Opinion piece that doesn't say WHY the City says the Comp Plan draft is delayed. They're not easy to write.
Have other cities in the GMA released theirs?
Ironically, this call for the Council to take action because ‘votes should have a say’ comes a little late. Some of us have already voted.
Vote NO on Seattle Proposition One.
The more the "urbanists" write and comment on things like the comprehensive plan the more I become convinced they could care less about solving housing affordability and care more about some sort of grievance action against perceived wealthier neighborhoods. Here's a reality check. Even if the comprehensive plan allows for 20 story apartment buildings to be constructed anywhere and everywhere they aren't going into Madison Park or Broadmoor. If a SFH gets torn down it will be rebuilt as a massive mansion for 4x the price. I've seen it over and over again in less affluent neighborhoods that are already zoned for multi family housing. if you want to really solve the housing shortage you would focus on building housing along already identified transit corridors that have already been upzoned.
As rants go, the Stranger has done much better
@4: Thank you for writing it so I needn’t bother. So long as there are vacant lots along the MLK light-rail line, Seattle has a much better way of addressing the housing crisis than rezoning SFH neighborhoods.
“…over 250,000 Seattle residents cast ballots in the 2019 city council general election…”
The Stranger’s message discipline continues to amaze. To the Stranger, Seattle’s November 2021 elections simply did not happen.
“…local historian Shaun Scott…”
Thanks for the laughs!
@6 How is the 2021 general election relevant to the council seats up-for-grabs this year?
@6: It's not "message discipline"; TS didn't write this. It's an opinion piece by housing advocates who don't know how Comp Plans work.
@7: “How is the 2021 general election relevant to the council seats up-for-grabs this year?”
It’s not, but that’s an irrelevant question. The full sentence reads, “City council elections capture a far broader swath of public voices: over 250,000 Seattle residents cast ballots in the 2019 city council general election, compared to just 1,500 people who engaged in the One Seattle Plan environmental review.”
So, they could have picked any “city council elections,” so why not the most recent one?
@8: “TS didn't write this.”
No, but the Stranger published it. The Stranger had final say over all of the content.
@9: "final say"? if the editors of a newspaper disagree with a guest editorial's content, they shouldn't publish?
i'm not sure that is how guest editorials work at any newspaper (the NYT, for instance), but maybe the Hamas-loving Soshlysts at TS are held to a higher standard.
@4,6 you dont live here. nobody cares what you think about what we should do with the city.
@11 I see, so when you don't like the message you try to silence the dissenters by trying to discredit them. Well sorry my friend, I do live here and have for over 20 years now. If you want to share with the class though please tell us how continuing to focus on driving density in areas of the city where there is currently low to no demand for density is better than building now where you already have the ability/desire to put in more units. They keep saying this is about equity but I thought it was about housing. If you want to make it about equity that's fine but then you aren't really serious about solving for housing.
@9 I'm guessing they picked 2019 because that election is most similar to the upcoming one, in that 7 of the 9 council seats are up for grabs. And those are the people who will be making the decisions on the comprehensive plan.
@4 Urbanists are generally for an all of the above strategy, that is encourage the development of larger multi-family projects in highly up-zoned areas, while simultaneously allowing development which moderately increases density in the vast swaths of SFH areas. Economically, both of these should be expected to work together to lower housing prices.
There is presently strong competition for land and construction resources to build medium/high rise multi-family housing, and this scarcity increases prices. Obviously not all lots are built out, but that alone is not an indicator of a lack of scarcity, as limits in construction capacity and financing put bounds on the construction rate. Allowing for smaller scale multifamily development allows for a different set of landowners, construction companies, and financiers to contribute to increasing the housing stock.
Developing a fourplex is a significantly less costly project then developing an midrise apartment building, and can generally be built by the same contractors as single family homes allowing for more firms to participate in rising housing production (not only those with the financial resources and construction expertise to build apartments). This additional avenue then decreases the burden placed on higher-zoned areas, hopefully decrease the cost of development in those areas.
