Q: Building Typologies

What do you believe is the right mix of parking and building typologies in Seattle in the next 10 years? If you anticipate reduced car ownership and/or increased density, please discuss potential changes in how Seattleites access nature and the outdoors. Examples of building typologies include:

  • Single Family
  • Small lot/ADUs
  • Rowhouse or cottage housing
  • Townhomes
  • Midrise developments (45’ to 85’)
  • High rise developments


Mike McGinn:

McGinnAs I previously mentioned, maintaining affordability in Seattle is a top priority.  Maintaining and building on our economic strength is also a top priority.  I anticipate that Seattle’s economic engine will continue to grow, attracting new businesses and workers.  To keep up with this growing demand while keeping housing costs in check, the city needs to grow and to increase in density.  I believe we need a mix of new housing types, creating infill housing within existing neighborhoods.  This means adding new homes and ADU’s in existing single family areas, and adding a variety of higher densities in areas that are well served by transit.  It’s highly likely that current trends will continue, and in the future people will drive less and use transit, biking, and walking more.  Thus, continuing to improve our transportation infrastructure to better serve all modes is very important as neighborhoods experience new development. Demand for parking and other car-centric uses will decrease in the future, and our regulations will need to keep pace.  We have already significantly reduced parking requirements in parts of the city with good transit and walkable neighborhoods, and we will need to continue to adapt our regulations to changes in market demand as car ownership declines.

In terms of accessing nature and the outdoors as car ownership decreases in the future, I believe there are many opportunities.  Transit currently serves most Seattle parks as well as a number of regional parks and recreation areas, including popular destinations like Cougar Mountain and Tiger Mountain.  In addition, carsharing services like Zipcar and Car2Go provide additional options and flexibility.  With more demand in the future, services like this are sure to expand.

Ed Murray:

MurrayThere is no one-size-fits-all approach to growth and to development for our diverse city. We need to focus growth and density in those areas of the city – like South Lake Union – that are designated to receive it, and that have the transit and infrastructure to support it. In those neighborhoods I will advocate for allowing developers both greater height and density in exchange for more in incentive zoning fees to fund the creation of affordable housing. By doing that we will reduce development pressure in other areas of the city, and help to preserve the unique character of our neighborhoods.

The right approach will preserve the unique characters of our neighborhoods, allow for increased density where appropriate, conduce to multi-modal public mobility by furthering our pedestrian, bicycle, and rapid transit plans, preserve and expand our access to natural spaces, and foster economic development and the success of small businesses.

Parking requirements, too, should be determined on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.

Richard Conlin:


Seattle must develop more housing in order to meet our growth management goals, to bring people back into the City who cannot afford to live here, and to reduce the strain on our environment and transportation system (and attendant carbon emissions) that are the result of long commutes. All of these types of housing can contribute to that, and we must include them all in our strategic approach.

There are very few opportunities for new traditional detached single family housing, but there are places where cottage zoning can be implemented to provide small detached units, and there are some opportunities for infill. Doing the right kind of infill – with houses that are relatively modest – will make them more affordable and more compatible with existing neighborhoods. We will soon adopt comprehensive small lot legislation that will provide a better basis for future infill. I would like to see us expand the opportunities for ADU’s, which are being built more slowly than we had anticipated, and include rowhouses, townhomes, and multiplexes. All of these are important housing types, but will not provide all of the density we need to reach our goals.

The best way to provide that density is to continue to develop higher buildings in our extended downtown and Urban Centers, and to concentrate on midrise developments in our Urban Villages. The Capitol Hill Development Agreement that I helped negotiate and led through both the Council and the Sound Transit Board is a great example of what we can achieve – 75 to 85 foot zoning with 36% of the units affordable. The redevelopment of High Point, Rainier Vista, New Holly, and soon Yesler Terrace has greatly increased the number of units and provided more options for residents, and Yesler Terrace will provide a significant addition to our near-downtown housing by adding some higher buildings to the mix.

