Sunday, March 21, 2010

Multifamily Housing Regulations on

Yesterday there was yet another public hearing about boosting Seattle’s population density, this time, by revising the multifamily housing regulations for “lowrise” housing zones -- more height, more dwellings on each new site, and less or no parking spaces.

All the proposals have strong support by the development community and some environmentalists, who like to repeat the notion that increasing density increases affordability, and that increasing density prevents sprawl. I say: untrue for both! Well, look around!

Here’s the point: we should be discussing how we and future generations want to live. Lower relative income in the future suggests smaller, simpler housing. The need for psychological well-being translates to livable neighborhoods and dwellings that resemble homey places to live, better places to be when we won’t be traveling so much.. Sustainability also means treating the environment gently and making wise use of resources. It’s not rocket science, but it does demand the careful crafting of neighborhood plans and city policies.

Here is my testimony to the City Council Members present (Richard Conlin, Sally Clark, Sally Bagshaw, and Tim Burgess):

“I like the direction of these proposals towards creating more human scale for living conditions, a sense of neighborhood, and buildings that have some appearance of being homes.

But one word is missing from the proposal: trees.

Alvar Aalto, considered the genius of human scale design had a dictum: build no buildings higher than the highest trees. This principal is valid in so many ways other that the ability of tall trees to give scale to buildings -- among them, stormwater retention, shade, air quality, and support for habitat.

The examples and photographs provided to illustrate the proposed new types of buildings under the code all have nothing but tiny trees, There is simply no space to provide for substantial trees.

I’d like to see these new regulations and all new projects evaluated for effect on the city’s tree canopy goals and the effect on infrastructure, namely the stormwater drainage system. Also, the restriction of the number of parking spaces on site should be carefully evaluated to make sure that pushing the cars into the streets may result in streets so packed with parked cars that developing Green Streets later will be impossible.

John Barber


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