Growth Targets or Growth Limits: Fixing the Problem

Over at Seattle Transit Blog this morning I posted about recent regulatory reform legislation that is substantially limited by state imposed growth limits.

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything the City Council can do to get out from under the rules that limit rolling back redundant process and regulation imposed by the state; that would take legislation in Olympia.

Here’s my idea. It’s probably an axe rather than a scalpel, but I think this could get the job done. Can we put this on the “to do” list for the 2013 legislative session?

RCW 43.21C.229

Infill development — Categorical exemptions from chapter.

(1) In order to accommodate infill development and thereby realize the goals and policies of comprehensive plans adopted according to chapter 36.70A RCW, a city or county planning under RCW 36.70A.040 is authorized by this section to establish categorical exemptions from the requirements of this chapter. An exemption adopted under this section applies even if it differs from the categorical exemptions adopted by rule of the department under RCW 43.21C.110(1)(a). An exemption may be adopted by a city or county under this section if it meets the following criteria:

(a) It categorically exempts government action related to development proposed to fill in an urban growth area, designated according to RCW 36.70A.110, where current density and intensity of use in the area is lower than called for in the goals and policies of the applicable comprehensive plan and the development is either:

(i) Residential development;

(ii) Mixed-use development; or

(iii) Commercial development up to sixty-five thousand square feet, excluding retail development;

(b) It does not exempt government action related to development that is inconsistent with the applicable comprehensive plan or would exceed the density or intensity of use called for in the goals and policies of the applicable comprehensive plan;

(b) The local government considers the specific probable adverse environmental impacts of the proposed action and determines that these specific impacts are adequately addressed by the development regulations or other applicable requirements of the comprehensive plan, subarea plan element of the comprehensive plan, planned action ordinance, or other local, state, or federal rules or laws; and

(c)(i) The city or county’s applicable comprehensive plan was previously subjected to environmental analysis through an environmental impact statement under the requirements of this chapter prior to adoption; or

(ii) The city or county has prepared an environmental impact statement that considers the proposed use or density and intensity of use in the area proposed for an exemption under this section.

(2) Any categorical exemption adopted by a city or county under this section shall be subject to the rules of the department adopted according to RCW 43.21C.110(1)(a) that provide exceptions to the use of categorical exemptions adopted by the department.

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3 Responses to Growth Targets or Growth Limits: Fixing the Problem

  1. MarkSJohnson says:

    I consider this a very narrow reading of the state law, and I hope the City is not taking the same reading. The numerical housing targets set for each village have always been problematic, simply because the City has so little control over where development will get “hot” in any given decade. For that reason, I would not put them in the same category as “Goals” as described in the legislation. Other goals should be considered as well.

    In the Urban Village strategy, for example, there are the following policies for urban centers (UV15):

    Zoning that permits the amount of new development needed to meet the following minimum density targets:
    a. A minimum of 15,000 jobs located within a half mile of a possible future high capacity transit station;
    b. An overall employment density of 50 jobs per acre; and
    c. An overall residential density of 15 households per acre.

    Additionally, we have goal UVG 21 to “Encourage housing development so that by 2024, the ratios of jobs per household [listed in a chart] are acheived.”

    There are also goals for Hub Urban Villages from UV 25:

    2. Sufficient zoned capacity to accommodate a minimum of 25 jobs/acre and to
    accommodate a total of at least 2,500 jobs within 1/4 mile of the village center,
    and to accommodate at least 3,500 dwellings units within 1/2 mile of the
    village center.
    3. The area presently supports, or can accommodate under current zoning, a
    concentration of residential development at 15 or more units/acre and a
    total of at least 1,800 housing units within 1/4 mile of the village center.

    The City should take a broad view of its goals, and not focus only on the numerical targets set for individual urban villages. If the legal minds feel this is too risky, The City should rewrite the goals and policies to clearly allow this reading of the Comprehensive Plan, eliminating the individual targets based on OFM projections in favor of these types of density targets for each village so that the infill exemption would apply until such densities are reached.

  2. Nathanael says:

    Make sure that the endangered species situation & stormwater handling is still fully evaluated and then this would seem like a reasonable idea. I think federal law handles the endangered species side of things, but what guarantees that projects don’t break the stormwater handling system? Perhaps there is a state law I don’t know about to deal with that.

  3. MarkSJohnson says:

    Stormwater runoff is the primary pathway that fish and marine mammals could be impacted, and they are the only species that come into play in Seattle (with the exception of some endangered wetland plants, but none of the urban villages have the kinds of high value wetlands that might include such plants). The City does look at capacity constraints on the stormwater system before allowing new development to hook up, and redevelopment typically improves stormwater treatment because of new stricter standards (unless the development is in an area of combined sewers, inwhich case the stormwater goes to the sewage treatment facility. The City is currently making improvements to combined sewer overflow systems to comply with its NPDES permit (water pollution permit administered by the State) for the stormwater system. The CSO improvements are not things that development in urban villages and centers can typically address anyway, other than complying with City regulations for stormwater management, so it makes no sense to put projects through SEPA for those issues anywa.

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