DJC Green Building Blog

Housing Summit 2014: how to get more housing on less land

Posted on October 1, 2014

The following post is by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties:

Housing affordability and the impact of the Puget Sound region’s dwindling supply of buildable land was the focus of the recent Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties' (MBA) 2014 Housing Summit in Bellevue.

“Accommodating Housing Needs with Less Land” included presentations by top national and regional housing experts and a panel discussion with state legislators and homebuilders.

Are we running out of room to build new houses here?

“There is an explicit link between the availability of buildable lands and housing affordability,” said MBA Executive Director Shannon Affholter. “The Summit served as a starting point in a frank discussion about what’s working, and what’s not, in meeting the Growth Management Act housing targets and the region’s growing needs.”

A presentation by Todd Britsch, regional director for Metrostudy Inc., a leading provider of research and analysis to the housing industry, underscored the immediate challenge to the buildable land supply: based on projected population growth, King County has 3.87 years of supply remaining of assumed total inventory, and only 3.29 years of supply in Snohomish County.

“We’re seeing lot prices absolutely skyrocket, and the numbers are staggering. It’s a long-term issue and we have to address it sooner rather than later,” he said. “And if we don’t, the Puget Sound region is going to become the next San Francisco Bay Area, where only the ‘elite of the elite’ can afford to own a home.”

Nancy Bainbridge Rogers, land use attorney at Cairncross & Hempelmann, noted that GMA-mandated Buildable Lands Reports generated periodically by counties don’t provide a full and accurate picture of future trends.

“The reports compare housing targets to the actual growth. The reports must determine whether sufficient land exists to accommodate population projections.  Unfortunately, the reports are not required to include a feasibility component or an assessment of affordability.”

A lively panel discussion focusing on legislative solutions included Senator Joe Fain (R) 47th District, from Auburn; Senator Marko Liias (D) 21st District, from Mukilteo; Representative Jay Rodne (R), 5th District, from Snoqualmie; and Representative Larry Springer (D), 45th District, from Kirkland. Other participants included homebuilders Mark Kaushagen of the Pulte Group and Lynn Eshleman from Pacific Ridge Homes.

Individual panel members cited specific action items that could advance the goals of housing availability and affordability, including:

  • couple housing demand with affordability in future planning
  • passage of a transportation package and infrastructure financing bill
  • comprehensive review of the Urban Growth Boundary and its possible expansion
  • require cities in King and Snohomish counties to do a planned action on remaining undeveloped lands to assess infill housing opportunities
  • eliminate redundancies in the review and permitting process, and establish a meaningful time limit in which permits can be outstanding.

 

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How are millennials changing cities?

Posted on September 10, 2014

The following post is by DJC staff:

Want to know more about the way millennials are changing Metro Vancouver — and other cities around the world, like Seattle?

You can catch a free public talk on the topic next week in Vancouver or watch a live webcast on Tuesday, Sept. 16, starting at 7 p.m.

The speaker is Dr. Markus Moos, assistant professor of planning at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He will share insights into millennials focusing on their values; housing and commuting decisions; and transportation preferences — especially what this means for employers, developers, planners and other residents.

The talk is presented by TransLink and Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

Fewer millennials hold drivers’ licenses or own a vehicle.

iStock photo

If you want to attend the event it will be in SFU Harbour Center at 515 W. Hastings St. Registration to attend is required.

Millennials are the folks who started to reach early adulthood around 2000 and they outnumber even the Baby Boomers. A press release from Simon Fraser University says there are roughly nine million millennials in Canada and more than 500,000 in Metro Vancouver. They think, communicate, travel and work differently from their parents and grandparents.

SFU offers some stats about millennials:

• More than 25 percent of Metro Vancouver’s population are millennials.

• The percentage of young adults living in neighborhoods near transit is two to three times the Metro Vancouver average.

• Living close to downtown is important to millennials in cities across North America — in Vancouver, proximity to transit matters more than to downtown alone.

• Fewer and fewer millennials hold drivers’ licenses or own a vehicle, with a more than 10 percent decrease among 25–to-29-year-olds and five percent among 30-to-34-year-olds from 2004 to 2013. Young adults in 2011 used transit 11 percent more than their counterparts in 1999.

SFU says Markus Moos is a planner and assistant professor who does research on the changing economy and social structure of cities. He has examined the factors shaping Canada’s housing markets; the changing characteristics of suburbs; and the implications of change on affordability, sustainability and equity.

He lived in Vancouver from 2006 to 2010 and completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia.

