On Monday, January 11, 2010, the Council voted 7-1 to permit taller buildings in a small portion of the South Lake Union neighborhood. I abstained from the Council vote because of the potential that an “appearance” of a conflict of interest could have been suggested had I participated. My wife Joanne Harrell was appointed by Governor Gregoire to sit on the University Of Washington Board Of Regents and the expansion in issue directly affects the University of Washington Medical Center. The Board of Regents may ultimately pass judgment on this issue and I did not want to jeopardize any decisions made by the Council.
The passage of this “text amendment” permits some buildings to go as high as 120 feet. The previous limit was 65 feet. However, if a development met certain biotech criteria, a height of 85 feet was permitted. A majority of the Council believed passing the “text amendment” was necessary to accommodate development that will attract federal research grant money. This is one of those issues where not everyone will be happy with the outcome. However, this new facility will serve as a key driver of the economic development of South Lake Union’s burgeoning biotech sector. My goal will be to continue to work with the neighborhood communities such that their commonsensical and logical needs for meaningful public open space and construction designs that are truly neighborhood-friendly are met.
Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs), mother-in-law units, or, (as we are calling them in Seattle) backyard cottages, are being discussed in our city’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee. In 2006, the City Council passed legislation which permitted backyard cottages in Southeast Seattle. To date, 17 have been built in Southeast Seattle; many built over detached garages. I was not on the council when the 2006 legislation passed but I would not have supported legislation that only allows these dwellings in one section of town.
My staff and I toured examples of the backyard cottages in Southeast Seattle. We were actually impressed by their design, efficiency and practicality. While I have expressed some concerns about the design impacts of backyard cottages on neighborhoods, the homes I toured, in my opinion, were smartly built and sensitive to the needs of the neighborhood. For example, when the cottage is built next to the alley, in space that was underutilized, it cannot be seen from the street, and is within the size and scope of the existing structures in the alley.
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Incentive Zoning is a strategy to achieve public benefits, such as affordable housing, by creating incentives for developers in the form of additional height on new projects. For example, if the baseline height limit or Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limit is 40 feet in a given area, the City would then offer developers additional height or FAR in exchange for a commitment to provide affordable housing in or adjacent to the project. The City Council passed Council Bill 116358 as a means to ensure that new development in Seattle’s neighborhoods leads to a wider spectrum of affordable housing options and address the anticipated density. Some form of incentive zoning has been used in Seattle since the 1960s and it has produced hundreds of new housing units and generated millions of dollars to support the development of others. The City developed a program for commercial buildings in the 1980s and our recent rezoning in the downtown area is an example of how a targeted, strategic approach can work.
I remain concerned about whether a broad brush zoning approach defined in CB 116358 is the most effective means to achieve affordable housing or economic development, particularly in our current economy. The easiest and simplest approach would be to stamp this legislation as a “modest” tool to achieve the desirable end of affordable housing and hope for the best. But I believe such an approach defers the more complex work that has to be done and ignores certain housing realities that exist in our city. Continue Reading »