Today is the big day on the U-District rezone votes. One of the proposed amendments would increase, in select circumstances, the on-site performance requirement for MHA buildings from 9% to 10%. And it's apparently controversial as hell. Depending on who you talk to, this will either break the bank for development, or really stick it to the evil developers (note: I do not believe all developers are evil, and actually am fond of a fair amount). What everyone seems to agree on: the net unit impact would be a relatively small increase (60-100 units, maybe?). To that, I say: let's go for it.
I am reminded of a conversation I was having with someone about the lowrise zone height changes. Their opposition was partly based on the MHA requirement that would mean "only" 1 or 2 units would be produced in each LR project. If we look at the world through the lens of each project, though, then we miss the overall gain - and in particular the benefits that all communities will have from more socio-economic diversity. I believe that areas seeing significant redevelopment should have a "master map" of sorts to prepare and plan road and sidewalk closures and the like between all developers, not just a site-by-site basis. Similarly, this yearning for a 10,000 foot view as well as a on-the-ground view has me looking not at the per-project amount, but the overall amount of housing that can be produced for low-income residents in Seattle. Intellectual consistency, or so I like to think. Similarly, calling for 10% instead of 9% makes me wonder how much intellectual consistency there is when it comes to the LR proposed changes.
With that thought in mind, today I move on to page 24, and the SF section of the HALA report. This is the section that recommends changes to the 65% (including park property) of Seattle that is zoned for "single family." Whether you like the acknowledgment in this section about the roots of Seattle's SF zones, it's something we can all agree is a factual statement. Of note: the document does not insist, or even imply, that those opposed to changing SF zoning are explicitly or implicitly racist.
SF.1 - Increase Supply of Accessory Dwelling Units and Backyard Cottages
This proposal has three parts. The first is a recommendation that various codes be updated to make it easier and more feasible for people to add an ADU or DADU to their property. Specifically, removing the off-street parking requirement, removing the owner-occupancy of one of the units requirement, and allowing a house to have both an ADU (basement/mother-in-law apartment) and a DADU (backyard cottage). In addition, this recommends creation of a standard plan for backyard cottages that folks could use who are considering adding one on their property, and implementation of a clemency program to make the ADUs and DADUs that are currently illegal...legal.
Most recently, this proposal was blocked at the administrative level following an appeal by the Queen Anne Community Council, led by Marty Kaplan. While the appeal purported to be about the Environmental Impact Statement, and alleged deficiencies in the Determination of Non-Significance, the actual testimony was more focused on concerns about more people living in SF areas. During a Queen Anne-Magnolia District Council meeting in July, the then-President of the Queen Anne Community Council stated that she wanted this plan tossed because it could lead to "three of the worst people" living on either side of her, specifically referencing renters. Marty Kaplan agreed. Just a fun tidbit.
SF.2 - Allow a Broader Mix of Lower Density Housing Types within Single Family Areas
This is the proposal that had people shitting the bed. But here's what the proposal actually is: allowing for duplexes/triplexes in traditionally single family areas (really, "detached single family" areas), starting with a pilot project, and not allowing new construction to exceed the existing "massing" regulations in the zoning code. So someone looking to rebuild on a piece of property could have some options: one massive house with 3,500 square feet; A duplex with about 1,500 square feet per unit, or a triplex with about 1,000 square feet per unit, all with the same size footprint. These could be sold and rented, or sold as individual units with a cooperative agreement for the land - providing opportunities for seniors to downsize in their neighborhood, and young families to purchase in neighborhoods with good parks and schools.
So while an individual house might sell for $750,000, set up as a duplex, the same property could have two owners at $450,000 each. Yes, someone is going to make more money because of the change, but the lower cost means more homeownership opportunities for young families in a city that is seeing these opportunities continually slip away.
And the proposal clearly calls for starting with a pilot project. In 2015 when I was out knocking doors in Northeast Seattle, I found many folks who were willing to have that pilot be in their neighborhood - folks who wanted to show that duplexes/triplexes, along with greater access for homeowners to utilize ADUs and DADUs - can work as a low-density option in Seattle.
SF.3 Allow Flexible Reuse of Large, Unique Development Sites
This wouldn't change zoning, but would allow Planned Residential Development sites to avoid council action for approval of their projects, so long as they go through all of the other regulatory actions (community outreach, design review), and include rent-restricted housing as part of the plan.
SF.4 Oppose Neighborhood Conservation Districts
There was a proposal floating around in 2015 that would have basically dipped some parts of some neighborhoods in amber, disallowing any changes to zoning and, if I remember right, requiring existing structures to remain (regardless of their state of repair/disrepair). It was never passed. This recommends against it.
And that sums up the SF section. In short, the biggest proposed changes were to make ADUs and DADUs easier to permit and build, which was expected to encourage low-density development of about 4,000 units. As the folks who advocate for ADU/DADU construction point out, rents tend to be lower in these places since owners often see the folks they're renting to every day. Allowing for non-owner-occupied versions would not necessarily change that relationship. I am not convinced that the big bad developers are looking to get into the three-unit in SF area market. It's just not worth the trouble and the cost of maintenance. If this were passed, I expect that the owners of these units would be similar to the owners of duplexes and triplexes throughout Seattle - folks using them as a retirement investment.
And on that - as I stated clearly in 2015, and continue to believe now, allowing for construction of duplexes and triplexes in historically SF areas just makes sense. New homeownership opportunities, and a clear path for folks who want to retire and age in the neighborhoods they care so deeply for, but do not necessarily want to keep up a 3,000+ square foot home.
For now, SF.1 is on hold pending further EIS review, and SF.2 has been scrapped - but will it return? Who knows. But what I know - and what you know - is that these are four more pieces of HALA. I'm super busy with work and other commitments this week (fun fact: I don't get paid to support anything HALA. I do it because, as a fifth generation Washingtonian, I would like to continue to live in the city in which I was born, and want my kid to have that option, too), so the pieces may not be big chunks. But between this and yesterday's installments, I'm pretty sure we've hit the most controversial sections of HALA.
Next up: Family Friendly housing and parking!