When the mayor first announced the HALA commission, I was skeptical that would achieve the same tangible output as previous commissions on the minimum wage and taxi regulation.  And yes, while the commission did gnash its teeth for a while developing a mission statement, sure enough it produced an specific plan (pdf) that the Mayor will turn into proposed legislation.  So while we’re a far cry from the victory lap, credit where due: the commission strategy seems to have worked yet again.

Like many others, I’m specifically glad to read this bit:

Increase Access, Affordability, Diversity and Inclusion within Single Family Areas: The exclusivity of Single Family zones limits the type of housing available, limits the presence of smaller format housing and limits access for those with lower incomes. The City will allow more variety of housing scaled to fit within traditional Single Family areas to increase the economic and demographic diversity. The broader mix of housing will include small lot dwellings, cottages or courtyard housing, rowhouses, duplexes, triplexes and stacked flats. Although a broader variety of housing would be permitted, the total amount of building area on a single lot will remain the same (excluding ADUs and DADUs) and it does not eliminate the option of single family housing.

As I’ve argued previously, smaller format housing like duplexes would be a nice win for the single family zones.  Triplexes and rowhouses are even better, and ought to be more palatable to neighborhoods since the total building area will not be larger than a currently-allowed single-family home.

While we’re discussing the fate of Seattle’s single-family zones, with their history of redlining and exclusion, it’s worth recalling what a strange beast they are.  Seattle’s close-in single family neighborhoods are something of a historical accident. Prior to the invention of the electric streetcar, urban residents in most cities were tightly clustered around the downtown core, their mobility limited by their own two feet. With the streetcar came what you might call suburban sprawl 1.0, as developers bought up tracts of land, built houses and ran streetcars to them.

The electric streetcar happened to show up in the 1880s, just as Seattle’s city’s population was swelling from 3,000 people to over 47,000. That meant the streetcar suburbs were built immediately adjacent to downtown. In older cities, like, say, Boston, those streetcar suburbs still got built, they were just built farther out from the downtown core (read more in this paper, which Andrew wrote up several years ago).

Had the Alaska gold rush happened a decade earlier, or had the electric streetcar been developed a decade later, Seattle would look very different today.

76 Replies to “Diversity in the Single Family Zones”

  1. I disagree.

    Many cities have / had close in single family housing areas.

    What has kept Seattle that way is inflexible zoning.

    In northwest Portland, two miles from downtown, it is possible to find the very occasional residence crammed between sprawling industrial buildings, preserved as a happy accident when the Northwest Industrial Zone was created out of a residential area. Northwest 23rd has a number of single family houses around it, but also single family houses converted to office and retail, apartment structures, and an industrial or two at the north end.

    Southeast Portland has close in residential as well, but intermixed with neighborhood commercial, small scale apartments, and light to medium industrial, all with blocks of each other, and all within a mile of downtown.

    Something that is dynamic is something in motion or changing. A city that is changing has these mixture areas where a variety of uses may be found. One pattern of uses leaves behind traces of previous uses by not taking entire vast tracts for new uses.

    The concept of set in stone zoning can be useful, but following those rules strictly means Magnolia gives up its favorite neighborhood Irish pub. Even there, a place must have a mixture to work.

    This concept that zoning must never change and must always change vast segments of a city seems to be a much more recent development than the Yukon Gold Rush era.

    1. The reasons why something got to be a certain way can be different from the reasons it stayed that way. But fair point, thanks.

      1. duly noted, but the last of your sentence reads, ” the commission strategy seems to have worked yet again.”
        just sayin’

    2. Sometime you guys should look at the history of downtown Kent. Try visiting the Kent Historical Museum on Canyon.

      The part where there was access to the Interurban (and really many cities across Washington State are like this) build the same Craftsman homes in the same styles as Seattle!

      Proving we can Build More Seattle … anywhere there is access to a transportation network.

      1. I doubt it. If by “more Seattle” you mean a mix of houses on relatively small lots, mixed in with brick apartment buildings that use up the whole lot (with no space for parking), then I don’t think it will happen. There are a number of reasons for this:

        1) Big lots. Even in my part of Seattle, the lots are bigger than 5,000 square feet, and much smaller than those in older parts of town.

        2) Existing houses. As much as I favor and believe density will rise quite nicely (and affordably) by rule changes like these, there is only so much you can do once the house has been laid down. Sometimes you can squeeze in small houses next to it or you can try making additions (as apartments) but it will never look like row houses in Brooklyn. Those houses are are no taller than those in Seattle, but manage to have density numbers higher than any found in any part of Seattle (including Belltown). I’m afraid that once a house goes up, there is only so much you can do (unless you replace it with an apartment).

        I’m afraid, in many cases, the opportunity has been lost. If the suburbs had developed like Seattle had developed, then we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we are in. Shoreline isn’t *that* far from the rest of Seattle, but the lots that the houses sit on are huge. Much of Bellevue is the same way. Had they been built like much of Seattle (houses relatively close to each other) then they would have a lot more people in them. It is easy to assume that lack of density is because of lack of apartments, but quite often it is the type of houses. Brooklyn style houses are extremely dense, Seattle style houses are in the middle and most suburban neighborhoods have very sparsely populated single family neighborhoods. If not for the apartments in the suburbs, they would be extremely sparsely populated.

      2. I wish it were true, but consolidations happen for a number of business reasons, and the move worldwide is towards the larger cities.

        I wish prodperity for the smaller communities were so simple as just having access to the transportation network.

