New group advocates for ‘smart growth’ in Seattle

Are you frustrated by the lack of affordable houses in the city? Wish there were more options to choose from? Roger Valdez shares your frustration. He and other urban density supporters have formed a group, Smart Growth Seattle, to advocate for a land use code that’s conducive to more housing choices.

“There is still plenty of room in the current code to build single family homes. Let’s take what we’ve got and make it more relevant for the economic environment that we are in,” said Valdez, who used to work in neighborhood development for the city of Seattle.

Roger Valdez of Smart Growth Seattle

Roger Valdez of Smart Growth Seattle

On a recent Saturday, Valdez explained the group’s goals during a stroll through several streets south of Capitol Hill. He pointed out lots where there is ample room for an additional home.

Room for growth?

Room for growth?

Such infill development has angered residents in other parts of the city, including a recent case in West Seattle. Another development in Wallingford last year ignited a protest that led the city council to issue a moratorium to stop the development of big houses on small lots.

Valdez said his group, sponsored by local builders, formed to give voice to the other side of the development debate, to counter the ‘Not in my back yard or side yard’ crowd.  Referring to the examples above, Valdez said the new houses were consistent with the zoning regulations. The only problem was that the people next door didn’t like them.

“The builders were following the rules. It wasn’t like a group of builder bandits,” he said.

Valdez said it’s important to have certainty in the code, rather than having to adjust each time one set of neighbors is not happy with a proposed development.

“It’s like football and having the goal line constantly change,” he said. “Please pick some rules and stick with them and give everyone some predictability.”

As the city council studies potential changes to the land use code, Smart Growth Seattle supports changes it says would encourage sustainable development, while respecting nearby residents. Those changes include…

  • Modifying the 75/80 rule to allow development of housing on lots that are 80% of the average lot size of a block face regardless of size
  • Limiting the height of houses built on qualifying lots as follows:22 feet for lots that are 60% or less of the zone; 25 feet for lots that are less than 75% of the zone

Not to be outdone, concerned homeowners have formed a group called One Home Per Lot. On its website, the group says it is for density  that is “planned, zoned and transparent”, but backyard or side yard houses are extremely ineffective and disruptive to the neighborhood where they’re built. Check out their website for a point-by-point rebuttal.

Valdez said it boils down to a choice of whether we want more housing stock because you can’t complain about urban housing prices going up while also opposing infill development.

“The goal is to create more options and more choice,” he said.

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  • This is a great idea—it’s part of the “YIMBY” movement that’s designed to make it easier to do things like grant liquor licenses or build affordable housing.

  • phil

    If they were actually building affordable housing, these speculators (they build houses on speculation) might actually be able to use this argument. As they are in business, they want to maximize their return and build as big as they can get away with, using all the loopholes in the zoning laws they can find. It is the City Council’s duty to create a level playing field, closing loopholes, so that all involved can plan for the future; without folks making end runs around existing land use laws and then crying NIMBYism at the folks who catch them at it.

  • Seth

    This infill does nothing to help with housing prices. But it does make life really miserable for the people living nearby. The only ones who benefit are the developers who find the loopholes, take the money and run.

  • Andrew Engel

    roger dude – the back yard house that you think is affordable is listed for $750,000. How does it feel to be a stooge of some very rich developers