December 2009 E-News
At the end of my first two years chairing the Seattle City Councilís Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee I feel a little like Iím renovating a house from with a limited set of plans. I mostly pick up a hammer and try to use common sense.
I hear from plenty of people who tell me they have the best house plan and that I should use their instructions. For some people, no change is the right change. For others the change canít be grand enough. Re-zone, upzone, incentivize, landmark, retain, bulk up, slim down, reward, charge, bonus, demolish, protectÖ Everyone has a position and a stake in what happens across the street and across town.
As 2009 comes to a close I can say I am proud of the work weíve done over the past two years with neighborhoods, developers, affordability advocates, historic preservation advocates, greeners, smart city staffers and others to make at least a few smart decisions.
The jury will be out for a while on some our initiatives from the past two years. Incentive zoning (giving apartment and condo buildings more height in exchange for more affordability) wonít be truly tested until the economy recovers enough to see new development again. Similarly, I donít know that we have the formula exactly right on industrial zoning. Iím a big believer in fighting to keep port-dependent and other blue-collar jobs in Seattle, but we need to do more work on whether we have the outer neighborhood industrial zoning right and whether the current rules help owners reuse buildings in the smartest ways.
I regret that we didnít make it all the way through the multi-family section of the land use code this year. We came close. We finalized improvements to the mid-rise and high-rise sections last Monday. Low-rise (the town house and small apartment and condo zoning) is tricky. Weíve had some of the best conversations about neighborhood character, affordability, sustainability and code simplicity as weíve debated how to get low-rise right. Weíll take that work into the first half of 2010.
Which brings me to my hopes for the next two years. In 2010 I will continue to chair the land use and planning committee (renamed the Committee on the Built Environment). In addition to solving the low-rise zone town home problems, marquee items for COBE work in 2010 include a decision on the Seattle Childrenís Hospital proposed expansion plan, proposed land use changes for our South Downtown neighborhoods (Pioneer Square, the International District, and Little Saigon), proposed urban design changes and zoning amendments for the Northgate neighborhood, and examination of historic landmark building incentives.
Guiding my work will be a few basic desires I hear voiced in most parts of the city
- Letís continue to preserve history and culture through landmark nominations and cultural district overlays.
- Letís use major transit stations as the focal points for new, people-centered places.
- Letís amend land use rules to get buildings shaped better for people inside the homes and outside in the neighborhoods (and the greater world).
- Letís amend land use and building rules to nurture a mix of housing, businesses, arts and nightlife that sprouts all of those things in our city.
- Letís be done debating density. Unless the world turns upside down (and we should all hope it doesnít), more people will choose Seattle over the coming decades for schools, jobs, family and the incredible surroundings we enjoy. The only question is how we adapt to absorb our sons, daughters, cousins, parents and economically-motivated newcomers. Letís shape our change.
We will be updating Seattleís Comprehensive Plan, Toward a Sustainable Seattle, in the next two years, while concurrently supporting community-centered neighborhood plans. To invite the new mayor along on that work, I and my colleagues attached a request to the 2010 budget for the mayorís side of the shop to detail a coherent vision of how the new administration will carry out community planning and development tasks. While some people expect the City Council to run the show at City Hall for the next four years, I can say truthfully that Iím looking for the new mayor to be a true partner in smart land use and planning in Seattle. Despite the recession thereís no shortage of critical land use work to be done. Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to get involved with land use policy work here at Council. Weíve walked neighborhoods in Delridge and Lake City; weíve exchanged emails about floor-area-ratios; and weíve drawn heights and setbacks on blank paper. Weíll start again in January.
Sally at the Clean and Green Seattle event in the Brighton neighborhood,
joining area neighbors to clean up the streets.