West Seattle from the Air (Jeremy Reding – Flickr)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) initiative is advancing through the cycles of public comment and feedback. One of the major venues is an online tool hosted at http://hala.consider.it, where each neighborhood’s proposing zoning changes are detailed and commented on individually.

Unfortunately, a quick trip last weekend through the current opinion “levels” in some of the HALA pages was disappointing — a whole lot of neutral or negative opinions in many of the places where ST train lines are already coming, and sooner (Roosevelt, Northgate) rather than later (Ballard).

One in particular deserves special mention for its markedly negative responses: the West Seattle Junction proposal, which roughly covers the two denser areas of the Triangle and Alaska Junction. The future of this area is unambiguous, thanks to the passage of ST3; there will be Link stations in the not-quite-so-distant future that can be predictably ballparked to center around the busy intersections of 35th/Avalon and Alaska/California — the two densest parts of the neighborhood. But looking at the zoning proposal’s response pages you’d never know it — a whole lot of SFH ranting and raving about how density will ruin  neighborhood “character” and destroy their property values (?!). West Seattle has a chance to be truly prepared for the arrival of the train lines given the ST3 time horizon, and a lot of people aren’t seeing it.

My point is simple: Seattle needs HALA, and now, HALA needs us, the urbanist, density-supporting community. Those opinion pages won’t be ignored; online comments (especially negative ones) tend to be taken pretty seriously by agencies around here. I want to call on the STB community to act, to take a few minutes and write comments in support of HALA’s proposals. The links below will take you directly to the response page for each neighborhood proposal.

West Seattle: https://hala.consider.it/west_seattle_junction–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-west-seattle-junction-accur

Roosevelt: https://hala.consider.it/northgate–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-northgate-accurately-reflects-the-princ

Northgate: https://hala.consider.it/northgate–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-northgate-accurately-reflects-the-princ

Ballard: https://hala.consider.it/ballard–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-ballard-accurately-reflects-the-principle

55 Replies to “Call to Action: HALA Online Feedback Needs Your Input”

  1. If it were so easy to destroy property values and get at least one Seattle neighborhood back to affordability, then… isn’t that a good thing?

    Note to homeowners worried about their property values: homes are for living in, not for speculating in, or for the government to guarantee their speculation value. If you want your money to multiply, put it in the stock market or somewhere else, rather than denying other people the necessity of shelter.

    1. It is silly to think that these types of zoning changes would decrease property values. It might decrease unit values, but not property values. The cost of an apartment would go down, but not the cost of a house, because the house also sits on land, and the value of the land would likely increase in value, not decrease. If you can do more with the land, then it goes up in value. It is possible that one could balance out the other, I suppose (no one wants to spend 600,000 for a house when they can buy a condo for $300,000 nearby) but I doubt it. The house is valuable in part because it is really nice, and because they aren’t making houses like that anymore, not just because it is a place to live.

      I guess I can see that if you live on the new edge of development (where apartments are now allowed) then the new construction (a new ugly apartment) could lower the value of your property. But again, I doubt it. Most new apartments are very interesting looking, even if they don’t match the old housing style. It is nothing like the building boom that occurred in the 80’s. About the only thing that could depress the value of a house is if they allow a bar nearby. As much as I like commercial property (and feel like we need more) it is reasonable, in my opinion, to argue that a lot of these areas should allow only residential development.

      1. When a large area only allows residential development, basic services like groceries become a car ride away. That’s what makes a neighborhood unlivable and forces the existence of traffic.

        Besides, who wants to live on the first floor of multi-story apartment buildings?

    2. The funniest part is that I’m sure there is a substantial overlap between people who are worried about the negative impact on the value of their property, and the people who complain about having to pay so much property tax.

    3. Low income people are Living in thier retirement account. Where is that extra money for investing? there is none.
      You assume homeowners are wealthy. Wrong. Many of us have limited equity, or are on very fixed incomes. Our houses are affordable because we bought them years ago, struggled to hang onto them when the bubble burst and waited to regain some sort of equity.
      So narrow-minded to assume we aren’t the low income people HALA is supposed to help. We are the service workers, artists, elderly.
      Yes, I need to stay in my house and I need my house to have value so I can maybe someday retire, maybe. I work in the city 5 min. From my house. My partner rides his bike 20 min. to work from here. We bought here for a reason, and paid more to be closer to work.
      Sorry but we already live here, have no intentions of selling to make room for apodment that tower over my elderly neighbors garden.
      I’ve noticed so many pro density folks don’t consider the elderly on fixed incomes. You just want to throw them out so you can Iive there instead. Not respectful or ethical. Ageism.
      What’s livable, and tolerable at 25 changes at 65.
      Also, some of us in houses use our cars/trucks for work. Your gardeners, painters, cab drivers, couriers can’t hop on a bike to work.
      It’s time for Urbanists to think outside the teeny tiny apodment. The city needs all kinds of housing and all kinds of workers to function.