        The company I work for would probably like to move to a smaller community. We need access to a laser cutting shop, air conditioning machinery, specialized electrical components, and a copper and brass distributor doesn’t hurt. Otherwise, transportation costs would kill us.

        So, at the very least we need to be in a medium urban area. The guy that owns the place says we could probably do ten times the business if we moved somewhere in the northeast, but he dislikes the northeast enough to not want to live there.

        Companies that make decisions entirely on economic grounds would make a different choice.

        Weyerhaeuser had its reasons for moving into Seattle, and they can be boiled down to economic.

      3. Thank you both for ignoring the factual example I provided, and prattling on as if it didn’t exist.

      4. @RossB

        SF5000 zoning does not mean all of the lots are actually 5000 square feet. I just checked the block I grew up on (in Queen Anne), which is zoned SF5000. Only 4 of the 16 houses had at least 5000 square foot lots, with the largest at 5400. My childhood home was just over 4000. Across the street, every lot is 4000 or under.

        I’ve been Zillow house-hunting/daydreaming so I’ve started to notice variations in lot sizes more and more. In West Seattle, there are many sub-5000 lots. NE Seattle seems to have larger lots on average, with 5000-6000 more common, but even there I’ve seen blocks with predominantly ~4000 lots.

      5. Bailo, what would you like to do in Kent? Where would these “more Seattles” go? How many square blocks? Is there anywhere downtown or East Hill or West Hill you would recommend for them? Or is your only answer to build them on the other side of the mountains in Central Washington? Would a replica of NewHolly be acceptable?

      6. Kent and nearby really are part of the Seattle region.

        By creating a new Seattle do you mean create a new downtown Seattle there?

        I figured we were talking about a new Seattle in see here like Cashmere or Westport or something.

      7. @Alex — Yeah, I know. There are a lot of lots in old Seattle that are like that. I’m not sure what to call the different single family areas, but I make a distinction between neighborhoods like Queen Anne and the Central Area and neighborhoods like mine (Pinehurst). The lots out here tend to be huge. When the subdivided the old farmland, they didn’t subdivide enough. In general if you walk around you can see this.

        While there are no tight row house neighborhoods in Seattle, there are neighborhoods where the house itself takes up most of the lot, even though the house is not enormous. There just isn’t that much room between it and the next house. You just don’t see that in most of the suburbs. There are exceptions, like the little spots that used to there own towns back in the day.

      8. When Bailo has used the term “more Seattle” in the past, it meant a neighborhood like Wallingford or the Central District. Small-lot houses and neighborhood commercial districts. What Seattle was like before the growth of the 1990s. I assume that’s what he means here.

      9. @Mike — Yes, I agree and think that is a good example.

        @John — Sorry, I misunderstood you. Did you point to examples of the last few years, or before then? Because my point is that generally speaking, they just don’t build them like that anymore. Really, please tell me about the neighborhoods where they tore down all the houses, removed the curvy cul-de-sac style streets and built “another Seattle”. Without a doubt they build little villages and “mini-Seattles”, but those were built a long time ago, before people fell in love with big lots, and fell out of love with a street grid that involved cardinal directions. (Not that all of Seattle has that — Denny and Boren are to blame for that — but at their streets went through). The bits of suburbia that are even moderately dense either have lots of apartments (built after tearing down all the streets) or were built a long time ago. Only the latter would be confused with “another Seattle”.

  2. Victory Lap’s are a bit premature Frank. After reading Danny Westneat’s intervieiw with HALA’s David Nieman, then reading a near record 457 comments about it I think the Mayor has some serious explaining to do.
    Not only did the Mayor say he endorsed all of the HALA positions, including SF zoning changes, he repeated twice that those changes would only be for 6% of the SF lots. Nieman politely refutes that, saying the Mayor spin is well, just that. Commentators were mostly pissed the Mayor is trying to push this forward under the cover of BS, noting the only winners here will be to line the pockets of developers once more.
    What big civic project comes to mind when pocket lining is discussed?
    here’s the interview:

  3. Boston is kind of a weird situation. In Back Bay, you have the around Commonwealth Avenue with multi-million dollar townhouses like you’d see in Manhattan. Yet it is just blocks from major office buildings. That would be like Laurelhurst (in townhouse form) being where Belltown is.

    Also, except for Back Bay, Downtown Boston, and the emerging Seaport area, there isn’t much high rise construction. We lament the 65′ height limits in Seattle, but much of Boston is also low-rise multifamily. There are also a lot of historical landmark rules as well that limit what can be developed and where. As a result, it is extremely hard for Boston to meaningfully increase its density. That is why rents are rising rapidly in Boston and in Seattle, even though Boston’s population density is almost 2x greater.

    1. FWIW, the Back Bay’s 150-year history has been far more dynamic and evolutionary than you might guess from wandering it today.

      Unlike the much older (and much more blue-blooded) Beacon Hill, the Back Bay was not spared the effects of suburban flight and mid-century economic malaise. Those ornate 1870s brownstone mansions? Many of them became cheap hacked-up apartments, MIT fraternities, non-profit office space, scrappy alternative schools. The western half of Newbury Street was mostly sandwich shops, laundromats, and 2nd-hand record stores. Really.

      Though 35 years of re-gentrification have long since made the area superlatively expensive again — and much denser than when first constructed, thanks to 4-12 fancy units in each former grand estate — there are still “unimproved” rentals that, while pricey in absolute terms, are practically bargains for the area.

