Boom The Long, Long Wait for Better Town Houses
posted by July 9 at 13:14 PMon
Mayor Greg Nickels stood in front of a bunch of town houses on Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon to propose cures for Seattle’s ugly town houses. Among his ideas: the city would review designs for new townhouses. Developers say that would be an expensive hassle.
Miklos Kohary, who built 160 town homes in the city last year, said the mayor’s “insane” proposal would add $30,000 to $40,000 to each home. He now spends that much on loan payments, he said, waiting for building permits to clear with the city, which takes seven to 10 months.
“We were doing what was the objective of the mayor: affordable housing,” Kohary said. “My average buyer ranged from 22, 23 to 35. These were all young people who didn’t want to have a big garden and a house. “[City officials] either want housing or they don’t. If they want housing, this is insane.”
Nickels said, “We don’t think it will be a significant cost driver.”
Nickels boldly went against the grain and stood up to the developers who build flimsy crap, who many neighborhood activists say he’s in the pocket. So rah rah for the mayor, right? Not so fast. In fact, really slow.
The first problem is that his big idea for administrative design reviews is an old, impractical one. Design review will take a long-ass time for each project, and still fail to address directly the biggest problems with town house design: banning four-pack housing and wide central auto courts with no pedestrian function. Those changes will be made, hopefully, after it gets to the city council, which will have to enact any zoning changes. Which will happen, eventually…
This multi-family rezoning package is the result of years of study by the Department of Planning and Development, which answers to Nickels. DPD handed the proposal to Nickels late last year, and it’s been waiting on his desk, as folks at city hall put it, since then. Meanwhile, Councilmember Sally Clark, head of the land-use committee, is waiting for the legislation to go through a SEPA review (an environmental impact review), which will take until September, before she can touch it. But by then the council will be working on the budget, and probably won’t get around town houses till 2009—and that process will entail more public comment, debate, revision, blah, blah, blah. If Clark makes any gutsy changes to the town house rules—changes that would actually improve them rather than just tweak the designs we have—the SEPA process could begin all over again.
Nickels could have expedited this entire process, and truly taken developers of the worst projects to task, by moving on the legislation promptly. Instead, those developers have another year to keep building the shitty townhouses.