      1. Nobody who owns their home is being thrown out. In Washington, a developer can only buy a home from a willing seller. If you want to stay where you are, go ahead! And if you do ever decide to sell, you’ll have a really nice payday coming your way. Allowing denser development in your neighborhood will increase the value of your home.

        Meanwhile, what about the next generation of lower-wage workers? They can’t afford a house like you have, not anymore. Land has gotten too expensive for most people starting their careers to ever dream of owning a house with a yard in the city. We need to allow options for people to live on less land; that’s the only way to keep Seattle even a little bit affordable.

  2. The funny part is that I own property in the MD suburbs– and I know my place will never tank in value because it is walking distance to Friendship Heights Metro station.

    When the apodment debate rage was going on in Ballard, I told a Seattle City planning official that if they built light rail fast, you could shut down the slow growthers in Ballard– but if it took too long, people would come out with pitchforks and torches. When the city decided to go with Interbay line over Ballard to UW, this was likely to happen (see the “con” comment about services need to catch up with growth).

  3. How much of ST3 depends on federal funding? I’m concerned that ST3 underestimated cost and overestimates federal contribution. It’s going to be delayed and de-scoped.

    If it faces a budget issue, where would you make the cuts first?

      1. No need for snark. That’s exactly the right choice. It’s a poorly performing “political” line anyway.

      2. There’s a loud reactionary minority in West Seattle that hates growth. A lot of us accept growth and appreciate light rail w/ its commuting benefits.

      3. That’s a great point. And I’m going to articulate the reciprocal argument. I’m a current homeowner that is propsed on the upzone and urban village expansion. We moved to this location because of the promise of growth including new residential and new commercial and new density. But I’ve found myself on the “NIMBy” side of this plan because of the uninspired approach to our community growth and the complete lack of planning beyond how much developers will profit (e.g how low can that MHA fee go, I could have bargained much better than 6%).

        If here is the chance that rail won’t come to WS for any reason federal or local then how can any serious planner or urban plan add more density? A reasonable request from the community is that rail plans and upzone plans are coordinated so that the density planned can be supported with as minimal impact to current residents.

        This request comes from experience. When Alaska Junction was turned into an urban village it was with the promise of the monorail. Surprise surprise the monorail never came but WS has outperformed that growth by 300%+.

        Some say this is a hard thing to coordinate it may be but thats exactly what we expect.

        Be respectful of our community by making this upzone plan relevant for more than 5 years by coordinating with ST3 to confirm WS rail and determine station location.

      4. Thanks for your comment, Ed.

        This, in my opinion, is what is wrong with growth planning in this city. It should occur everywhere, not in just a handful of places that we think will have wonderful transit 20 years from now. That means all of West Seattle, along with Magnolia, Laurelhurst, Blue Ridge — all of it. Otherwise we get into this silly “why us” mentality, instead of having the “we are all in this together” attitude. Done right, of course, everyone benefits. We still have our house, and while there is an apartment next door, it is simply an old house, that was converted. Our kids and grandkids can afford to live in this town, which I for one consider to be a huge benefit. That won’t happen with (what you correctly say is) an uninspired approach to community growth.

        Looking at the map, I don’t see how you are going to get much in the way of affordable housing out of this. There is a lot of new lowrise development in West Seattle. That is great, really. Big cities are built on that sort of thing (think San Fransisco or Brooklyn). The result is that eventually, if built to spec, it would be similar in density to those cities (meaning as densely populated as Belltown). Except it won’t. Because there are setbacks and density limits that prevent that. But more to the point, it doesn’t make sense to build much of that until prices go through the roof. Housing prices in the area are very high (typically around 700 grand). So now you are talking about buying an expensive house, throwing it away, spending the money to build a new apartment, but only having a handful of units there. Doing that only makes sense if you can charge a fortune for rent. Either the city continues to see rent skyrocketing, or very few new construction will occur. Of course the cheaper houses will get torn down, but their are only a handful of those, since they only drew the lines to include a very small portion of the city. You will also see some houses being converted to apartments (which is great) but again, this is just a drop in the bucket, because the area where this is allowed is very tiny.

        Unless we deal with the elephant in the room — the vast majority of land in this city that could be developed to allow more people — we are fooling ourselves with these sorts of proposals. That being said, I support these changes, because spitting at the fire is better than simply watching it burn.

      5. You are right that his plan won’t provide affordable housing in my prosper ipzoned neighborhood but net a negative. Of the 93 parcels surveyed using public data 35% of known residential units are non-owner occupied. These are family friendly rentals.

        Instead of completely destroying existing units let’s add height where we see future development in the triangle and near the new rail stations and incentivize SF 5000 to densify with adu and dadu.