      The point being that even in a marquee central-urban of an expensive East Coast city, there remains a non-negligible range in unit stock and price point. This will never be true of a monoculture like Laurelhurst. Or in the form-locked towers of South Lake Union.

      1. The closest thing we have to that is Capitol Hill/C.D. There are areas that have always been expensive. Even with the Boeing recession and the worst crime rates of the modern era, those houses cost a fortune (i. e. south of Volunteer Park). But the houses on the other side of the hill — east of Group Health and especially south, close to and across Madison — that was a different story. I walk by some of those big houses and it is obvious that they cost a mint. But back in the day, this is where people would scrounge together enough money to share a house. Or a family barely making it wouldn’t bother maintaining the paint. I’m afraid your odds of finding a bargain there are over.

        The best value I know of is south of there, but there simply isn’t that much in terms of housing stock. The houses tend to be smaller and take a smaller part of the lot (land was cheap, but building houses was not). These may be the areas that benefit most from these changes. It is simply a matter of time before these places “fill in”. It will never have quite the charm of areas like Queen Anne, Capitol Hill or parts of Ballard. But like other parts of Ballard, it will be fine. Once people realize that Rainier Beach (like Franklin before it and Garfield before it) is actually a good school, folks will go there. Many of them will struggle to afford a house, but with a bungalow or a basement apartment they can rent out, they can make the payments stretch.

      2. Ross, if the HALA program goes ahead as written, the SF neighborhoods you mention, the “best value I know of” will, over time be bought by developers. They can make a ton of money tearing down an “affordable” $400,000 house and replacing it with three $650,000 town homes with larger bulk and scale.

        Those neighborhoods will go upscale over time. Those families who sell will doubtless move outwards and will have the $$ to buy what they need farther away from overpriced Seattle. So I can’t see the point of putting developers into the SF market. I think all we need to do is loosen up a bit on ADU and DADU restrictions and allow those to flourish. They are far more likely to be affordable; we know the new construction will not be.

      3. It is simply not true that the area south of Volunteer Park was always expensive, even with the Boeing recession. We lived in one of them in 1979 as a summer rental. Our landlord told us that when he moved in, during the worst of the Boeing recession, his was the only house on the block that was not used as a drug den. It got cleaned up and gentrified pretty soon thereafter, but there was a time when you could have bought some pretty nice real estate up there for a song. And while mortgage rates were still restricted by law.

      4. @Breakbaker — Yeah, you are right. I worded that poorly. I was actually trying to avoid the opposite (“What are you talking about Ross — these places here were never cheap …”). I meant place like this: I think I should have said “like places on Harvard” so everyone knows that while many places (including those south of Volunteer Park) were relatively cheap back in the day, there were other places that obviously were not. But back to d. p.’s point, I don’t think anything like what you are talking about is cheap anymore. Unlike Boston, we just don’t have a huge stock of big houses in urban areas. Our growth occurred much later.

        @RDPence — Why would they tear down the existing house? What would be gained by that? Don’t get me wrong. I understand why people tear down small houses and put up mega houses. That may happen to the neighborhood as it has happened with other neighborhoods (especially if HALA doesn’t pass). After all, you can only do so much with a remodel. If you want four car garage and a huge kitchen and five big bedrooms with three bathrooms, you are almost always better off starting from scratch. Find a cute little house, tear it down, and put up your monster house. Perfectly legal under current code.

        But if you wan to add rent out a place, the opposite is true. You don’t care about parking (that is someone else’s concern). You want independent places. You want that little house, because that little thing is worth a bunch of money to a renter. Seriously — try and rent out a 2 bedroom house versus a three bedroom or a four bedroom. The difference is minor. But then what do you do? Build next to it. Of course you do. Renters don’t want to maintain that huge lawn (frankly, neither do most people). So, you put up little bungalows on either side and rent out all three. Each one is worth a lot to renters, because each one is independent (no noisy neighbors sharing a wall). Meanwhile, your cost is minimal compared to starting over. You spend a little for each little bungalow, and make a profit (nothing like spending a little and making a little bit more). Everyone is happy. Except the folks that wanted renters to pay for parking, or miss the lawn. Boo hoo.

        Keep in mind, even in the handful of locations that allow higher density housing, you can’t do that right now. You can’t just take a nice little house and add two little houses on each side unless you add parking. Parking is expensive. Parking takes space. So under the current code — you guessed it — it is just easier to level all of it. Demolish that house and start over (with parking in mind).

        I know the HALA code is scary to people. But if you really want to preserve the classic houses of Seattle, work with it. I see no problem with trying to preserve the old structures (as a compromise). Seriously, if that old house looks just too damn pretty to lose, try and get everyone to allow it to be converted to an apartment (without parking). That might be legal (if HALA passes) and then everyone comes out ahead. This house ( got killed under the old zoning rules — and you want to keep them? Dude, the current rules ain’t working. Time to do something better.

    2. Alex – San Francisco is nearly 2.5 times denser than Seattle with virtually no detached single family homes in the city proper, yet housing prices there are even more out of control.

      San Francisco’s heavy rail system carries 425K per day and combined with light rail there are about 600K rail riders in the region. That’s exponentially higher than Seattle’s 35K rail ridership. Yet there are still major problems with the rail network in the Bay Area.

      I guess my point is metrics like density and ridership – while important – don’t tell the whole story. It’s about meeting demand and being strategic and efficient. You can have relatively high absolute numbers in terms of density and ridership yet still be doing a lot wrong and have negative outcomes like out of control housing costs and an inefficient and much-less-effective-than-it-should-be transit system.

