After a seemingly endless process, the Seattle Council finally upzoned the area around Mt. Baker Station this year. Perhaps that experience exhausted everyone involved, but the next station down, Columbia City, is equally ready for a serious rezone.

Excerpt from Seattle DPD (click to enlarge)
Excerpt from Seattle DPD (click to enlarge)

The station is on the diagonal section of MLK immediately northeast of the dark purple stair-step. All of the areas where you don’t see a label are SF5000, since these zones are so large that the labels are centered elsewhere. What you do see is a tiny sliver of 40′ zoning in a handful of lots adjacent to the station, a lot of 40′ and 65′ zones in downtown Columbia City a few blocks east, some lowrise (LR) zones between the two, and a sea of single-family zoning covering a significant portion of the golden quarter-mile and half-mile circles around the station.

These circles are the areas that would, given reasonable zoning, house the residents that would plausibly not own cars and utilize Central Link’s future capacity to the fullest. Those non-driving residents provide the demand for better bus service and the customer base for a thriving business district from downtown Columbia City to the station. That business district would, in turn, help to make the approaches to Columbia City’s core more walkable. The residents that would live in those buildings would also either not displace people living elsewhere in Seattle, or else avoid displacement themselves. But instead, in large areas less than five minutes’ walk from the station, Seattle makes it illegal to have more than one household per lot.

I asked Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee Chair Mike O’Brien when his committee would review this intolerable situation. “I agree that with the growth and development around the business district, [zoning] of the land next to the light rail station is worth a review now,” O’Brien said, but “DPD has a long list of neighborhoods where they are currently starting or finishing planning processes.” He said there was no chance of a rezone in 2015, but that he would “look into” what it would take to get Columbia City back into the queue.

77 Replies to “Columbia City Zoning”

  1. Given the assuredly tortured timeline for this, we probably need to look beyond O’Brien too. Maybe reach out to D2 candidates to talk Columbia City zoning early and often and make it a campaign issue. Harrell and Tammy Morales are the two declared candidates thus far.

  2. Last comment didn’t post. Summary: Zoning needs to factor in quality, not just numbers. Aesthetics are the reason for zoning in the first place. I’m a city boy. If I hated density, would not have picked apartment living in Ballard for thirty years over a single-family home on the present Sammamish plateau.

    Ugly and crappy may be subjective and unmeasurable, but transit-wise the view from my favorite restaurant, the India Bistro at Market Street and Ballard Avenue , is main reason I’m making it a point to get off the Route 40 before it gets to the neighborhood where I’d hoped to spend the rest of my life.

    Loss of the apartment I loved to mentality that created the above clinched the deal, as the real estate puts it. The fastest, most frequent service is wasted on any neighborhood where nobody can stand to get off the train. Or live.

    Like everything else on earth, there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle density. Like transit operations themselves, the right way saves money in the not very long run. But it does require effort.

    If either the zoning process or the transit philosophy of Seattle can’t prevent what happened to Ballard- and is happening to Columbia City-I’ll see to it that my new home city develops resistance appropriate to the ebola virus.

    Take two and roll ’em.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And that’s “the real estate market”- where the average person deserves a fair chance as either a buyer or a seller. And most of all, the chance not to be the poor creature hanging on the hook. As is now the case in Seattle.


    2. If anything Olympia has really gone too far the other way. See for instance SE Olympia which has a horrible walk score because there is nothing to walk to. No cafés, no grocery stores, no restaurants, only a couple of widely dispersed gas station/convenience stores.

      Oddly enough there are a fair number of apartment buildings in SE Olympia so it isn’t so much that the residents and city planners object to density so much as they seem to object to anything that looks like commercial development.

      Heritage Park and the area around the Community College have a similar problem. Lots of apartments and offices with next to no retail save a gas station.

      1. Thanks, Chris. In the just-less-than-a-year I’ve been here, I’ve noticed a lot of these things. Glad I wasn’t just hallucinating the lack of everything you mentioned. Still believe that Mt. Rainier releases tectonic gravity waves that warp reality.

