Category Archives: Urban planning

Seattle Lowrise Zones Now Have a Passive House Incentive to Add Floor Area

The following post is by Joe Giampietro, AIA, CPHC, NK Architects

11th and Republican PH Multifamily Rendering

On July 6th, the Seattle City Council passed a number of revisions to the low-rise zone land use code, including adding Passive House as a way to achieve floor area ratio (FAR) bonuses.

A FAR bonus allows for an increase in building height relative to the area of the lot. Passive House efficiency principles lead to significant energy savings, increased project value, and improved health and comfort for those that live there.

Although this was a minor addition to an otherwise hotly debated set of low-rise zoning updates, this addresses building energy use in a practical and cost effective manner. It is a big move in the right direction.

With the addition of Passive House to the other “green” incentive programs, including LEED Silver, Built Green 4-Star, and the Washington Evergreen Sustainable Development Standards for affordable housing, Seattle has started down the road of recognizing and providing incentives for truly high-performance, low energy design strategies.

Next on the list of legislative actions, the Passive House community is working with the Seattle City Council to consider expanding the Passive House incentive to include both current certification agencies, PHIUS and the Passive House Institute. We have successfully lobbied City Councilman, Mike O’Brien’s staff to include this adjustment in the “omnibus” zoning legislation. The expansion language is currently wending its way through the Council approval process and will be voted on later this summer.

We anticipate that this action will serve as a model for other changes in zoning legislation in Seattle as well as in cities and towns in throughout the Northwest. Let’s take a moment to celebrate one small step in this process!

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Getting ready for new stormwater rules

Herrera is testing to see whether new soil mixes can remove
more heavy metals and other pollutants from stormwater.

Herrera is conducting groundbreaking research to assess and optimize the performance of LID systems.

Herrera is conducting groundbreaking research to assess and optimize the performance of LID systems.

With all the cranes towering overhead in downtown Seattle, it’s easy to forget the important work going on below to manage and protect our water as the region grows.

To keep pace with this growth, Washington State is pioneering the use of new and innovative approaches for stormwater management.  As of next year all development projects must use low impact development (LID) techniques or green stormwater infrastructure where feasible.  Rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and permeable pavement will become the norm rather than the exception.

As the region makes this new investment to protect our water, everyone – regulators, project owners, designers, and the general public included – will want to be confident these technologies are providing the intended benefit.

Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc. is conducting groundbreaking research to assess and optimize the performance of these systems.

For example, with grant funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology, Herrera is currently implementing two research projects to develop a more effective soil media for use in bioretention systems.

In partnership with Kitsap County, one of these projects has involved numerous pilot scale tests of soil media components and blends to optimize their removal of heavy metals and other harmful pollutants from stormwater.

Herrera has also partnered with the City of Redmond to construct a state-of-the-art research facility for evaluating pollutant removal and plant growth in bioretention systems at full-scale.

Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc. is an employee-owned engineering and scientific firm focused on restoration, water, and sustainable development.  Herrera is committed to working with our clients to develop innovative and sustainable solutions for infrastructure, natural resources, and stormwater projects.  Herrera was recently featured as “favorite green collar company” by the Seattle Times.

For more information:
Melissa Buttin, Senior Marketing,  206.787.8248

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

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?

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?

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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