      1. San Francisco may not have many detached single family houses, but the preservation of the old fashioned gingerbread row houses tightens the supply, raising prices than they would be if, say, a few more 20 floor condo buildings existed.

        Look, I like the attractive older buildings as well. However, there comes a time when keeping them becomes too expensive, and unless you have a national historic district or some other method to preserve them, eventually they come down and are replaced by monster mansions or some other contrivance that meets the zoning and the whims of whatever rich family has been able to afford to live there.

        Eugene has a Skinner Butte National Historic District to preserve a block of its old craftsman and earlier homes. Across the street there is a 20 floor apartment building.

        Maybe there should be a Capitol Hill National Historic District, which prevents anyone from changing anything?

  4. The conclusion from the Veka paper includes this highly relevant gem:

    “As was learned in Seattle a century ago, insufficient population densities
    (among other deficiencies) can lead to overextension of the rail system and
    insufficient ridership.”

  5. It’s so important that we don’t allow Jon Grant to get past this primary, or come anywhere close to the city council. Assuming shoo-in Lorena Gonzales and Sally Bagshaw, and probable Mike OBrien get on the city council this year, then we will have a strong ‘urbanist’ majority which can usher in HALA recs and other great land use ordinances.

    1. Agreed, he would probably do more harm than good. He’s very much in the Sawant mold – strongly favoring renter protection and anti-displacement while ironically missing the notion that increasing single family density IS anti-displacement. In other words, socialism without urbanism. I personally believe there is a scenario where things like rent control and inclusionary zoning can work, but only if paired with very liberalized zoning policies. HALA takes a nice step in that direction. Sawant and Grant seem oblivious to the importance of the “liberalized zoning” portion of affordability.

      Nevertheless, Gonzalez, O’Brien, Bagshaw as you mentioned, and also hopefully Rob Johnson in 4. West Seattle will probably go to the NIMBY’s. And I frankly don’t know what Harrell’s urbanist chops are. Still, things look generally positive from an urbanist standpoint.

      1. Shannon Braddock in D1 seems likely to be solid on urbanist issues. She’s very good on transit. And she’s also most likely to win, I think.

        Lisa Herbold less so, as she’s basically a Licata clone. And based on what I’ve heard her say publicly, she’s definitely pandering to the aging NIMBY crowd. I really hope that she doesn’t get elected in D1.

        None of the other D1 candidates have any chance of winning.

      2. I agree. Sawant irritates me, but she will probably still be there. Hopefully she can figure it out (as you said, increasing density in this way reduces displacement and leads to lower rents) but I won’t hold my breath.

        Rob Johnson in the fourth would be great. In my district (the fifth) there hasn’t been the anti-density campaigns that many assumed would occur out here. I’ve heard good things from some of the candidates, and the HALA proposal makes for a great starting point. I plan on asking a few of the candidates what they think.

        When folks pushed for district elections, I think they assumed that they could isolate the urban areas, and grab a non-urbanist majority (much the same way that a state can vote Democratic but have Republican representatives). The thing is, this is very difficult. Districts two and five are more interested in bread and butter issues (transportation, crime, affordable housing) than someone building a duplex down the street. The areas that are concerned most with preserving their pretty neighborhoods also have urbanist members (like O’Brien) that want to preserve those houses too, but want to see backyard cottages and basement apartments. Those that want to see fewer people in their neighborhood, or require all new development have parking may find themselves simply out of luck, as the city realizes this is bad for everyone. They may make a lot of noise at the meeting, but be outnumbered at the ballot box.

        The district elections may have been started by folks that wanted to see an end to population growth in the city, but by stirring things up it may have the opposite effect.

      3. Bill Bradburd appears to be quite a piece of work.

        There’s something extra-appalling about someone whose personal narrative is “cool-dad musician who moved here for the good life…. maaaaan”, who bought property (as an first-wave C.D. gentrifier) early enough to make homeowner ends meet as a stay-at-home-dad, and whose every public statement emphasizes that he’s happy to take a flamethrower to the bridge he arrived on and the latter he has climbed.

        His social media presence reveals him to be quite the gleeful asshole, so hopefully that will overwhelm NIMBY solidarity to torch his dangerous campaign.

      4. yeah, d.p. I was at a debate yesterday in the library and he came off like the ur-curmudgeon.

      5. You’re right about Herbold in District 1. She’s pandering to the older homeowners in West Seattle pissed off about changes to single-family zones. I’m not sure about Braddock’s chances since she didn’t get the Seattle Times endorsement. Brianna Thomas has a shot in this race if she can mobilize younger voters. She has the sole endorsement of the Sierra Club and the Urbanist, and the Machinists’ Union (who have a bunch of members in District 1). She’s good on transportation and good on density.

      6. >> Bill Bradburd appears to be quite a piece of work.

        I think it is amusing that he touts the fact that he helped usher in district elections, then he runs on one of the old (at-large) seats. “If not for me, you would have to choose between candidates running for the city as a whole, like I am”.

        I think (and hope) that Gonzales will crush him. This is a time when newspapers need to step up, put aside their partisan blinders, and just pick the candidate that is not a wacko.

      7. The Bradburd positioning is just super-weird to me (as is the fact that he supposedly has a chance at winning).

        Like, this isn’t even the classic set of ConservaNIMBY hypocrisies and blind spots: “I worked my way through college [at 1/30th the tuition and higher real wages], I got myself a steady job [when many fields paid robust middle-class wages and job security was a thing], and I earned my starter home [which cost like $25,000]. Why can’t everybody today just be like me!?

