Laurelhurst Community Club                                                     

Serving 2800 Households in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood




                                        May 28, 2004



Council President Jan Drago and

Members of the Seattle City Council

600 Fourth Avenue, Floor 2

P.O. Box 34025

Seattle, Washington  98124-4025                                             Fax 206-684-8587


RE:  Comprehensive Plan Amendments re the Land Use Element


Dear Council President Drago and Members of the City Council,


The Laurelhurst Community Club Board of Trustees offers these additional comments on the Comprehensive Plan proposed amendments to supplement our comments of May 16th supporting the proposed amendment relating to the Precautionary Principle.


Single-Family Residential Areas.  We oppose the staff recommended changes in Proposed Policy LG5 on page 2-3.  The proposed change states:


Preserve and protect Maintain as single-family neighborhoods areas that are currently in predominantly single-family residential use and are large enough to maintain create the sense of a low-density residential environment, as single-family neighborhoods.  (Strikethroughs indicate deletions; underlining indicates new language.)


Deleting the reference to “preserve and protect” eliminates the affirmative duty in the current Plan to preserve and protect single-family neighborhoods.  We disagree with the staff rationale that the change merely shortens the language.


We support the new Proposed Policy LU6 on page 2-3.  This proposed policy states: 


In order to maintain the existing character of single-family residential areas, discourage conversion of areas with single-family character to more intensive land uses


We agree with the staff rationale for this new policy, that it will provide a foundation for rezone criteria.


Rezones.  We support the new Proposed Policy LU16 on page 2-9.  This new policy adds the language “Consider adopted neighborhood plans when evaluating a rezone proposal.”  It is consistent with rezone criteria and provides an appropriate framework for consideration of the issues.


Uses.  We recommend revisions to the new Proposed Policy LU24 on page 2-11.  This proposed policy states:


Allow most legally established structures and uses that do not conform to current regulations to continue.  Support the maintenance and enhancement of nonconforming uses and developments so they may exist as an asset to their neighborhoods, without expanding their nonconformity.  Seek the redevelopment of nonconformities to be more conforming to current standards over the long term.  (New language.)


We recommend that the first two sentences of this new policy be deleted.  The goal of the Comprehensive Plan and the Code should be consistency and elimination over time of nonconforming uses and structures.  There should not be a special class of property owners that do not have to comply with development regulations.


Telecommunications Facilities.  We support the staff recommend changes in Proposed Policy Number LU30 on page 2-12.  This proposed policy states:


In order to protect the character and ensure the public safety of residential areas, do not permit new major communication utilities, such as radio and television transmission towers, shall not be permitted in single-family, multifamily or pedestrian-oriented commercial Neighborhood Commercial 1, 2, or 3 zones.  In these zones, expansion of existing towers or on-site replacement may be allowed according to City Council conditional use procedure.


The changes recommended are minor and serve to clarify the Comprehensive Plan’s commitment to protecting certain areas from telecommunication facilities.


            General Development Standards.  We support the following staff recommended changes with minor modifications in Proposed Policy Numbers LU35 and LU36 on page 2-17.  These policies state:


LU35:  Lot Coverage.  Use limits on the maximum amount of lot area covered by a structure when needed to maintain compatibility with the scale and character of an area, to ensure that there is an adequate proportion of open area on a site relative to the area occupied by structures, and to provide occupants with sufficient access to light and air, as appropriate to the intended character and use of an area.


LU36:  Setbacks.  Use setbacks in residential areas to provide for adequate light and air, solar access, to ensure privacy, and maintain compatibility with the existing development pattern.  Setbacks should also be used to separate residential uses from more intensive residential, commercial and industrial uses.


Regarding Proposed Policy Number LU35, we recommend deletion of “when needed” in the first sentence.  Lot coverage restrictions are always necessary so this language is not needed and suggests that the Comprehensive Plan would support opportunities for failure to adhere to lot coverage standards.   


            We support the staff recommended Proposed Policy LU37 on page 2-14 with minor changes.  This policy states:


Open Space and Required Yards.  Use open space and required yards to ensure that new development maintains existing patterns of landscaped front yards, to encourage permeable surfaces and vegetation, and to mitigate the cumulative effects of development.  Require that usable open space or recreation areas be provided by private development where it can meet the needs of future office workers in dense office environments and of Seattle’s future households, in appropriate locations and circumstances.


