In response to a successful challenge by a Phinney Ridge neighborhood group over the lack of onsite parking proposed for a 57-unit apartment building, the city is planning changes to the land use and zoning code that would allow the project to continue.
The legislation under consideration would change how the city defines “frequent transit service” areas, allowing developers to continue to build apartments without parking in transit-rich areas. The move would also require the unbundling of parking space rentals from lease agreements in buildings with 10 units or more.
A 2017 hearing examiner’s decision halted plans for an apartment building at 6726 Greenwood Ave., agreeing with the group, Livable Phinney, that the location of the proposed housing units did not meet the city’s definition of frequent transit service and therefore was not exempt from onsite parking requirements. A West Seattle group, Neighbors Encouraging Reasonable Development, has also challenged the city’s definition of frequent transit service.
Currently, the city defines frequent transit service as “transit service headways in at least one direction of 15 minutes or less for at least 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, and transit service headways of 30 minutes or less for at least 18 hours every day.” Onsite parking is not required for new buildings within a quarter-mile of areas with frequently-served transit stops.
Livable Phinney argued, based on actual arrival times of Metro Route 5 the location of the future apartment building failed to meet the definition of frequent transit service.
Rather than basing frequent transit service on actual arrival times, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and SDOT recommend clarifying the definition to use published scheduled arrival times. The new definition would also be more ‘flexible’ the city says to allow for headways up to 18 minutes.
“It’s virtually impossible to produce a schedule that [results in] exact, precise 15-minute headways between trips during the day,” said Bill Bryant, a Service Development manager at King County Metro Transit during a meeting of the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee. “This is because of varying traffic during the day as well as varying boarding activity among transit customers.”
Bryant said frequent transit routes still average four buses an hour in one direction and rarely exceed 18 minutes headways between arriving buses.
SDCI and SDOT are also recommending the council restructure how off-street parking is managed, pointing to two studies that found existing off-street parking is “significantly underused.”
A study done by Capitol Hill Housing found in the Capitol Hill neighborhood the residential overnight vacancy rate was as high as 33% in some buildings. That figure is similar to the findings of a Metro parking study, which found that approximately 35% of residential parking spaces were not in use in the 95 Seattle buildings the transit agency sampled.
This move would allow parking spaces to be shared among short-term parkers (shoppers) and long-term parkers (residents). This is also a recommendation in the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).
Livable Phinney has remained a vocal opponent of the proposed changes. One amendment Livable Phinney is advocating for is a “car-free-lease requirement,” which would prevent tenants from parking cars in “overcrowded areas” (where more than 85% of on-street parking is utilized) if the developer failed to provide enough parking to meet demand.
The city does want to require the unbundling of parking space rentals from housing lease agreements, which the city says can lead to lower rents.
City staff cited a study conducted by the city of Portland that said, “Underground garage parking adds costs of up to $55,000 per space, which can add up to approximately $500 per month per dwelling unit to apartment rents.”
Parking along Greenwood Ave., lined there with a mix of low-rise mix-use buildings, other single-story retail and single-family homes, is currently free but limited to 2 hours. Off the arterial, the neighborhood streets are mostly filled with single-family homes, many with off street parking.
A public hearing on the proposed changes was held Wednesday, February 21 at City Hall. Transit advocates supported the proposed changes.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who sits on the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee, in a blog post continued to question the correlation between transit ridership and a reduction in car ownership.
The committee is expected to take action in March on the proposed parking requirements.