit station and then have the neighborhood downzoned so only the people who already live there benefit from property value increases”.

    Considering that the money for transit comes for all over, there are a lot of people who deserve to know that the money they spend won’t be wasted by a downzone after the station is built. AFAIK, most of the affected neighborhoods already meet the density requirements under existing zoning. All the bill takes from them is the ability to downzone.

    If people don’t want to live where things change, they should move to someplace where things don’t change. We’ve still got lots of those places around. They just don’t have all the urban amenities you find in a place that does change.

    1. Hi Serial Catowner,
      I’d like to know where you heard that, because otherwise I’m calling BS. I moved to north Beacon Hill about 2 years ago partly to be near the station. I attend the neighborhood council meetings semi-regularly and my wife is on a few local list-servs. The ONLY discussion of zoning changes I’ve seen or heard are about upzoning, with the only variable being by how much. My own feeling of the area is that most people are at least on board with going to NC-65 from the existing NC-40 in the urban village portion of the neighborhood, with some discussion of NC-85 or higher.

      1. Well, mea culpa– I totally misread and was completely wrong about this, as illustrated by this post at Hugeasscity. The post has a nice map illustrating zoning, but you need to go deep in the comments for an alternate explanation of why a station was built there- that the contractor needed a mid-tunnel access point, and that building a station was cheap after the construction shaft was sunk.

      2. Yes, Serial CO, go deep into the comments, 37 – 46 to be precise, of the interesting Hugeasscity post you cite. Nothing there about the Beacon Hill tunnel contractor needing a mid-tunnel access point. Tunnel boring machines don’t work that way; it would’ve been much simpler to build the Beacon Hill tunnel straight through from west to east without any mid-tunnel construction.

      3. According to the ST guy posting in the thread the Beacon Hill routing came about because routing via Dearborn and Rainier didn’t work.

        The plan was always to at least construct a station shell, and after reviewing ridership projections ST decided to fully build out the station.

        As for upzoning, my understanding is the allowed density around most current and planned Seattle stations already meets 50 units/acre net. This is certainly true for the stations in the South end from Beacon Hill all the way to Rainier Beach.

        For Seattle the provisions of HB 1490 that protect affordable housing and encourage a walkable environment are far more important. This means streets near stations without sidewalks might finally see them.

    2. “If people don’t want to live where things change, they should move.” If you are saying that people who live in a neighborhood who don’t want higher density in their neighborhood should move, I think that’s a very intolerant, ignorant thing to say.

  6. “If a neighborhood doesn’t want dense areas around their station, then they shouldn’t get a station. Send it to my neighborhood instead.”

    But it won’t go to your neighborhood instead. It will get wedged in between the Mercer Slough and I-405 and be useless, preventing future TOD from developing over time. And then no one wins.

    I actually agree with the aims of this bill as it relates to the South End. But I think in Bellevue, north of Northgate or south of the airport it will create completely unnecessary opposition to transit. To me, this bill seems to be falling into the trap of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.

  7. Why do you have photo of Hong Kong? I think we should allow taller buildings and other large development around light rail stations as their do in Hong Kong.

  8. Now I have a better understanding of why people oppose the B7 BNSF route. It really has nothing to do with cost effectiveness and little to do with system ridership.

    Swamp to the west and 405 to the east limit the way light rail can reshape the character of the neighborhood. The Seattlecentric ideology is rail should rebuild the eastside in their image and Bellevue NYMBYs say hell no.

    Two entirely different agendas. One is concerned with the affect of changing the character of where they live and the other the effectiveness of changing it.

    1. Bernie,
      My objections to the B7 alignment have everything to do with both cost and ridership.

      South Bellevue P&R is a much better location for a station both in terms of ridership and connections to East Side bus routes. The station at 118th is just a poor location even if it has some potential for TOD with the industrial an office lots currently near it.

      I really don’t care if the South Bellevue station area or the area West of 112th near the potential SE 8th & 112th SE station gets upzoned or not. Downtown Bellevue, the Bel-Red Corridor, Overlake, and Downtown Redmond are much better locations for TOD anyway. Not the least because they already have some density or are areas where the cities in question would like to see more growth.

  9. Thanks for that last observation, Chris. I agree completely. The discussion about density as it might exist (w/HB1490) along the ID-to-Bellevue routing illustrates why many of us have indicated a preference for construction of light rail from downtown Bellevue to Redmond FIRST. The opportunity to tie land use (new, denser housing and complementary commercial areas, to say nothing of a couple of strong employers) to transit is so clear in the eastside corridor. Had the ST board not gotten so wedded to the political reciprocity of ID-Bvue (instead of looking at potential performance), then we might be having a different conversation.