        But the downtown area, between the harbor and the Capitol is quite a pretty town. And my own neighborhood, a block west of the Thurston County Courthouse, has, to my mind the atmosphere and density Seattle could really use. At rent we’d kill for- not because of.

        Weekdays, 15 minute headways down to the transit center. IT, Intercity Transit, is nice to use, and well-used. Service north via IT to Tacoma and ST 592 to Seattle. Which brings me to my point.

        Olympia is at a very early stage of its development as a metropolitan area- at a time when a general change of mind is redefining what development is supposed to look like.

        So whatever the outcome of whatever election right now, it seems to me that a region wide pro transit outcome is best served by getting the strongest possible regional transit between Seattle and Olympia soon as possible.

        The better the regional transit young people can ride now, the faster you’ll get an electorate that naturally sees fast public transit as the means to serve the regional lives they now want to live.

        I just got here, Chris. Give me a month or two. Besides, soon as it rains and the ice comes off the pond, it’ll be time to feed the ducks.


      2. Mark,
        Sounds like you are in the Heritage Park area (sorry don’t know the official neighborhood name). Is there anything up there other than offices and apartments now? Like some actual retail or restaurants?

        The walk to/from downtown is pleasant enough, I’d typically cross the lake at the railroad bridge and walk along the West Shore. The other side tends to be a bit longer walk unless you are going to Bayview Market. Plus it has lots of speeding cars.

    3. “Summary: Zoning needs to factor in quality, not just numbers. Aesthetics are the reason for zoning in the first place. ”

      Then perhaps we should have regulations which actually cover quality and aesthetics, rather than stuff like “single family” and “residential only” and so on.

      I thought zoning was originally (a) to keep dirty smoke-belching heavy industry away from everything else, and (b) to keep bars and other generators of obnoxious drunk people away from housing where people were sleeping. :-)

      I live in a town where a lot of “single family residential” buildings from the 19th and early 20th century are now either apartment conversions, office building conversions, or retail shop conversions (or sometimes mixed-use conversions). It hasn’t provided the housing needed for the growth of the town, but it is a *genteel* way to allow a more natural development of mixed use neighborhoods.

      Meanwhile, proposals for tall buildings here get subjected to fairly heavy architectural review; people really care about their appearance and layout. The zoning code hasn’t really kept up with this, but that’s what people are most *interested* in when they complain.

  3. Much of the single-family housing southwest of the station is part of Beacon Hill, and there’s no direct path from much of it to the station because of the greenbelt (shown as slightly orange in the map).

    Some of the streets going through the greenbelt are just rights-of-way and don’t actually exist, and the greenbelt lots shown aren’t buildable. If some pedestrian paths get built on the rights-of-way, then an upzone becomes more justifiable.

    1. If you look at the map, you’ll see a bunch of single-family lots tucked between the Greenbelt and the upzoned area. (This falls in the “seriously?” department. Greenbelts usually attract big buildings on their edges.)

  4. Visionary Seattle leading the way! Five years after Link opens they are talking about getting zoning “back in the queue” in Columbia City. Doesn’t DPD need to be more proactive and less reactive?

  5. In SE Seattle, we can’t even get development going on parcels that are already zoned for multi-family. What makes you think that yet more such zoning will yield different results? Zoning itself is no magic trigger to create new development.

    1. But it’s a factor. Did you see what happened on Broadway? Two supermarket lots stood empty or underused for years under 40′ zoning. When it was upzoned to 60′, new 60′ buildings started immediately. Those one-story supermarket lots looked remarkably like the underused lots in Rainier Valley today.

    2. RD Pence,

      I can’t guarantee what developers will do, but I can guarantee that if we don’t zone for it the development won’t happen.

      Worst case, there is no enthusiasm and we’re left with the status quo. Best case, we get a dense neighborhood.

      1. But if we spread that new multi-family zoning too widely, we don’t get a dense and walkable neighborhood, we get spots of density here and there. I’m all for promoting density in the right places, but we need to stop obsessing with zoning as the single tool to get there. Because it isn’t.

        Urban redevelopment still needs a willing seller of land, a smart developer, a talented architect (and please, one who got better than C grades in design classes), and enlightened financiers. And good counseling from City Hall would help too.

