Message received: Regulatory reform efforts underway

This blog started as part of a broader regulatory reform effort that kicked off in the Mayor’s office earlier this year. Here’s what I wrote in Crosscut:

Mayor Mike McGinn is leading a close look at how to overhaul the land use code. He’s convened a round table of city staff  and local leaders from the private and non-profit sectors to take a look at how we might better align our clunky code with our green and sustainable aspirations.

The efforts of that work have reached their first stage. I know, I know, it’s yet another letter. But this one is backed with some serious firepower in terms of knowledge of the code in practice and folks like myself who are really anxious to make big changes. This first go around is modest. And remember how effective that last letter was? Well, we’re hoping we can inspire the same level of interest and discussion and get a solid legislative product at the end. Work is already underway to reduce wait times a DPD. So we’re on our way.

I’ll be writing more about this later, but here’s the letter and the talking points in full:

June 23, 2011

Dear Mayor McGinn,

Beginning in early 2011, the Mayor’s office initially convened a group of business, environmental, and neighborhood leaders to talk about ways to create jobs close to where people live and support Seattle’s efforts to become a sustainable city. Those meetings continued with leadership from the group and a common agenda emerged.

To create jobs now, incentivize innovation and entrepreneurial investment, and make it easier for businesses to be sustainable, the group is proposing a set of reforms to Seattle’s regulations that affect development.

The Seattle Municipal Code (especially the Land Use Code) should be easier to use and apply. Often, development standards and rigid rules limit innovation and prevent good ideas from turning into jobs.  Some regulations are needlessly duplicative and unnecessarily time-consuming, adding significant cost & time delays for business and government without providing meaningful public benefits.

The group developed some initial proposals, which aim to correct these issues.

  • Encourage Home Entrepreneurship
  • Concentrate Street-Level Commercial Uses in P-Zones
  • Reduce and Eliminate Some Parking Requirements
  • Allow Small Commercial Uses in Multifamily Zones
  • Expand Options for Accessory Dwelling Units
  • Expand Mobile Food Vending and Temporary Uses
  • Improve State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Implementation

In March of this year the City Council passed resolution 31282 that proposed principles to guide “economic development actions and strategies for strengthening and growing the City of Seattle’s economy and creating jobs.”

The attached talking points outline more detail about the proposed legislation. We hope for passage of this legislation by the end of this summer and before the beginning of the budget season.The group shares those principles and believes that sustainable choices can also help foster economic renewal, especially as part of long-term regulatory reform.

Together we can accomplish the goals the Council set in March, and help get Seattle back to work.

Sincerely,

Chuck Wolfe
Principal
Charles R. Wolfe, Attorney at Law

Matt Anderson
Principal
Heartland LLC

Eric de Place
Senior Researcher
Sightline Institute

Jeff Thompson
President
Freehold Group, LLC

Roger Valdez
Seattle Writer David Neiman
Principal, David Neiman Architects

Jerry Dinndorf
AGC Seattle District Manager
AGC of Washington

Tory Laughlin Taylor
Deputy Director
Housing Resources Group

Denny P. Onslow
EVP/Chief Development Officer
Harbor Properties

James C Mueller
Managing Partner
JC Mueller LLC

A-P Hurd
Vice President
Touchstone/ NAIOP

Encouraging Economic Opportunity Through Regulatory Reform

In March of this year the City Council passed a resolution adopting guiding principles for strengthening and growing Seattle’s economy and creating jobs.  Those principles included:

Quality of Life Adaptive Strategies
Resilient and Sustainable Local Economy Hospitable and Responsive Business Climate
Collaboration and Civic Leadership Infrastructure Investment
   

Sharing those principles, a group of business, environmental, and neighborhood leaders met to develop proposals for regulatory reform that will support sustainability and economic development.

Believing that sustainable choices can also help foster economic renewal, the group is proposing several immediate changes to spur innovation, get people back to work, and jump-start housing development by simplifying regulations, and lowering hurdles for families who need jobs, to save money, or generate more income.

The proposals are intended to improve housing choice and affordable living. Reducing the complexity of regulations and making them more flexible can decrease the costs in time and money of building new housing. The group believes that these changes will help Seattle achieve affordable sustainability.

Encourage Home Entrepreneurship

The home office is increasingly the birthplace of great business ideas that create jobs.  This proposal would encourage home businesses anywhere as long as they don’t affect their neighbors, and would allow advertising on the Internet.

Concentrate Street-Level Commercial Uses in P-Zones

While ground floor commercial makes sense in shopping and other pedestrian areas, more flexibility is needed outside of those areas to build buildings without ground-floor commercial spaces that may not be leasable.  This proposal will drop the ground floor commercial requirement outside of pedestrian overlay zones.

Parking Requirements

Required parking is expensive for everyone. As Seattle’s transit service improves with light rail and bus rapid transit, demand for on-site parking is shrinking, so why add extra costs by requiring it? This proposal reduces the amount of parking required in Urban Villages and several other places where there is frequent transit service, to encourage new investment and more sustainable neighborhoods.

Allow Small Commercial Uses in Multifamily Zones

Residential zoning often means that small corner stores cannot locate close to where people live This proposal would allow small corner stores in multifamily areas within urban centers or station area overlay districts, providing access to much-needed retail and helping to provide eyes on the street. .

Expand Options for Accessory Dwelling Units

The Council has already followed through with its promise to review the citywide Accessory Dwelling Unit program. This proposal would move ahead on the recommendations from that review, including allowing detached ADUs on “through lots,” more flexibility for height of detached ADUs on sloping sites, and clarify the allowance for ADUs within various multifamily housing types.

Mobile Food Vending/Temporary Uses

Mobile food carts help enliven neighborhoods, provide more eyes on the street, and offer unique food options.  This proposal would allow vending carts on private property where other commercial uses are permitted, such as a coffee cart in front of an existing restaurant, would extend the permitted hours of farmers markets, and would make temporary use permits easier to obtain for street food and other vending. This complements other street food proposals that address activities within public rights-of-way.

Improve State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Implementation

The goal of SEPA is to minimize environmental impacts. State law allows the City’s development standards to address the major impacts found through SEPA review. This proposal would strengthen those standards, in exchange for raising the SEPA threshold for individual projects. By putting mitigations directly into city standards, this proposal will create certainty that a project’s impacts will be addressed, while shortening the permit review process.

 

 

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5 Responses to Message received: Regulatory reform efforts underway

  1. Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says:

    So what’s the process from here? What possible hurdles are in the way?

    Also, have you done a post on Pedestrian Overlay Zones? I just did a very quick Bing (hey, gotta support the home team, Down with Google!) search and only found scattered maps of various neighborhoods, most 5 or 10 years old.

    Thanks for your work on the blog, very informative.

  2. Zef Wagner says:

    I especially like the attempt to get more corner stores in residential zones while at the same time dropping the requirement for ground-floor commercial in apartment buildings in areas where they might not make sense. Zoning has way too many rules that smack of Soviet-style central planning. Urban Planning should be about providing a workable set of guidelines and rules that encourage good private development, not an attempt to micromanage everything.

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