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City updates multi-family code to allow for more variety in housing

After months of discussion with residents, on Monday the Seattle City Council unanimously adopted a comprehensive update to how townhomes, apartments, row houses, and cottages are developed in the city’s low-rise multifamily zones. The idea is to spur more variety in multi-family housing, provide incentives for green building, and improve open space use and landscaping.
“Over the past decade, many townhouses popped up and multiplied in ways that caused unfortunate impacts to the surrounding communities,” Councilmember Sally J. Clark said in a press release. “We saw too few other housing styles and what we did see wasn’t welcomed by neighbors in most cases. I think these new rules will lead developers to build housing that fits better in our neighborhoods and creates a better home in which to live.”
The code creates a new Streamlined Design Review (SDR) process that will allow for closer scrutiny of project design for townhouses with three or more units (but not for row houses, cottages or apartments).
The new low-rise multifamily code also reduces the number of zones from five to three; requires at least 20 percent of street facing façades to be windows and doors; building materials must be varied; townhouse parking garages must be designed to fit large cars; parking will be underground or at the back of the lot; allows shared open space and larger usable common areas; waives parking requirements for projects in growth areas and within a quarter-mile of frequent transit service; and uses a flexible standard of measuring floor space, “floor area ratio,” rather than setback and lot coverage requirements.
The city says multi-family zones make up about 9 percent of the developable land in Seattle.