Posts Tagged ‘incentive zoning’

Amid slowdown, debating developer incentives

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

The Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee will have another hearing, discussion and possible vote tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. on a plan to extend the city’s incentive zoning program beyond downtown.

This proposal would insure all buildings taking advantage of future upzones come with units earmarked for certain income levels. It has been kicking around long enough to have germinated amid a flood of permits and plans. Now, it’s about to poke out of the dirt in a totally different development environment.

Does the change matter?

With development slowing in Seattle and financing tough to come by for even some of the seasoned pros, will any incentive help? Or should the city just be lapping up any new building plans it can get and putting off hopes of getting more public benefits out of the deal?

Some people testifying at previous public hearings on the proposal have pointed out that economic slowdowns are the best time — sometimes the only time– to right policy wrongs and prepare for the next building rush.

Others have testified that it’s important an incentive actually be an incentive. It may be tough to evaluate what that looks like now.

As suggested in part by the time it’s taken this proposal to move forward, it’s also hard to make development decisions amid huge uncertainty over the future.

Incentive zoning: Right solution, wrong problem?

Monday, October 13th, 2008

The City Council appears to be moving deliberately and methodically toward approving an incentive zoning proposal. The morning after the public hearing I wrote about earlier, the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee held a three-hour meeting including a another discussion of incentive zoning. Conventional wisdom holds that the Council will pass something.

Councilmember Tim Burgess asked a key question of the incentive zoning discussion: what is our goal? Is it affordable units? How many and where?

Council staff didn’t really have a clear answer.

Incentive zoning is a good concept. A Public Health study from a few years ago showed that developers like the idea, provided that there was a real incentive involved. More density might work but an incentive also might be reduced parking requirements or, as Denny Onslow suggested, an easing of local regulations that could make 85 foot development produce housing as affordable as 65 foot development.

What it will be

But incentive zoning all by itself won’t get us closer to the larger goals of affordability, sustainability and livability.

Height is a problem. Large chunks of our city are zoned for 40 feet. That height doesn’t work for projects like Jim Mueller’s at 23rd and Union.

The city needs more projects like Mueller’s. It activates a property that was blighted, turning it into a community asset.

Incentive zoning is based on the theory that morepublic benefit will be created when there is less regulation. The current proposals don’t address the problem of intersections like 23rd and Union. The Council really needs to ask itself, as Councilmember Burgess did, what are we trying to accomplish? (more…)

Incentive zoning draws a crowd and strange bedfellows

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Incentive zoning to create affordable housing had a lengthy public hearing tonight.

Labor likes incentive zoning saying that “development left unchecked [will] widen the gap between rich and poor.” That doesn’t sound very “pro-development.”

But Steve Williamson from UFCW Local 21 said “We are pro development.” But Williamson added that we “want shared prosperity” which means requiring housing for people making 40% AMI requiring union labor for construction.

Labor supports incentive zoning as 'Development with Justice'

Labor supports incentive zoning as 'Development with Justice'

Low income housing advocates are in favor of this as well seeing an opportunity for new housing units and new dollars from a pay in lieu element in the legislation.

But there are two unlikely groups aligned against incentive zoning.

The first is John Fox’s Displacement Coalition. Fox in a recent e-mail about incentive zoning he said that “for months, our Mayor and most of our City Council have been hashing over new programs designed to reward developers with tax breaks, more density, and other giveaways.” In the same e-mail Fox calls for a moratorium on growth.

The second vocal group tonight was the business community and developers. Steve Leahy of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce said that the proposal is actually a disincentive for new development. Up zones are incentive enough and the best way to create more affordable housing. They don’t see a giveaway here.

What do single family neighborhoods think of incentive zoning? On October 21st the City Neighborhood Council will be holding a meeting to discuss what incentive zoning might mean for single family neighborhoods.

Will single family neighborhoods join developers and the Displacement Coalition against incentive zoning? Do neighborhoods see incentive zoning as more density at their expense? Does the recent financial crisis make incentive zoning moot since credit has frozen and nobody can build or buy?

Does incentive zoning help only the big developments?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

As you may know, Seattle officials are trying to decide whether to extend the city’s incentive zoning program beyond downtown. The program gives developers more building capacity in exchange for earmarking affordable units.

In some cities like Boston, including affordable housing is required.

Expansion plans had a bit of a setback last week when city consultant Greg Easton of Property Counselors presented his analysis to city council’s Planning, Land Use and Urban Development Committee.

His numbers showed the program wouldn’t yield much in increased profits in Seattle neighborhoods.

The picture got even bleaker for mid-rise developments, where several scenarios showed razor-thin increases in profit margin for incentive zoning.

“Why would a developer take that?” asked council member Tim Burgess. “From a public policy perspective, it would seem like we should develop a program where most people would want to do it.”

Council members asked Easton to recrunch the numbers with some outlyers removed, and to include more comparative analysis.

You scratch my back. . .

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Transfers of Development Rights are not new. In 1916, New York City planners zoned the city and included a provision letting owners sell their building rights to neighboring lots. In the 1960s, they changed the law so lots didn’t have to be next to each other to TDR-swap.

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Thanks for the development rights

In downtown Seattle, the owners of older, landmarked buildings get money for selling their development rights, and downtown developers buy those rights to build bigger on other sites.

King County also has a TDR program that lets developers in areas targeted for growth buy development rights from rural landowners. Vulcan took advantage of that program in 2005, purchasing 19 private TDRs to build 40,000 more square feet at Westlake/Terry. The county’s TDR program sunsets this month.

Now, the Seattle City Council is considering expanding Seattle’s program to other areas of the city. Proponents like former council aide Roger Valdez say other neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and First Hill are also seeing rapid growth and the TDR program will help the city hold on to some of the older buildings that might otherwise get razed.

The Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee could discuss the idea at its meeting at 9:30 a.m. this Wednesday.

The committee will also talk about raising allowed building heights in Interbay and South Downtown, and about extending the developer incentive program, where developers get to build higher if they build or pay for affordable units.

Can zoning save Seattle from going Stepford?

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Former council staffer Roger Valdez wrote an interesting column on growth and change in today’s P-I.

Growth is coming, Valdez says; lots of it. So how do we accommodate all these new people, their new houses and cars and needs, without losing all of our Sunset Bowls, Chubby and Tubbys, all of our views of Mt. Rainier and Lake Union, all of our Seattleness? Is that even possible?

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Not your grandmother's Seattle anymore

Valdez says the city would be wise to expand the Transfer of Development Rights program throughout the city so owners of landmark properties could make money, developers could keep building high and we could all hold on to a more diverse cityscape.

That’s an idea council has been kicking around for the past few months, but legislation hasn’t yet been discussed.

He also recommends developer incentives for preserving existing uses, aimed at earmarking some space for the arts, cultural and community spaces that are being pushed out with rising rents and skyrocketing development potential.

Valdez says increasing the type of uses we protect is a good way to protect uses that don’t really “pencil out” but add to the city’s bottom line.

In some cases, Valdez said, the city could even forgo the code and let neighborhoods and developers work together to create innovative projects that fit better with neighborhoods and protect the uses we value.

I’m not sure I really see developers and neighbors joining hands on many projects. But as our region aggressively plans for growth, people like Valdez suggest that more mitigation measures are needed to make sure we don’t change entirely.

In-city density is planning’s penicillin for sprawl. Nobody wants sprawl, but how do we know when we’ve gotten too aggressive with our treatment?