      2. As somebody pointed out, Rainier Valley is five miles long, and it’s a contiguous rectangular space. We could invert it into a sea of density with single-family islands, and its size would compare well with some of the best urban areas and what’s missing in Seattle. Four rapid-transit stations are already in place, a fifth is coming and a sixth could be added. North Rainier is already non-residential, and all of Rainier is multifamily, as is MLK south of McClellan. Extend the multifamily area out a few blocks and fill in some of the blocks between MLK and Rainier and voilà: islands of single-family in an interconnected sea of density.

        There is an upper limit of how much housing and businesses we need, but everyone has estimated too low so let’s start by estimating high. Islands of density may be less than ideal but that’s Seattle’s predisposition, so we need to build up the islands — not ignore some islands because they’re too remote. Nowhere in Seattle is too remote except outside the oval of urban villages. Over time we should fill in between nearby islands to to create larger clumps. As has been pointed out, the U-District is a second downtown, with transit demand to match. Fremont-Ballard should be a third. Somewhere in Rainier Valley should be a fourth. The powers that be want Mt Baker to be the valley’s urban center, so let’s center it there. Let it extend south to Columbia City and north to I-90, and Othello and Rainier Beach can be its suburbs.

  6. …help to make the approaches to Columbia City’s core more walkable.

    This especially.

    Columbia City station to Columbia City proper is just a 6-minute walk along Edmunds. That’s half the distance to central Ballard from RapidRide. But from the moment night falls, or in the slightest inclement weather, those 6 minutes become interminable.

    It doesn’t even need to be commercial. It just needs to be visually stimulating, and it needs to be busy with human activity. The critical mass that puts a human presence on urban streets is conspicuously absent from that stretch.

    Sadly, the Redmond-style condo campus that is the only major infusion proposed for the immediate area, with its parking primacy and terrible walking routes, appears poised to do less than no good for Edmunds’ human representation.

    1. d.p., I think we share the same interest in the development of Columbia City, station, business district, and walking experience in between. For me, started with the years I drove the Route 7.

      Rainier? Clean, nice restaurants, and the Empire Cafe on Edmunds has delicious waffles, my favorite laptop friendly outdoor patio, and top echelon espresso- Red Bear house blend. Only two problems with it:

      None of my passengers can afford to live near it. And one really dreadful part of walk to the station- a giant partly completed, sky-blocking crate completely overwhelming the beautiful little library and its own walkway to Alaska Street.

      The only space of that walk I can’t stand for the six seconds it takes to walk past it in any weather. The walk through a pretty residential neighborhood, under tall old trees, fortunately “cleans my palate”, like restaurants I can’t afford say about champaigne sherbet.

      But seriously, here’s how I’d give the above three elements, business district, station, and walk the atmosphere they deserve: give the station a surrounding cafe district of its own. Essentially, extend the existing commercial development one block south, so that it has some presence around the station.

      Keeping all three elements of the district safe should be easier than two presently separate ones with a walk in between that could use some attractive lighting- not the cold icy white LED’s proliferating now.

      I know, economical and energy efficient- but wouldn’t want one outside my window or front door. Not sure they’re that good for safety, either- the glare and shadow these lights create both shelter and the prison yard atmosphere conducive to the worst.

      Mark Dublin

      1. LEDs are so energy-efficient that there’s really no option; they should be used. An LED uses roughly 0.6 watts to produce light equivalent to a standard 60-watt bulb, while typically lasting for 20 years instead of the incandescent’s 6 months. Over its lifetime, it is *orders of magnitude* cheaper; and anything else is simply throwing money (and energy) down the drain for no reason.

        You can get nicer LEDs though; they come in multiple tints now, including “soft white”, rather than the cheaper “cold white”, for a very small additional cost. If you just saved $100 by using LEDs, spend the extra penny to get the nicer ones.

      2. Every few years they invent a new LED color, and they know a warmer white is the big latent demand. In streetlight situations the labor cost to change them is a significant factor, so a 30-year LED has tremendous savings on top of its energy efficiency.

