Next week, the Seattle city council will take up a package of modest but important regulatory reforms. These are precisely the sort of fixes Sightline has been advocating: targeted updates that move us toward a more sustainable city—one that’s not only cleaner but that also offers richer economic opportunities to its residents.
Interestingly, many of them are actually “back to the future” type proposals. For example:
- Coffee shop-size neighborhood commerce—the old corner stores—will once again be allowed in places zoned for low-rise density.
- Outside of designated pedestrian zones, the city will relax the stringent requirements for ground-floor commercial space that isn’t supported by the market.
- In places with good transit service, the law will return to the way it was when the city was built: officials will no longer force private property owners to supply a minimum number of parking spaces.
That last one is particularly popular with institutions like Seattle Central Community College. Consider the absurdity of the current situation: the college is located just a few minutes walk from downtown and it’s served by multiple bus lines, as well as a forthcoming streetcar and light rail station. Not surprisingly, its existing parking facilities are under-subscribed. Yet it cannot expand its classroom space without also building costly new parking structures. Oy.
The new reforms will scrub that requirement, letting the college spend its money on education rather than car storage.
Given the modest nature of the proposals, there’s been exceedingly little concern over them. True, in an article about the policy package, the Seattle Times did manage to find a few grumpy folks concerned about crowded on-street parking in central city neighborhoods. Yet an examination of the “problems” cited in the article serve to highlight how utterly undramatic the changes are.
Let’s take a quick look.
For example, the article goes on at length about Aegis Living, a new assisted living facility that some neighbors are opposing over on-street parking worries. It’s interesting, I guess, but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the proposed reforms. They don’t impact the Aegis development at all.
Or this example:
Jim Hobbs, who has run his car-repair shop for 30 years, the city’s proposal to eliminate parking requirements smacks of a political agenda…
“The city of Seattle doesn’t want us here,” he said of his auto-centric business. “It’s the whole anti-car thing…
“Everybody owns a car,” he said. “Or two.”
Yet this it is completely wrong. In fact, fully 15 percent of Seattle households (not individuals mind you), have no car. More than a quarter of Seattle’s renting households don’t own a car, and 40 percent of low income households don’t either. (In fact, even among households in Seattle with somebody employed—that is, not counting students, retired folks, or the out-of-work—44 percent have access to one or no cars.)
So, just for the record: no, “everybody” does not own a car or two.
More to the point, eliminating parking mandates in selected and highly urbanized areas is not exactly the same thing as eliminating parking. In fact, the city estimates that even where no parking at all is required for multifamily buildings, developers typically supply parking for 60 to 75 percent of the residents. For example, the North Lot Stadium Place development is not required to provide any parking, and yet developers are planning on around 900 parking stalls.
That’s just the way it should be. Builders should respond to reality—and they should supply what the market actually wants for parking. (Hint: not everybody owns a car.)
Okay, enough grousing. The balance of the regulatory reform package is similarly modest. It will streamline some duplicative red tape for new development in urban centers and near light rail stations; it will slightly expand opportunities for home-based entrepreneurship; and it will clarify some of the language in the land use code around backyard cottages and temporary use permits in the public right-of-way.
These are not exactly earth-shattering policy changes, but they amount to good and useful progress all the same.
Citizens will have a chance to voice their support on Wednesday, March 28 at 9:30 a.m. in City Council Chambers. I’ll be there.