        Why waste our time spitting when we could hook up the fire hose?! This current plan isn’t going to make it through the gauntlet and the city should be ashamed that this is their best effort!

        Get ST3 involved and there’ll be a better outcome to our density plan and execution.

      6. +1000

        Most NIMBYS in WS will do everything in they power to prevent density. Without density, no LINK. Direct correlation.

      7. Ed Slope is on to something. Livability. Some of us have actually shared walls with others and lived in the densest cities in the world, and then chose to settle into single family neighborhoods because we didn’t want to share walls, live on top of neighbors, and wanted a small yard for our growing families. But on this blog and urbanist, families are bad. God forbid a family have children and need a car for daycare drop-offs and errand. We’re practically labeled Trump supporters by Urbanists, many of whom have little if anything to lose from all the upzones they have championed and basically seek to force on some nice communities. As for HALA, the process has not been considerate or inclusive of neighborhood input, will have to be revisited again for ST3, targets development on FEMA slide zones, and doesn’t add any green space. If Urbanists really care about density and livability, get rid of the damn city golf courses and you could easily add 25,000 housing units, or parks accessible to everyone. Finally, HALA doesn’t address affordability – taking my property and adding 9 $750,000 townhomes is hardly about affordability. It’s a handout to make a few developers (and me) wealthy. Honestly, I’d rather have my single family home among single family neighbors, but if I must sell for millions, I will. And I’ll move to the effing suburbs and drive a big friggin SUV downtown every day, just to send an F.U. to the young childless, familyless, anti-family Urbanists.

      8. Just because you want to live in a single family home doesn’t mean everyone else does. Yet, a vast portion of the land in Seattle is dedicated to single family homes, creating a shortage of everything else.

        The basics of geometry (few homes scattered across a huge area means everyone is forced to live far from where they actually want to live) leads to expensive housing.

        Wanting an alternative to that condition is hardly demonizing home owners. In fact, the alternative situation allows those who do want to live in single family houses to do so more affordable as they aren’t forced to live hours away from everything they need.

    1. The overall grant assumption is 10% if I recall. I’m not sure whether some projects’ budgets depend more heavily on grants than others. The ordering of the projects shows their priority and/or technical dependencies. Issaquah Link and Tacoma 19th Avenue are the last projects, so they’re the lowest priority for those subareas. If a lack of grants or a bad economy causes ST to defer or cancel projects, then these will probably be at the top of the list. I think some people who question the value of Issaquah Link are assuming that. “If we have money at the end we’ll build it, otherwise it’s not that big a deal, and it’s not displacing more important projects like 405 BRT and 522 BRT.”

      In North King, I don’t think Ballard would be deferred, its construction would just be stretched out. West Seattle has an advantage here because a stub to SODO is feasible, whereas a Ballard stub to Interbay is not. (Nobody would take Link from Ballard to Elliott Ave and transfer to the D to get downtown; they’d take the D the whole way instead.) Most likely to be deferred are 130th Station and Graham Station.

      In Snohomish the Everett extension would most likely be truncated, either at 164th or 128th or Paine Field. Or possibly the Snohomish delegation might change its mind about the Paine Field detour.

      1. >> West Seattle has an advantage here because a stub to SODO is feasible, whereas a Ballard stub to Interbay is not. (Nobody would take Link from Ballard to Elliott Ave and transfer to the D to get downtown; they’d take the D the whole way instead.)

        I disagree, they are basically the same thing. If anything, a stub line from Elliot to Ballard makes more sense. You eliminate the problem with congestion over the bridge (an all day issue) while connecting to a handful of places along the way. Of course it isn’t what most people want to do, but at least it puts you very close to buildings along the waterfront (making it faster to get to Belltown than the D, assuming decent connecting bus service). You also have stops for Interbay and the office park at Elliot. These are low performing stops, but not as bad as the connections in West Seattle. I really don’t see many people riding this from the Junction Station to the Delridge Freeway station. Meanwhile, SoDo is a very low performing station. Right now less than 600 people a day take the train from south of there and get off at SoDo. It is hard to see more demand from the three West Seattle stops to SoDo than the seven existing stops. The only reason people would ride this is if the buses are truncated, and that goes for both routes. For example, why would you take the 120, get off the bus, ride the elevator up to the train, ride the train to SoDo, then transfer to another bus (or train) to get where you want to go? That really doesn’t make much sense.

        It is hard to say why it is being built in this order, but one big reason may be demand. It seems backwards, but it makes sense to have the lower demand one be built first. It is crazy to dump huge numbers of people at the edge of downtown and then ask them to transfer. But with West Seattle, you won’t have huge numbers of people riding the train. Either they keep the buses (in which case the buses will be the better choice almost all day long) or they force people to transfer, in which case ridership will be fairly low because it simply isn’t a very fast way to get there.

