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How Seattle could rein in development abuses

Commentary: The city has a history of having to retreat from density initiatives because developers make everyone angry with their exploitation of loopholes in rules. Herewith, a preventive prescription to encourage density and quality.
Quality and dense development of single-family housing can go together, as San Francisco shows.

Quality and dense development of single-family housing can go together, as San Francisco shows. Mike Lowe

Row houses on a street in Brooklyn

Row houses on a street in Brooklyn Steve Minor

Seattle has a long history of trying to encourage sensible increases in density only to find a few developers abusing the well-intended rules. 

The stretching of development projects beyond any recognizable version of reasonable intention is happening again. The city has to figure out a good way to deal with a new wrinkle that has big houses sprouting in backyards.

The problem has grown severe enough that the city has imposed a moratorium to study possible changes. There is a solution available, and understanding local history helps make clear why it’s important to act for the sake of protecting existing neighborhoods and promoting beneficial growth.

The concern here reflects longstanding personal positions on urban design and development. I am generally disposed toward development, particularly when it occurs within cities where services, transit and parks are available. I confess that I am a growth-management junkie.

But there is a kind of pro-development position that merely lines the pockets of a few people who try to take advantage of loopholes in codes or impose a mind-numbing, thoughtless pile of construction on neighborhoods with an established scale or smaller, home-grown shops and services. Development should create community, add to diversity, expand choices and recognize that not every household is a double-income earning couple with a penchant for conspicuous consumption.

Unfortunately, in this metropolitan area we have had a history of people in the development sector who look for ways to misuse or stretch well-intended regulations for their own financial gain. And what that does is paint everyone else doing development as conniving, rude and rapacious.

Thirty-five years ago, the city of Seattle tried to encourage attached single-family dwellings – sometimes referred to as row houses. This form of housing has served as a perfectly fine choice in American cities for hundreds of years – from Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia on the East Coast to San Francisco on the West. Even younger cities like Portland and Denver have embraced that form of dwelling. In the late '70s, Seattle allowed it in a handful of areas.

After some successful efforts developing a few row houses projects, one developer ripped down almost an entire block and packed in dwellings that were 11 feet wide. The result was hardly elegant; instead the development resembled a long row of single-wide, two-story trailers. So outraged were surrounding residents that the city voided the ordinance. An entire dwelling type was knocked off the list.

Since then, there have been a number of cases of the baby being thrown out with the bath water. Some folks may recall the era of “skinny houses” on smaller lots. All it took was for a few greedy people to build 10-foot wide, 35-foot-high walls for that ordinance to be deep-sixed. One such home literally blocks the views of five other homes behind it.

Fifteen years ago, the city of Shoreline was a model community for adopting an ordinance allowing “cottage housing.” The first ones that went in were beautiful and respectful of their neighbors. Then the bottom feeders swept in. Cottages resembling migrant worker cabins were packed into neighborhoods. The city swiftly revoked the code.

More recently, neighborhoods in Seattle have had to contend with the dreaded, repetitious “six packs” — parallel, barracks-like blocks of flats separated by a narrow lane leading to parking garages. These are perversions of the row house model and their builders should be ashamed for giving a whole, otherwise respectable, housing type an undeservedly bad name.

Now we have people who are building on “lots” created not by legal subdivision but by invoking old tax parcels. Three-story houses with tiny footprints have been jammed onto slivers of land, mere yards from current residents’ homes. Already, the city has had to scramble about to figure out how to plug this hole.

Actually, there is a very simple fix, one that cities in North America have used to prevent the overbuilding of lots, regardless of their status. That is the tool of maximum floor area ratio. It may sound complicated, but it isn’t. FAR is a multiple of the lot area. For example, if the code allows a maximum of 1 FAR on a 5,000 square foot lot, the maximum area within the structure cannot exceed 5,000 square feet.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 12:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Good! Throw in some rent control and we might have some balanced neighborhoods.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 4:05 a.m. Inappropriate

They would just loophole around the square footage requirement. What needs to be done is for the bad actor developers to never get a permit again.

jhande

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Good luck with that. We have the best city hall anyone can buy.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 1:11 p.m. Inappropriate

True that.

jhande

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

So-called abusive developers (aka free-market innovators) will always be with us. A more interesting revelation in the article is how often this city has failed to achieve a fair and logical zoning regulation. Blaming every ugly building on capitalists is like blaming smoke for coming out of the fire.

