MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
MEGA HOUSE ORDINANCE
Responding to concerns raised by a number of neighborhood leaders, and suggested language developed by the Sunset Hills Community Council, I have proposed the Sustainable Single Family Housing Ordinance. This ordinance addresses the growing problem of mega houses that are changing the character of single-family neighborhoods and reducing the supply of affordable housing.
While Seattle has not yet experienced as many problems with mega houses as most cities around the country, in every neighborhood I visit, people cite several examples of houses that are simply out of scale with those around them. These mega houses (sometimes referred to as ‘starter castles’ or ‘McMansions’) not only block views and reduce open space and tree coverage, they also often replace smaller, more affordable houses.
My proposed ordinance addresses height limits, lot coverage and lot consolidation. The following describes the provisions that I am introducing. I am also seeking additional ideas that could modify or add to these provisions if there are better ways to get at the problem.
Height limits: The base height limit in single family zones would be reduced from 30 feet to 25 feet. The current height limit exceeds the base height limit for multifamily residential buildings in LDT (lowrise duplex/triplex), L1 (lowrise 1) and L2 (lowrise 2) zones. The five-foot additional height allowed for pitched roofs, and the extra height currently allowed on sloped lots, remain unchanged by the proposed ordinance.
Lot coverage: The maximum lot coverage allowed in single family zones is currently 35% or 1750 square feet, whichever is greater. The "or 1750 square feet, whichever is greater" language allows homes/structures on substandard lots (lots less than 5,000 square feet in SF 5000 zones) to cover more than 35% of the lot area. The proposed ordinance would eliminate the "or 1750 square feet, whichever is greater" language, so that the 35% lot coverage limit will apply to all lots. This will result in more proportional home size, i.e., homes with smaller footprints would be built on smaller substandard lots.
Consolidation of contiguous lots for fewer houses: Demolition permits would not be allowed for the purpose of tearing down two or more houses on lots next to each other if fewer homes would be built. The goal of this provision is to protect against a net loss of single-family houses.
These changes do not create new regulatory processes, and should not be problematic for the vast majority of property owners. Even on the smallest standard city lot, they would permit a house of 3500 to 5000 usable square feet. They modify existing regulations to reduce the footprint and impact of oversized houses, and would probably change only a few dozen plans each year. However, those that would be affected are the ones that have the largest negative effect, and I believe that most neighborhoods will welcome these restrictions.
The Sustainable Single Family Housing Ordinance is currently in environmental review, with a determination scheduled to be published this month. I expect to introduce it to the City Council this fall, with a vote either in late fall or early next year.
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ZERO WASTE STRATEGY READY FOR VOTE
I am pleased to report that I have come to an agreement with Mayor Greg Nickels to move forward with the Zero Waste Strategy, and to drop the proposal for a third transfer station at the Corgiat site adjacent to the Georgetown neighborhood.
On Monday, June 25, I introduced Resolution 30990, which will create the framework for implementing this Strategy. The Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee will vote on the legislation on Tuesday, July 10, with a Full Council vote scheduled for the following Monday, July 16.
The following actions are some of the main components included in the commitments to be made through Resolution 30990.
- The City will recycle 60% of the waste produced within the city by 2012, and 70% by 2025.
- The City will not dispose of any more total solid waste in future years than went to the landfill in 2006 (438,000 tons of municipal solid waste).
- For the next five years, the City will reduce the amount of solid waste disposed by at least 1% per year (2008-2012).
- Future waste-reduction goals for the period 2013-2028 (the term of the long-haul disposal contract) will be set based on the experience of the first five years, with the aspiration of achieving a steady reduction in the amount of waste disposed each year.
- The South and North Recycling and Disposal Stations will be designed to accommodate expanded recycling, a retail re-use facility, and self-haul waste and collection trucks in roughly the same proportions that they now experience, but with design elements for self-haul tonnages to be below current levels.
- The City will not purchase property for the construction of a third solid waste facility.
- The City will implement a new organics program on April 1, 2009, including:
Multi-family organics collection will be expanded to be a voluntary service available to all customers no later than April, 2009. SPU will review and propose incentives and education programs that will encourage participation by property owners and residents (2009). SPU will also continue to build a commercial organics program by working with customers and collections companies to provide incentives and design programs for commercial organics collections.
SPU will conduct a study by the end of 2010, to be done with an advisory group, to determine the costs, benefits, operational impacts and effectiveness of a potential mandatory multi-family organics collection program which could be implemented by the end of 2011. The scope of work for the study will include a requirement to develop evaluation criteria (2010-2011).
- All single-family customers will have organics collection unless the customer is actively composting food in the yard (an exemption process will be developed).
- A tiered can rate will be established for organics.
- All food waste will be included in organics collections.
- A future ban of all organics from single family garbage will be considered once the collection system has been fully established (2009).
- Both North and South Recycling and Disposal Stations will continue to be available for self-haul customers, but facility designs will assume a total self-haul disposal tonnage below current levels, as the City will develop other alternatives for customers to have on-demand or periodic curbside pickup of waste (2007 and beyond).
- To help reduce tonnages, starting in 2008, self-haul will be priced at full operating cost. As North and South stations are reconstructed, self-haul charges will ramp up to reflect at least partial capital costs as well (2008).
CONSTRUCTION AND DEMOLITION (C&D) WASTE
- The City will increase reuse/waste reduction/recycling of C&D waste through the modification of the City’s current demolition permit by the end of 2008. The permit modifications will emphasize and give priority to steps that would lead to the salvage and reuse of building materials. SPU will work with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to develop the permit modifications and to explore incentives and disincentives to developers and contractors to accomplish waste-reduction goals. Permit development will identify the minimum project size (in square feet) for which a demolition permit will be required (2008).