    1. Thanks Rep Eddy,
      I’ve seen numbers from the PSRC that show ridership would be significantly lower on the Bellevue-Redmond line if it were not connected to Seattle.

      1. I’m sure that’s true under some set of facts and assumptions, for some period of time. Any set of ridership numbers is dependent on some multi-variable formula. PSRC is usually pretty careful to set out the parameters of their numbers, but you still can’t take them completely at face value. Also, I’m not looking near-term (“easy riders”), but am looking longer term with the issue of land redevelopment potential. Densifying Mid-Lakes, Bel-Red will be a lot easier than Enetai.

      2. Rep Eddy,
        I agree redeveloping Mid-Lakes, Bel-Red, and Overlake into dense, walkable, and transit oriented neighborhoods will be a wonderful thing. I believe Link light rail is an essential part of that redevelopment.

        However I think the case for justifying the construction becomes almost impossible without the connection to Central Link. Certainly any Federal funding is only likely with the ridership a Seattle connection would bring.

        Given the current timetable for completing the I-90 two-way HOV project it will result in delaying East Link construction for a number of years. It is a project that will provide immediate benefit to reverse commuters and improve transit reliability for all routes using I-90 as soon as it is finished.

        If East Link is delayed enough the cost will only be higher and the likelihood of it ever being built go down. As other Sound Transit projects near completion the pressure to spend East sub-area funds on something, anything for East King County will build. Furthermore as the excess funds build up the temptation will be great to attempt to raid them for other projects like I-405 widening or the SR-520 bridge replacement.

        As a State Representative I urge you to:
        1. Ask the Governor and the Washington Secretary of Transportation to request Federal funds for completing the I-90 two-way HOV project.
        2. Ask the Governor and the Washington Secretary of Transportation to re-prioritize any state funding needed for the project so it won’t delay the construction of East Link.

      3. No ST funds could ever be used for simply widening I-405, no matter how they might pile up. ST funds could be used for the transit lanes on SR520 and for some portion of the connection to the light rail station at the UW, for sure. But ST’s not shown much interest, despite the demand for high capacity transit in this corridor, between Seattle and Redmond.

        I simply disagree with you about the imperative to build ID-Bvue immediately and to demand that state funding be re-prioritized to get it built sooner rather than later. Pardon me if I’m a bit suspicious of the hurry. Could it be that some of the interests served by this very expensive link (mostly downtown property owners in both cities, IMHO) are afraid of a re-appraisal? You are convinced in the argument that this segment justifies the priority given to it already. I am not. I’d note that there are a number of blanks to be filled in, not the least of which is agreement on the routing through Bellevue.

      4. Rep Eddy,

        Thanks for clarification on the I-405 widening vs ST funding. ST funding on SR520 is a big open question; especially (for me) the connection to rail at the UW.

        One reason for building the ID-Bvue link “immediately” is that under the earliest possibly completion date the floating bridge that supports it will then be 37 years old. The SR520 is approaching it’s Golden Jubilee and in direr need of replacement. Any significant delay now on I-90 rail pushes completion so close to the retirement of the bridge that the project become nonviable.

        It seems prudent that options for East Ling over a new SR 520, due to come on line in the same time frame as the I-90 proposal, would only be prudent. Starting construction East to West would allow deferment of the final alignment while allowing construction to begin as soon a the EIS was complete.

      5. Rep. Eddy, with all due respect the “special interest” looking to build the light rail connection on schedule are the voters who overwhelmingly supported the Sound Transit 2 plan this past November. Voters are looking forward to the light rail lines opening on schedule — not being delayed for bureaucratic reasons. Delaying the funding for the HOV conversion on I-90 will not change that vote. A light rail line beginning service in 2021 is hardly a hurried plan, and while the final alignment is yet not chosen it will be in the coming months. Asking the state to keep its original commitments to the region is not an unfair request.

        I imagine part of the reason why Sound Transit isn’t anxious to fund HOV/transit lanes on SR-520 is because SR-520 is obviously a state highway. (Of course Sound Transit’s mandate is to build regional rail and bus service, not state highway lanes.) This mandate was backed by voters in your district overwhelmingly just a few months ago. This vote did not include HOV/transit lanes across SR-520. A delay in the I-90 HOV lane funding is not a blessing or a renewed chance for assessment — it is the child of a budget crisis, nothing more. It is the wrong victim to create, however, given the reality that the voter-approved East Link requires its construction to proceed.

