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Upzoning of Seattle's Single-Family Zoning Called a 'Disappointing Half-Measure'

A critical analysis of a proposal that would incrementally increase density in parts of Seattle.
March 28, 2018, 8am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Single-Family Neighborhood

Dan Bertolet analyzes a policy under consideration by the Seattle City Council that "would 'upzone' 6 percent of the city’s abundant single-family land. (Single-family zoning currently covers more than half of the city.)"

The proposed upzoning is a component of the 2015 Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), but the scope of the upzoning falls well short of policy proposals considered early in the HALA process.

Bertolet supports the general concept of relaxing regulations in single-family zones, saying the end of single-family zoning is "long overdue" in the growth nodes laid out by the city's urban village growth strategy. However, Bertolet calls the current proposal a "disappointing half-measure, arguably not worth the intense political effort now underway to win adoption."

Overall, the proposed rezone would yield a trivial number of new homes: likely no more across the whole city annually than come in two typical mid-rise apartment buildings. Nearly two-thirds of the upzoned single-family land would be converted to “residential small lot” (RSL) zoning, a classification that barely loosens the status-quo prohibition of homes appropriate for a mixed-use, transit-rich urban neighborhood. 

The remainder of the article illuminates Bertolet's opinions on the shortcomings of the RSL zoning designation, and proposes changes that could improve zoning for housing in Seattle as well as other prosperous cities in Cascadia and North America.

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Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 in Sightline Institute
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