How is Burgess on Land Use?

By now you’ve heard the news: Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess is running for Mayor. As Gomer Pyle might say, “surprise, surprise, surprise!”

How is Burgess on land use?

Burgess has actually appeared in the blog a few times, mostly in a positive light. I wrote about Burgess’ use of the biblical reference to Seattle’s tendency to try and “split the baby” on complicated land use issues. This annoying tic on the Council often leads to granting 65 feet of height, for example, for a project requesting 85 feet in a 40 foot zone. Burgess was asking his colleagues to resist the baby splitting urge.

I also pointed out Burgess’ leadership when he teamed up with Mayor McGinn on the Roosevelt rezones around the new transit station there. Burgess wrote a great letter that called out what we all worry about with zoning around transit: that we’ll miss a prime opportunity to create as much housing as possible around new stations. There are 100 year decisions, after all, and if we aim too low we’ll end up with not enough housing supply where people will want to live most, right near light rail.

And in the “I should have seen this coming” category, Burgess was much better on the proposed changes to building height and increases in density in Pioneer Square while his colleague Mike O’Brien was hesitant, and actually joined the opponents of an upzone there. Burgess, on the other hand, said that great neighborhoods

Have high density, where people can rub shoulders together, trade ideas, create jobs, bring innovation, be safe, create community

So when it comes to land use issues, especially when it comes to density and increasing the development capacity we currently have, Burgess gets it. He says the right things and has voted the right way, most of the time.

But the pressures of running for the City’s top job will be a test. Already, there’s talk that Burgess might go down the lemming path leading off the inclusionary zoning cliff, a proposal that would mandate the developers build units at certain prices in their developments. While this might seem like an affordable housing strategy it’s really a price control, and price controls are usually a bad idea.

South Lake Union is a good test for all candidates for Mayor or Council. Will you do the right thing and turn up the volume on supply, or will we continue to make the mistakes of the past and attenuate housing supply because we want to engage in some kind of social safety net experiment? The truth is that the best way to have a salutary effects on price (for buyers of housing, anyway) is to increase housing supply along with smart subsidy programs for both developers and residents.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Seattle and land use.

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One Response to How is Burgess on Land Use?

  1. Pingback: Bismarck to Burgess: Do Affordable Units Mean Fairness, Equity, and Public Benefit? | Seattle's Land Use Code

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