We are currently implementing reduced parking requirements in denser areas, and are likely to extend that to transit corridors. Our goal is to allow the market to determine how much parking is built. It is of necessity not a very precise tool, but as we continue to increase opportunities for travel by means other than the private automobile, we are hopeful that this will balance out successfully. In the Capitol Hill Development Agreement, we for the first time adopted a parking maximum (70% of the number of units), which we think makes sense in this community that is well served by transit. I am intrigued by some of the ideas that Alan Durning has brought forward recently about how expensive parking is and the counter-productivity of some of our requirements, for example that when we require a parking space with a single family dwelling the curb cut for the driveway takes a parking space away from the street, therefore meaning no net gain of parking as a result of this requirement. Recognizing that the automobile will continue to have a role in transportation, but that more and more flexibility away from ownership can be provided by taxi-like vehicles and car-sharing programs, we should continue to explore alternatives to our current parking requirements.

Kshama Sawant:

sawantI believe expanding public transportation as a large-scale public works program is not only important from a social justice and environmental justice perspective, but will also solve a lot of practical problems the city currently faces.  As population density increases in Seattle and more housing units are built, expanding mass transit to meet commuter needs will be the only viable and sustainable alternative to more cars on the streets or building more parking spaces when space is rapidly running out. It will alleviate the traffic crisis that Seattle faces, this crisis being one of the worst in the nation.  Transit will greatly benefit working-class families, the disabled, local businesses, tourism, and connect people living in suburbs to downtown areas. South Seattle also currently has the often-ignored problem of contaminated air, another issue that will be addressed through more buses, trains, railways, and bikeways.  Increasing the efficiency and coverage of mass transit will shift the debate away from what we need to sacrifice in order to build more parking lots. We could be discussing instead where to build new housing units (and retrofit the old), parks, community gardens, and other public spaces.

To move forward, the city should conduct independent studies of which building typologies are the most environmentally and socially beneficial, instead of basing such decisions off of biased recommendations from real estate developers and contractors.

Sally Bagshaw:

BagshawThe challenge before us is to address people’s concerns to protect their single-family neighborhoods, with the reality that 100,000 new neighbors are moving into our city in the next decade.  This is a big number.  100,000 people not just within the region, but INSIDE SEATTLE.

This means we must anticipate their arrival.  I believe Alan Durning’s new book Unlocking Home has some great suggestions:  increase flexibility to allow more DADUs, (I would keep them within the neighborhood scale); allow attached dwelling units inside the house or over the garage, too, without required parking places; encourage roommates; require a stream-lined permit process and neighborhood involvement for “apodments”.  Encourage developers with incentives to add employee and affordable housing in their projects.

Seattle has a culture of neighborhoods, each one being very distinct and original. Our building typologies and policies must respect and reflect that diversity. Neighborhoods experiencing a lot of growth and that are well served by public transit should be allowed to increase density both in urban villages and on transportation corridor and receive public benefits like parks, libraries, community centers, Neighborhood Greenways in return.  I look forward to working with you on these approaches.

Sam Bellomio:

BellomioThe communities should decide on what ‘look’ they want and how they will handle the growing population. We know it is coming but we don’t know what it is going to look like so there is no ‘right mix’. The future typologies will be decided by the communities that are impacted.

Also, we do not have enough transit to support a carless city. Therefore, parking will depend on if Seattle can get mass transit moving or not.

Nick Licata:

LicataI doubt that there will ever be a single citywide parking and building typology ratio or mix for Seattle. Seattle is a big city with diverse history, levels of urbanization, and property values. Each area has their unique development challenge. There is no cookie-cutter planning template that can serve as silver bullet. But we can create planning policies that require that we consider differing ranges of ratios or mixes based upon best practices for areas within common land use zones.

In order to anticipate reduced car ownership we need to do more to incentivize the use of other methods of transportation. In order to reduce traffic we need to create a better infrastructure for public transportation. The people of Seattle need more choices and they need more access. That is not to say that the car will cease being the principal form of transportation. However, with the advent of new car sharing services and by deepening our investment in public transportation infrastructure it is not overly optimistic to predict a reduction in car ownership and a subsequent drop in the demand cars place on our city’s street and building planning and resource efforts as well.