      2. “You eliminate the problem with congestion over the bridge (an all day issue)”

        The biggest bottleneck is Belltown and Uptown; that’s why it won’t work, because the place where Link is needed the most is where it isn’t, and it’s right in the middle of the trip. In contrast, a sub to SODO goes right to an existing Link line to downtown and through it.

      3. The biggest bottleneck depends on the time of the day. 15 minutes after the bridge goes up, traffic is worse going over the bridge than it is going through downtown, especially before 4:00. But even during rush hour (when the bridge can’t open) you have congestion. Not as big as downtown (at that time) but still considerable.

        In contrast, the West Seattle bridge is a freeway. The only congestion it has is during rush hour, and only in the morning heading downtown. You are correct, going through downtown is still difficult, but you are basically arguing for a three stop ride to downtown instead of one bus. This means a four stop ride to Bellevue, South Lake Union, Queen Anne, etc. There is a reason, despite the existing rail line, that buses don’t just turn around at SoDo. Doing so would save considerable of service time for the buses, but folks don’t want that. It is hard to see how many people would want to add yet another transfer, even if it did avoid West Seattle Bridge congestion.

        Either way it doesn’t work very well. But I have a feeling that if both were built, the Ballard to Elliot and Mercer stub would outperform the West Seattle to SoDo stub in terms of time saved per user, just because it would have more users. Yes, a lot of those users would transfer to or from buses — but there are simply more popular stops along the way, and there are more people in the area (even if West Seattle accepts these zoning changes).

    2. I think it’s best to go full-speed ahead with basic design. The Presidency and Congress change. In 2009, Democrats not only had the Presidency a majority in the House and Senate (an effective super-majority). Now Democrats control nothing.

      After the 2020 reapportionment to favor larger urban areas within states coupled with the Republicans impending mismanagement of the Federal government, the pendulum to transit will swing back to the Democrats — and then back to the Republicans — and then back to the Democrats. With this in mind, it’s good to get all of the early steps in line for funding to take advantage of a pro-transit swing..

      1. Momentum will swing to Democrats after the 2020 census only if Democrats control the legislatures that will redraw congressional district boundaries for the 2022 elections and beyond. It’s not too soon to begin rebuilding the Democratic Party for those coming battles.

    3. ST3 is NOT dependent on federal funding. It has dedicated taxes. They are expecting a small amount of federal funding… but they can always just push the timeline back a little and collect it from taxes.

      Also, Trump’s term will be over well before ST3 is being built… The administration responsible for issuing ST3 grants will be his successor. Given that millennials overwhelmingly vote democrat, and will be the dominant political force in 2020 and 2024…. I think it’s unlikely we will end up with another administration hostile to transit.

      1. Brendan is right about how critical it is to get control of State governments, and fast. Especially since the news media across the spectrum, especially, to their shame Public Radio, completely lost track of it at all.

        State legislators hostile to public transit and everything else that started with the Renaissance are getting close to where they can call a Constitutional Convention. And walk away from it with the remains of the Bill of Rights.

        I think that War Colleges world wide will study this last campaign as the greatest piece of psychological warfare in world history. I wish the current White House tenant were a deluded psychopath (who are generally never deluded). What we’ve got is a reality (How could anybody read that word with a straight face!) show host who’s turned our politics into one of the worst

        One of “Psy-ops” main objectives is to convince the population to fear each other. But also to accept that the rules of logic and experience are no longer in effect. Has anybody yet figured out what happened at UW, where the guy got shot?

        My own two reasons to think events will swing my way. One, election outcome didn’t surprise me. Anymore than a fatal subway fire or a BART brake failure. Deferred maintenance finally kills. But also, for years I’ve been much impressed by people who’ll first both hold political office, or be their voters, in 2018.

        But I hope I can at least help protect them from how bad I think a lot of them are going to get hurt. In a factory town, many young people learned early how to handle themselves in a fist fight. Often really amateur boxing. Loss of those skills possibly fueling so many people now getting shot.

        When I first moved into Olympia three years ago, I met a young woman soldier in her camouflage fatigues and her desert boots. I asked her if she was stationed here for the defense of Olympia.

        Answer: “Frankly, I don’t think Olympia would want to be defended.” Complicating their defense because defenders can’t let the kids see them do it.


  4. I would suggest revising the GMA to require city’s zoning codes to allow for 2 times the projected population, and 4 times as much in cities over 100,000.

    Aside from the obvious affect of more housing and lower prices, it would also change how developers think. Right now, they think that there will be a limited supply forever and whatever they build will sell. If the zoning allows for population times 4, on the other hand, developers will think radically differently. They will build to fit the neighborhood by choice, because they will look at how much of that housing they can actually sell instead of assuming any amount will.