  7. I love how the Chairman, of all people, says he’ll look into what it would take to get Columbia City onto the list.

  8. Columbia City has some really awkward east-west connectivity problems. A revision to the land use and zoning should be accompanied by a better pedestrian and bicycle system (including pedestrian stairs) – and probably an auto circulation revision that takes traffic off of Alaska Street.

    1. While far from a complete network, SDOT’s Neighborhood Greenway workplan does address several east-west corridors in the valley.

      Neighborhood Greenways are fast to implement, inexpensive, and so far, at least according to Seattle’s traffic counts, do more to promote active transportation than expensive segregated cycletracks.

  9. Conspicuously absent from the original post is an assessment of what the residents of the area want? Does anyone know?

      1. And an assessment of what potential future residents of the area want.

        And what potential future Seattle residents who wish to live near a light rail station want.

        And whether taxpayers throughout the North King Sound Transit subarea want their investment in Central link to be recovered from operating revenue.

        There are lots of conflicting factors to consider besides the wants of current residents.

    1. I live near there and would love for the area to be rezoned.

      I want to see retail form around the station and eventually have the historic district and station retail expand and connect with each other, happening in concert with new high-density residential developments.

      We need to stop squandering the investment we put into the light rail.

    2. I live at 35th and Dawson (and before that 38th and Alaska) and think it is obscene that we have SF zoning abutting billion dollar transit investments.

    3. Most Columbia City residents would welcome a rezone and the added vitality that would come with it. The empty lots along MLK that ST owns are a constant gripe locally, and the primary reason they’re empty is ST’s inability to sell them – developers don’t want to pay pre-bubble land prices when they can only build a few town homes on the lots, at best. Most residents would welcome a rezone and the added vitality that would come with it.

      Personally, my wife and I make the walk between light rail and our apartment just of Rainier at Pearl St. every day, and constantly wish there was more housing (and commercial) along that stretch.

  10. “DPD has a long list of neighborhoods where they are currently starting or finishing planning processes.” He said there was no chance of a rezone in 2015, but that he would “look into” what it would take to get Columbia City back into the queue.

    There were Portland officials saying the same thing 30 years ago.
    Then, people with money started showing up.,-122.5377628,3a,75y,236.28h,72.83t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sHwBKWhjX-7VzFqLlLM8-dA!2e0?hl=en

    All you need is someone with money to show up and propose something and request a zone change.

    The queue moves much faster when it is being shoved by a heavy wad of cash.

    1. Residents have said in planning meetings that they want good-paying jobs in the valley. “We want the next Microsoft or Amazon in Mt Baker.” “We want a community college in Rainier Beach.” There may be a disconnect between wanting these and wanting the zoning that these would require.

      1. I’m not sure where in SE Seattle one would put an Amazon, Microsoft, or even a community college.

        I’m not sure SE Seattle wants to be host to the several Columbia Center sized buildings.

      2. The Amazon statement was during the Mt Baker station area planning, so it was before the massive SLU explosion and sharp increase in rents. They may not want that something quite that large. I think they were thinking on the scale of one office building.

        The community college statement was in the post-construction Rainier Beach station area review. “The station area has remained blah. How can we get it moving?” Essentially it means a college on Henderson Street. There’s some question of whether a college there is realistic: would it attract enough students? Would it oversaturate the community college market? That’s more of the disconnect between what people want and the implications of what they want. Maybe a small college in Mt Baker with the ability to expand would be more realistic.

      3. Actually if the footprint was SCCC sized, I suppose there are plenty of potential sites in SE Seattle. For some reason my brain was stuck on suburban style campuses.

        But as you say the question is if there really is a need for an additional CC campus in Seattle? SCCC is right next to Capitol Hill Station and NSCC isn’t far from Northgate Station, especially once the pedestrian bridge is built.

        Even before the move to SLU Amazon occupied over 1 million square feet of office space. Microsoft has been even bigger than that for years.

        There really is no place for a Microsoft scale campus in SE Seattle and even packed into 40 story office buildings either Microsoft or Amazon would have a pretty big footprint.