If the building department were autonomous, stripped of local political power, it could operate with fairness to everyone, just like Washdot.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks Mark for the thoughtful comments. What is missing in the dialogue is the important role that City planners, council members and community leaders MUST play in crafting a comprehensive vision and goals for our future built environment (especially single family neighborhoods and the small scale neighborhood commercial that supports) and land use codes (including form based codes and FAR where appropriate) that serve as tools to execute on the well-crafted vision. Leadership in this area has been missing...we deal with antiquated zoning left over from the late 1940's that does not respond to today's needs in our communities, and developers are left to find ways to work around obsolete regulation...resulting in built results that don't deliver on a larger future vision. Where are these leaders? Why does our region play second fiddle to cities like Portland, Vancouver and more?

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

In the end, this city's government doesn't care about its communities. Exhibit A is what happened in Roosevelt. The neighborhood's recommendations were swept aside, and McGinn sent his cronies out to hurl the most vicious possible insults at people who'd spent years working with the DPD bureaucrats. The message couldn't possibly have been clearer: Never work with the City of Seattle. Not ever. It's a complete waste of time.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"antiquated zoning left over from the late 1940's that does not respond to today's needs in our communities, and developers are left to find ways to work around obsolete regulation"

That a good one! Ever since the end of the 1940s the City Council has been preoccupied with perpetual tinkering and overhaul of the zoning (aka land use) code all justified as a code out-of-date unable to keep up with "today's needs." Mark is right if he means the major problem is lack of historical perspective and institutional memory. Lest we forget:

Sept, 1911 Municipal Plans Commission Report Summary:
"it was decided that the plan should embrace an area of about 150 square miles, which at 7,000 inhabitants per mile (sic)—an average density of population of American cities comparable in rate of growth to Seattle —would provide for a population of slightly over a million inhabitants....
[R]esults should be obtained with the least possible disturbance of existing conditions, while still securing, in the course of twenty-five, fifty or a hundred years, a consistent and harmonious city is all its various relations."

Oct. 1954 Muni League News "It's Time for a New Zoning Ordinance
"1923-1954"
"In 1923...people either lived in an apartment or in a "home." The present ordinance permits too much building on too little land--as much as 90 percent building coverage permitted on an apartment lot. Of the total Seattle area (1950 city limits) zoned for apartments only 25 percent is being used for that purpose....The 1923 ordinance was established without a plan and without the benefit of techniques and experience since gained for accurately measuring our land use needs. For example, properties adjacent to street car lines and major streets were zoned for business far in excess of the market potential."

April 1976 Report of the League of Women Voters
"...In 1956, makers of Seattle's Comprehensive Plan for land use zoned the City for densities that would accommodate the residences, offices and business of 1,000,000 people. ...The Seattle 2000 Commission recommended a reversal of "overzoning" policies and directed the City to resist auto-related pressures in neighborhoods. It advanced policies that would... preserve the existing housing supply.

July 1981 Cover Letter, New Multifamily Policies, Councilmember Hildt, Chair UDC
... Increase flexibility and cut red tape....—eliminate several traditional regulations: density limits, minimum lot size and lot coverage limits and replace them with development standards which allow greater bulk. Normally , one would expect to go through a design review process to achieve this bulk, however, the Policies provide...standards which allow a developer to achieve the bulk without requiring any design review.

March 1989 Cover Letter, Recommended Revisions to MF Policies, Mayor Royer
"...In 1982, we put in place new Land Use Policies and Code to guide multifamily development. The unprecedented development pressures experienced in recent years have stretched the limits of the land uses provisions, requiring a full evaluation of the Policies and Code to ensure that the original intent is met."