    1. If we significantly enlarge the urban villages or upzone the whole city, it won’t be wall-to-wall 10 stories everywhere because the market is not that large. It would give developers and homeowners the freedom to choose which parcels to develop and how tall. Right now there’s a supply shortage so everything is built to the zoning limit and they can pursue the richest customers and ignore everyone else. And some of the nominal capacity is impractical to fulfill because it’s just one story more than the current building, or the parking/setback requirements allow only one or two more units. But if this changed to excess zoning capacity and streamlined permitting and the “missing middle” of housing types, then developers would build what the market really bears, and some of them would be able to build smaller and cheaper buildings without being outbid by the big developers for the land.

      1. Well said, Mike. That really is the big problem. The easy fruit has been picked, and now developers are busy fighting over the expensive remaining pieces, or just saying “never mind” and letting prices soar.

      2. Ah yes, the magic zoning solution that will allow developers to build family housing for $300K, so the middle class can finally (again!) afford to buy a good solid home in Seattle. If the world were only that simple.

        The reality of course is that developers are, by the nature of capitalism, profit maximizers. They won’t build $300K or ($400K) homes when far greater profits are had building $700 – $900K houses and townhomes.

      3. @RDPence, that’s why we need to let enough housing be built to saturate the $700K market, so developers will need to go after the $300K market. What else will work?

      4. Wm. C., No, they will forget about the $300K market because it isn’t profitable enough. They will go build expensive and more profitable housing in the next boomtown.

        If Seattle is to have a healthy middle class, like it used to have (and still does to an extent, for early buyers) the government will have to extend housing subsidies upwards to include middle class, middle income families. But for a lot of political reasons, I don’t expect that will happen. The suburbs are our only alternative.

  5. I think it is time for folks to consider a zoning change initiative. Based on every council race in the city, voters want to liberalize zoning rules. But when people attend public meetings, preservationists dominate the discussion. It is simply demographics. People like me — older, retired, way too much time on our hands — have no problem attending a meeting. People who own property (like me) are more likely to be upset about changes that have occurred in the neighborhood (i. e. ugly buildings going up, or nice old houses being torn down). Renters will simply move if they hate the looks of the neighborhood, and many fail to get the connection between restrictive zoning and high rent prices. It doesn’t help that plenty of people deny the effect that limiting supply has on prices (“How come there are so many new buildings, and prices haven’t gone down?”). The end result is that the people who attend the meetings (or comment) are not the majority, but simply a very loud minority averse to change.

    It was no different with the $15 an hour debate. Businesses hated the idea, and they were very loud. But proponents were ready to walk away from the table, and go the initiative route. So far, urbanists haven’t considered that option, and HALA keeps getting chipped away, bit by bit, to where it will become largely meaningless. It still is based on the ridiculous “urban villages” notion, instead of treating the entire city like a city.

    Just consider what has happened so far. The HALA proposal was a compromise between various groups. It didn’t go “full Tokyo” and allow any growth anywhere, even though there are plenty of people that would prefer that. Nor did it allow low rise apartments in every neighborhood. Instead, there were small changes to the ADU and DADU laws, which would, over time, lead to the construction of thousands and thousands of new (fairly cheap to build) units in most of the city (roughly 2/3). That is the compromise they came up with.

    This was almost immediately shut down by the mayor. Then the needle kept being moved that direction, as compromise after compromise was made after the fact. The minimum wage would be $12 an hour (not $15) if a similar approach was taken by city leaders.

    I’m not sure what would make sense as far as an initiative goes, but I have a couple fairly simple ideas. First, get rid of the parking requirement. That is a fairly easy change, and one that would effect almost all construction types (including ADUs and DADUs). The second is more radical, but pretty easy to understand. Simply remove any mention of density when it comes to zoning. Keep the existing height limits and setbacks, but do away with the single family notion. You can’t build a giant apartment next to a house, but you can build a house size apartment next to a house. There would be plenty of tear downs, but over time, way more conversions. There just aren’t that many tiny houses in Seattle and most of them are being replaced by big houses anyway. That might happen faster, but you would also see lots and lots of houses being converted to apartments. There are a lot of houses that are very close to the maximum size house you can build on that lot, so it just wouldn’t make sense to tear it down. It is far cheaper to just convert the thing. It might actually be *less* disruptive. The preservationists are simply fighting a misguided, losing battle. By drawing circles around a handful of areas and saying “build here”, they protect their little neighborhood, but pretty much guarantee the loss of character for other neighborhoods. Not only do you lose small houses (which, as I said, weren’t long for this world anyway) but bigger houses. If it makes sense to replace a two story building with a six story building (and it does, for the same reason) then it makes sense to tear down a beautiful big house to replace it with a four story apartment building. From a financial standpoint, it would make way more sense to tear down a smaller house a few blocks away and build an apartment, but if that isn’t allowed, then goodbye classic house (http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2012/10/capitol-hill-house-standing-since-1890-wont-get-landmark-protection/).

