BY BEN BROESAMLE
The “drive until you qualify” paradigm is one of exclusion and segregation. We need to be able to include more people of all economic, ethnic, racial, and life-choice and life-experience backgrounds in center cities. Detailed land use zoning, height limits, density limits, and parking requirements are all methods of exclusion and segregation. Detailed zoning should be replaced by a four-uses plan and architectural standards similar to a form based code. Height limits should be enforced only by the FAA. Density limits and parking requirements should be eliminated entirely.
The four land uses should be “residential”, “residential/commercial/very-light- and very-low-emitting-industrial”, “commercial/industrial”, and “unrestricted” which would naturally attract all the industrial annoyances or create truly mixed all-use places. An incomplete list of codified architectural standards might include materials, configurations and minimum unit sizes, building techniques, build-to lines, percentage of built site-frontage, percentage of glazing, surface articulation, setbacks, open space, minimum first floor clear-height, sidewalk standards, opening standards, and other such standards that attempt to create “neighborhood character.”
Height limits are directly exclusionary. On parcels where the building code says you could otherwise build 50 feet above a slab on grade foundation with type 5 construction, current LR3 zoning disallows heights above 37 feet. Some height limits are necessary. A certain clearance between our cities’ towers and glideslopes for aircraft on final approaches to our regional airports’ runways are very necessary, but those height limits can be directly regulated by the FAA. The FAA’s regulations can be repeated at the local level with final review of permits conducted by the FAA.
Like height limits, density limits such as one unit per 800 site square-feet in Seattle’s LR3 zones or one unit per 5000 square-foot lot in Seattle’s Single Family 5000 zones only serve to exclude people who would otherwise be able to live in cities and perpetuate the many externalities of our land use policy. Density requirements should be eliminated.
Parking requirements are going to become less and less necessary as rapid transit is expanded and when self-driving cars are eventually implemented at a fleet level, like Uber without drivers that park in underutilized downtown garages from 3am to 5am. Parking requirements drive up the cost of construction, increase rents to achieve the same yield, and reduce the pedestrian prioritization on any block with driveways and additional unsafe interactions between cars and people. Sometimes, financiers and potential tenants may want to pay extra for parking. That’s ok. New construction can choose to include parking, but in a world where were about to expand rapid transit throughout the city, cars need to be deprioritized even more. Current single-family homeowners can buy street permits in RPZ-like programs with transferable parking rights.
This plan doesn’t suggest that anyone is taking single family homeowners land away from them—at least not without paying them a lot for it first. These changes would allow people to pay to live where they want to live. These changes would create a pressure release valve for downtown apartments and condos to be built until the market was saturated and would reduce the need for building in further flung neighborhoods.