        All that said we should link those desires to some meaningful zoning changes for the SE Seattle station areas. You want the next Amazon in your neighborhood? Well then you are going to have to accept 400′ office and residential developments.

        The fact that most of the SE Seattle station areas have so much LR and SF zoning in their station areas is embarrassing. We really need to be doing what greater Vancouver did and encourage truly dense development near Link stations.

      4. “SCCC is right next to Capitol Hill Station and NSCC isn’t far from Northgate Station”

        The motivation isn’t that other colleges are inaccessible (Highline CC will also be on Link); it’s to reverse the poverty and undereducation in the valley by having a college right there as inspiration and easy access, and undoing the ghetto ambience in Rainier Beach. If a college is there, teachers and students will live near it, and that will inspire other people to go to college supposedly. Right up at Othello Station there’s a cap-and-gown sculpture that came from a similar motivation. (Hmm, why not put the college next to the sculpture…)

      5. Speaking of colleges:

        – Central: at Capitol Hill station.
        – North: across the future bridge from Northgate station.
        – Highline: at Kent-Des Moines station.
        – Shoreline: a feeder from 145th station.
        – Edmonds: a feeder from Lynnwood station.

      6. The next Microsoft or Amazon is going to start small, like Microsoft and Amazon did! Think of the sort of office building footprints Fremont has. They’re a significant but not overwhelming part of the city’s economy and a significant but not overwhelming part of the neighborhood. They host satellites of large companies and growing small companies… and do so (as currently built) at 4 or fewer stories in height, much shorter than would be allowed near Link stations after rezones. Some of the companies that move in might even bring direct opportunities for existing residents without specialized training.

      7. Hopefully three companies will take three stories in a 10-story building, or two companies will each take two stories in a 6-story building. That leaves a floor for retail and a floor for other things. Or subtract a company and add apartments, perhaps partly for the first company.

      8. Personally I think our zoning should be encouraging Vancouver style development near stations.

        Unfortunately it seems we have to fight over every single square foot of 65′ zoning near a station much less anything higher.

      9. “I think our zoning should be encouraging Vancouver style development near stations.”

        That would be a good model too. Why aren’t Roosevelt and Mt Baker like New Westminster? Where’s our Surrey downtown? It was built essentially simultaneously with the Surrey Skytrain extension. Is Lynnwood going to be it? Lynnwood had better make good on its downtown then.

    2. All it takes to change zoning is 5 city council votes.

      All it takes to change zoning is 5 city council votes.

      Everything else is optional process decided by the City.

  11. Can we get the vacant lots developed first? Sure, zoning should run ahead of demand, but this is a bit comical as it pertains to an area where 100+ and 200+ unit developments are just underway, but as yet unsold/unoccupied, 2 vacant lots across from the station, both big enough for 100+ unit buildings are sitting there, and Rainier Vista Phase 2 just now completing – not to mention under utilized lots on MLK and Rainier Ave South that could already, but don’t yet support larger, mixed use developments.

    Comparing N Rainier / Mt. Baker to Columbia City is a false equivalency. The immediate station area around Columbia City already supports far more residents, not to mention residential and mixed use developments than Mt. Baker, and is currently building massively more than Mt. Baker’s immediate area. Aside from the ONE, just-completed mixed use artist loft space, Mt. Baker has either old-school retail/commercial or houses… or Franklin High.

    Let’s not draw zoning maps so the form pleasingly symmetrical, algorithm-based areas on a map. Let’s let demand match the current pipeline, watch the neighborhood evolve, then add the kind of things people are indicating they actually want.

    Personally, I think the neighborhood would be better, get more residents, and remain a place people wanted to live if you changed the ADU and DADU rules so more small units could be supported in single-family areas, while providing incentives to increase density on properties already zoned for larger properties. Pho Bac on Rainier, anyone (mostly surface parking today)? The Rock-Field-chain-link-empty-lots on MLK?

    Is there some notion that we don’t have enough spare capacity today? Because walking from the light rail station to the business district with your eyes open should disabuse anyone of that notion.