        Sound Transit 2 passed with 57% of the region voting yes. We have among the smartest voters in the country, and they certainly did their research and concluded that the alignment across I-90 and into Downtown Bellevue was the correct one for the region.

        Aside from the overwhelming victory of ST2, it is nearly universally agreed that Two-Way HOV on I-90 is smart for the region — with or without light rail. The concept of the “peak direction” on I-90 is disappearing rapidly, and buses and carpools are getting ensnared in traffic without recourse. The need for increased reliability of bus service does not need re-evaluation and isn’t influenced by property owners.

        Another analysis may conclude that Olympia is once again trying to force the Puget Sound region to pay for state road work — or trying to force ST’s hand to pay for state road work so ST can follow through on its commitments. But the state made commitments of its own to the region. There’s no reason to delay the improvements to bus service along the I-90 corridor. There’s no convincing reason to use I-90 construction to overturn the will of the region’s voters.

        A light rail alignment across SR-520 does not work right now. We cannot fit those trains and trains from Northgate into the UW-Capitol Hill tunnel. Ridership between Seattle and Bellevue will be much higher than a route between Seattle and Redmond. I-90 is the right alignment.

      6. (1) I didn’t say anything about ST across SR520. I assure you, people in my district will be pleased with usable bus lanes on that bridge. Right now we have no transit functionality in the corridor during peak hours. ST’s sudden announcement last year of no interest in HCT in the corridor came as a surprise to many who spent years in TransLake meetings. (2) The voters approved $18 B for ST expansion. They expect the ST board to use it intelligently. As do I.

        I’m not looking for any ST dollars for roads. Ever.

        Headed back to Olympia now, I will be off the blogs for a few days as we rush up to cut-off, try to get important bills moving on. Always appreciate your input, POV, even if we sometimes have different opinons. Don’t disagree about the transit functionality on I-90 … ditto to that. Just differ in opinion on cost/benefit of mode.

        See Atlantic Monthly for great article of America, post-crash.

        /d

    2. If the feds or the state legislature don’t reverse Gov. Gregoire’s decision to push out two-way HOV construction on I-90 to 2017-2019, Bellevue to Redmond first may be exactly what we get.

    3. I don’t think East Link pencils out without going all the way to Seattle. If anything a Bellevue to Redmond line would likely be a target for transit critics.

      I agree East Link has great potential for transforming downtown Bellevue, Bel-Red, Overlake, and downtown Redmond. But that potential is much greater if it connects to the rest of the system.

      If there is concern about East Link happening soon enough for the planned development in Bel-Red and Overlake then perhaps a locally funded streetcar could be built? I’m envisioning something similar to what both Portland and Seattle have done. Once East Link opens it could serve as a local connector between stations.

      1. I’m not sure how feasible a streetcar would be, since the RapidRide B line is already going to serve both of the Overlake stations. I heard that Bellevue is starting a new downtown circulator bus within a couple years, so perhaps that could be extended to service the station development on NE 16th.

      2. BRT and bus routes in general don’t encourage development. Streetcars and light rail do.

        Developers are more likely to invest in development in the Mid-Lakes, Bel-Red, and Overlake as well as make the development pedestrian and transit oriented if the transit is rail rather than bus. See South Lake Union, the Pearl District in Portland, or Downtown Tacoma for examples of where streetcars have helped with redevelopment.

        Given the likely increase in property values along the corridor I suspect a LID might be able to generate enough revenue to pay for a streetcar.

      3. I certainly agree that rail works better than buses to stimulate development; the question is whether or not Bellevue/ST will be able to find support and funding for one rail line when another will end up on the same street in less than a decade. One thing in common between the examples you cited is that none of them parallel a high-capacity transit line; the SLUT and Portland Streetcar just intersect with Link and MAX at one point along their routes. Also, given that it would take a few years to build a streetcar, it would only have a useful life of about five years before the street gets torn up again to add East Link.

