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Choosing Incentives Over Mandates for Minimum Urban Densities

Washington's House Bill 1923 is one of a number of bills under consideration this year on the West Coast that attempts to leverage the power of the state for the sake of new development.
May 17, 2019, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Will Merydith

Natalie Bicknell reports on the final details of House Bill 1923 in Washington State, which encourages cities to adopt policies that increase density.

The bill enjoyed bipartisan support from the outset, and now awaits the governor's signature, but Bicknell notes that the bill still underwent substantive changes on the way to approval. The key question up for debate is how much power the state should wield in setting minimum urban densities.

While early versions of HB 1923 included statewide mandates, from the beginning its sponsor, Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34th District), sought to differentiate HB 1923 from other minimum density bills by giving local governments the option to select from a menu of options to fulfill their density requirements. Rep. Fitzgibbon hoped that by providing choices, local governments would be more receptive to the bill’s requirements.

However, it became clear to Rep. Fitzgibbon that cities were not going to get on board with a bill that included what some local government officials perceived as unfunded mandates or penalties. As a result, HB 1923 shifted from mandates to incentives, although some provisions, such as protection from appeals for developments that meet certain requirements, will take effect statewide.

Despite those changes and its bipartisan support, the Seattle Times is calling on Governor Jay Inslee to veto House Bill 1923, claiming it is designed to "[please] developers by ending the legal appeals that have slowed down 'citywide' implementation of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) in Seattle."

The article includes a lot more detail about the final contents of the bill, including "menu of land use actions that cities can select from in order to qualify for up to $100,000 in planning grant assistance."

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 in The Urbanist
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