Nov. 1994 Governing Magazine "The Urban Village War"
"Though the framework envisioned a neighborhood planning process, there were no organized forays into the city's neighborhoods to talk about what each community wanted for itself. It was clear that the actual content was to be left up to the city's planners....The result was that his original purpose —to guide the city into a discussion about its future—disappeared in a series of vituperative spitting matches. ...Given the tumult, it's surprising the city council actually passed a plan that kept the core of Rice's proposal.... It cut the document itself to less than a third of its former size...It "clarified" that the plan provided for all modes of transportation, including the automobile. And, most important, it handed off some of the more controversial issues—such as the exact boundaries and growth targets for the individual villages—to the neighborhood planning process...."

Sept 1998 Land use Code Simplification —Issues and Options Nancy Fox for City of Seattle
"...Following a multi-million dollar comprehensive rewrite of the Seattle Zoning Code [beginning in 1977], Seattle's.land use code has grown to 790 pages in size with half again as many pages of Director's Rules. The study...is aimed at starting a dialogue....Based on this dialogue the City will...identify resources needed to accomplish significant progress toward Land Use Code simplification...."

2000, Suburban Nation, Duany, et al.
"[An urban] code looks different from a standard zoning code because it is about the physical form...For example, it addresses building height instead of F.A.R. (Floor Area Ratio)... F. A. R. is a zoning tool that makes it easy to calculate the value of a property based on its development capacity, but it says nothing about whether that property will hold a row house or a dingbat—it's a number. In contrast a height limit gives priority to a specific physical result, it complements planning —the cause of surprisingly unpredictable results—with something more effective, something called design."

afreeman

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Excuse me? The jobs market certainly isn't thinking we're playing second fiddle to Portland or either Vancouver. I've lived in all 3 for small periods of time. Portland has been ruined. Vancouver, WA is ok, considering it never was more personality than a suburb. Vancouver CA drives me nuts. Way to hard to get around in, massive traffic jams that put ours to shame (or make ours look like a frolic if you'd rather see the bright side).

Companies that grow, expand and employ looks at what we have and choose to do their business here. Don't chase any of that away.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

#1: DPD allows developers, despite DPD having no legal authority to do so, to file multiple permits on the same project to escape the checks and balances built into the code. This practice is called micropermitting or piecemealing and it is illegal. Then everyone, from the Council on down, acts surprised when we get development outside our intentions. Prevent this practice with a couple of simple code changes and most of the abuses cited in this article disappear.

#2: Reform the Seattle Planning Commission. As far as I can tell, we are the only major city whose planning commission does not contain neighborhood representatives. The largely tone-deaf proposals coming out of our SPC reflect this as well as reflect a complete lack of understanding of the history behind important Seattle land use practices such as the Urban Village concept. (It also wouldn't hurt to require SPC member read and understand the Buildable Lands Report as a pre-requisite to voting, either.)

#3: Quit weakening our SEPA regulations. Three times since 2008 Council has voted to reduce SEPA protections. Those of us familiar with land use code understand that the "environment" in "SEPA" is about far more than pretty-pretty green things. Anyone who says what's in SEPA is duplicated in our land use code is being wilfully ignorant of how our land use code is administered by DPD.

#4: Reform how Design Review Board volunteers are trained and how the meetings are conducted. These volunteers are, when we let them, our front line defense against crappy development. They do an amazing job under sub-optimal conditions. However, DPD is not training them properly. Most DRB members don't realize they have the power to *force* DPD and the developer to accept their decisions. They believe the DRB role is only advisory. Furthermore, DRB meetings need to be taped -- preferably videotaped but audio would be a start. The quality of the DPD staffer's "interpretation" of the DRB's discussion and decisions varies widely. Some DPD staffers are very respectful and issue minutes very close to the actual discussion. Other DPD staffers issue minutes that make me wonder if I was at a different meeting.