  10. I agree with Patrick. Further, I’d argue that HB 1490 needs significant re-writing. As a transit-oriented development (TOD) advocate, I’ll venture to say that a more well-meaning piece of legislation doesn’t exist. Ultimately, the taste of accountability that HB 1490 promises is a bitter poison and here are a few reasons why:
    • The bill undermines local legislative and administrative planning authority and public participation requirements – which contradicts the Growth Management Act; and
    • The distance-density numbers in the bill certainly don’t pencil outside of Seattle or Bellevue, not even hypothetically. Given market conditions, a half-mile radius containing a net of 50 dwelling units per acre? That’s absurd, especially outside of Seattle and the Eastside; and
    • The affordable housing requirements in the bill while envisioning an ideal arrangement (including requiring developer set-asides for service industry workers to live in the areas in which they work) taint the possibility of getting any housing development along transit lines where developers have historically been reluctant to develop even market rate housing;
    • This bill intends to be applied statewide, and each jurisdiction with areas suitable for TOD has a unique role to play within regional and local contexts. HB 1490 ignores these context-based distinctions; and
    • HB 1490 omits important considerations of how TOD actually works, and why most of the time it doesn’t; and
    • No mention at all of the role of commercial land use mixing (gotta have jobs!); and
    • No discussion about how GMA planning for TOD, engineering for street projects and WSDOT standards are disconnected, thereby impacting greenhouse gas emissions and climate change when engineers ultimately trump good planning with arterial road projects rather than pedestrian-oriented streetscapes; and
    • No discussion of ‘vanilla flavor-only please’ lending institutions who refuse to put dollars into TOD projects in South King County and Pierce County where favorable zoning has existed for well over a decade.

    If adopted as written, HB 1490 will increase the public scrutiny of growth management, transit service and public participation.

  11. We’ve lived in our home (a single family residence) for 15 years. Our home is in a neighborhood of similar homes which could be affected if HB 1490 passes. We bought our home 15 years ago because we liked the schools, the neighborhood, the city, the amenities, and the location (close to employment, entertainment, recreation, transit, schools, etc.). We are in the process of raising a family in our home. We are active participants in making our community a better place through participation in neighborhood associations, city government, and school events (our children go to the local public schools). In short, we are heavily invested in where we live our lives. IMHO, we are a valuable asset to our community.

    We had plans to live in our home until our children were established in their lives and until we choose to live our lives differently.

    I’ve read some of the comments on this blog and you make it all sound so abstract (it’s for the greater good) or venial (they should be happy their property values are going up) or academic (it’s net density, not gross density) but those comments lack any empathy or understanding of our situation. I’m sure some of you will lambast me as a NIMBY – god, how I hate that term – or worse.

    Zoning codes have been the basic rules which have governed the character of our neighborhood: I can’t build too close to our neighbor. If I add an addition, I can’t go over a height limit. I can’t operate a retail business out of our home. The list goes on… and on. If I want to do something outside of the codes, I can apply for a variance and the city can say yea or nay. My neighbors have input into that process. If a neighbor of ours wants to do something which doesn’t follow the zoning codes, I have legal recourse to prevent them from negatively affecting the way we live our lives. Even if the city wants to do something on the property adjacent to ours, I have legal recourse.

    In our city it is difficult to get a variance to the zoning code. It is an even more draconian step to actually change the zoning code for an area. It seems that HB 1490 changes all of that. Instead of going through a well established (albeit long) process of changing an area’s zoning practices around a Major Transit Center, the state proposes an end run around those processes through this state legislation.

    So, what am I trying to say here?

    First, two questions: Am I wrong to think that HB 1490 _mandates_ a net density of 50 units per acre within a half mile of a Major Transit Center? Second, if in the existing half mile radius there is _only_ lower density zoning, will some or all of that area have to be upzoned to a accommodate the higher density? Do you think that’s fair? (Okay, the third question is rhetorical.)

    Second, a comment: Have and show some empathy towards people who are anxious about changes required/suggested by this bill. For people who have lived their lives in their homes raising children and being valuable contributors to their communities it isn’t all about money or NIMBYism or being anti-transit. These people have valid concerns which need to be addressed in a thoughtful manner. It can only make the final outcome that much better.

    Third, this blog is a great source of information for all things transit. I’m not a regular contributor to this blog but I have become an frequent reader. And while I may not agree with the opinions of some of the contributors, I often find I come away being better educated on the issues. Keep up the good work.

    1. Answers to your questions:
      1) HB 1490 doesn’t mandate density, it mandates zoning which allows density. The density will only show up if the economics of the construction works out.
      2) All of it would get up-zoned.

      I understand that you bought a house in a certain neighborhood and don’t want it to change so much that you’d want to move. That’s reasonable, but I don’t think the change would really be all the dramatic, especially now that HB1490 only requires upzoning in already dense areas. A drive-up bank would become a four-story mixed-use building, and a vacant lot will become townhomes. Most projects where you tear down a house to build condos or apartments don’t pan out financially, otherwise all of capitol hill would be those buildings, so it’s not like the upzone would happen and within five years 5,000 more people would live there, it’d be more like 50 or 150. Even after 50 years, 5,000 more people wouldn’t live there.