    I don’t think the argument for liberalizing zoning is nearly as simple as the argument for a $15 an hour minimum wage. Once you deal with the small business issue (in obvious fashion) then the $15 an hour debate was very easy to understand, and a liberal city was of course in favor. Zoning is a lot more complicated, but at this point, I see us nibbling around the edges, making very minor changes, while folks in charge trumpet those changes.

    1. I was under the impression that with “neighborhood representation” on the city council, and pro-housing-supply candidates winning most of the seats in the last election, beating NIMBY candidates badly, that the council would feel emboldened to upzone even more that what is in the table. Zoning by initiative would require a one-inch thick petition to get all the legal language in.

      Word to the council: Attach increased height allowances to all the Herbold amendments.

      1. I agree with your first idea — I am surprised the council is so cowardly with regards to zoning. Part of the problem is the mayor, but part of the problem is lack of focus on the issue as well as the process, which involves public meetings dominated by preservationists.

        I disagree with the idea of a zoning initiative being complicated. All of the following are pretty simple:

        1) The city can not include mandatory parking requirements with new buildings.
        2) The city can not require ownership of a property as part of building regulations.
        3) The city can not limit the number of inhabitable units (defined as such below) for a property.
        4) The city can not make Floor Area Ratio limitations.

        All of these seem fairly simple, and resemble laws against discrimination in housing. You are basically saying that the city has to strip those clauses from the existing rules. They can pass new rules, of course, but it can’t include those elements. The first rule would effect all property, but especially property outside the core upzones (e. g. ADUs). The second change would effect only ADUs. The combination would be huge in terms of allowing more backyard cottages and basement apartments. The third would be the biggest change, and it is pretty easy to understand. You can keep the existing minimum unit size, and simply go from there. So basically every house in every part of town could be converted to an apartment, or you could build an apartment as long as it is no bigger than an allowable house. The density limits that exist with three out of the four Lowrise types simply go away. There is no density limit. The fourth would change the way new buildings are built, in that they would simply be bigger. My choice would be the third one, because I feel it would be the most effective, and it is fairly simple to understand. I also think there is a very good chance it would pass.

      2. Yes, by all means, float an initiative to abolish single-family zoning and replace it with multi-family zoning everywhere. It would be a real test of what direction voters want Seattle to go. Personally, I believe we should continue to follow the urban village model and increase density where it can most easily be accommodated.

      3. Even the NIMBYs are agreeing to some increased density. They just want to limit it to one or two stories, so that poor people don’t have housing to move into.

    2. A well-written initiative is a good idea. But it won’t have a great chance of passage. A lot of people thing service workers deserve a living wage even the price of hamburgers goes up by a dollar. But half the population is against upzones and lowering parking minimums — it’s a widespread sentiment, and people don’t understand the hidden cost of parking spaces. Yes, some pro-urban councilmembers succeeded but that was only one election so it’s not guaranteed it will remain that high, and HALA is being watered down by that same council. People don’t understand the relationship between more apartments and more affordable housing, and some of them think it’s the opposite (that more new apartments cause prices to rise). So they’ll vote no. I hope a pro-urban majority emerges decisively, but with almost everybody in single-family houses wanting to keep upzones away, it’s hard to see it changing soon.

      This raises an interesting contradiction though. If new apartments are the cause of housing prices rising, then how can it be possible that new apartments will cause property values to fall and turn the neighborhood into a slum? Prices can go up or down, but not both simultaneously.

      1. I don’t think people are that ignorant, but more to the point, an initiative would focus their attention on the issue. There would be plenty of opposition, but there would be plenty of support as well. Editorials would be written, and at the end of the day, more people would support what The Stranger has to say on the issue than what The Seattle Times does. My guess is the former would support it, and the latter oppose, making for the traditional left/right argument in Seattle that just about always supports the left. You would have environmental groups (e. g. The Sierra Club) favoring it, along with housing rights groups. Meanwhile, on the other side you have … um, who, exactly? Some new found group (save our houses, or something) that has no history of success in this town. Oh, and more people rent than own, so you really have to have high numbers of people who own property to make up for the huge numbers of people who rent who would likely support the initiative.

        Again, I go back to the $15 debate. Yes, it was simpler. But almost immediately the folks in charge wanted to water down the proposal. There was a balance to be made, of course, between the interest of businesses versus wage earners. So $12 seems like a good compromise, but the supporters were strong, and insisted on $15, or they were going to the ballot box, and everyone knew they would win. So even though every member of the council is considered a progressive, none wanted to go as far as we did until sufficient pressure was applied. Not pressure based not on marches, or letters, or appearances at meeting, but based on the threat of a ballot initiative.