Bottom line: We don't need to reform our land use code. We need to enforce the code we have for a little while and see how well it functions under those conditions. If there are still problems once we start actually enforcing our checks and balances, THEN we can make tweaks to the code. Until then, we're chasing our tails and increasing costs of housing because neither developers nor n'hood advocates know what the rules are from project to project.

ddmiller

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Integrity is the answer: Architects who are independent instead of being mere lickspittle shills (listen to the hilariously cloying architects at a meeting of the city council's phony zoning committee for an example), and political figures who aren't routinely bribed.

I have little faith in new regulations to deal with the old ones that were evaded by the usual triangle of greedy developers, pathetically submissive architects, and corrupt bureaucrats. Seattle lacks integrity all around.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 1:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Don't mention City of Shoreline, their latest charade is to have a light rail station at I-5 and 185th.

This will cost a fortune to implement in a single family residential area. The construction will impact not only residences around the area, but I-5 will really take the brunt for years and everyone that uses it.

We need a break from useless and costly projects until the people feeding the government trough get caught up on our own bills.

salmonjim

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Or perhaps we could fashion some kind of rule outlawing anyone who's ever functioned in a relevant government position from ever accepting subsequent employment with any developer or any person or entity connected in any way with any developer or related entity. These folks work hand in glove with one another because, like so many of the governing types, when they end one position they just rotate to a related one. That way they maximize the value of their relationships and stay in the same area of business eliminating the possibility that anyone with contrary ideas will ever gain any kind of position with power to resist or withstand the developer agenda. Unrestrained growth is the hallmark of cancer. The building that's been going on for decades now is a cancer on our once-lovely city.

mspat

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:43 p.m. Inappropriate

If codes, regulations and the GMA were simplified, simplified, simplified ... life for everyone would be better.

Unrestrained inability to read and understand codes because they are nearly as unintelligible as IRS rules and regs by an average citizen is the thru cancer.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 3:08 p.m. Inappropriate

More than ill-will and devious conspiracies, there is a simple mechanical problem at work here. Having the political talent to win a Council election does not automatically translate into the skills necessary to do the job well. The fundamental duty of a legislator is to draft and vote on legislative proposals. But most Council members -- and indeed legislators of all stripes -- do not know how to intelligently read legislation, let alone draft it. So the entire process is farmed out to staff members, who often are required to perform within vaguely articulated boundaries and may have countervailing pressures to contend with. And if the staff member is overloaded or dealing with an unfamiliar topic, she may be disposed to rely on drafting suggestions from interested expert lobbyists. Since the business lobbyists are every day players in the political system while defenders of the public interest come and go, the influence of the former inevitably will be greater.

It's not a complete answer, but giving legislators regular training in legislative drafting would provide them at low cost with a valuable tool. Such training would vastly increase their ability to perform a capable hands-on role in key policy battles. At the very least, it would enhance their ability to understand when they are being manipulated and exactly who is pulling the strings. As it is, the disparity between what legislators imagine they are doing and the actual effects of the legislation adopted can be painful to behold.

woofer

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 6:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, I think they know exactly what they are doing. And for whom, and for what.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Trust me woofer, if you lived in an area where council members don't get paid, and have no assistants, and no understanding of what is needed or what they are doing ... you'd prefer the system that at least gets untrained/unqualified council members some assistants to help try to get a crumb or two of thinking in there.

Everywhere, the voters need to vote more intelligently, and we all need to wonder if we've made some of the jobs only good fits for those who can play the necessary games to stay in paid political positions.

Pay seems to be both the problem and the solution ...

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 4:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Reading anything that involves raising our taxes(government calls revenue) is written in such a way, even the authors of the bill don't know whats in it. If the bill doesn't "fit the bill" they interpret it anyway they see fit.

Perfect example is the voters guide.

salmonjim

Posted Sun, Feb 10, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

The comments fall into two categories: 1) the excessive, overly aggresive, rants that do not really provide a constructive input, and 2) the comments that are intended to provide at least some thoughtful input.

The first category of comments, sadly, represents the growing trend in populist commentary. Little thought is given to the comment, other than to agressively attack anyone with a different viewpoint. Analysis is done only to criticize the target, and there is little constructive value. What depresses me is that this type of populist, ill informed commentary is so prevalent now with digital media, that it discourages the second category of commenters...