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Is it time for Seattle to embrace graffiti?

Posted on March 18, 2013

The following post is by DJC staff:

There are ways to add some fun to city streets. What if you could play a pickup game of ping-pong or chess on the way home from work?

A colorful view from New York's High Line.

CEOs for Cities’ blog has a post by Tara Sturm called “Ten Creative Ideas for Energizing Our Streets” that offers lots of ideas and examples: Colored crosswalks, whimsical bus stops, gardens in unexpected places and even graffiti-style art in public places. Here’s a three-story example taken on a recent stroll along the High Line in New York.
Check out Sturm’s post and add your ideas for things Seattle can do to make our streets more lively, energized and entertaining.

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Northgate – what exactly is light rail’s urban development responsibility?

Posted on November 30, 2011

On Nov. 17, the DJC published this article I wrote about Sound Transit's Northgate light rail station. The Northgate station is one of three that will be part of Sound Transit's North Link light rail extension, running from the University District to Northgate Mall. The Northgate station is the only one that it above ground. Because of this, and a number of other factors, it is also the most complex of the three. It is designed by Hewitt.

The article centered on the station's design, and was based off a Seattle Light Rail Review

ST PowerPoint Template
Panel meeting I attended. The panel, which reviews the station's design, had a lot of criticism that is detailed in the story. Their main point was that the structure wasn't living up to its responsibility in helping to transform the neighborhood.

This is from the story:

Julie Parrett, who is on the review panel and the Design Commission, said this station is unique because the area around it is going through a transformation. Northgate was built for cars and a more suburban lifestyle, but today there is a city-wide effort to make it a place that works for pedestrians, residents and the surrounding community.

Thornton Place, she said, has helped set a standard for new development and the station can reinforce that. She said she doesn’t view the current design as helping shape a new Northgate.

“These are buildings and projects that are going to last for 50 to 100 years and we can’t forget that,” she said. “They do have a civic responsibility and right now, I feel like this building is really turning itself inward and not reaching out and not thinking in a conceptual way what its role (is) as a precedent or precursor in this area."

After publication, Ian Hernandez, a friend of mine, posted this comment on my personal Facebook page:

"Speaking of, great article on the North Link Northgate station the other day! Some of those panel comments crack me up - it's like they think that Thornton Place somehow turned that area into a shining jewel of urban transition, when it's really still just a bunch of crapshacks bordered by a giant movie theater and ugly parking garage."

Image courtesy Sky-Pix
Big, boxy Thornton Place certainly isn't perfect but it's better than the empty parking lot that used to be there. At least the space now offers movies and a few retail and eating options. Whether you like it or not, it's there. The question is what happens next and what is the light rail station's responsibility in helping to guide that change?

When I went to the last Northgate station open house, the audience members seemed generally pleased with the station design and some even commended Sound Transit for its work. The Light Rail Review Panel was quite critical, but it looks at the project with the eyes of people who have a responsibility of curating the city's future through projects and urban development.

Here's what's sure: The Northgate area is changing and light rail will be transformative, no matter what it looks like. Given these two things, how much does the station's design really matter? Does it need to serve as a bridge to the future or does it just need to be there? In a perfect world, what would you like to see the station look like?

Also, as a sidenote, this station will have restrooms unlike the ones at Brooklyn or Roosevelt.

Also, if you're really intersted in this topic, go to this open house on Dec. 8 at Aljoya Senior Apartments (a part of Thornton Place). Sound Transit says it has drawn up a "few options that show future urban design and development possibilities for this area south of the mall."

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Skanska’s Seattle development division bodes well for sustainability

Posted on January 21, 2011

One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.

My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that

The Grunwaldzki Center in Wroclaw, Poland, uses 30 percent less energy than Polish code requires. Image courtesy Skanska
Lisa Picard has been hired as executive vice president to lead the local development division. "The fundamentals in Seattle are great," she said.

The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.

That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.

Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.

According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).

By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.

I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.

If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?

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In a perfect world, what would our new waterfront look like?

Posted on August 6, 2010

If you've been paying attention, you know 2010 has been a pivotal year for Seattle's waterfront.

In March, the city awarded a contract for seawall work, worth about $18 million, to a multi-disciplinary team led by TetraTech. At the same time, it sped up the schedule to redesign and redevelop its Central Waterfront Project

What the waterfront looks like today. Image courtesy Clair Enlow
. The timing will allow seawall and waterfront teams to spend more time working together.

