It's a proposal that's been lauded in national development circles, even as it's been derided as "anti-family" by the Seattle Times. Certain Pioneer Square and Queen Anne residents have characterized it as yet another assault in Seattle's vicious war on cars. Some have also warned that it's a threat to our city's most precious "nonrenewable resource." I am, of course, talking about the sensible but shitstorm-spawning plan to pull back a little on the current city-mandated preciousness of parking spaces (spaces that, according to recent statements by the Times' Joni Balter, are as important to a child's development as a mother's breast).
Get over it, people.
The question is no longer whether the city council will abolish the current parking requirements—it will. Yes, that means a lot of those unbuilt parking stalls/mother's breast equivalents will be metaphorically sacrificed on May 9, when the Seattle City Council's planning committee votes to eliminate current city rules that force developers to build one new parking space for every new apartment or condo unit constructed.
However—calm down, everyone—the current rules would only be eliminated for new developments located within a quarter-mile of "frequent transit stops" (i.e., busy Metro routes and light rail corridors). As a result, developers will have increased freedom in choosing what to build and where.
You know, free-market style.
"This proposal is on the heels of those efforts that began way back in 2006," explains David Cutler, vice-chair of the Seattle Planning Commission. "The city has been on track to allowing the market to determine more of what's required in terms of parking in areas where we already have high-frequency transit service."
Not that this will end the war over what to do about parking spaces.
The next incarnation of the fight is going to center around the following wonky-but-combustible question: Will the council pass the current requirement-relaxing proposal from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) as is on May 9, or will it take the bold step of adopting a set of even more ambitious parking recommendations proposed by the Seattle Planning Commission? (To the confused: See map.)
In other words: Will the council go with a DPD plan that will cause the explosion of certain heads at the Times, and on Queen Anne and in Pioneer Square? (Don't worry, their heads always seem to grow back.) Or will it go with a planning commission proposal that could lead the owners of all those heads to immediately pack their suitcases and fly like furious winged monkeys to the suburbs?
The planning commission's more sweeping approach to reforming Seattle's parking situation would eliminate current parking requirements in "transit communities" (as opposed to just along transit arterials). Translation: It would eliminate the requirements in broader areas that are defined by their healthy bike and pedestrian frameworks—like North Beacon Hill and Interbay. Also, rather than applying the new, requirement-eliminating approach blindly to all bus arterials, as in the DPD's plan, the commission's plan would partially preserve parking requirements along industrial arterials—for example, in Sodo, where transit lines are fast and frequent but housing and services (like grocery stores, for example) are nearly nonexistent. "We don't want to discount areas that aren't ready for daily living," Cutler explains.
The problem with the planning commission's more sweeping recommendations: Some city council staffers worry that trying to adopt them could be used as a pretext for peeling off votes and thereby delaying the rule change.
The ammunition that would be used in this delay effort: One, the term "transit communities" is currently somewhat ill-defined and would probably need to be painstakingly parsed and outlined before the commission's plan could be adopted. Two, since the commission's plan is more sweeping in its geographical ambition than DPD's plan, even more heads could explode (after showing up at the council to testify in opposition).
It's too bad that these arguments could turn the commission's plan into something too hot for the current process to touch, because eliminating parking requirements in the broadest, smartest way possible is a good fucking idea—as people around the country have been noting—and one that deserves its day.
Consider: It costs $10,000 to $30,000 a pop to construct a parking space, and having to include one space for every new unit constructed in this city can raise the cost of new developments by as much as 20 percent. This at a time when, as King County Department of Transportation director Harold Taniguchi put it in an April 24 letter to the city council, "More young people are choosing to live in cities where access to transit is better and car ownership is not necessary."
All of which reminds that in the end, this whole fight is really a fight about whether to build a city around cars or a city around people. The more the council can side with the people in this process, the better.