      1. Right – And that’s kind of my point. The frame of the post is that now that the Mt. Baker station area is “solved” from a zoning perspective, let’s “solve” Columbia City. But what needs solving? Is the pace of development too slow for you? 600 units coming (figure AT LEAST 1000 residents) to the station area in the next 1-2 years, and THIS is the area we should target for a re-zone?

        Because… why? Not enough? Why don’t we wait and see how many adjustments are necessary after this development goes in AND the other vacant lots (smaller) get built up. Infrastructure from sidewalks to crossings to signals to grocery stores to parking lots are all about to be tested with the biggest influx of new residents in a generation.

        What’s to solve?

      2. The problem — besides the need for housing — is the surface parking lots and the suburbanesque one-story businesses surrounded by parking (thinking of Wendy’s and Lowe’s and the strip malls). The underused space means the fewer destinations within walking distance, so it’s farther to walk to wherever you’re going, and boring in between. Fewer destinations means a smaller variety of things, which in turn means people have to go out of the neighborhood for more of their needs. An urban village is supposed to have enough size and variety to be largely self-contained. Larger urban centers like the U-District will be more so, residential urban villages like Othello will be less so, but the difference is extent rather than nature.

        Mt Baker is not “solved” because it should be taller and wider. But it’s a substantial step, and a reasonable compromise for this round. In ten or twenty years there will probably be less opposition to taller and wider, and then it can be added to.

      3. The problem is for many station areas the zoning reflects the original urban village zoning of 20 years ago.

        This really isn’t appropriate for having access to a HCT line. Also the station may not be located in the area of densest zoning. This is especially true for Columbia City and Rainier Beach.

        The city only revises neighborhood plans every so often. We’ve already waited 5 years since the light rail station opened, why should we delay further?

        For the most part Rainier Valley should welcome the development interest considering the general neglect and lack of investment over the past 50+ years.

  12. I’m sure the Bellevue and Redmond Planning Depts have some long neighborhood lists they have to work though, but they still manage to get things changed they want to see changed. The Spring District, The Old Group Health Campus, downtown Bellevue, Old Bellevue, downtown Redmond. Things be gettin’ done! So why does Seattle drag its feet when it comes to things like this?

    1. Martin said it well at the Rail~volution panel. Seattle has an inverted NIMBY problem. In cities with larger prewar urban areas, everybody expects the city to become denser and taller, while the suburbs cling to their low-density zoning. But Seattle’s urban areas are a few small islands and single streets (Aurora, 45th, Lake City Way), in a sea of single-family houses. That creates suburbanesque NIMBYism. Look at the arguments in Ballard, “No apodment next to my house.” Or Roosevelt, “Keep it single-family one block from the station to preserve the view from the high school.” Seattle has also preserved its industrial areas to retain industrial capacity in case we need it in the future.

      But Bellevue and Kirkland and Des Moines and Tukwila et al are more willing to rezone larger rectangles of existing industrial or commercial/multifamiy areas for large projects. That’s where the Spring District and all these large projects are located: in industrial and existing multifamily areas, not in single-family areas. So as a result, large multiblock redevelopments get built in the suburbs that don’t have a chance in Seattle.

      1. Seattle has the example of SLU and the SHA projects. Certain neighborhoods feel like they’ve been part of some massive multi-block redevelopment from the sheer amount of new buildings that have gone up.

        That said all of this has occurred in areas that were already multi family, commercial or industrial. The single family areas have generally been sacrosanct with what little new construction there is in the form of town houses on lots with longstanding LR zoning.

      2. Do you leave NE Seattle and look at what’s happening elsewhere?

        You cite Ballard as an example of NIMBYISM standing in the way of progress. So… Ballard isn’t redeveloping fast enough for you? Have you looked at the actual stats on how many housing units have been added to Ballard in the last 5 years?

        Does that number seem SLOW to you?

        I think many here suffer from the notion that the bigger the 3D picture, the more impactful and rapid the progress toward urbanism. That’s just a problem of perspective. You need to be in these places to understand what is happening. Where are people walking? What are they doing? How is the rail used? The bus stops – are they full? Do they have enough room? How does that parking lot exit work with the bike lane next to it? Does the business on that corner never seem to make it? Why?

