This morning, the city council's land use committee discussed legislation to allow retail, restaurants, cafes, neighborhood corner stores, and other small-scale, pedestrian-friendly commercial businesses in select residential areas.
Of course, these types of small shops already sparingly exist in Seattle neighborhoods—the problem is, currently they must be located within 800 feet (or roughly three blocks) of a commercial district.
This legislation, which is part of an eight-part regulatory reform package being debated by the committee (including abolishing sexy, sexy parking requirements), would streamline city regulations to allow 2,500-square-foot commercial spaces in residential areas near urban centers and light rail stations. It would also allow larger retail and grocery stores (up to 10,000 square feet) to open up in a few select areas where they are currently prohibited.
“What we’re talking about essentially is the corner store,” says committee chair Richard Conlin, “it’s the ecological approach. It’s about not restricting uses that are quite compatible” with multifamily residences.
If approved, this reform would allow commercial retail to open up on roughly 90 new blocks on Capitol Hill, for example (look! A map!), further activating foot traffic in the already dense and popular neighborhood. It would also help small business owners around the city set up shop without committing to the pricier overhead of renting in business districts.
"We're taking something that seems to work pretty well in the adjacent area and see if it works well in this area as well," says Conlin. "I don't think we're going to see negative impacts of this."
And while it seems that the committee will eventually forward some iteration of the measure to the full council (members agreed on the basic principals of it), several details need to be hammered out at the committee’s May 9 meeting: Council member Tim Burgess recommended restricting the commercial uses to arterial streets only (which would reduce the eligible area by 60 percent city wide) and Conlin wants to restrict businesses to 2,000 square feet instead of 2,500. Committee members also seemed unsure of how to mitigate the noise from outdoor restaurant patios that would surely pop up in residential neighborhoods, leading to dramatically overwrought fights that I would then have to cover to hell and back.
Absent from today’s agenda was further discussion of controversial legislation that would waive mandatory parking requirements for new residential developments within a quarter mile of frequent transit stops, but that didn’t stop people from testifying against the measure. “I’m all for [the changes], but it seems that if they don’t have parking in these new developments, people are just going to go and park on our street,” testified a Queen Anne resident named Craig.
“This is not a regulatory reform package, this is a very biased, destructive package that will damage growth and reduce sustainability,” said Chris Leman, another concerned resident.
The committee is tentatively slated to vote on the entire reform package on May 9.