        Bradburd is something completely different, and arguably even more callous-cum-insidious: “I moved out here for the general appeal of the place, and I stumbled into homeownership by what I clearly recognize was nothing but a fortuitousness of timing. If you didn’t have the luck to be born when I did, then tough titty toenails to you, next generation of ‘me’s (or my own kids)!”

        And this isn’t, like, some ancillary opinion that he’s accidentally letting slip.

        This is literally his entire platform!!

    2. Did you guys read Jon Grant’s alternative housing proposal? Plenty of good ideas in there IMO.

      You dismiss Grant so easily. I’m not sure that he’s anti-urbanist. He’s been in the trenches as Executive Director of the Tenant’s Union and has worked a lot more closely with displaced and disenfranchised low income tenants than I have despite all my noble philosophizing about what a good housing policy should be. I haven’t heard that he would oppose liberalizing zoning regulations although that may be true of Sawant (who I admitted has been disappointing on some issues,).

      From a planning standpoint it’s easy to fall back to pure market principles and say if we build a sufficiently large amount of units with fewer parking stalls that should equal affordable housing. But the risky thing is that while you can boost the supply. you no way to limit the demand, and it might easily outstrip the supply–even if we build 200,000 units in 10 years instead of 20,000. We should do as much as we can with market-rate units, but I think the value of a proposal like Grant’s is that by putting more units in city control you can guarantee a least some of the housing stock stays truly affordable right down to 30% of AMI.

      1. I would love for Mr. Grant to say, “I support everything in HALA, as it was the work of many people, and got developers to agree to do things that they could have legally fought. I am okay with having the linkage fee apply only to commercial development, since the idea is to get more housing built. I support doubling the housing levy, as everyone needs to pitch in to solve the housing crisis. And I support going further than HALA, by allowing much more dense development around transit nodes (complete with the required percentage of rent-regulated/income-limited units). I support removing the limitation in the single-family zones that are the majority of Seattle’s land area, so that more than just free-standing single-family houses can be built on them, and add-on units can bring affordable non-apartment living spaces to the whole breadth of Seattle. I support maximizing housing — both subsidized and market rate — in our welcoming city, and I much prefer growth in Seattle to suburban sprawl that razes our forests and arable lands. I am an unapologetic urbanist!”

        One can wish. Additional device to Mr. Grant: The real enemy is not developers. The enemy is deforestation, loss of land on which to grow food, sprawl, and climate change. Think globally.

      2. I think that is the problem with demagogues. I think you can make a case for rent control — even though it is illegal under state law and even though it hasn’t worked anywhere else. But to just ignore the reality we live in — to ignore the market — is folly. It is like someone trying to end Obamacare because a single payer plan would be better. Look, dude, I agree, but we have it, and it isn’t going away — don’t you think we should make it better? The market isn’t perfect (far from it) but we can make it better, and this would make it better (for everyone). Just relax, comrade, and try to make things a little bit better.

  6. From what I’ve read, the changes make a lot of sense, and are a reasonable compromise. The big question is whether it will actually be implemented. The commission process is generally a good one, and usually leads to good outcomes. Occasionally, though, people in charge simply ignore the commission findings. For example, years ago, a commission was tasked with figuring out how to replace the viaduct. The members included people from the port, transportation experts and people from various interest groups (like then Sierra Club member Mike O’Brien). They came up with two solutions: the first was a new viaduct. The second was a combination of improvements made to roads (such as I-5) and transit, with no new viaduct. They rejected a tunnel. Then, of course, the mayor rejected the findings, and pushed for a tunnel. Now (assuming it gets finished) we will have a tunnel with no exit or on ramp on Western and no exit or on ramp downtown and only two lanes. A lot of money will be spent, and the situation for those who drive or those who ride a bus will be worse.

    Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen here. I hope this proposal is approved completely. The worries of those that want to see single family homes preserved are misplaced. The biggest threat to single family homes is the current system. By drawing a circle around a handful of areas, you pretty much guarantee that the homes there will be destroyed. The parking situation makes it worse. If you own a big house in an area zoned for apartments, you can convert it, but you would have to add a lot of parking (under the current rules). This is expensive, but if rents are really high, this is how growth occurs. The opposite can happen now. A big house can easily be converted to an apartment, and done so very cheaply. This relieves the pressure on houses in so called urban villages, and makes it more likely that those houses will have a similar conversion. At the same time, small houses can be built behind other houses. This will also reduce the number of “monster houses”. If I own a cute little house on a big lot, there is little I can do now to increase the value of the house, other than tear it down. Since houses in general are very expensive, that little house is not long for this world. The next owner will tear it down, because relative to the value of the property (and a huge house on it) the house isn’t worth much. But if I take that little house and add another little house behind it, then the equation changes. Now the value of the housing on that lot has doubled, which makes it less likely that someone will build a monster house.

    In some ways, the “don’t change a thing” folks remind me of the “fight every forest fire” policy of fifty years ago. On the surface it makes sense (if you don’t like forest fires). But in the long run, it just leads to bigger fires. A “let it burn” policy eventually leads to smaller fires — fires that don’t burn everything to the ground, but simply clear the brush. This new policy is like that, and will result in a better outcome for everyone (except perhaps folks that light to destroy houses).

    1. The problem is that homeowners who have lived happily for years in quiet neighborhoods hear what is emanating from the mayor’s office, look at what’s happened in the Ballard sacrifice zone and shudder. Having seen the breathtaking incompetence displayed by city hall in recent years, what are the odds that they will get these issues right in other parts of the city?
      Also, does anyone seriously think that housing affordability is going to improve as a result of these mandates? What will happen is that developers will keep their profits high by cranking out more expensive housing (with the required minimum amount of “affordable” housing).

