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City Council on Monday will vote on parking regulations, including changing ‘frequent transit’ term that will determine whether developers need to include any parking

On Monday, the Seattle City Council is scheduled to discuss and vote on parking changes throughout the city. There are numerous changes, including allowing off-street private parking in a residential building to be used as paid “flexible use” parking for non-residents of that building. But Council Bill 119173 also would rewrite the definition of “frequent transit,” which affects whether developers have to have any parking at all.

You’ll remember that’s been a big issue in our neighborhood, as numerous residential buildings have been built, with more in the pipeline, without any parking at all. Last year, Livable Phinney successfully appealed the proposed Phinney Flats development at 6726 Phinney Ave. N., which would bring 57 small efficiency dwelling units with no parking. The project was not required to have parking because it was within a quarter mile of “frequent transit.” The Hearing Examiner ruled that the “frequent transit” term should be based on how often a bus actually arrives, and Metro buses were not arriving as often as scheduled. But then the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections issued its interpretation of the ruling to say that the published schedules are adequate. The Parking, Land Use and Zoning Committee’s recommendation from last Wednesday’s meeting would codify SDCI’s interpretation. (For an indepth article on that PLUZ committee meeting, see SCC Insight, which is an independent site dedicated to reporting on Seattle City Council.)

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, a member of the PLUZ committee, abstained from last Wednesday’s vote and is trying to bring an amendment that would:

Allow (not require) SDCI to mitigate parking impacts in urban villages with frequent transit service, where no parking is required in developments, in locations where on-street parking occupancy exceeds or would exceed 85%, this is the capacity threshold that both SDCI and SDOT use.

Herbold says she disagrees with the one-size-fits-all transit approach for every neighborhood. She also says the problem is the city doesn’t have the authority to require developers to mitigate parking impacts. As Herbold told me by email:

State SEPA policies require consideration of parking impacts. However, the City has entirely removed the authority to mitigate the parking impacts of projects that have impacts when those projects are in areas where the City has removed parking requirements, areas referred to as “Frequent Transit Areas.” In other words, State SEPA is requiring developers to do parking studies as part of the permitting process, but even when those studies show that a development without parking is going to create a problem, SDCI can’t require mitigation. In those instances this is what SDCI tells…the public:

“while impacts to parking could be substantial, we are unable to mitigate the impacts by requiring additional parking on-site.”

Some say that SEPA should only mitigate for environmental impacts. However, the reality of SEPA in Washington State is that it requires us to look not only at the impact of decisions on plants and animals, air quality, and water; but also on housing, public services, and historic preservation. The state requires that we look at parking as part of that comprehensive analysis of impacts of development. Also, Seattle is the city that is 5th in the nation for time spent in a car looking for parking. I think that’s an environmental impact.

Herbold says the data doesn’t support fellow PLUZ members Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson’s contention that everyone will get rid of their cars if they live close to frequent transit. She says car ownership has remained about the same since 2012 when the city gave up its authority to mitigate parking impacts. She says SDCI quotes statistics of 40 percent of all renter households in certain areas have no vehicle. But she says that’s true of only a few neighborhoods, not ours, where she says the north end of the Greenwood-Phinney Ridge Urban Village has a car ownership rate of 86 percent. You can read an indepth description of Herbold’s concerns on her council blog.

Some neighborhood residents say councilmembers may not be thinking of how such parking regulations affect those who need cars the most. In a March 26 letter to Council President Bruce Harrell, signed by 22 citizens from across the city, including several in Phinney Ridge and Greenwood, they wrote:

The push to eliminate parking negatively (a)ffects the freedom of the mobility-impaired and older citizens who can no longer walk easily, but are still able to drive to their necessary destinations. Parking is consistent with the Age-Friendly City initiative.

Phinney Ridge resident Steve Sewell, one of the letter’s signers, emailed councilmembers again yesterday and is allowing me to share his message here:

I am writing to support Councilmember Herbold’s amendment to the above proposed legislation. Her amendment would simply give the city the opportunity to consider mitigation for parking impacts in permitting new development under certain circumstances. Not to do so is a recipe for degraded livability in our city and more frustration and pollution as people drive around looking for parking. The idea that we don’t need more parking in our neighborhoods as they continue to grow is demonstrably and factually incorrect and a result of extreme ideological thinking. To argue that all of the transportation needs of our increasing population can be handled by bicycles, walking and transit flies in the face of reality and the facts. People moving here don’t just use transit and bikes. They bring their cars as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. Transit riders and bicyclists also need a place to park their cars. And the idea that somehow cars only belong to the elite is an elitist idea in itself. People from all income groups use and need cars and a place to park them.

Monday’s meeting will be at 2 p.m. at City Hall, 600 4th Ave., in the Council Chamber. Get there early if you’d like to sign up for public comment. If you can’t attend, you can listen is on the meeting through the Council Meeting Listen Line at 206-684-8566.

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