The second category of comments attempt to address the issue identifed by Mr. Hinshaw. My only criticism of this group, is that there is often an underlying assumption that those in government are ill-informed, blind, or otherwise corrupt. In my experience, this is not an accurate representation of the government employees (yes, there is always a bad apple - but does anyone work in a job where there are no bad apples?) Most of the people I have encountered in government are trying to do the best job they can - if there is an unintended consequence, it is just that - UNINTENDED. The only one who can fix unintended consequences are the elected officials and the people who advise them (that would be you the public).

In my opinion, Mr. Hinshaw's article falls a bit into the trap that the second set of commenters falls into; he proposes a simple solution to a complicated problem. FARs have been around for a very long time, but they are not the cure-all he has suggested. Case in point, he commercial development north of I-90 in Issaquah was approved by King County using FARs as one standard of many. It is hardly an attractive, walkable, appropriately scaled commercial area. Frankly, FAR will not dictate attractive building, though perhaps other mechanisms could. Mr. Hinshaw, might I suggest that by implying the answer is simple, you do not help promote reasoned discussion?

It's fair to say, I also do not have a constructive, cure-all answer to this type of problem. But I can acknowledge that I do not know enough to solve the problem, and perhaps there factors at work that I cannot predict. It would be nice if the builders simply built attractive, well design homes. But there is a reason they do not - likely because it is not economically in their interest to do so.

silphium

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:37 p.m. Inappropriate

siphium, why would a builder build anything he could not sell at a profit? No business can operate without profit.

Consider the facts that the requirements of the GMA, and burdensome code restrictions and regulations make land prices so extraordinarily expensive in Seattle that builders can't afford to build the pretty little row house or cottage that many dream about.

An impossible dream needs some thinking about why it is financially impossible. There is no cure without understanding why the cost of land is so excessive.

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 8:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Common1sense,

We agree. Of course they don't. My point was that there is not a simple solution to the problem. Comments that indicate there are simple answers are misleading.

silphium

Posted Tue, Feb 12, 9:14 p.m. Inappropriate

The demand for "constructive" comments is classic Seattle "progressive" co-optation. What happened to Roosevelt is one of the purest examples. That neighborhood bought into the "constructive" mantra. They put in literally thousands of hours of work, and produced a plan that met all of the city's requirements.

What happened? Well, the neighborhood's big slumlord didn't like it. Neither did city hall's developer shills. The city council surrendered to the slumlord, and the mayor sent his attack dog, Roger Valdez and his friends at the Seattle Developer P.R. (er. "Transit") Blog out to insult the people in Roosevelt, calling them NIMBYs, and too white, and too rich, and too old, and (can you believe it?) too attached to their neighborhood. And then they tossed that plan into the trash, and told Roosevelt that this city's government couldn't care less what anyone there ever thought. It was a joke from the get-go. Could it possibly have been clearer?

So you can take your phony appeal for "constructive" commentary and go to hell. It's a tactic. It's a dodge. It's a chloroform rag. You and your corrupt developer cronies, and their bought-and-paid-for city council, and their corrupt mayor, can never be trusted, period. The only rational thing to do is to oppose them every last step of the way, come hell or high water.

If that's not "constructive," fine. All that "constructive" gets the neighborhoods of this city is ruination. I'd rather go down yelling than get smothered by the standard Seattle passive-aggressive b.s. any day of the week.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 7:01 a.m. Inappropriate

NotFan, do you notice that these comment boards often devolve into rants against government, with accusations that the government and the developers are out to get everyone? Is that useful, other than to let you stand on a soap box and berate the rest of us?

Take you message - you accuse me of making demands, apparently working for Seattle, and having developer cronies. I must be the mayor of Seattle (damn - need to buy a new house).

