The City of Seattle deserves praise: Wait, what?
This is not something you will hear often in Seattle: The mayor and the city council are pushing ahead a terrific idea for the city’s housing crisis.
But in fact they are.
Lost in the crisis of the head tax in Seattle, the cost of fixing programs to help the homeless and how all of those millions have been spent so far, emerged an idea that is simple, clear and effective:
Pre-approved plans and streamlined approval process for backyard cottages in Seattle.
This a dynamite idea for three reasons:
- Sometimes a government is most effective when it removes barriers. This is one of those cases. If you want examples, look at the boom of breweries in Ballard — 11 in a five-block area — or the food trucks throughout in Seattle. It isn’t as if there wasn’t the desire or the money to invest in microbreweries or food trucks a decade ago. But restrictive regulations made it too tough for a low-cost start-up industry to thrive.The state and the city removed barriers and boom, two full-blown startup industries moved into the vacuum.
- For years, Seattle city planning was guided by the NIMBYS — the folks who wanted no changes to their single-family home neighborhoods. This led the planning department to discourage detached, mother-in-law apartments. And that, in turn, led to fewer housing units in a city with a growing and now critical need.Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office working with the council will pay local architects to develop a handful — likely three — standardized cottage designs that homeowners can choose from. The plans, city planners say, will be adaptable for backyards across the city. Working with plans the city has already endorsed, the people paying for these homes will save thousands of dollars in design costs.
- What’s more, those pre-approved plans will be fast-tracked in the permitting process. As a person who has worked with city planning and Seattle Department of Transportation on projects, this is critical. Anyone who has built a permitted project in Seattle can bend your ear for an hour (or seven) about the permitting process and length of time. Using plans staff is already deeply familiar with and inclined to approve, is a terrific way to bypass weeks of review and move the project straight to the necessary adjustments for a specific site. The mayor’s office says this will cut down permitting time by half.
And it does not hurt that the planning staff knows this is a priority of the mayor.
Every day, people gripe about the City of Seattle and it’s policies regarding business, the homeless and development. Some of the gripes have genuine merit. But it’s only fair, in turn, to praise the plans and concepts that have genuine benefit in a city bearing the weight of explosive growth.
And while the details of the backyard cottage plan still have to be finalized, this is one of those times where kudos is deserved.