Chapter 23.61 Station Area Overlay District: Not enough for TOD

Transit Oriented Development -- In Redmond

In my post on Overlay Districts I said I’d return to Station Area Overlay Districts. In 2001 the City Council adopted a station area overlay and the stated purpose of the overlay district “to regulate land use and development in a manner that supports transit-oriented development near light rail stations.” I think we can agree it hasn’t done that.

A closer look shows that the overlay really doesn’t have much in it that would support TOD around stations. In fact, the overlay applies only to Henderson, Othello, Edmunds, and McClellan station areas. And what’s in the overlay? Let’s take a quick look. But I will say that we can beat up on Sound Transit all day, but as long as local cities like Seattle have this kind of weak code language there’s not much they could do if they were motivated.

The overlay language starts out by citing a long list of uses that are prohibited including things like drive in businesses, general manufacturing, and “dry boat storage.” Is dry boat storage a problem near transit stations? And what about “sales and rental of large boats?” I don’t get it. Was there supposed to be an inland port at Othello station?

Residential uses are permitted outright. Well that’s a relief. However this isn’t true for a “pedestrian-designated zone, where they are limited to 20 percent of each street-level, principal pedestrian street-facing façade.” The P-Zones have come up in discussions before as a problem. Why do this? Ostensibly this is to make life better for pedestrians. But I can’t quite see how limiting residential uses is necessarily linked to that, especially in areas where we want TOD. I might take a closer look at P-Zones later.

Then there is a section that allows for expansion of many of the uses prohibited in earlier sections provided those uses were there before the establishment of the Overlay district. Oddly, the code says that in the University District Station Area drive through banks located there before May of 2006 can relocate within the Overlay. What makes that odd is that the “University District Station Area” isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the chapter and it isn’t going to be called the University District Station Area but the Brooklyn Station. (There might be more clarity on the land use map where there is a “Beacon Hill Light Rail Overlay District” mapped out.)

Single use parking is prohibited, but that has changed. A recent decision by the Director has allowed some single use parking near transit stations in the Rainier Valley. That was a controversial decision I wrote about here awhile back.

And that’s all folks! That’s Seattle’s effort to support TOD in the code. There maybe something huge I am missing here. But there is no provision for additional density, no additional infrastructure mandated or incentivized. None of the tools I mentioned in another post on TOD are mentioned either, largely because they aren’t available. But there are things the City could include here like additional density or other incentives. And some station areas are shrinking. For example the Pike Pine Station Area Overlay lost a big chunk a few years back.

I’d say for Seattle there is a real danger that the TOD train is leaving the station. We have this chapter set up to address the need for TOD. Can some Councilmember make some proposals, perhaps using Roosevelt as a place to start, that would put some teeth into this section of the code? Until we get bigger changes at the state and regional level, we’re going to be dependent on some local leadership.

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