I did not tell you to be co-opted by the city government. That's a choice for all of us to make - and sometimes it's a waste of time. But shouting and waving your arms will not do anything.

silphium

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 5:03 p.m. Inappropriate

The city government is corrupt and its officials are out to line their pockets. The developers are corrupt and are out to line their pockets. The only way to deal with them is to oppose them every step of the way.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

One underlying problem here is a legal one. Decisions by the state Supreme Court in the early 1980s (in cases such as Norco and Carlson) established the legal rules under which land use development takes place in Washington. Unfortunately, the Court determined that what is not prohibited is allowed. Public officials in Washington jurisdictions have little or no discretion. If a proposal by a developer meets the legal specifics of the Land Use Code, it is allowed. Even if a project is not a good project from any rational planning point-of-view, DPD must approve it if it meets the "letter of the law." Thus, Seattle and other jurisdictions in Washington constantly operate in a reactive mode: Clever developers find a "loophole" in the Code and exploit it; people react; an amendment to the Code is adopted to close the loophole; clever developers go looking for other loopholes.

There are states in the U.S. where city officials have considerable discretionary authority and every project involves a negotiation; here, however, the letter of the Code governs. This is also why Design Review can be so frustrating; what is subject to the authority of the design review boards is limited. Items like bulk, parking requirements, etc., that are specified in the Land Use Code are not subject to review/change from the design review panels.

Similarly, the state Supreme Court has ruled that only what is written in the Land Use Code legally controls land use decisions. Policies included in the Comprehensive Plan have no legal weight unless they have been turned into ordinances that are part of the Land Use Code.

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

"the Court determined that what is not prohibited is allowed."

"If a proposal by a developer meets the legal specifics of the Land Use Code, it is allowed."

"Similarly, the state Supreme Court has ruled that only what is written in the Land Use Code legally controls land use decisions."

Ohhhh, the sheer audacity of laws and codes creating a set of rules. If only those rules were simplified.

We're breaking under the rules and regulations that have been, are being, and will continue to be imposed. The best cities and buildings are the oldest, prior to the incessant imposition from planners and Comprehensive Plans.

The GMA is crippling all of us, no matter how 'good' some thought it sounded 20 years ago. Too much control stifles and costs. Too dearly.

"Here, however, the letter of the Code governs." OH HOW I WISH THIS WERE AS SIMPLE AS IT SOUNDS.

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 6:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Really? Sure, some are very ugly ... but they seem to have filled a need in the marketplace, for very, very, very few of these homes are vacant.

They are occupied, which serves an important human need called housing. Not everyone can afford pretty in paradise.

"More recently, neighborhoods in Seattle have had to contend with the dreaded, repetitious “six packs” — parallel, barracks-like blocks of flats separated by a narrow lane leading to parking garages. These are perversions of the row house model and their builders should be ashamed for giving a whole, otherwise respectable, housing type an undeservedly bad name."

I've never heard them called "six-packs" before. The way you describe them, it sounds like you think they are just one step above tenements. Unfair to the good citizens who call these homes, ummm, home.

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 9:09 p.m. Inappropriate

common1sense,

Not sure what a good simplified rule would say... Something like - build nothing ugly? And oh, by the way, avoid that sprawl thing that is going on in Arizona?

The leave it alone model for development does not really work that well in other parts of the US. I would not simply suggest that we get rid of GMA. Yes, the regulations make land more expensive - because they prevent urban sprawl (which by the way would not be all that good for a city like Seattle, for a variety of reasons). Do we really want to look like Pheonix or LA though? At one time, I remember when this was the evergreen state...

I suppose we might agree in part, and disagree in part. I think that regulations have a role to play - because otherwise we end up with undesirable effects from the market. However, I do not blame builders for building something, even something ugly, if it make fiscal sense.

silphium

Posted Tue, Feb 12, 9:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course you don't blame builders for hitting this city over and over and over and over with the ugly stick. When the only thing you ever cared about was another $5 latte, a constant stream of money trumps all.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 7:03 a.m. Inappropriate

I think it's important to understand the builder - they are in a business to sell their product. If they can sell people fecal matter, does that say something about us too?

silphium

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I understand the builders: They will do anything for money. The rest, as they say, is mere whipped cream on dog feces.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 6:45 p.m. Inappropriate

If builders can sell crap then it is the buyers who are willing, and have zero taste, who are the problem. When anything new and shiny gets bought up is not something that can be blamed on the builders.

