SSU takes the petition to council president Clark!

The history of our petition

Many of you signed our Seattle Speaks Up petition, which asks City Council to fix problems in the 2010 zoning legislation that have resulted in 5 story buildings in areas that were previously limited to 3 – 4 stories.  Our petition asks for a reduction in apartment building heights and floor area ratios in lowrise 3 zones.  Note that we are still accepting signatures, so please do sign our petition if you haven’t!

As a small group of ordinary Seattle residents with full time jobs, Seattle Speaks Up had limited time and resources to publicize our efforts.  On weekends in the Spring of 2013, we put posters up in a few neighborhoods, and hoped the word would spread through our website.  Despite putting relatively little time into this, we gathered over 1000 signatures of Seattle residents from 16 different Seattle neighborhoods.  Importantly, many signers provided comments explaining why they supported the goals of the petition.  We printed these comments along with the full list of ~1000 signatures and presented them to Seattle City Council President Sally Clark’s staff in July 2013, in the form of an 87-page spiral bound book. 

Sally Clark’s 2010 Legislation Led to Taller Buildings in Lowrise Zones

We requested a meeting with Council President Clark because she authored the 2010 zoning legislation that led to excessively tall buildings in lowrise 3 neighborhoods.  Click HERE for her 2010 memorandum about this legislation in which she stated that, among other things, the goals of this legislation were to:

  • Encourage well-designed buildings that fit with established neighborhoods
  • Generally maintain the overall scale and density of Lowrise zones
  • Promote livability in multifamily areas through a greater sense of openness and access to light and air.

The success of our petition indicated that these particular goals of the 2010 legislation were not being met, even if other aspects of the legislation were working.  

But, Council President Clark says she “never envisioned…five stories in LR3 zones”.

On September 10th, 2013, we met for an hour with Council President Sally Clark at City Hall.  Our goal was to use the petition to convince Council President Clark that “clean up” legislation was in order.  On October 18th, Council President Clark wrote a letter to Diane Sugimura, Director of the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD).  In this letter, Council President Clark told DPD: “I never envisioned or intended that developers would be able to achieve five stories in LR3 zones. I think five stories is too big a change in height and scale for the LR3 zone.”  She goes on to say “In the past, when a new chapter of the Land Use Code was adopted, we have always needed “clean-up” amendments to address problems that were not apparent in the abstract…We now have enough experience and examples to make needed corrections.”  She concluded by stating “I am requesting that this issue be given priority, and that legislation be submitted to the Council in the first quarter of 2014.”  Click HERE to see Council President Clark’s letter.

DPD Asks SSU to Help Coordinate a City-Wide Public Meeting

On November 22nd 2013, SSU was contacted by DPD Planner Geoffrey Wentlandt about setting up a community meeting to discuss modifications to the Lowrise Multifamily zoning code.  DPD requested this meeting because of Councilmember Clark’s letter, which in turn was a response to concerns raised by SSU and other community groups.  The community meeting is now scheduled for January 14, 2014.  SSU also asked to meet with DPD staff to discuss the format of the upcoming public meeting and the details of the proposed revisions to the Lowrise Code.

What Lowrise Zoning Code Modifications are Under Consideration?

On December 9th 2013, a small group representing SSU met with DPD Planners Geoffrey Wentlandt and Mike Podowski, along with Councilmember Clark’s Legislative aide Jesse Gilliam and Council Central Staff’s Supervising Analyst Rebecca Herzfeld.  The DPD staff provided a detailed briefing of modifications currently under consideration by DPD.  DPD Staff graciously agreed to our request to be able to publicly discuss the changes under study in general terms.  We should point out that the partial list of changes we have listed is preliminary and subject to substantial modification as the process evolves.  Click HERE for a list of the most important changes currently under discussion.


What does this mean for the Lowrise Zones?

Instituting all the changes proposed by DPD along with a reduction to 30 foot heights (+roof) could result in a dramatic, and beneficial, course correction for the Lowrise 3 multifamily neighborhoods – thanks to Council President Clark’s leadership.  Of particular importance for many of us would be a reduction in allowed heights for apartments to 30′, as this would help to bring those structures back into a scale compatible with adjacent townhouses and single-family homes.  Furthermore, a 30′ height limit would dramatically reduce the shadowing of adjacent homes and apartments by the out-of-scale structures currently being built.  Elimination of some of the bonuses mentioned above, such as +4′ height bonus and Floor Area Exemption for buildings with below-grade floors and the +4′ height bonus for clerestory projections, would go a long way towards bringing the actual finished height and bulk of buildings back into scale with existing lowrise buildings.  The net result could mean much greater protection of our view corridors, our tree canopies, and our access to sunlight and fresh air.  While still allowing ample room for future growth, it would help reestablish the priority of the human organism in the built environment, and steer us away from the increasingly claustrophobic feel of a city whose planners have been guided mainly by the principle of “too much density ain’t enough!”

However, we have one important note of caution.  DPD’s decision not to consider a proportionate reduction in the Base Floor Area Ratio is, in our view, misguided.  A reduction in allowed building heights without an accompanying reduction in Floor Area Ratios would result in squatter, bulkier structures that would gobble up a far greater amount of open space between buildings, chew into the tree canopy, and increase the sense of compression and claustrophobia on our streets.  We should be prepared to push DPD and the City Council hard on this point.

The path ahead…

We urge signers of our petition to attend the January 14th, 2014 meeting, where DPD will explain the changes they are considering, and entertain questions from the public. It will also be important for signers to provide DPD with input on proposed changes as the process progresses to the Land Use Committee at City Council.  DPD’s goal is for City Council to vote on these important changes to the Land Use Code in Spring 2014.  SSU will continue to dialogue with DPD about the details of the legislation as it evolves, and will provide our signers with recommendations and updates in the coming months.  We will need to make sure the final legislation can achieve the goals we seek.  With Council President Sally Clark’s leadership and the support of our signers, we think these goals can be achieved.