Wednesday was the RFQ deadline for central waterfront work. A team is expected to be chosen by the end of September. The budget for design work over the first two years is expected to be about $6 million while the estimated budget for planning and design of the entire project is between $50 and $70 million. It got 30 proposals on the urban design/public space side.

Not to mention the process (or sometimes lack thereof) for the replacement on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is crucial to how the city's waterfront will be opened up.

Make no mistake about it, these projects combined will totally reshape our downtown. However, in all the hustle and bustle, it can be really hard to imagine just what that end result will be. Or what it is Seattleites want it to be.

If the city proceeds with the deep bore tunnel option, the goal is for the seawall to be done by the time the bored tunnel is complete, currently scheduled for 2016. Construction on the waterfront work could begin this same year.

The seawall may seem like the smallest of the three but how it is designed and managed will be incredibly important to the foundation of the other two projects. One big push is to create places along the waterfront for the public - for you and I - to interact with the water. Places that aren't separated by physical walls but allow us to connect with water, the cultural backbone of our city.

In June, Bob Chandler, city program manager for the viaduct and seawall replacement, said the city is looking for a seawall that supports the waterfront while providing habitat value and creating space for people to interact with the water. “We have an opportunity,” he said. “We need to come up with an approach here that provides protection in a seismic event but that doesn't necessarily mean this is a 35-foot high straight wall. It doesn't mean that at all.”

My question is - how do you envision this?

What should it look like? How do you want to interact with the water, related to the seawall? Once the seawall is complete, what would your optimal redeveloped waterfront look like? Sustainably, what should its function really be?

Rhodes, Greece. The old town at night. Could we get this kind of energy along our waterfront?
At the core of this is the need to get normal people to want to hang out on Seattle's waterfront during evenings and on the weekend, rather than just visiting when family and friends come into town.

I recently spent my honeymoon in Greece and Turkey. In each city I visited on the water, there were vibrant spaces located along its edge. I couldn't help wondering what it would take to create the same kind of energy in our city: a bustling mix of tourists and locals that waxes on until the early hours of the morning every day. In Greece and Turkey, the answer is built on history, combined with making these spaces centers of tourism and city life.

These are a lot of questions, often without answer. Part of the point of the design process is to come up with that answer, and there will be a number of opportunities to participate in the formal process. One will be a meeting with teams shortlisted for the central waterfront design work at Benaroya Hall on Sept. 15 - mark your calendar. For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Interested in backyard cottages? Event May 24 is for you!

Posted on May 14, 2010

On May 24, Method Homes and Infiniti RED are holding an event that will showcase the work of 35 local architects and designers related to backyard cottages. It should be an interesting time.

At the end of 2009, the city of Seattle legalized backyard cottages on Seattle lots over 4,000 square feet. This

Image courtesy Infiniti RED
event, launched in April, asked local architects and designers to come up with innovative backyard design to offer for Method Homes customers.

Those who attend the event will see all the design challenge entries, meet the designers, participate in the awards ceremony and enjoy food and drink. A jury including David Cutler of the Seattle City Planning Commission, Robert Humble of Hybrid Architecture and Colleen Groll of O'Brien & Co. will judge the entries. Andrea Petzel, Seattle City Planner, will act as advisor to the judges.

There will be five awards given out. Awards will be given for overall best design, honorable mention for best design, most innovative, most sustainable and most adoptable.

The free event will be at 7601 Greenwood Ave. N. and begins at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Brian Abramson at Method Homes at (206) 790.2852 or Infiniti RED at (206) 235.6925. eva@infinitiRED.com.

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Vancouver B.C. questions traffic options after Olympics

Posted on March 3, 2010

Over at HugeAssCity on Publicola, Dan Bertolet has a great overview of Vancouver, B.C.'s transportation experience during the Olympics, then connects that to Seattle's current replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct debacle. It's an interesting overview, though I have to say the post's comments are possibly even more interesting....

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What’s greener: high-rises or LEED buildings?

Posted on October 13, 2009

Last week, I attended a Town Hall lecture by David Owen, a columnist at the New Yorker and author of the book 'Green Metropolis.'

Owen spoke about his own experience of living in both Manhattan and in the countryside, and about which is greener (cities because people have everything they need at their fingertips).

But he also said something striking: that big, tall buildings in cities are actually the greenest projects we

Inherently green?
have, not projects that are LEED certified. High-rises get lots of people working in one space. That gets lots of people living nearby and walking between the two. The effects of this and the concentration of people, he said, is far, far greener than a LEED certified project in the middle of nowhere (though he didn't mention if it were greener than a LEED certified high-rise in the city). The premise touches on one of the main problems of LEED: that it only looks at pieces instead of the whole.

