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Seattle Considers Zoning More “Family-Sized” Apartments

Posted by | November 21, 2017

SColorful Apartmentseattle’s elected officials want developers to build more family-sized apartments — the two- and three-bedroom units that could offer parents and children an alternative to expensive single-family home rentals. In recent years, less than 20 percent of new apartment construction has been multi-bedroom and the majority of that has been two-bedroom. The city has proposed a new policy that would require residential developers in some low-rise zones to build a two-bedroom or larger unit for every four studios or one-bedrooms they build.

The proposed regulation is part of a broad package of upzones and land-use tweaks across the city. It is the latest step in Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). Over the last few years, the city has implemented several neighborhood upzones. With the upzones came a requirement that developers provide a certain number of income-restricted units in their building or pay an in-lieu fee to the city housing fund.

Earlier this month, the mayor and City Council unveiled the final environmental impact statement for the citywide version of those neighborhood upzones. It increases allowed density in neighborhood centers and along transit corridors in much of the city. The plan also makes some small changes to the land-use code. It creates a new zone called Residential Small Lot that will replace about 6 percent of existing single-family zones. The new zone permits a modest increase in density by allowing up to three units per lot instead of one. The citywide plan also expands the boundaries of neighborhood “urban villages.”

If the package passes, Lowrise 1 (LR1) zoning will no longer have a density limit and developers will be required to build family-sized units. LR1 allows for “gentle density” such as cottages, duplexes, rowhouses and small apartment buildings. According to Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) spokesman Jason Kelly, the current density limits in LR1 make it economically unviable to build apartments. The change should make apartment construction financially feasible. Because there are so few apartments in LR1 currently, OPCD heard concerns from residents that buildings full of studios would not be a good fit.

The requirement that for every four studios or one-bedroom units, developers must build a unit with two or more bedrooms is, in part, a concession to existing residents. It will likely have a modest impact on the lack of family-sized apartments.

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Originally written by Josh Cohen

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