It's a fairly simple classical economic analysis: we should expect loosening of zoning restrictions in SF areas to decrease housing cost. Now there are a myriad of other factors that can come into play to complicate this analysis, from development induced changes in neighborhood desirability (gentrification) to the financialization of housing, but all else being equal the downward price influence of up-zoning will likely hold true on a city wide level. Maybe some people are motivated by jealousy (how can I know), but certainly some (most) are just motivated by the rational expectation of cheaper housing.
@14 To achieve any meaningful change in housing density through upzoning, you need the very same people that sought out and paid a high premium for single family homes to decide to tear them down and build multi-unit housing instead. I don't see many existing SFH property owners doing that.
@11: That’s not strictly true. You cared enough about what I thought to comment on it, and you’re a nobody. ;-)
Seriously, I lived in Seattle for decades, and volunteered in the local community for most of that time. Of course, to see the value in such experiences, you’d first have to value an opinion that isn’t yours, and what evidence of that have you ever provided?
@ 14 That's absolutely not true, you just need them (or whoever inherits their homes when they die) to sell them to developers. This is already evident in areas which were upzoned under HALA from SF to allow for moderately more dense development. These areas have seen a number of townhomes and row houses go in, which while still quite pricy in most cases, are still cheaper than the SFH they replaced (particularly adjusting for the new home premium) and certainly more dense. Areas with more extensive up zoning (astride Stone Avenue in Fremont/Wallingford for example) have also seen a fair bit of apartment construction, which is denser still.
In general neighborhoods won't transform overnight, nor would we want that. It will be a gradual replacement and densification process, and city wide up zones will help to dilute the disruption to anyone neighborhood.
@17: Yup. Wallingford had some small upzones as part of the MHA thing and in 2022 attached townhomes powered up the "starter home" / lower end of the market. Attached townhomes selling in the $600s outnumbered single family houses in that price range 9 to 2, in the $700s 43 to 4 (and in the $800s, still below the median house price, 23 to 6).
The only people making their election decisions based on this are this particular dickhead from The Urbanist and maybe 5 or 6 of his friends (assuming he has that many).
Oh, and on behalf of all of the people who rent single family houses at reasonable prices throughout Seattle from owners who want stable renters and go out of their way to not gouge them (and there are thousands if not tens of thousands of us), all of you callow jerks who advocate for upzoning our homes out of existence can do us all a favor and go fuck yourselves. Thanks!
@17, @18: So, citywide upzoning will bring small, incremental increases in density over a period of decades. The existing grids of narrow streets will remain, even as the SFH for which those streets are now (barely) adequate disappear into multiplexes with 4-6 (or more) times the population. No plans currently exist for grade-separated public transport within neighborhoods, and no plans seem likely in any near future (we first voted for Sound Transit in 1996). This is a recipe for all of the problems of higher population density, with none of the advantages.
Meanwhile, vacant lots rule MLK Way and environs; many of these sit within several flat blocks of a light-rail station. Many years into a supposed housing crisis, they remain untouched, unsold, and unpermitted for building multi-story apartments buildings.
As a strategy for both addressing a housing crisis, and for long-term sustainable growth, your urbanist vision is far worse than worthless.
@20 - “The existing grids of narrow streets will remain, even as the SFH for which those streets are now (barely) adequate disappear into multiplexes with 4-6 (or more) times the population.”
Yes - and add in that many of those non-affordable multiplexes aren’t required to have off-street parking, and at least half of the residents in that new dense housing will have cars… competing for parking on those narrow neighborhood streets.
@20/21 you both realize that is a feature of the urbanist vision and not a bug? They don't see an issue with road capacity because in their utopia no one is driving anywhere. If you ever peruse the Urbanist there are multiple articles about shutting down roads entirely to turn them into pedestrian/bicycle thoroughfares. They continually ignore basic facts of human behavior like the more people you cram into a space the more issues you have with mental disorders / misery and people value their time so they aren't going to ride a bus for an hour to go to the grocery store. It's a complete fantasy world but they have a firm grip on city planners so Seattle is going to get denser and these problems are going to manifest.