For example, Owen discussed Sprint's (now Sprint Nextel) headquarters outside of Kansas City, Mo. The corporate campus, he said, consists of 15,000 employees spread among a 50 building low-rise campus. The space also has 15 parking lots and an underground parking garage, providing one parking space per worker because everyone has to drive to the headquarters in the middle of nowhere. Though the campus was planned before LEED came out, one of the buildings at the site ended up receiving LEED certification. The space also preserves 200 acres of property as open space.  How is this a greener situation, he asked, then simply letting the farmland be that had previously existed?

He argued that setting up a business in a location that requires car travel is not green, even if the buildings are certified as such.

Should buildings in the middle of nowhere receive LEED certification? And should organizations that are about sustainability - like the Rocky Mountain Institute and its headquarters in Snowmass, Colo. - be held to a higher level of accountability and locate in a dense area? Or is there value to having great environmentally friendly buildings in the wilderness?

I suppose it comes down to what you prioritize and what you think the future of cities and urban planning is.

In this economy as well, it's worth noting that cities across the nation have vacant high-rise buildings that currently are not at capacity, and are likely wasting large amounts of energy.

What do you think? Is Owen right on or way off base? If Owen is right - and the greenest project is in a city be it LEED certified or not is a high-rise - than should LEED reflect this in its rating system and how so?

Incidentally, his book also argues that New York City is the greenest city in the world. That seemed to touch an interesting nerve at Portland's The Environmental Blog here.

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Is this the future of open space?

Posted on May 28, 2009

In the last couple of weeks, I wrote two different articles in the DJC that looked at making public city space more pleasant for the pedestrian. Though one is an ice skating rink and one is a "park boulevard," they are essentially riffs on the same theme.

Both projects are looking at new ways of creating friendly, inviting open space in a dense, urban area. I'm wondering if this is the future of open space in Seattle?

Let's start with the park boulevard. The idea for the park boulevard seems very Scandinavian. If approved by city council, the Seattle Department of Parks and

Re-imagining Bell Street
Recreation would take away a lane of traffic on Bell Street from First to Fifth Avenues downtown and add a park in the extra space. The park would have a couple kid's play areas, picnic space and places for people to linger. It would also act as a connector through downtown. To see what the street looks like now, go here.

The ice rink would go in Occidental Square Park, in Pioneer Square. Though the area is already a park, it's also a center for homeless people to hang out and doesn't always

Occidental Square Park
present the most friendly of faces (for example, while taking a picture there last week, I managed to get cat-called three times in about as many minutes). The idea is that the ice rink would bring more people to the square at more times, making it a tad more friendlier. To see comments on posts relating to this story in the PI, click here. For comments in the Stranger, click here.

I spoke with Donald Harris, property and acquisition services manager at the parks department for the Bell Street story, and he said one of the reasons the park boulevard makes sense is that land is simply too expensive to buy in downtown Seattle to turn into parks. In addition, the department has also had trouble with some of the parks that are there such as Regrade Park, another magnet for homeless people and drug dealing.

One could say that the same potential will exist on Bell Street, once it's a park. I'm guessing the argument against that is because it's not enclosed, people will be continuously moving along it. Also, once it's a park, park rangers will be allowed to patrol it.

Do you think this is the future of our parks and open space? To take existing rights of way, and to re-imagine them as public space, or to reconfigure existing parks to bring more people to them? If you had limitless power, what public area would you reconfigure into a park? How would you re-invent the city?

It seems like we might be seeing more of these ideas. According to City Council Resolution 31073, relating to the Parks and Green Spaces Levy,

"In an increasingly dense urban environment, such projects present an opportunity for the city to improve the quality of life for its residents without having to incur the significant expense of property acquisition and major park development."

Are you one of those people who is dismayed by the elevation of the pedestrian over the car or is this where the city should be heading? I, for one, will be curious to see how Bell Street turns out.

But what really strikes me, is that the reason parks decided to do this project now is Seattle City Light is replacing utilities along Bell Street from Second to Fifth Avenues, and someone made the connection between that work and reinventing the street as a park. What if that person never made the mental connection? How many other opportunities are we, as a city, missing?

P.S. If you read this today - Thursday - parks will be discussing the boulevard at a meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Woodland Park Zoo Activity Center. If you're reading this Friday, city council's Parks and Seattle Center Committee will hear a preview of the project at 9:30 a.m.

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