Barb Wilson of the Planning Commission asked me a good question the other day: “Are you going to read the Director’s Rules also?” I wasn’t sure if she was referring to the Director’s Rules affecting multi-family or all of the Director’s Rules that apply to Title 23.
Either way the answer is that I don’t plan to read through all the rules. But I have read some of them, they might come up later, and they are worth mentioning. In summary, all those spots in the code that say thus and such will be decided by the director, mean a new body of documents that have a big impact on land use in Seattle. Those documents are the rules created by the Director of the Department of Planning and Development.
The code often calls on the director to play a leading role in land use decisions. I’ve thought of at least three kinds of ways the director is called upon. First, the director acts as a kind of referee, running a process trying to manage expectations of how a particular part of the code gets implemented. Second, there are the occasions when the code sets out some parameters but allows the director to interpret or decide whether a conditional use is “reasonably safe,” for example. Lastly, there are the times when a director has to make the final decision on a permit or request.
Often “the rules” are the way the director takes action. There are about 175 Director’s Rules covering directives from Titles 22, the Building Code, 23, the Land Use Code, and 25 which covers Environmental Protection and Historic Preservation. They span a number of decades going back to the 1970s when the department was called the Seattle Department of Buildings. Additionally, the director issues rules that affect Title 21 the Utilities Code (mostly having to do with sewers) and Title 15, which covers sidewalks and streets.
The director’s rules really do rule. I like them. Really. They are clear about what part of the code is being referenced and why, and they’re easier to read than the code. Let’s look at one example, a director’s rule on transportation management programs in major institutions. Here’s one origin of the rule back in 23.04.040, part of that opening section of Title 23 describing applicability and changes when parts of the code were consolidated.
The Director may require new or changed development standards as part of this process, and any prior expiration date would be eliminated.
Here’s the actual rule which references this part of the code.
I like these so much because you can see which things this rule supersedes, where it’s called for in the code, the ordinance that it’s connected to. It’s far easier to understand and follow than the code itself. It even answers the question “what’s the point?”
The goal of a Transportation Management Program (TMP) is to reduce trips and/or parking impacts of a development project through the implementation of physical improvements and operational measures. This Rule establishes the responsibilities of property owners, applicants and proponents of projects (hereafter referred to as the “applicant”) subject to the Land Use Code and/or SEPA requirements to develop a TMP. This Rule also identifies the ordinance authority and establishes the content, procedures, compliance, and reporting requirements of TMPs.
This is direct and plain (more or less) English. Later on, I’ll give my two cents on this. But I think that I’d much rather have a broader, more elegant and better organized code with a lot more authority and discretion delegated to the director.
The downside of giving more power to the director is that it means if you don’t like the director’s take, you’ll be unhappy. On the other hand there is a human being in charge who can be more flexible and visionary in how the code gets put to use. I also remember that having directors of planning that are around for a long time helps, at least if you follow Vancouver BC as a model.