Taller For Transit

Advocates say density should be increased, and height restrictions lifted, on development around light rail stations.

In less than a year, if all goes as planned, the first of Sound Transit's light-rail lines will open connecting the airport with downtown. In 2001, the City Council approved station-area overlay districts that increased density and zoning around the transit stations. The idea behind the ordinance was to encourage residents to live close enough to the light-rail stations—about a half-mile—that they could stay away from their cars. But now Futurewise, a statewide environmental development advocacy group, worries that the density and height restrictions in the overlay districts still won't be enough to foster what former mayor Charles Royer calls "good, walkable urbanism." To this end, Futurewise, as well as a handful of other housing organizations, including Royer's Middle Income Housing Alliance, are proposing that the City Council adopt a transit-oriented development demonstration project. The idea, says Sara Nikolic, the Urban Strategies Director at Futurewise, is that the city would work with four or five developers to create projects that may be taller or denser than what current ordinances allow, with well-designed public spaces. Developers who are willing to undertake such a project—building to the city's guidelines—could enjoy zoning adjustments and an expedited permitting process, she hopes. On the other side are some southeast Seattle residents who worry that if transit-oriented development catches on—through a demonstration project or otherwise—it would ruin the character of the neighborhoods and render their neighborhood plans irrelevant. Nikolic and Royer hope to have a resolution before the City Council in July or August.

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