@ 20/21/22 I'd just like to note that the conversation has shifted away from housing affordability to issues of neighborhood character, parking, and traffic. I'll take this as a tacit concession on the economics.
Bullshit. Upzones create development pressure by increasing the value of land and older houses that rent for X now get replaced by new townhouses that cost X+Y and probably a bit of Z just to ensure an adequate profit margin for the developer.
@23: Costs of transportation, including those of “parking and traffic,” are not considerations in “housing affordability”?
I’ll take that as a tacit admission on your knowledge of economics.
@24 In the aggregate, rental (and purchase) prices are generally going to be set chiefly by the balance of supply and demand, and should be expected towards converge to construction costs (which serves as a lower bound in a growing city). Obviously there will be examples in which cheaper housing is replaced by more expensive housing (this is most evident when SFHs are replaced by other SFHs), but focusing on those examples is missing the forest for the trees. The counter example to your given scenario is directly provided by @18 above, in which they give the statistics showing that new townhomes are more affordable than legacy detached SFHs in the same neighborhood despite the new-construction premium.
To your point about land values, you look through the literature, the relationship between zoning and land value is actually quite inconsistent. Theoretically this is predictable since zoning changes generally come with two countervailing price forces: 1) as you mentioned the greater availability of uses increases the value of the land (all else being equal); 2) but the increased housing supply resulting from the up zones serves to depress land values (all else being equal).
@25 Unless I missed it, no one was discussing transportation costs, they were just bemoaning potential traffic and parking inconveniences. However, I agree with you, transportation costs should definitely be a consideration. The two most effective ways to lower aggregate transportation costs are to: 1) shift mode share away from driving; 2) decrease distances need to travel. Dense walkable neighborhoods close to employment centers with good biking and public transit connections is the best way to optimize both 1 and 2.
Traffic does certainly make transportation more expensive both directly and indirectly (time is money), but sprawling low density cities also suffer traffic. Given the issue of induced demand, the only effective way to combat traffic in urban areas is to provide alternatives: the traffic won't go away but people have options. Such options are much easier to provide in dense neighborhoods close to employment centers.
There are some people whose jobs require they own and drive personal vehicles (contractors, delivery drivers, plumbers, etc.), and I'm open to policies which eliminate issues for them (special street parking permits, access to bus/freight only lanes, etc.), but it seems particular group should not serve as the basis for housing policy in the city.
You clearly never got past Econ 101. If you melt down every old Ford Focus, it doesn't make Teslas cheaper.
Reaganomics by any other name is still trickle down bullshit. KMA.
@26: “Dense walkable neighborhoods close to employment centers with good biking and public transit connections…”
… is not what upzoning SFH will create. It will simply increase housing density, without creating any “employment centers” or “public transport connections.” Rather, it will create dense, yet car-dependent, housing 10-30 blocks from the urban village centers, which already have both density and amenities. As noted @22, residents of the former SFH will have long trips just to buy food, or to go anywhere else in the city.
If you want to create “[d]ense walkable neighborhoods close to employment centers with good biking and public transit connections,” then build multi-story apartment buildings on either side of the light-rail line along MLK, and continue increasing density in existing urban villages, and along arterials. That could create thousands of new housing units, with street-level retail and office spaces, far sooner than the trickle of new multiplexes which upzoning SFH may someday deliver.
@28 Nearly all of the city of Seattle is fairly close to employment centers and amenities, with only a few exceptions on the periphery, and even then these neighborhoods still have shorter distances to travel then suburbs outside the city. 70% of Seattle residents are within a 10 minute walk to a grocery store, and 87% are within a 15 minute walk, for example. Regardless, no one is saying not to build apartments on MLK by the light rail, it's just that the limited area of the city and building type into which we have attempted to force the growth has been unable to keep up with the demand, as is evidenced by the housing shortage and high prices. You are creating a false choice of one or the other, but if we want to control prices I think we clearly need both.
