Get Rid of Single-Family Zoning? These Conversations Shouldn’t Be Secret

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, July 9, 2015

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Tuesday, I got my hands on the draft policy ideas that Mayor Ed Murray’s advisory committee on housing is working on. And they are some of the most sweeping changes in the way Seattle lives and grows ever proposed around here.

Most dramatically, the committee is considering a recommendation to do away with single-family zoning–which for a hundred-plus years has been the defining feature of Seattle’s strong neighborhood feel.

“We can still be a city for everyone, but only if we give up our outdated ideal of every family living in their own home on a 5,000 square foot lot,” a draft letter from the committee co-chairs reads.

The draft report notes that “Seattle (single-family) zoning has roots in racial and class exclusion and remains among the largest obstacles to realizing the city’s goals for equity and affordability.”

The committee of citizen volunteers voted 19-3 to recommend replacing single-family zoning with a “lower density residential zone” that would allow duplexes, triplexes, rooming houses and more backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in areas now dominated by single houses on lots with a yards. It’s unclear how much of the city this would include.

Later, the committee co-chairs issued a statement saying the group “has no intention of recommending the elimination of all single family zones in the city.” But the draft report suggests the committee was considering exactly that.

“In fact, (the committee) recommends we abandon the term ‘single family zone,’ ” the draft reads.

An overview letter calls for higher density essentially everywhere in the city.

“More 6-story buildings where there were 4 stories before, more 7-story buildings where there were 6-stories before, and more multifamily housing of all types in areas currently zoned for less density inside (neighborhoods designated as) Urban Villages,” the letter says.

The draft says the changes are necessary because “we are currently confronted by the reality of more dollars chasing a limited supply of housing than ever before in our history.”

The draft report is a recent working copy of the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee. It is certain to undergo changes as the committee tries to reach a Monday, July 13, deadline for a final report.

“My co-chair and I are very disappointed that you and The Seattle Times have chosen to undermine the efforts of the HALA, a citizen advisory group, by prematurely releasing an unapproved draft of our report,” Faith Pettis and David Wertheimer, the co-chairs, wrote in an emailed statement.

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