      1. I absolutely think that affordability will improve, relative to the status quo. Building a backyard cottage, having the option of stacked flats or duplexes in SFH areas – these units will not cost more than single family homes will on their own.

      2. Individual homeowners will have different rates, some less expensive than others. The units will be of differing sizes and qualities. Over time you may know somebody with an ADU available when you need it, who may give you a deal. The owner isn’t paying a management company with a profit overhead. Small houses have less expenses than small apartment buildings, and both have less expenses than large apartment buildings. If the owner allows you to share a yard or plant part of a garden, that may be a valuable amenity to you.

      3. What kptrease said. Unless this gets watered down (because of the politics that you mentioned) then affordability should improve (all other things being equal).

    2. The fact that the report exists is an achievement in itself. Now there’s an official city report saying we need to increase density to ensure adequate housing, and listing the reasons why. That will make it harder for the opponents to refute it, because it becomes obvious that NIMBYs are thinking only of themselves and not everyone in the city. Even if the recommendations don’t get implemented the first time, they’ll keep coming back and eventually some of them will be, and they’ll be issues in future council elections. Until now only one side has articulated a complete position (“preserve everything as-is”) and the opposition has been scattered and ineffective (we got urban villages, small and short). Now there’s something for the urbanists to coalesce around and hopefully become stronger. Especially now that we’ve realized that “urban” can include ADUs and lowrise and rowhouses, not just 20+ unit buildings.

      1. I agree. No matter what happens from now on, this will dramatically change the conversation in the city.

  7. The proposal has nothing to do with urban goals or density and everything to do greed on the part of the developers and resentment on the part of the low income housing advocates.

    Want proof? Look at the corner of 3rd Ave and 85th in Greenwood. 330,000 sq ft of developable land on a major arterial with easy access to transit and in a walkable neighborhood. What did the city allow to be built on this prime land? A Fred Meyer and a big, giant, parking lot of urban deadness.

    What could have been 100’s if not over a 1000 housing units instead became little more than a dead zone in the middle of a great neighborhood. It’s a shame.

    Ya, if the city was serious about urban goals and such they would never have allowed such a development – and it isn’t the only one in this city by far. So unless the city does something about big box stores and giant dead parking lots, or underutilized single story buildings throughout our urban centers for that matter, then they probably don’t have much of a moral position to go after SFH from…..

    And the part about SFZ being racist? That is a really cheap shot and was uncalled for.

      1. Oh bullshit. Developers get very little out of this deal. Developer pay more taxes. Yippee!

        But home owners will build more ADUs. So unless your definition of “developer” is someone who converts a basement into an apartment, then developers get nothing. Developers (in the traditional sense) were quite happy cranking out six story monstrosities, each one like the other one. Of course they hated having to add the extra parking (it cut into the profits and was ultimately paid for by the renting class) but in today’s market, big deal. The city did a wonderful job of restricting development in over two thirds of the city (the single family housing area) so that even if they built crap, people would by it. Of course they would. Of course someone would pay $1,500 for an apartment in Ballard overlooking lovely 15th (ooooh, look at the view of the gas station) because they couldn’t live in a bungalow in Magnolia, or a basement apartment in Fremont, or a converted apartment in Wallingford. This will all change, very soon.

      1. Haha, great find. Love how lazarus continues to spout BS even when he’s easily proven wrong.

      2. I’ve been told that Fred Meyer probably would have gone in for the full, mixed use, 250 unit + more retail plan had the recession hit a year sooner or a year later. It was largely the consequence of really bad timing; they would have had to make the big $$ commitments just at the moment the financial outlook seemed bleakest. As usual, lazarus doesn’t know anything about what he’s talking about. Zoning isn’t the reason we got an anti-urban result there, Fred Meyer’s financial situation was.

    1. What you are arguing for is minimum zoning standards in certain areas, plus some sort of mechanism to allow a municipal veto against certain forms and and certain uses.

      While each of these might represent an interesting and potentially useful policy tack, they are very, very, very far from the actual policies we have, or have ever had, or seem likely ever to have. The Greenwood Mega-Meyer didn’t violate any maximums, so pro-urban forces were powerless to prevent it.

      Lesson learned? We’ll see. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with allowing gradual and organic growth to take root elsewhere across the city.

      And the part about SFZ being racist?

      …Is rooted in accurate history. One of the great crimes of redlining was that it so limited both the areas in which people of color could live, and their access to financing, that it functionally raised the price of both rent and ownership in the “black” areas. Ghettoized areas, crime and lack of city services notwithstanding, actually became more expensive than the expansive white single-family zones, whose prices were artificially lowered by redlining’s market distortions.

      Any white person who bought a single-family home in Seattle before… well, really anytime before the current boom times, has either directly or indirectly benefitted from a legacy of racist and exclusionary zoning.

      1. Only white people? How about Asian-Americans? Are they exempt?
        I find your bringing the homeowner’s race into the discussion pretty pathetic, since it translates into “If your don’t like the proposed development, you’re a racist”.

      2. So you are saying that the Pakistani guy on the corner of my block who bought his house 35 years ago somehow benefited from white racism? Or are you saying that the charge of racism only applies if you happen to be white and live in a SFH?