And do this along Aurora Ave, 15th Ave W, Lake City Way, and perhaps a few other corridors that have had and will hopefully continue to have good bus service in the absence of any planned rail systems to provide concurrency (self-styled modern urban planners tend to forget about the concurrency thing that was the "Management" part of the "Growth Management Act"). I was pretty active in the 1992-1994 CompPlan discussions, and it always seemed dumb to me that City planners declined to think beyond just doing Urban Village (or Residential Village, or whatever they called it at the time) nodes at the key intersections on these routes instead of thinking of them as spines to encourage development.
@29, To start with, Seattle set ambitious growth goals in the 1994 Comprehensive Plan and largely met them in terms of gross numbers - I was there along with other advocates at the time saying that all of their promises that a MUCH larger percentage of this housing would be "affordable" (to offset the inevitable displacement of working and lower class resident that the critics of this plan knew damn well would occur) were total bullshit, and that they did not even begin to make "growth pay for growth" in the way that was promised at the time.
Assuming that I accept your "walkability" figures (which I don't - for just one example nobody above NE 85th east of I-5 lives within a 10 minute of any fucking grocery store between 75th and 105th NE for a couple of miles until you hit 35th Ave NE, and to do any kind of serious shopping you'll be humping your groceries up a half mile or more of hill), the 30% of Seattle households that you casually ignore in this sweeping excuse for an argument generally live in vast swaths of Seattle that aren't served by transit now and won't be for the foreseeable future. So forgive me if I think you're full of shit when you assert that upzoning these areas is supported by existing infrastructure and/or will lead to more housing affordability.
I get that we don't matter to you, which is why I am as mean and nasty to you as I am. Rest assured, if we somehow cross paths in meatspace I will also equally rude to your face.
So, once again - with feeling - GFY.
@ 30 Who do you think doesn't matter to me? I honestly just want as many people to have access to affordable housing as possible, and am trying to follow the data as to how best to achieve that. If I were emperor I'd switch the US housing model to something like Singapore or Vienna, and not leave what should be a fundamental right to the free market, but that is unfortunately not the system we have.
@29: “Regardless, no one is saying not to build apartments on MLK by the light rail,”
But you’re not making it a priority. Rather, you’re advocating for the method which will produce the smallest number of new residences at the slowest pace, and with the greatest chance of long-term negative consequences. Meanwhile, everything you claim to want could be acquired faster, and with lower short-term and long-term costs, by developing along existing arterials, and developing along both existing and future transit corridors.
Your focus on density in places with the least demand for it, where the city has the least use for it, and where the existing infrastructure will likely not support it, lends credence to ideas such as @4, that you have a hidden agenda beyond mere housing or even urban planning.
@29 I agree that high density TOD is the most important form of development, but how would one go about making those more of a priority? They are already zoned for significantly high capacity, generally have MHA allowances for extra stories if they include sufficient lower priced units, and they are being built at a fairly good clip. Short of giving developers kick backs, not sure how to further spur the private market. I'd be for public housing development, but that's not exactly easy to implement (America seems to be particularly adverse).
In @14 I gave the economic argument as to how up zoning SF areas provides increased housing construction in a way that compliments development in more heavily urbanized areas. Ultimately, however, I guess our municipal discussion on SF areas doesn't matter too much, as the state has already made the call: SF zoning in WA's urban areas is outlawed.
*outlawed in all but at most 25% of currently zoned SF, that is.
Self-styled urbanists could replace the term "density" with "diversity" (as in an "economically diverse" mix of uses). Basic New Urbanism philosophy calls for "mixed-use" infill, pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development. Housing is only one use. High density pushes other uses further from housing, thus increasing travel demand which can only be met mostly by personal car driving.
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