We recommend deletion of the last part of the last sentence (“where it can meet the needs of future office workers in dense office environments and of Seattle’s future households”) including the last part of the phrase that the staff already deleted.  This makes it clear that open space is required by new development, rather than just in appropriate circumstances.


            We support the staff recommended Proposed Policy LU38 on page 2-14.  This policy states:


Establish standards for screening and landscaping appropriate to each zone to minimize the impact of new development on the surround neighborhood, on the streetscape, on the natural environment and on less intensive areas


The recommended changes specify the intended mitigation sought by screening and landscaping and are appropriate to include.


            We support the staff recommended Proposed Policy LU39 on page 2-15 with one minor recommended change.  The policy states:


Trees.  Preserve and enhance the City’s physical and aesthetic character and environment by:

·        preventing untimely and indiscriminate removal or destruction of trees;

·        protecting trees on sites that are not undergoing development;

·        rewarding tree protection efforts;

·        providing protection to large trees; and

·        providing special protection to exceptional trees that, because of their unique historical, ecological, or aesthetic value constitute an important community resource.


The proposed policy reflects policies in the Code regarding tree protection.  We recommend that an additional factor be included that reads:  “providing incentives to property owners for tree retention.” 


Some of Seattle's largest, most beautiful trees are at risk because of the incredible amount of work to maintain the trees and this is all at the owners’ own expense, despite the public benefit.  For example, during the fall leaf drop period, some owners fill numerous bags and must pay extra under the curbside yard waste pickup rules.  Many of those with conifers have year round responsibilities in needle pickup and similarly must pay extra to dispose of the needles.  Younger couples may have the energy to pick up the leaves and needles and some people might have the financial ability to hire someone to do so and pay the extra cost for yard waste pickup.  But, some people just can't afford it and as some of us grow older, we just don't have the capability to do that kind of rigorous work.  Maintaining trees, especially the larger more beautiful ones, is truly a public service and incentives should be provided to encourage people to do so.  The Comprehensive Plan should reflect this commitment to tree preservation.  Providing incentives is also consistent with the goals listed in the Code regarding tree preservation.


            We support part of the staff recommended changes in Proposed Policy Number LU44 on page 2-16 and suggest one addition.  This policy states:


Noise.  Establish maximum permitted noise levels in Commercial areas to reduce health hazards and nuisance factors associated with noise generated by some commercial uses.  Allow maximum permitted noise levels to vary depending on the function of the area from which the noise emanates and the function of areas where the noise may be heard.


We support the deletion of the reference to commercial zones because noise affects quality of life and health in all zones.  We are troubled by the last sentence that was added because it does not address the situation when noise from commercial zones adversely impacts adjacent residential areas.  We recommend that the following phrase be added at the end of that sentence, “as long as impacts are considered and there is Code compliance.” 


Parking.  We oppose staff recommended Proposed Policy LU50 on pages 2-17 and-2-18.  This policy states:


Parking Quantity.  Seek to further this Plan’s goal of encouraging  the use of public transit, vanpools, carpools, walking and bicycles as alternatives to the use of single-occupancy vehicles when setting requirements for the amount of parking required for both single-occupant vehicles and their alternatives.  Establish off-street parking requirements for new housing developments.  Balance the need to:  meet the approximate Consider parking demand generated by new development; to avoid adding to the on-street congestion of parked cars; on surrounding streets; to limit the effect structured parking can have on housing development the costs of building parking; the characteristics of the area and the behavior of the likely occupants of new development when setting the required number of off-street parking spaces.  and to recognize this Plan’s policies encouraging the use of public transit and discouraging the use of public transit and discouraging the use of automobiles.


This proposed change eliminates the current requirement to “Balance the need to: meet the approximate parking demand generated by new development; to avoid adding to the congestion of parked cars…”  This change would pave the way for reduction of parking requirements in light of the added language regarding consideration of the cost of providing parking.  There would no longer be a balancing of needs and impacts and developers would no longer be required to provide necessary parking.


            We oppose the portions of the second sentence of the staff recommended new Proposed Policy Number LU51 on page 2-18.  This policy states:


Recognize the different ways that parking is used by residents, customers and employees when setting parking requirements.  Generally support short-term parking for customers of businesses and longer-term parking for residents, while discouraging long-term parking for employees who could use modes other than single occupant vehicles to get to work.