This city has been hit over and over with the ugly stick. Part GMA at fault, and part consumers being willing to pay for ugly.

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 6:50 p.m. Inappropriate

WAIT. And part planners and electeds who have no concept that their development codes and ideals create ugly.

Everytime I see an article touting photos of of "why can't we have this here" like the photos of the row houses ... no one comments that the photos so touted and admired represent products that would

not.be.allowed.to.be.built.here.today.

How is it that we are so nostalgic for buildings of the past that we cannot build them as new today? How is it that we are getting a $4 billion bore tunnel crammed down our throats instead of a nice, and cheap brand new viaduct and huge new park that will be full of homeless drunks and drug users?

Because voters are incredibly naive. Trusting. Trained. I digress.

Posted Tue, Feb 12, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Silphium, not once did I say leave it alone and build ugly. What I am saying is that your distaste for something you consider ugly, that adhered to building codes, are full of people, people who apparently also think they are reasonable places to live. People who are happy in their six-pack affordable home ... the point that these units do stand stand empty attests to the fact that people enjoy the interior spaces. 2 - 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a garage (for storage, certainly too small for a real car).

A prettier six-pack certainly could be built. But who could afford to live there?

However, flipping my argument a bit. I believe the GMA studies that claim home prices area as much as $200,000 higher per unit need more attention. Over the last 30 years we've morphed from reasonable to really, really, really difficult, and those difficult codes/regs definitely add $$$$$ cost to every home.

We are one of the most expensive (and very ugly in many regards) regions in this country. Not all of that is because we're so dang fun and cool. Builders are definitely not to blame. They build what they believe will sell. If it sells - the market tells us that it was acceptable, and in a price range they could afford to rent or buy.

Sprawl does not enter into my concerns. As we grow, we have too much water surrounding us. Growth that comes to an area with economic strength isn't sprawl - it is just a positive reaction to a thriving economic climate.

Sprawl will continue to happen. Not everyone wants a six-pack or a high rise apartment or condo. Some of us enjoy rural life and a commute as needed. More satellite offices would be helpful, right beside transit stations. With daycare, gas stations, and groceries.

Posted Sun, Feb 17, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Common1sense, notfan-
My original comment actually chastised Mark Hinshaw for suggesting there was a simple solution; I don't mind the ugly six packs as much as the misleading solution to creating attractive buildings. I also suggested constructive discussion is better than rants.

I think we have illustrated the challenge in this set of comments. I don't think we can set aside GMA, in part because it does do positive things (maybe not so much in Seattle, but in WA). But we have a hard time: A) identifying the actual problem (consumers and culture are part of it in my opinion); B) agreeing on a solution that has acceptable results; and C) not becoming distracted by the irritation some of us feel in the meantime.

silphium

Posted Sun, Feb 17, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you silphium.

The GMA has forced costs up, up, up. It cannot be shown to be effective in anything except extra regulations, extra need for governmental workers. Interpreting the GMA is really only done by litigation - a handy way to keep attorneys working too.

The actual problems are always consumers and culture, but never in history have people been so compromised in doing what they want to do (or building what they want to build), and going where they want to go. This causes (C) irritation that prevents (B) solution agreement.

Seattle isn't what it used to me, and more and more it is the city of the wealthy and the poor. No middle class.

I dunno. I can't see a solution the way things are going. Overregulations and too much time in process kill creativity, and make the high costs caused by the GMA have caused generic to become the norm.

Posted Mon, Feb 18, 8:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Is there no limit to growth? Especially population growth? Density is lauded in San Francisco, but has anyone looked down at the bay area from the air and noted the amazing sprawl there? And is there a limit to how many people you can put into an area, and what kind of consequences result from it? Look at the Belltown area. And here we are passing every feasible law encouraging ever-more illegal and legal immigrants and thus deliberately encouraging unsustainable population growth.

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