Seattle city leaders should focus on encouraging new housing in urban centers to help the city grow and preserve single-family neighborhoods.
NOW that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has killed his proposal to allow more units on single-family lots, city leaders can focus on policies that will work.
Murray blamed his hasty reversal on local media for sensationalizing the issue and turning it into a distraction. Right, it’s the media’s fault.
Actually, the proposal was misguided and unnecessary. Seattle’s current zoning allows for 224,000 more units than already exist without disfiguring single-family neighborhoods. Capacity for more housing is more than triple what’s needed to meet growth projections for the next 20 years.
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The single-family upzone proposal was just one of 65 recommendations from the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee. The group crafted the sweeping zoning changes without much consideration of Seattle 2035, a 20-year update of the city’s comprehensive plan to guide zoning and development that is already in process.
The mayor’s broader vision of adding 50,000 more homes in the next 10 years is on the right track. Murray is smart to urge more supply at a time when demand is already high. The city is projected to add 120,000 people by 2035.
Some city leaders argue that as population grows, all neighborhoods should bear some pain — and they probably will. But, what leaders and planners should focus on is directing density to foster vibrant, walkable and transit-oriented neighborhoods.
The HALA proposal on single-family zoning would have encouraged the opposite. Had it passed, prospective buyers wanting classic craftsman homes would face even more competition from deep-pocketed investors and developers with cash and resources to flip the property into a duplex or triplex.
In retreating from this proposal, Murray made a mistake in also backtracking from a HALA recommendation to make mother-in-law units and backyard cottages easier to build. That proposal should be kept on the table because existing regulations on these units seem to be too stringent. The city should look to rules in other cities, such as Vancouver, B.C., that have had more successful adding this type of housing.
Seattle needs more density, but developers would likely have flocked to single-family neighborhoods instead of targeting urban villages.
Back in 1994, Seattle planners devised the urban village strategy that encouraged new housing in 30 designated areas with access to transit, jobs and retail. The strategy worked: About 75 percent, or 45,000, of Seattle’s new homes built since then are in those areas.
The work isn’t done. Some urban villages have more room to grow. Developers have not flooded areas around the Beacon Hill and Othello light-rail stations with projects the way they have in South Lake Union or Capitol Hill.
The current draft of Seattle 2035 and the HALA Committee’s report both encourage the city to expand the urban village strategy. This makes much more sense than a plan that would have led to bulldozing bungalows.