    3. Absolutely agreed. The fact that we regulate how space is designated inside a building (beyond basic safety) is absurd and discriminatory. Why do we say that only 8 unrelated people are allowed to share a kitchen? Why don’t we let people choose to live in tiny, uncomfortable rooms if they prefer that to moving out to the suburbs? We could preserve a lot of beautiful old houses if we let them legally be converted to duplexes. When we upzone now it means tearing down an old house to build a 4-pak of ugly, shoddily made and unaffordable townhouses with two bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms apiece. Bring back duplexes and triplexes and SROs. Let people build big, ugly backyard DADUs if it means not tearing down the existing house.

      We’ve regulated ourselves into expensive housing by making cheap housing literally illegal because single family homeowners don’t want to live next to poor people. “No one would want to live in a place like that” actually means “I don’t want the people who need to live like that living in my neighborhood.”

    4. I think it’s a great idea. My advice is to steer away from parking requirements though. That’s an idea popular with some people on the blogs, but it doesn’t directly address housing supply. Yes, I understand it indirectly effects affordability, but it’s a more complex argument to have to make to voters.

      I would keep it simple. Remove single family as a zoning category, and allow duplexes, triplexes and rowhouses on all existing single family land. Single family housing would still be allowed in this zoning, but it wouldn’t be exclusive.

      The point is to make the NIMBY’s make a choice between two options, expansion of the urban village or removal of the single family zones. Politically, this is much better because it would divide the opposition and put pressure on them to compromise.

      Personally, I’d prefer the hala approach of expanding urban villages with good access to transit, I’d rather live next to a good bus line. However, duplexes in the single family zones would likely provide more affordable housing than apartments the urban village. A duplex is also more family friendly housing than an apartment.

      The promise would be to drop the initiative if HALA went through.

      1. Agreed, it is a great idea. So who wants to write the initiative and set up the campaign? I believe we need 20,431 signatures. If everyone who regularly follows this blog pitched in, how many signatures would we each need to collect?

      2. Parking requirements do directly affect housing supply.

        There’s a parcel on Phinney Ridge that’s about to be developed into small efficiency units, with no parking. It’s not a huge lot. The developers claimed there was no room for an underground parking garage because the ramp would have to be too steep to get down deep enough in the space available. An architect posting on Nextdoor said the lot may be just barely big enough for a parking garage to work, but even if it was there would only be room for about 15 parking spots.

        If there was still a 1:1 parking requirement on that lot (as is still common in much of the city), there could be no more than 15 units constructed there. They’d probably be pretty large, expensive units to make full use of the allotted floor area.

        Instead they’re building about 40 small units.

        This lot is hardly unique in the city. The number of parking spots you can fit on a lot is limited. Requiring each unit to have its own parking space both limits the number of units constructed, and makes smaller units less likely to be built.

    5. The only way a zoning change initiative passes is if the text is extremely simple and the scope extremely narrow, thereby preventing opponents from gaining traction when sewing confusion through misinformation. Simple and narrow like a $15/hr minimum wage initiative would have been (had it gone to voters). The initiative that stands the best chance of passing and will have the best result for our city (in terms of both increasing transit use and lowering housing costs) is: “The city will not require mandatory parking minimums in areas served by transit.” This will directly decrease the cost of rent for new apartments, and allow builders to focus on accommodating what residents want…like bike parking or ground floor grocery/coffee shop/restaurant…instead of cars. The point of adding “…in areas served by transit” is that a) pretty much the whole city is served by transit so it doesn’t decrease the effectiveness of the initiative, and b) it will mute many concerns (however misdirected those concerns were), therefore making it more likely to pass.

      Although another great one would be: “Employers who provide free or subsidized parking to employees must compensate employees who don’t utilize parking by the same amount as the subsidy.” This would result in 1000s less drivers and 1000s more transit commuters. Employers downtown are subsidizing parking by $100s per month per employee. Imagine if the employers started offering a few hundred bucks per month to not use employee parking? Note that this would also result in downtown parking being less profitable for the private lots (by transferring part of the parking subsidy to transit), incentivizing them to develop existing surface lots! This should be a move by the city council and mayor.

  6. The Roosevelt link is to Northgate. Trying to figure out how to find these pages from the main page but not having luck yet. Can anyone provide the link here? And STB: Can you update the link in the post?

  7. We’re long overdue to discuss the distinction between property values and home prices. Especially for a transit station, the use people get out of it over a few decades of business cycles is best measure of its value. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie spoke for those who concentrated on creating value.

    Also defined as “Wealth”. My own definition of a capitalist, as opposed to a speculator. Also, of someone really Conservative. New Electric Railway Journal founder Paul Weyrich, one example. Metro Transit founder James R. Ellis, another. Same for the whole street rail industry.

    Along the Howard Street ‘El on Chicago’s Near North Side, a visit 20 years ago showed me apartment buildings I remember from sixty years ago, sandblasted,renovated, and enthusiastically repopulated. And priced accordingly.