        THOSE are the things we need to get right. Not some silly model that a developer made in CAD. We’re getting plenty of VOLUME – we need more quality, more interconnectedness, more balance in businesses, services, amenities, and infrastructure. That stuff isn’t just “draw a big rendering and then go build it” problem solving. It’s more complex than that.

        Pace of change is not our problem. Quality of change is.

      3. I didn’t say Ballard has no growth. Objecting to apodments is the same as denying people the ability to have an under-$1000 residence near frequent/fast transit and urban villages, which is practically the only place apodments go and the only reason people rent them. Middle-income people can spend more of their income on regular apartments, but lower-income people are priced out entirely and have to move to Broadview or Renton or Kent where buses are infrequent and slow and you can’t walk to anything and it takes an hour or two to get to work on transit.

        And it’s based on the hysterical assumption that all apodment residents are crackheads and vandalizers and have cars they’ll park on the street. If they have a car they’ll care less about the walkshed and more about a dedicated parking space so they won’t choose the apodment!

        “We’re getting plenty of VOLUME”

        If we had plenty of volume the vacancy rate wouldn’t be going down and rents wouldn’t be spiking. What we have too much of is high-end luxury units with too much parking. That new $2500 Ballard building DP mentioned doesn’t solve middle-class housing, and if there were more supply they wouldn’t be able to get away with such blatant fleecing for tiny awkward units (as DP described them), because they couldn’t find enough tenants to sustain those prices.

      4. The issue is there are a limited number of sites of interest to developers in Seattle. The reason for this is the very limited areas with zoning developers find profitable. This puts tremendous pressure on sites yet to be redeveloped in those areas.

        If the development was allowed to spread out more it would take pressure off some of these neighborhoods and might slow down the overall rate of change any one neighborhood sees.

        In general the more total new housing units allowed in Seattle the more pressure will be taken off rents. While I doubt we’ll see rents drop at all, perhaps the rate of increase can be slowed down from added supply.

    2. So, I’m not sure if you have been in the Rainier Valley recently. I live in Columbia City, 3 blocks from the rail station (on purpose, bought my house close on purpose before the line opened). There are LITERALLY 600+ units coming online between me and the station in the next 1-2 years. There’s new retail going in. There’s a new PCC going in. There’s basically a new residential street being built through a previously large school property.

      I’m not sure where your notion of “things not getting done” comes from. It seems like a completely invented notion. Have you noticed the forest of cranes in South Lake Union, Capital Hill and East Queen Anne for the last… I dunno… 5 years? Have you seen how much the U District has changed? West Seattle Junction developments? Ballard?

      We’re building more rail, more streetcar, expanding more bus service, building more residential, and more retail than in any time in my memory, and I’ve lived here since 1984.

      A city is not built in a year, a decade, or even a generation. A city lives and breathes through its infrastructure for centuries. Lets stop pretending that we’re a couple 3D rendering away from “I fixed it!” Urban development is far, far more complex than that, requires experimentation AND FAILURE and correction in order to work.

      1. Say your budget is $1200 and you want to live within 10 blocks of a Rainier Valley station. Yes there are lots of moderate-priced apartments but most of them are full. One person at a time may be able to find something, or he may not, or he may find something if he checks back every two months. But that doesn’t scale to the number of people who want to live in moderate-priced urban villages near fast/frequent transit, which in Pugetopolis is tens or thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people. There’s the current demand, and there’s the near-future demand as people one-by-one realize the benefit of this and the convenience of living near Link.

      2. And mother-in-law units in single-family yards across the city can be part of the solution. It would lessen some of the pressure for apartments/condos with less “character” impacts on the neighborhoods. But it wouldn’t absorb the pressure entirely.

      3. Yes, I know about that PCC and I’d like to live in it if I could afford it (although it’d be a 90-minute commute for me until North Link opens and a 60-minute commute after that, so borderline realistic). I’m glad the valley is getting a natural food store because it’s been missing one. Those 300+ units are great but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total need both now and in the next thirty years.

  13. I don’t really what to fight for columbia city zoning. I mean, it needs an upzone, pedestrian and bike connections through the greenbelt, all that good stuff. But seriously, it is absurd to fight this neighborhood by neighborhood.