Potential changes in how Seattleites access nature and the outdoors should be planned for in our municipal and public support of parks and open spaces as well as transportations options that efficiently allow the city mouse to gain greater access to the outdoor pleasures enjoyed by the country mouse.

Mike O’Brien:

o'brienAs mentioned above, my vision of Seattle’s future development does not center personal automobiles as the primary means of transportation. To achieve this vision, we need to be expanding our conversation about public transportation in Seattle from merely staving off drastic cuts to exploring how we can drastically expand the size of our current system. I do not think it is realistic to assume we can accommodate a new car for every new person in Seattle over the coming decades. Nor should that be our goal if we are serious about fighting climate change.

I think the typology of Seattle’s future development will represent a mix of ADUs, rowhouses, cottages, townhomes and mid- and high-rise developments. This means increased density in neighborhoods across Seattle. I envision transit-oriented communities that encourage healthy and active living by considering cultural, retail, commercial and transportation needs, allowing people to live near where they work and play.

Albert Shen:

ShenI do not believe in a specific “right-mix” for city planning purposes. All these building typologies serves a variety of population needs depending on economic need and mobility. Our transportation plan must meet the needs for all these typologies in order to reduce car ownership yet give us access to the nature and outdoors that we have. I am very concerned about Seattle meeting the needs of our elderly population. Over 70,000 senior citizens reside within Seattle City limits and we need to find ways to ensure that their housing and mobility needs are met. They cannot ride bikes and they are one of the loudest voices I have heard on the campaign trail about our massive spending on bike lanes.

Bruce Harrell:

HarrellThis is a difficult question without knowing the type of growth our city will experience. To know the right mix will be largely dependent upon what kind of density we experience. As a country, our national birth rates are fairly flat and I there are conflicting studies which outline where our housing growth is coming from. Are they young adults looking for their first apartments, new immigrants and refugees, suburban flight to the city? The needed inventory will be largely dependent upon where our growth is coming from and must also be tied into our City’s annexation strategies. I support annexation of underutilized areas and believe this also gives us real estate to invest in affordable housing. We know that we must build for increased density in and around our urban villages and centers, and that improved transit systems will reduce our reliance on car ownership. However, we aren’t quite there yet, so how do we meet the needs of our current city while planning appropriately for the future? Single family homes should provide a least one parking space per lot. Mid and Highrise developments in and around current and planned transit hubs should be exempted from parking requirements. There is no one size fits all solution for every project, but I see the above as a general guideline. Different neighborhoods will have different requirements for what is appropriate for their communities. Those living in dense urban neighborhoods who wish to access nature and the outdoors have many options for weekend warrior transportation through services such as Smart Car, Sound Transit, ride shares and/or car rentals.

Peter Steinbrueck:

SteinbrueckA few examples of the building typologies that could be more widely used include: single family; small lot development; detached and attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs); row houses; townhouses; cottage/cluster housing; midrise; and high-rise developments.

Approximately 75 percent of all Seattle households – single family and multi-family – own at least one car (2010 U.S. Census). Population growth, environment, climate, and other constraints demand that we must move to reduce our heavy reliance on the automobile in the future, by expanding transportation choices and better land use integrated with transportation planning – in other words, SMART GROWTH!

Parking demand is highly variable depending on location, concentration of use, age and income demographics. No one today knows where the city’s parking ratios came from. Clearly the ratios set by the city in the land use code do not reflect current realities. But it is also clear that parking is still a hot button issue for many. I expect that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will continue to decline as will car ownership in the future, as we invest in and move toward other less car dependent means to advance urban mobility.

The city’s parking policies should reflect current and future demand for private off-street parking. In most cases, the market can be a better determinate of parking demand. In Donald Shoup’s 2004 book “The High Cost of Free Parking,” the author makes the argument that parking is inherently not free, nor should it be. Parking demand should be monetized and cost-out so that the people who don’t own cars can choose not to pay for parking they may not need or want.

And those who do own a car and want parking reserved for them, they can pay their full share of the cost of providing it. The market is beginning to respond to changing lifestyles and desire for freedom from car dependency and high costs of car ownership. This is a good sign, and needs to be encouraged and supported through our transportation and land use policies and public investments.