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.