This morning, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn and council president Richard Conlin held a press conference responding to an unlikely-seeming coalition of workers, developers, greens, and others.
The coalition—of which Sightline is a part—is calling for targeted “regulatory reform.” The idea is to eliminate outdated red tape in order to revive the local economy—kick-starting building projects, creating jobs, and boosting sustainability in the city’s neighborhoods.
If I sound boosterish about the idea, that’s because I am. The proposal is modest enough to be achievable in the near term, but meaningful enough to make a difference. It’s the sort of initiative that can demonstrate the very tangible economic opportunities that come from making sustainability legal. Easy low-cost tweaks to existing rules can make life easier for cash-strapped homeowners, for entreprenuers trying to get a business off the ground, and for hard-hit workers in the building trades. Plus, the same fixes can help create more affordable, vibrant, and walkable neighborhoods.
Media coverage so far at KOMO TV (in two flavors: the clip above and here), Seattle Times, PubliCola, Seattle P-I, The Stranger, Puget Sound Business Journal, and Seattlest. The official press release is here.
Full details of the legislation will be out next week, and I’ll provide more analysis then. In the meantime, you can find a summary description of each item below the jump.
Encourage Home Entrepreneurship — The home office is increasingly the birthplace of great business ideas that create jobs. This proposal would encourage home businesses anywhere as long as they don’t affect their neighbors, and would allow advertising on the Internet.
Concentrate Street-Level Commercial Uses in P-Zones — While ground floor commercial makes sense in shopping and other pedestrian areas, more flexibility is needed outside of those areas to build buildings without ground-floor commercial spaces that may not be leasable. This proposal will drop the ground floor commercial requirement outside of pedestrian overlay zones.
Parking Requirements — Required parking is expensive for everyone. As Seattle’s transit service improves with light rail and bus rapid transit, demand for on-site parking is shrinking, so why add extra costs by requiring it? This proposal reduces the amount of parking required in Urban Villages and several other places where there is frequent transit service, to encourage new investment and more sustainable neighborhoods.
Allow Small Commercial Uses in Multifamily Zones — Residential zoning often means that small corner stores cannot locate close to where people live This proposal would allow small corner stores in multifamily areas within urban centers or station area overlay districts, providing access to much-needed retail and helping to provide eyes on the street.
Expand Options for Accessory Dwelling Units — The Council has already followed through with its promise to review the citywide Accessory Dwelling Unit program. This proposal would move ahead on the recommendations from that review, including allowing detached ADUs on “through lots,” more flexibility for height of detached ADUs on sloping sites, and clarify the allowance for ADUs within various multifamily housing types.
Mobile Food Vending/Temporary Uses — Mobile food carts help enliven neighborhoods, provide more eyes on the street, and offer unique food options. This proposal would allow vending carts on private property where other commercial uses are permitted, such as a coffee cart in front of an existing restaurant, would extend the permitted hours of farmers markets, and would make temporary use permits easier to obtain for street food and other vending. This complements other street food proposals that address activities within public rights-of-way.
Improve State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Implementation — The goal of SEPA is to minimize environmental impacts. State law allows the City’s development standards to address the major impacts found through SEPA review. This proposal would strengthen those standards, in exchange for raising the SEPA threshold for individual projects. By putting mitigations directly into city standards, this proposal will create certainty that a project’s impacts will be addressed, while shortening the permit review process.
Post-script: In my remarks at this morning’s press conference (of which you can see a brief excerpt in the video clip above), I forgot to give a special shout-out to Chuck Wolfe, local land-use lawyer extraordinaire, who has contributed a huge amount of technical expertise and other forms of wisdom to the coalition. Thanks Chuck!
Sightline’s Making Sustainability Legal project identifies specific regulatory barriers to affordable, green solutions. If you’ve come across such an obstacle, please let us know by writing Eric (at) Sightline (dot) org.