Urbanizing Suburbia

In Seattle, people live above stores, restaurants, medical clinics, offices and almost everything else. If it works in cities, why not suburbia? Who you may ask would want to live above a McDonald’s in Federal Way? Maybe a few employees working there, especially if it was a good deal.
If zoning required almost every new commercial building in King County to provide at least one unit of employee housing, thousands of affordable housing units can be created where no housing currently exists. With a limited tenant pool, developers would need to build affordable housing to fit their market rather than just the luxury units being built now.
Some developers will see opportunity and build even more units creating even more valuable real estate and new revenue streams. Even with lower rents, it is still revenue currently untapped. Some might argue the burden of additional regulation might discourage development, but not everyone considers that a bad thing.
Besides creating afffordable housing, this also reduces traffic congestion county wide by allowing thousands of workers to walk to work. Workers save time and money, other county residents benefit from less pollution, congestion, and open land being turned into housing. It also creates safer neighborhoods by putting “night watchmen” where none currently exist.
Many will rightly see this as less than ideal living, but the working class often already live in less than ideal cirumstances, often far from jobs. Each year their options shrink in King County and the county risks pricing them out of entirely. Business needs these workers and this will ensure at least some of their workers will have a place to live.

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FINE PRINT; Obviously gas stations, heavy manufacturing, and certain other businesses should be exempt. If a business is unable to find an employee/tenant, another worker employeed within one mile could rent the apartment. If a tenant changes or loses a job, they would have one year to move. Rents could be tied to wages (thirty percent of income) or left to the free market.

Mall Living

Zoning is an inexpensive yet powerful tool King County has to affect the coming growth. A zoning variance is worth big money to a developer and New York developers have built schools, parks, and affordable housing in exchange for variances.  Zoning also affects transportation. Walking to work is the greenest form of commuting and if King County promotes it, everyone in the county benefits from less congestion on the road.

Thousands work at Southcenter and  surrounding industrial parks, almost all of them drive to work. If a parking lot (So many to choose from!) was rezoned allowing a residential tower atop a parking garage, with tenants limited to nearby workers, hundreds of commuters can be eliminated from the roads.  A simple requirement of working within one mile for at least one year, with lease renewals contingent on continued  employment, would guarantee less workers on the freeways.

Developers in association with area landlords could present proposals to the city or county and the best deal selected for the community. Since most of the potential renters are working class, developers would probably have to build affordable housing to attract tenants.  If the first building was successful, others could follow.  If developers cannot make it work financially, they will not be interested. If they can make it work,  it would be a unique opportunity to direct growth into green commuting and create affordable housing.

Often, peoples’ coworkers are often more racially diverse than their neighbors. This is also a chance to create a more diverse community as well. Communities often oppose lower income housing, but this proposal specifically requires a steady job to be eligible. These renters already work in the community, I hope the citizens of Tukwilla would accept them as neighbors as well.

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Boeing Building Buildings

As the area’s largest employer, Boeing employees make up the largest block of commuters as well. If even five percent, three thousand employees, were able to walk to work, everyone in the county benefits from less congestion. If zoning was amended, employee parking lots surrounding factories in Everett, Kent, Renton and Boeing field could be replaced with apartment towers on garage bases.
Boeing can easily poll their workers to gauge demand. Apartments could be rentals, condos, or both. Boeing benefits from reduced lateness and absenteeism (hard to sneak off skiing when the boss lives down the hall) as well as a new revenue source. Since they already own the land, and zoning changes increase its value, Boeing shouldn’t even need tax breaks to make this work, but they will probably still ask.
Walking to work is a luxury few in Seattle have experienced and the new tenants would benefit even more than Boeing. Eliminating the stress of commuting and replacing it with leisure time also creates a better worker. Everyone else benefits from less congestion, pollution, and more open space not turned into subdivisions.
Obviously the larger the development, the more everyone benefits. Some might lament putting towers where none now exists, but low density is what leads to suburban sprawl consuming King County. And as any real estate agent in nyc will tell you, a view of a beautiful building increases propertu. Again zoning can compel builders to build attractive buildings. Imagine a tower evoking the classic age of aviation, it could be a symbol of Seattle during Monday Night Football providing free advertising for Boeing.
Ideally these tenants should not have to drive to buy milk or a latte after work. Retail should be a part of the development with apartments rented in tandem with the commercial lease so another commuter is eliminated. Building support staff should also be rented apartments so they can walk to work as well.
What works for Boeing would probably work for other employers, big and small. King County should consider zoning changes on a case by case basis for employee only restricted housing to eliminate as many commuters as possible whenever possible. Too much of too many childhood memories has been paved over in the county.

EADO, Seattle’s newest neighborhood?

      King County is expected to grow by fifty percent in the next twenty years. The more  growth stays in Seattle, the better for everyone. Real estate though is  skyrocketing, pushing the middle class out of the city. Metro Transit has an unique opportunity to shape that growth and create a better county by becoming a landlord.
       Just east of Safeco Field is a large bus yard covering blocks. Prime real estate underused. Obviously the bus yard is vital, but an entire highrise neighborhood could be built over the yard. The larger the project, the taller the buildings, the less development elsewhere in the county. This shouldn’t be just another development though.
Because Metro Transit is by the people and for the people, this is an opportunity to do things right rather than just for profit. Starting with how can this benefit Metro Transit. The closer people live near work, the better for Metro Transit. Therefore these apartments should be leased exclusively to people who work within a three mile radius, starting with transit employees based at the busyard.
It’s sad when city employees, or service sector employees for that matter, can’t afford to live in the city they serve. Therefore city, school, and transit employees should be given preference in leasing, but first apartments have to be affordable. Hopefully without a profit  motive and a favorable landlease, it shouldn’t even be necessary to grant tax breaks to make affordable middle class apartments. With the light rail stopping in the middle of the bus yard, tenants will be able to travel  to their nearby jobs in minutes. The complex should include zipcar access and limited parking, but each apartment’s rent should also include a monthly orca pass, again benefitting Metro Transit.
      Ideally these residents should be able to shop and drink their lattes without commuting either. The shopkeeper living over the store helps create a vibrant neighborhood. Storefronts as well as any offices  in the complex should be leased in tandem with an apartment above.  Building maintenance and support staff should also live in house eliminating commuters completely. Depending on priorities, elderly, lowcost or artist housing could also be included.
       If new apartments in Seattle are rented to people who work in Bellevue, then new development isn’t reducing traffic. Building apartments for people who can walk to work does.