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Changes to Seattle's single-family zoning could improve housing picture, city report says

Mike Rosenberg, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

The 16-member planning commission, volunteers appointed mostly by the mayor and City Council, is generally made up of professionals in the land-use world -- from architects to urban planners to affordable-housing builders. They plan to hold public workshops in different parts of the city to talk about the report's findings and will work with city leaders to sharpen their recommendations, which were purposely left "pretty vague," Parham said.

The commission advocates for extending existing "urban villages" -- places near transit where more development is allowed -- an extra quarter mile or so, which would allow more density on the edges of single-family zones.

It also wants to allow more "low-density" housing like one-story apartments, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, which were mostly legal throughout Seattle before zoning laws were adopted in the 1950s, '60 and '70s, in parts of single-family zones near parks, schools and other services, and on corner lots.

And, it advocates for banning McMansions, similar to new rules on Mercer Island, and allowing owners of existing large houses to convert them to duplexes.

"My hope is, 10 to 15 years from now, single-family zones may not look a whole lot different but there would be more people living there," Parham said. "We're not talking about towers or even modest apartment buildings -- we're talking the type of buildings that already exist right now" because they were built before zoning laws.

Mayor Jenny Durkan's office, in a statement responding to the report, did not comment on any of its specifics but noted the mayor "recognizes that too many families are getting priced out and pushed out of Seattle, and we urgently need more affordable and equitable housing options for homeowners and renters throughout Seattle."

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"We are currently reviewing the Commission's report, and we look forward to listening to them, communities, and neighborhoods as we continue to build a more affordable and equitable Seattle," said Kamaria Hightower, a Durkan spokeswoman.

Critical response

Any sort of changes to single-family zones is bound to encounter resistance.

In 2015, then-Mayor Ed Murry unveiled plans to add more housing to single-family zones; the backlash was so swift that he canceled those efforts two weeks later. Right now, local density opponents are challenging and delaying plans to ease restrictions on homeowners' ability to add backyard cottages and mother-in-law units, as well as a separate effort to upzone denser parts of the city and about 6 percent of single-family areas.

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