While it is appropriate to encourage employees to use public transportation, the second sentence goes to far.  It eliminates the requirement that employers provide parking for employees.  In many areas, employee parking is already deficient resulting in clogged nearby residential streets and lack of parking for residents.


We oppose staff recommended Proposed Policy Number LU52 on pages 2-18 and 2-19.  This policy states:


Parking Development Standards.  Permit shared and off-site accessory use parking facilities structures in Highrise zones to encourage shared parking facilities and in order to encourage the efficient use of parking and to provide the flexibility to develop parking on a separate site from residential structures.  Ensure through criteria for approval that such parking is compatible with the residential existing or desired character of the area; and that development standards for curb cuts, screening and landscaping, setbacks, height, access, signs, and lighting are met.


This proposed policy change would extend shared off-site parking from Highrise zones to all zones.  This is inappropriate and should not be implemented without careful study and analysis, particularly in light of the fact that community groups have consistently opposed the change.


Public Facilities and Institutions.  We oppose the staff recommended changes in Proposed Policy Number LU57 on page 2-20.  The policy states: 


In recognition of the positive contribution many institutions and public facilities have made to the residential areas in which they are located, respecting community needs and providing necessary services, allow small institutions and public facilities to establish or expand in multifamily areas, provided they are compatible with the residential character and scale of the area in which they are located. 


The staff rationale for this change indicates that the policy is appropriate to all zones.  We disagree.


            This change would allow expansion of institutions and public facilities into single-family areas, whereas expansion is limited to multifamily zones under the current Comprehensive Plan.  We find no definition of “small institutions.”  Would Children’s Hospital, the Talaris Institute for Advanced Study and components of the University of Washington—all located in Laurelhurst—be classified as “small institutions?”  The language requiring compatibility with the “residential” character and scale of the institution location has also been deleted.  We believe that the proposed policy would allow defacto expansion of institutional boundaries and no protection for surrounding communities.


            We oppose the staff recommended changes in Policy Number LU58 on page 2-20.  This policy states:


Development standards affecting building height, bulk, setbacks, open space, landscaping and screening for small institutions and public facilities in multifamily zones shall be similar to those required of other development housing, but should be allowed to vary somewhat because of the special structural requirements of some institutional uses.  Criteria shall be established, limiting variation in order to achieve design compatibility with scale and character of the surround area.  Except for spires on religious institutions, do not permit small institutions or public facilities to vary from the multifamily zoned height limits.


This proposed change needs further study.  Because of the many exceptions in the Code, there is a potential for loss of open space, increased density and adverse impacts upon surrounding communities.


            We oppose a portion of the staff recommended new Proposed Policy Number LU61 on page 2-21.  That policy states:


Parking for Institutions and Public Facilities.  Discourage the demolition of residential structures or the change of their use for the purpose of providing parking for institutions or public facilities.  Consider waivers of parking standards if the only option for providing parking is through the demolition of residential structures.


We do not believe it is appropriate to waive parking requirements.  The approach is too open-ended and provides for the possibility that developers could threaten residential demolition to obtain a parking waiver.  Many residential streets are already congested and required parking should be provided. 


            Single Family Areas.  We support and oppose portions of staff recommended Proposed Policy LU69 on pages 2-23 and 2-24.  This policy states:


Use a range of single-family zones to:

·        Maintain the current density and character of existing single-family areas;

·        Protect single-family areas that have environmental or infrastructure constraints, which are currently in predominantly single-family residential use in areas of the lowest intensity of development, such as environmentally critical areas, from intensive development, or

·        Provide opportunities for redevelopment or infill development that maintains the single-family character of an area, but allows for a greater range of residential housing types, such as, carriage houses, tandem houses, or cottage.


We support the first two bullets above.  The third bullet provides for the possibility that housing types inconsistent with single-family zoning would be allowed.  The examples cited do not have to comply with many of the development standards in single-family zones, including lot coverage, open space and setbacks.  This will change the character of single-family zones and increase congestion.


            We hope you will consider our recommendations on the proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan.  We appreciate the opportunity to comment.




Jeannie Hale, President

3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE

Seattle, Washington  98105

525-5135 / fax 525-9631