Posts Tagged ‘townhouses’

Letting townhouses be homes

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The Northwest Chapter of the Congress of Residential Architects (CORA) has been presenting proposed revisions to Seattle’s multifamily code to neighborhood councils. I just attended their presentation at the Sunset Hill Community Association sponsored by the Crown Hill Business Association.

Existing zoning for Lowrise 3

David Neiman of CORA gives an outstanding presentation about how most of the things single family neighborhoods hate about townhouses, are, ironically, driven by the effort to make them more like single family homes; a yard, set back from the street and a place to park a car.

In many respects the puzzle of how to fit four houses on a lot, with private open space, setbacks and parking was never meant to be solved.

But the off the shelf four-pack plans emerged as the solution, making these kinds of town homes profitable. Parking requirements make townhouses parking solutions, not housing solutions. Could we just remove parking and set back requirements from L-3 and L-4 zones and go from there?

CORA’s proposal focuses on addressing the biggest complaints about townhouses. If design is the biggest part of why neighborhoods object to town homes, then why not use design review to free the townhouse from the single family corset so they can be responsive to the needs of the end user, neighborhoods and the region’s need to accommodate growth.

Craig Benjamin from the Cascade Agenda spoke just before the CORA presentation about 1.7 million reasons why we need more density.

CORA’s proposal is trying to get more density through better design. The question is, will single family neighborhoods relent in their opposition to density in exchange for better design of townhouses?

60th Street Cottages

Will the administrative process that is run entirely by DPD satisfy their need to get the outcomes they want? The proposal is likely to come before Council early next year.

On my walk to the Community Center, I stumbled upon these little gems called the 60th Street Cottages. I don’t know how they were received by the neighborhood, but they look like what we were talking about.

To market, to market

Monday, July 14th, 2008

There’s lots of good fodder for urban development nuts to digest in today’s news. A few selections, in case you missed them:

In a piece for Crosscut, former city council member, architect (and offspring of Pike Place Market advocate Victor

The Market's year?
Steinbrueck) Peter Steinbrueck sounds off on fixing townhouses. Steinbrueck’s take: disallow certain types of townhouses altogether and make the rest of the code more form and performance based, with more design flexibility. He also suggests the city’s design community create an attractive “townhouse model” developers can work from.

The Seattle P-I has a piece on a new campaign targeting grocery shoppers as a way to reduce miles driven in the city. Feet First is providing deeply discounted personal carts, for now only to people living within one-quarter mile of the Westwood QFC in hopes of getting shoppers out of their cars for grocery trips.

Speaking of markets, the Seattle City Council voted 8-0 to put a $73 million levy for Pike Place Market repairs and upgrades on the November ballot. Council is still in discussion on a $140 million levy for Seattle parks.

The bad, the ugly, the uglier. . .

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

After three years of review, the city is still working on a proposal aimed at making townhouses less ugly. Mayor Greg Nickels announced Tuesday he wants the proposal to include a required design review for every new townhouse.

Are these our entries or our backdoors?

Many of the townhouses now standing did not go through design review. That’s because they either didn’t have enough units to trigger a review, or developers permitted different portions of the project separately, avoiding the review.

It’s unclear what exactly would change if city planners reviewed the aesthetics of townhouses. Nickels says it will let designers be more flexible and creative. DPD is still working out the details. Read more about the proposal here, and a critique by Livable Seattle here (townhouse pictures at left and bottom are from Livable Seattle’s own review of townhouse aesthetics, included in the report).

Keeping up with the Joneses

Meanwhile, council president Richard Conlin has a proposal of his own aimed at mitigating the ugliness of a different kind of new construction. His proposal targets “McMansions” and takes aim at specific issues: height, scale and garages.

New formulas and guidelines are set for calculating height and lot coverage allowances. That would stop the practice of averaging neighboring heights to build higher and of using a footprint allowance set for a bigger lot size.

Garages would be limited to a certain amount of the facade and builders would get a size bonus for getting parking and garages entirely out of sight. The proposal had its first vetting in a council committee today. No legislation has been introduced.

The multifamily code update is more complicated, with dozens of prescriptions aimed at improving the look of townhouses, like shorter fences, pedestrian entries and more windows in front. It also cuts out parking requirements for some townhouses in higher density zones, meaning those townhouses could be built without multiple garages and driveways,

Garages that cars can't get to or fit within
presumably allowing for more space for yards and gardens.

Interestingly, it also widens townhouse entry driveways and parking spaces, meaning the driveway footprint will be bigger. That’s because some townhouses were designed so badly that driveways are inaccessible.

The proposal does not cut townhouse height limits. In some zones, developers will be able to build higher if they earmark a certain number of units for people making median income. They will also have to use green building techniques.

Read the whole story at

Pestilence! Townhouses!

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

The townhouse situation in this city has gotten so bad that a Seattle City Council committee is holding a special meeting Saturday on the matter.

The Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee will hold a special meeting on townhouse design at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Capitol Hill Arts Center at 1621 12th Ave.

Scourge on society

The meeting will feature a presentation by Tom Eanes of the Seattle Planning Commission, and a forum discussion with various neighborhood groups and organizations.

The meeting is free and open to the public.

Saturday’s discussion of townhouse design follows council’s decision in April to make fewer multifamily projects subject to environmental review. It comes before its formal discussion of proposed multifamily code changes that seek in part to lay out better design standards for Seattle townhouses. Rooflines, fence heights and other design guidelines are included.

The committee has already discussed its concerns with garages that are too small for cars, driveways that can’t be easily accessed, and townhouses built on single family property lines that dwarf neighboring houses.