- By mid-2008, the City will explore incentives such as grants, tax reductions, and development assistance to encourage private companies to develop facilities for sorting and recycling C&D waste (2008).
- The City will consider providing incentives and requirements for larger development projects to promote recycling of C&D waste and use of recycled materials in construction, and/or adopting a City requirement that a given percent of C&D waste from each construction site be reused or recycled. This could include requiring a recycling plan and fee deposit when issuing building and demolition permits, with a portion of the fee refunded based on the amount of C&D waste recycled (2010).
- SPU will increase support for the Northwest Product Stewardship Council (NPSC) and offer funding for the NPSC to conduct a study to determine the most effective strategies for local stewardship activities (2008).
- The Mayor and Council will identify potential state legislation regarding product stewardship for the 2008 state legislative session (2008).
- SPU will evaluate the feasibility of implementing producer take-back programs and recommend appropriate action steps for Styrofoam packaging take-back, manufacturer/retailer take-back of used carpet and possible tax incentives or other business development incentives to promote local carpet-recovery markets, producer take-back and reprocessing for paint, and improvements to regional recycling/take-back for mercury-containing products such as fluorescent light bulbs and thermometers (2008).
- SPU will actively participate in implementation planning for e-waste producer-funded take-back programs and endeavor to ensure that implementation in Seattle captures the maximum feasible amount of e-waste (2008).
By mid-2008 SPU will conduct a comprehensive study of products, packages and ingredients that could be banned or otherwise discouraged (2008). Initial products for review will include non-compostable plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam food containers. This study will include:
- Identification of potential products, packages and/or ingredients that could be banned or discouraged in the near future.
- Legal alternatives for banning, restricting, or discouraging the use of products, packages, and/or ingredients.
- Criteria for evaluating such actions, including the actions' costs and benefits.
- An evaluation of available substitutes for anything for which actions are proposed.
- Recommendations for an implementation/action plan based on a prioritized list.
OTHER ACTIONS TO MEET ZERO WASTE GOALS WILL INCLUDE
- Expanding education, inspection and enforcement of disposal regulations.
- Reviewing and establishing appropriate collection frequencies for garbage, organics and traditional recyclables.
- Creating performance-based contracts for collection and disposal to ensure that companies have the incentive to achieve recycling targets.
- Expanding recycling/waste reduction at large events and parks.
- Establishing a Regional Solid Waste Advisory Committee to coordinate waste reduction, recycling, and product stewardship efforts.
The Zero Waste Strategy is designed to foster a new philosophy for managing waste in Seattle, a philosophy that is based on treating waste as a resource, conserving natural resources through waste prevention and recycling, turning discarded resources into jobs and new products instead of trash, promoting products that are durable and recyclable, and discouraging products and materials that can only become trash after their use. Committing to this program is a major step on the path towards a truly sustainable Seattle.
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ALASKA BUILDING TEXT AMENDMENT
A proposed land use code text amendment that would allow construction in the open area adjacent to the alley for historic buildings that exceed the height limits in Pioneer Square, including the Alaska Building, will be before the Full Council on Monday, July 16. The amendment is designed to facilitate seismic retrofit of these historic buildings while preserving their historic character.
A modified version of the amendment that limited its application to housing uses only was voted out of Committee on Wednesday, June 27, by a vote of 3 (Licata, Godden, Rasmussen) to 2 (Conlin, Drago). While I would prefer to have housing on the Alaska Building site, I voted against the modified amendment because it would not permit proceeding with the current proposal to develop a hotel in that location, a proposal that has the strong support of the Pioneer Square community. Limiting the application of the amendment to housing only is very unlikely to actually lead to housing being developed in the Alaska Building. Most likely it will lead to the building being left vacant for a considerable period of time or being used as an office building. While an office building will bring immediate profits to the building developer, it does not meet the long-term goal of Pioneer Square to have increased activity on the street after office hours, activity that will support the Pioneer Square businesses and enhance public safety.
There are no ideal options before the Council in addressing the future of the Alaska Building. As with many issues, all choices have advantages and disadvantages, and the task of the Council is to find a path forward that has the best chance of a positive outcome.
The City no longer has site control of the building, and cannot dictate the use. While the City preferred that the building be renovated for housing, housing was not included as a requirement in the contract with the purchaser. The advice from City staff was that limiting the use would likely lead to a lower purchase price, as it would mean that the purchaser would have to take the risk that renovation for housing would turn out to be too expensive -- which is the current situation, according to the property owner.
The City's interest in seeking housing was to encourage more residents downtown, and to support the Pioneer Square community in bringing more evening activity to the area. The housing was intended to be market rate, not low income housing. If housing is not a feasible option, then the Pioneer Square community has supported hotel use, which is consistent with the direction of the City, although not the first choice.
I therefore proposed an amendment to the text amendment that would limit future uses to housing or hotel (while the Council cannot mandate specific uses for a particular piece of property, we can legally condition the use of the provisions of the text amendment to specific uses). If my amendment had been approved, then the current proposal for a hotel use would have been able to proceed. If that proposal fell through, then housing or hotel would have been the only options for anyone who wanted to do a full renovation of the building.
However, the Committee chose to limit the uses to housing only. Calculations suggest that the building owner can probably make more money by marketing the building for office uses without taking advantage of the text amendment than by converting it to housing. This means that the building will most likely remain in use as an office building. That results in more profit for the developer, but it frustrates the goals of Pioneer Square and the City. I plan to reintroduce my amendment before the Full Council on July 16, and hope that it will be adopted at that time.
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“Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, which takes the imagination by storm; and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into action.”
“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected
officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together
we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting,
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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