Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Livable Seattle Movement's Two Step Plan

2 Step Citizens' Work Plan to Fix Seattle's Residential Land Use Emergencies and Prevent More

Ref: 6.7.08 PLUNC Townhouse Forum

At the Townhouse Forum, Councilmember Burgess, Planning Commissioner Eanes, and a citizen wondered if a "moratorium" would stop the townhouse invasion from destroying more neighborhoods and affordable housing. A moratorium is not the appropriate way to stop the bleeding: that's the role of Emergency Interim Controls.

Adopt "Interim Controls" on an emergency basis (3/4 vote) as is typically done in Seattle to halt and resolve serious errors. In this case, remove the over-encouragement of townhouses and in the "interim" figure out the most effective way to restore the townhouse's intended role as an important, but not domineering, housing type.


* Understand the difference between a moratorium and emergency interim controls:

~A moratorium stops development awaiting some missing condition, e.g. no sewers. Seattle avoids moratoriums. Former Councilmember Kraabel had a good explanation why this is so: "a total moratorium of all construction in specific zones is a significant disruption. With each special exception, our land use laws become more and more erratic. We must, therefore, have very substantial provacation for a moratorium."

~Emergency interim controls are another story: they stop the bleeding with a strong and certain fix and use the learning during the interim to inform the long-term fix, as measures somewhat less drastic become more apparent. Seattle uses them regularly: #113858 et al 1988-89, # 114428 '89, #114928 '90; # 116205 '92, #116616 '93, and Council Bill #113149 '00.

* Review with Single Family zoned neighborhoods whether they want to pursue emergency interim controls to stop megahouse abuses in Single Family while Councilmember Conlin's proposal is being reviewed, possibly amended and hopefully adopted late this year. (A PLUNC meeting takes an introductory look at Conlin's proposal on June 25th.)

* Build the necessary support for a 3/4 Council vote by advocating the 2 Step approach to neighborhood government organizations (CNC, SNC, & SCCF's member councils), ad hoc issue-based or professional organizations, and the media.

* Consider and reach agreement on what development standards, etc. to propose modifying to use as the interim controls. SCCF is holding a workshop on June 21 that will include this topic. See details at bottom of page.

At the Townhouse Forum, panelists from both ends of the spectrum suggested mutual respect: simple rules that assure prompt permitting of "everyday projects" and freedom to explore new directions and high quality work.

Strengthen the two-tier nature of the existing code. Create a more foolproof first track—clear, simple, and fast and a second departure track that more effectively achieves community goals. The present two tiers aren't working at all. The first tier is so complex nobody, including DPD, can understand it. The proposed updates are even worse. The departure track is similarly complex and, in addition, time-consuming, arbitrary, and totally ineffective at turning destructive projects back on course, much less enabling desireable ones.

Council directives may have gotten lost in all the fooling around, but the assignment is quite clear: Resolutions 29860 (11/98), 30075 (10/99) —ask for a code that is "understandable, user-friendly and can be administered and enforced in an efficient and effective manner;" Resolutions 30138 (3/00), 30161 (4/00)— set out to "reduce complexity and increase understandability of the Land Use Code."
The 98-99 resolutions grew out of and reference a consultant's report "Land Use Code Simplification" Issues and Options 9/98 (Cedar River Associates, paper copy only). Similar, more abbreviated recommendations appear in the May 1997 conference report cosponsored by the Puget Sound Regional Council (page 38file://localhost/). http/

• First tier— "As-of-right" procedures impose strict requirements in return for prompt permits. "As-of-right" is a legal term meaning entitlement upon compliance. To work well, as-of-right standards must be simple to understand and restrictive enough to assure that projects are in context with their current or envisioned surroundings (the latter is the case in urban villages). Environmental and design review would be required for projects that exceed designated thresholds. Guidelines and procedures would be improved (see also second tier).

Such standards would create needed more rational, predictable bases for a growing list of incentives and floating bonuses. This list nears epidemic proportions—already so many that the City is at serious risk of violating the "first-do-no-harm" and the equity principals of zoning.

• Second tier— "Optional design departure" procedures hold "better ideas" to clear and lucid tests we can all understand. "Clear and lucid" is plain talk for the legal term "rational nexus" (connection). To avoid being "arbitrary and capricious" and get intended results, individualized departure decisions must be managed for results. Design guidelines must prove themselves concise; review procedures must prove themselves sound; reviewers must prove themselves qualified; and outcomes must prove themselves effective at ensuring long term appeal and good manners, which means taking only one's share of sunlight, view, tranquility, streetscape and street use, etc.

Guidelines to consider in reconsidering existing guidelines: the Uptown CC's 1997 proposal to clarify Citywide Guidelines (paper only at the moment) and SHA's guidelines for developers at HOPE VI @ Highpoint (a take off on the "standard plans" approach mentioned at the Townhouse Forum).


* Persuade the City to make use of information learned during the interim periods in resolving final fixes that reliably and consistently achieve community goals and are much easier for citizens and applicants to use.

* Persuade the City to leave the remainder of the Residential Land Use Code as-is and instead 1) simplify the as-of right standards by gradually removing exceptions and classifications not worth the complication, and 2) improve the clarity of design guidelines and departure procedures to effectively deal with special situations.

* Persuade the City to adopt and place in permanent memory the idea that land use codes need to accommodate change in the same way that nature limits and culls mutations—improving the as-of-right standards through regular and candid review of design departure, looking regularly for consistently better results from commonly requested departures.

Offered for Consideration, by the Livable Seattle Movement
(see Four Point Seattle City Council Action Plan and Citizens' Master Agenda for Seattle)

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