    We should be upzoning before the station is built, so buildings can be up and ready to move into by the time the station opens. Five years after a station opens, fighting to get zoning on the schedule, at least another year down the road… Absurd.

    Obviously I’m preachjng to the choir. But I really don’t think it makes sense for us to work this way, fighting neighborhood by neighborhood. What we need to fight for is first better aesthetics (small lot ground floor retail, set backs for the part of the buildings above 2-4 stories (outside of downtown) to keep sunlight on the street, etc.). This is necessary because 1) inviting spaces are every but as important to vibrant neighborhoods as density, and 2) it wins public support for density.

    Then we need to fight for systematic zoning – everything within 1/4 mile walk shed is 60′ or greater, 1/2 mile is LR2 or greater.

    Portland reduces parking requirements based on proximity to frequent routes. This way you only have to fight that battle once, and then it’s automatic. You can spend your energy fighting for frequency, and not have to worry about parking, because when you win the frequency battle, you win the parking battle too!

    So I want to see action to make zoning automatic. Then e won’t have to deal with neighborhods fighting for transit and against upzoning, because we can say, hey, you asked for light rail, you knew that this would come with. And then we can spend our time fighting for good transit, instead of fighting all of these battles simultaneously.

    *note: I’m sure that the automatic minimum zoning that we could get would be on the small side, but I think it would be worth it to have it everywhere, and be able to fight from a higher base density, if we want to. Also, I looked through the south and Lynwood link stations on Google earth the other day, and they’re awful. We need to include an automatic incentive for breaking up mega blocks because there are too many stops going in in places that have no hope of being walkable without rescaling the grid and streets.

    1. There is another way. The city could map out its growth block by block, creating more viable areas of density (i.e., larger areas), and do all the environmental review and pre-permitting itself. Then invite developers to build what the city wants, and give them permits rapidly with little red tape. The city has said it wanted it, so it shouldn’t put barriers in the way of doing it. Instead it treats each project as if no new building has ever been built before and it’s presumed an undesirable use, and they have to spend years getting it permitted. That drives up the cost of development and delays densification.

      1. Sadly to listen to those making the most noise and likely having much more influence once council districts go into effect, we are heading in the direction of San Francisco. There it is a royal pain in the ass to even redevelop a parking lot in an existing commercial zone. A friend who lives there calls such nonsense ‘the historic parking lot preservation society’. Apparently some group actually tried to block a new development by claiming the parking lot it was replacing was ‘historic’.

      2. As long as development doesn’t come to a 90% screeching halt we’ll be better off than San Francisco. Seattle also has twice the space as SF. The opposition here is just about preserving single-family density, not about preserving historic Victorian architecture too. People don’t want more people and cars and ugly six-packs (=Seattle townhouses), but they’re not wedded to every brick and nail and pastel shade of their neighborhood’s houses. Except the storybook brick bungalows which everybody loves and nobody will tear down, but those are only a small percentage of the housing stock.

      3. The.problem is we very much need to go in the opposite direction as San Francisco.

        Every time the anti-development forces successfully fight an upzone, a reduction in parking requirements, or block a particular type of development (ADUs, small lot houses, apodments) we are taking a step in the wrong direction.

        Even worse there are those who want moratoriums on new construction with a long list of conditions on lifting it (so effectively ‘never’) or to lock current land use in amber by re-zoning based on the current land use (once a parking lot, always a parking lot).

        Hopefully we don’t go that far but I fear we aren’t far from seeing groups trying to preserve ‘historic’ parking lots as an excuse to stop all new development.

        The general feeling toward developers by most in Seattle is that they are all evil money grubbing scumbags who the city really should be screwing over every chance it gets.

      4. How widespread is this amber movement and historic parking lot movement? I don’t think City Hall is that stupid to listen to them. And those all-parking parcels and Wendys are clearly interim uses: even many single-family aficionados want to see them redeveloped, and don’t want to see them frozen forever.

  14. Man, I wish I had TD money to buy some of those empty lots a block from the station. It might take a while, but that has got to be a good investment.

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