There has been a great deal of interest in the lowrise legislation voted on by the Council today, which was passed by a 8-1 vote. I was the lone “no” vote. Below are my edited remarks from today’s Full Council meeting, which explains my opposition to the bill:
My remarks will cover three key subjects relating to this Council Bill:
First: The original intent of this legislation;
Second: The legislation that is before us today; and
Third: I will comment on forthcoming recommendations from the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee which we sometimes call HALA.
1. Original Intent
This legislation was originally proposed to carry out the intent of the Lowrise (LR) Zone Code that was updated in 2010.
The LR zone was to be a Multifamily Zone that serves as a transition between the Single Family zone and the more dense midrise and highrise zones. It is to be the least intense multifamily zone, with a limit of 3 or 4 story buildings.
But what we saw was that some provisions of the new code allowed developers to construct buildings 10’-15’ higher than intended. The result is that today there are buildings that tower over their neighbors; and more townhomes are crowded onto lots than had been intended.
At the request of Councilmember Clark, the former Land Use Committee chair, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) drafted legislation last year to ensure that development was consistent with the goals of the LR zone.
In 2014, after months of research, community meetings, and consultation with developers, architects, and neighborhood volunteers DPD produced very good legislation.
Last fall that draft legislation was appealed to the Hearing Examiner by some developers, and the Hearing Examiner ruled against the developers.
Unfortunately, that legislation was not introduced to the Council.
2. CB 118385
The bill before the Council today (CB 118385) was introduced by Councilmember O’Brien, the current Land Use Chair, with some of the provisions of the original 2014 DPD version intact.
But this is not a clean-up bill and does not “fix the problems.” It is weaker and undermines the intent of LR zone. This bill will continue to allow taller and bulkier buildings than were intended for LR zone.
Because of that I introduced 8 amendments in committee to bring the legislation in line with our original vision for this zone.
Three of the amendments passed and that is an improvement, but is not good enough. I had hoped that my colleagues would support and bring forth other amendments but that has not happened.
The bill as amended does not restore the intent of the 2010 legislation.
To have a city with diverse neighborhoods with rich cultural history and which supports retaining neighborhood character requires thoughtful and complex planning, with more density in some neighborhoods than others.
We have zoned the City to accommodate greater height and density in the mid-rise and the high-rise zones and we should continue our policy of having the LR zone be a less dense multifamily transition zone between single family and more intense multifamily zones.
With this legislation however, the table is set and the developers will have a feast with more demolition of older affordable apartments and homes, to build more expensive housing resulting in more displacement of renters in a zone that was to be the least intensive multi-family zone. And for that reason I will be voting no.
3. Forthcoming HALA Recommendations
My third area of comments is directed to the Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee (HALA).
It appears that the weakening came after some members of a HALA subcommittee commented upon the DPD legislation. This is very concerning because the HALA charge includes recommending strategies on both affordability and LIVABILITY.
The HALA subcommittee’s comments to this legislation didn’t balance livability and greater density. Balancing the two would have looked like the 2014 DPD version.
Opposing sides have sought to turn discussion of this legislation into a question of whether you are for or against density or growth. To be clear, I support density and growth – but we do not have to bulldoze our neighborhoods to increase density.
People who have concerns about this legislation have been called NIMBY’s by some developers’ advocates, but that characterization is a tactic to discourage participation and to avoid discussing the issues.
More legislation will be coming this year related to growth and affordable housing.
Councilmembers, we must do more than allow people to speak for only 1 or 2 minutes at a hearing on this issue.
We must make sure that everyone is provided the opportunity to provide meaningful involvement in planning and in accommodating growth.