        It’s a stupid charge and should have been left out of the report. It cheapens what they are trying to say. What happened a 100 years ago hardly applies to the situation today. And besides, many neighborhoods in Seattle were originally homesteaded by immigrants – immigrants that just happened to be Scandinavian or German – yes, white, but immigrants just the same.

      3. Yes, Asian-Americans were also redlined away from white enclaves. As were Jews, as I understand it.

        @lazarus: “It’s a stupid charge and should have been left out of the report. It cheapens what they are trying to say.” No, it perfectly illustrates what they’re trying to say: the status quo both had the intent and the affect of racist outcomes and we can no longer support the status quo.

      4. Pro tip: someone who is trying to refute charges of participating in institutional racism might be well advised to stop pretending such things happened “100 years ago”.

        Legal discrimination in housing remained in Seattle until 1968. Informal discrimination lasted far longer. And yes, it manifested against East and South Asians too.

        If your Pakistani neighbor was able to buy his house in 1980 at a depressed price because he was (informally) protected from having to compete with “less desirable” candidates, then he too benefitted (tangentially) from the legacy of single-family housing distribution in Seattle.

      5. Private covenants started in the late 1800s in developer-planned neighborhoods to make them exclusive. They specifically excluded non-whites, multifamily buildings, and other things that would make it affordable to working-class people or make it look average. The open space and curving roads was conspicuous consumption. Open space and dogs and cats were allowed; productive gardens and farm animals were not. Zoning arose around the 1920s for similar purposes: to keep minorities and lower-class people out. Their area was the industrial/undesirable part of town. Now in 2015, even if the majority of homeowners aren’t racist, the de facto effects of zoning remain to some extent, and the main issue is economic stratification. It’s easy to stand in your yard and say you accept everybody, but a large portion of the city can’t afford the median-priced house or apartment, so they can’t live in your neighborhood or half the city (the half near better transit). That’s the problem. A large potion of the black community is in that lower level, due to lack of opportunities in the current generation and their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Again it’s a de facto effect; even if you aren’t actively doing it, the zoning is.

      6. Lazarus never reads the source material.

        But that has never stopped him from having absolute[ly counterfactual] convictions about stuff, so I wouldn’t expect him to start now.

    2. That parking lot at Fred Meyer won’t stay parking forever, though the store unfortunately will remain low-rise development.

      The parking lot is basically an option on the housing market, which Kroger (or whoever owns that land) can exercise whenever it wants.

      1. It likely will stay parking as long as the grocery store remains. Depending on the ownership structure and whether or not Fred Meyer owns the land or the building as opposed to merely leasing the building or ground leasing the land, there are almost certainly parking minimums that come into play. Even if Fred Meyer does own both the building and the land and there are no lease restrictions related to parking, it’s very difficult to maintain “adequate” on-site parking while building a new structure that includes a sub-surface parking garage, and they aren’t the sort of company that’s likely to take that risk.

    3. I don’t think this is about developers. This goes much deeper. It speaks to a political philosophy that says everyone has a right to everything. That a person who doesn’t want to work and is on section 8 and welfare has just as much right to live on the Laurelhurst shoreline as someone who has worked 80 hours a week for 40 years.

      1. You’re right that it’s not about developers. It’s about undoing stupid exclusionary rules from the bad old days and replacing them with more equitable rules that will result in a more vibrant city.

      2. @Jason,

        You are very naive. If you want a more vibrant city you start by developing that in the urban centers. You could double or triple the number of people living in areas currently zoned SFZ and not achieve anything like a vibrant city, because in the end these areas will still be relatively low density.

        This is not about urban goals. It’s about greed and resentment.

      3. Thanks for the insult, Laz, but I’m not naive; I just happen to disagree with you. I also happen to like neighborhoods with more people and housing types in them, and I don’t see any downside. I happen to own a fairly nice SFH in Seattle in an area that’s zoned SF5000 and I’d be perfectly happy if a rowhouse, triplex, etc., went in next door. I also don’t care if developers make some money building housing units. Seattle has terrible housing stock and we need more units ASAP. I’m under no illusion that prices are going to go down as a result of more building, but I’m favor of it because I think there are numerous other benefits.

      4. Wow, Sam, are you running for president? I think you have the talking points down. Throw in some crap about Mexicans and lowering the tax rates, along with keeping America safe, and I think you can beat at least half of those losers. Oh, and don’t forget to deny that global warming is caused by people — never let facts get in the way of your talking points — never!

  8. Perhaps I’m hopelessly naive, but it’s hard for me to grasp how the dread evil developers would have much to gain from adding a small basement apartment. The return on that sort of thing could be great for a homeowner–it could give him the flexibility to quit a job or take a lower paying one or otherwise adjust his lifestyle in a meaningful way. But the whole project is surely far too small potatoes to interest any serious developer. Same with backyard cottages, etc. I suppose developers may get involved in building duplexes and triplexes but….so what? I live in a SF neighborhood with an old, grandfathered triplex across the street. It’s fine. There’s an elderly couple without much money who rent one of the units; they could otherwise never afford to live in this area. They’re great neighbors, they look out for suspicious activity, take care of someone’s kids after school a couple days a week, etc. If that triplex hadn’t been build before the restrictive SF zoning came into being, we’d be deprived of their presence, because SF zoning enforces segregation by economic class.

    The SF rule changes are great for homeowners, because they provide them considerably more flexibility in how they utilize their primary financial asset. I have a lot of neighbors who bought as much house as they possibly could, they’d be in trouble if their financial circumstances took a downturn. They might be forced to move. With these changes, they’d have more options to generate income from their property now, allowing them to stay in their neighborhood and home. Kid moves out and goes to college? You need less space and more money. An ADU gives you both. Why on earth would we want to deprive our neighbors these kinds of flexibility and options?