    Across the sidewalk from a hundred year old elevated structure carrying a heavy train a minute. With long waiting lists to pay prices I couldn’t afford. After 20 years of changing economy (really the only kind) including Crash of 2008, I’ve got no idea of current price of the buildings’ same value.

    But fact that those buildings have been standing in renovate-able condition through a hundred years of changing prices means they’ve got a gold mine’s worth of value. To which two elevated stations in walking distance, by any measure, have done nothing but add.

    Throughout Sound Transit’s whole service area, there’s a real argument about present relationship between residential price and value. For any universally necessary sector of the economy, let’s just say that the closer they correspond, the fewer Crashes of (you name the year).

    But the people who have most to worry about financially over a new transit station are the ones who can no longer afford the price fully justified by an unquestionable increase in the value of everything in walking distance. If the station isn’t built, these people will lose their share of its value. Rent control? Might first see how many of these people are getting the full price for the value of their own labor!

    At this point, word “Politics” quits being a sneer. Neither a benefactor nor a tyrant but a tool. For the use of people who don’t want to be casualties or refugees from a civil war to settle questions of value and price. Balance sheet on 30 years of value in regional planning destroyed by three years explosion of price- next posting.

    Mark Dublin

  8. A possible silver lining to Trumpistan. There was a news report that the housing shortage isn’t just here; there’s a nationwide shortage of 400,000 units and growing, due mostly to zoning restrictions. Some in the administration are murmuring about using transportation funding to force the states and cities to relax their zoning restrictions. That could lead to good things. Of course, whether it happens remains to be seen.

    1. I would be scared of that, since to Republicans relaxing zoning might mean expanding the suburbs and sprawl rather than increasing density of inner cities, which they are quite hostile to.

      I support upzoning our cities and towns, but I don’t want to see any more forrests cut down to make room for housing developments for people that have to commute an hour and a half to work each way every day. We have the urban growth boundary for a really good reason.

      1. So you have your line in the sand but don’t see the hypocrisy of forcing residents about to be upzoned into higher taxed land parcels, lowering the value they place on livability and green space, and don’t give a damn about whatever intrinsic value they placed on the home they chose to live in that could be destroyed.

      2. Low income people are Living in thier retirement account. Where is that extra money for investing? there is none.
        You assume homeowners are wealthy. Wrong. Many of us have limited equity, or are on very fixed incomes. Our houses are affordable because we bought them years ago, struggled to hang onto them when the bubble burst and waited to regain some sort of equity.
        So narrow-minded to assume we aren’t the low income people HALA is supposed to help. We are the service workers, artists, elderly.
        Yes, I need to stay in my house and I need my house to have value so I can maybe someday retire, maybe. I work in the city 5 min. From my house. My partner rides his bike 20 min. to work from here. We bought here for a reason, and paid more to be closer to work.
        Sorry but we already live here, have no intentions of selling to make room for apodment that tower over my elderly neighbors garden.
        I’ve noticed so many pro density folks don’t consider the elderly on fixed incomes. You just want to throw them out so you can Iive there instead. Not respectful or ethical. Ageism.
        What’s livable, and tolerable at 25 changes at 65.
        Also, some of us in houses use our cars/trucks for work. Your gardeners, painters, cab drivers, couriers can’t hop on a bike to work.
        It’s time for Urbanists to think outside the teeny tiny apodment. The city needs all kinds of housing and all kinds of workers to function.

  9. Probably from the interurban rides north of Chicago, where trains went right down the main streets of country towns like streetcars. Including going by drug stores with “malts” (Chocolate, not Glenlivet!) and movie theaters.

    But still think good development would be small dense cities with streetcar tracks both local and carrying fast long-distance trains. With forests and fields in between. Like jewels on a chain. Plenty of fresh air and open space. But not much of it paved.

    Would at least like to see Transit run this by developers. Who frequently created developments exactly like this. Could be very appealing to people forced both to live outside Seattle and work there. It would take a lot of pizza and ice cream before bedtime to create that for an American Dream.

    Might also overcome universal response to the present disaster consisting of considering it normal and beyond remedy. Somebody might just buy enough linear land to bulldoze some lanes paved with gravel, open only to buses, beside many lengths of I-5. Buses run much worse roads in most of the world. Fast.

    Also, a lot of subarea boundaries, and county lines, might get in the way of a grader and disappear. Also- if Amtrak can get from Lakewood to Portland, Sounder can terminate in Lacey with bus connections to Olympia. Brian, you’ve driven trains where I’m talking about. Any reason a switch that can carry Amtrak across the Nisqually can’t take Sounder too?

    The track is there. The trains are there. The switches and signals are there. Now. And no way whole new development consisting of parking structures could take as long as the first Environmental Impact Statement of a mile of diamond lanes.


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