      You ask if the upzone is fair, and I’ll ask you this question:
      Is it fair to tell others they can’t move into a neighborhood, even though the entire city paid for the transit station there?

      I think we’re not that far off, actually, and I certainly understand your concerns. Thanks.

      1. Andrew – thanks for your response. You clarified my questions to say that the zoning would be mandated, not net density. I get that.

        My experience has been that because my community is a desirable place to live, people/developers have built to the limits of what is allowed by the zoning codes (some of the time beyond) under the guise of highest/best use. Short plats, in-fills, and tear-downs have been the order of the day over the last fifteen years. So, it’s not a far stretch to think ((allowable zoning density) == (mandated density)).

        In our area, there are no vacant lots to build townhouses on. There are no drive-up banks to build 4 story buildings on. Okay, there is a fastfood joint they could get rid of. For the most part, property has been developed to the limits of what is currently allowed. I see HB1490 as a way to take control of zoning practices out of local hands and putting it into state hands. That seems like it is unilaterally changing the rules of the game.

        I do agree with you that even if the zoning changes are mandated, it would take a while to have them instantiated.

        You ask: Is it fair to tell others they can’t move into a neighborhood, even though the entire city/region paid for the transit station there?

        As a resident of the eastside of Seattle I would not want to be put in a position of determining what are the best zoning practices for Rainier Valley, neighborhoods in Tacoma, or communities in Spokane because it doesn’t seem fair to me.

        I have faith in communities to consider their land use patterns in ways which are best for them and the region. If there are valid concerns that communities won’t accomodate the benefits of having transit stations nearby by allowing higher densities, I have faith that legislation could be crafted to address local concerns in less of a cookie cutter (arbitrary?) type of approach than is seemingly in HB1490.

        Thanks.

      2. Brian, I don’t agree with your conclusions and do believe that building bigger near transit stations is better than not. However, thanks for your excellent and instructive comments.

      3. John Jensen – just to be clear, I’m not saying that having greater densities near transit stations is a bad thing. I believe that greater densities will happen over time as the relationship between the costs and benefits associated with TOD are proven true.

        My area of concern is having those densities/zoning allowances mandated at the state level all at once in a cookie cutter approach. I question whether the way to achieve the goals of better transit development can be achieved by a bill such as HB1490. It seems too forced. I’d rather see more local process(es) achieve those densities because I think we’ll end up with results which better fit the individual communities around the TOD’s.

        Thanks for responding to my previous comment.

      4. I think your concerns are misplaced a bit, a whole lot of the city is zoned higher than the buildings built there are. Most of SE Seattle or the Central for example, are zoned NC-40 or NC-65. But nothing has been built there, because it just doesn’t pan out. Over time buildings get built, but you have to realized that the last 15 years was the height of the largest building boom in the history of the planet. Don’t expect that to be recreated.

        Over time more buildings are going to get built, with or without HB1490, but the bill wouldn’t do much in the short term.

      5. Another example of where the zoning is nowhere near the current use would be the U-District. Fair sized hunks are NC-85 or MR and some goes even higher than that. Still you find parking lots, single story strip commercial, and single family homes in those areas.

        As you point out it is unlikely we will see anywhere near the level of development in the next 20 years that we’ve seen in the past 15. Even if the population in the area is expected to keep rising.

      6. Brian,

        I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call this a “cookie cutter” approach. Leaving aside the fact that many stations no longer have the 50 units/acre requirement, the bill has always provided a lot of flexibility on how that’s achieved. For instance, it could treat the entire 1/2 mile radius as a single unit, building projects well over 50 units/acre right around the station and leaving the rest zoned as single-family, or what have you. Alternatively, the community could go for a uniform 2-3 story apartment development pattern throughout the station area.

        To be honest, I have a little trouble appreciating your point of view because I’m not sure exactly what you’re afraid will change in the character of your community. Will some apartment buildings and walkability improvements somehow make your neighborhood less desirable? If it remains a single-family neighborhood, unit housing costs are likely to skyrocket in turn it into a very exclusive community. Isn’t that equally a change to the character of your community?

  12. The problem with mandated zoning is it only takes one developer empowered with the mandate to build an eyesore that’s totally out of character with the neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be economically feasible. There’s plenty of examples of speculative development that have failed.

    As the bill gets tweaked it should be apparent that this it not the way to deal with zoning. The GMA is how that’s done and if it needs to be amended to include transit then fine. The demand will drive the changes. A different bill adding to the layers of complexity already in place may be well meaning but it’s misplaced.

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