    I can imagine two possible reasons to oppose the SF changes. 1) you care about monopolizing government subsidized car storage more than you care about anything else, and 2) you don’t want to live near people who aren’t as wealthy as you. I can’t imagine why I should accord either of those preferences even the slightest amount of sympathy or respect.

    1. Realistically, even a nice and large basement ADU isn’t going to earn you much more than $12k/year after taxes and expenses in Seattle. It is a nice income stream, but nothing that will let you quit your job unless that job was nearly minimum wage.

      I’m also not convinced a lot of people will want to build ADUs. On the truly rich can buy a SFH in Seattle today, given where prices are. You’re almost certainly in the top 15% of Americans by income and somehow came up with a down payment. Meanwhile, those who bought homes decades ago are probably in the top 15% by wealth from their home equity alone. When you’re that well-off, another $12k/year doesn’t seem like that much money.

      Then there’s the motivation factor. Lots of SFH owners are not profit-maximizing people. My parents could make a basement ADU, but they don’t want to. They are in solid financial shape. My dad likes having a place for his bikes, tools, and “projects.” Sure, they would be wealthier if they added an ADU, but they just don’t care.

    2. I think you’re making the mistake of conflating the financial circumstances of SH homebuyers and SH homeowners. Most of the latter bought before Seattle was so expensive, and their financial circumstances are all over the map. Even recently, I know a lot of people who bought as much house as they possibly could at their income level, because it was necessary to live in the neighborhood/school zone they wanted to be in. Sure, they’re well above the median income level, but they’re not ‘rich’ in the sense that they can sneeze at 10-12 K a year, and their mortgage and other financial obligations are such that any significant decline in their financial circumstances for any sustained period of time will make it difficult for them to remain in the house. But still, the vast majority of single family homeowners bought when you didn’t have to be so rich. 12K could mean a lot for them–for people who bought before the turn of the century, 12K a year could easily be as much or more than their mortgage. Also, don’t forget the looming crisis of the 401K generation–the average 60 year old has a disastrously inadequate amount of money in their 401K to retire. A lot of people are about to face a choice between working forever or finding a way to get some value out of their primary asset. By necessity, financing something that looks like a retirement is going to require additional income streams, given savings levels. For people who don’t really want to leave the city and go somewhere cheap and boring in their golden years, this option could be a big deal.

      But whether lots of people do it or relatively few people do it, it’s a useful rule change. It adds housing capacity in an unobtrusive way that’s likely to be affordable without a subsidy. There’s no meaningful cost to allowing them. When the range of outcomes are “this might help a little, for no cost” to “this might help a lot, for no cost” you do it.

    3. You are not naive. You pretty much nailed it. This is a win for home owners and for those who rent (assuming the regulations pass). It is also a win for landlords. Not everyone will go out and build an ADU (or DADU) but when they do, it will be much easier. Meanwhile, when they sell, the house will be worth more. A lot more. Because the new owner might be a guy who wants to do the same thing. But it might also be someone who wants to rent the house AND the ADU (or DADU). This is illegal right now (in Seattle). It isn’t illegal in Portland, or Vancouver BC, but it is illegal here, which is why these sorts of units sit on the market forever. This means (of course) that unlike obvious improvements to a house (adding a bedroom or two) getting financing is rather difficult, because by and large, the owner hasn’t added that much value to the house. All of this change. If you feel like building a basement apartment, or a backyard cottage, you should feel confident that you actually added substantial value to your property. It is (or could be) a new world.

  9. “courtyard housing”

    I love courtyards! They’re the best kind of open space. They make you want to pull up a chair and read and have a picnic or look at the plants. Much better than the dead open space in setbacks, which is usually so uninviting nobody wants to sit there. I lived in an 8-unit apartment with a courtyard in north Ballard, which I think is condos now. I absolutely would like to see more buildings like that, or even triplexes around a courtyard. That’s the kind of place I might want to live in later in life.

  10. Wish there’d been a reply space closer to your comment, Glenn. Because of all the submissions on this subject, you bring up the most important factor in the exact changes this region and the rest of our country really need.

    My whole adult life watching the rust belt oxidize, and recently becoming a refugee as Ballard plummeted from light industry to heavy real estate speculation, leaves me convinced that the loss of work of exactly the type and scale of your employer is chiefly responsible for every one of our checklist social evils.

    In my grade-school days in Chicago, the interurbans were still running- which were not only rural regional bullet trains resembling Portland’s current classic streetcars and the George Benson cars, but often freight railroads as well. Yakima had local electric freight my last visit a 20 years ago or so. Is it still there?

    For lack of funds even more than of imagination, it’ll be a long time before the George Benson line gets replaced. But my thought is that the way for both street rail and the Waterfront itself to pay their way is to intersperse small industries like yours with the parks and vistas. Right now, I get the sense that funding plans mean pleading for philanthropy.

    The project’s earliest public meetings showed the true waterfront as much more than a beach in front of Downtown. The original concept was our Waterfront as a ring around Elliott Bay from Alki to Magnolia. Giving us plenty of space for prosperous and productive industrial, residential economy.

    With its jewels strung on a ring of steel track and copper catenary.

    Many historic authors stressed how much life energy animated every port city they visited. Meaning that the same dynamic with our scenery would be likely be the world’s most powerful tourist draw as well.

    Mark Dublin

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