Nov 7, 2007

Townhomes, parking, storage

I told you recently of our City's ongoing efforts to update the building code for multifamily housing, which may affect much of our neighborhood.

The proposed changes are fairly minor for our neighborhood: mainly the combining of the lowrise L3 (35' height limit) and L4 (45' limit) into a zone which will only allow 35' buildings, unless some affordable housing is included (then it's 45').

I would like to propose a couple of changes to the townhouse regulations, and seek your input.

Almost all new multifamily construction is townhomes rather than condominiums (we can discuss that, if you wish). I note that most townhouse owners can't get even small cars into the tiny garages provided, and typically use the "garage" for storage instead. Given the proliferation of townhouses (and the failure of the transportation initiative), this is going to create yet more street congestion.

I propose:

1) that the parking garages in townhouses be required to be big enough to allow them to be easily used to park typical cars (and for the occupants to be able to get in and out).

2) that townhouses be required to provide sufficient storage space to allow the residents to stockpile the supplies necessary to survive the emergencies that the City is so eager for us to prepare for.

Questions for you:

a) am I right about the townhouse parking problems, and the lack of storage space?

b) care to send me letters/photos to support the idea?

Andrew Taylor,


Brian Aker said...


Let nature take its course. Garage too small? Excellent! Buy a smaller car.

Can't find parking on the street?

Try buying a single car, instead of owning multiple.

Not enough storage? Buy less stuff.

We need to adapt.

If the Townhouses do not fit the needs of the buyers, then the builders will adapt to build what people want.


heater said...

I disagree with your assertion that a problem exists. I would like to see more space for people and less space for cars. I'm fine with no parking being required for town houses. Why should we require space for cars when we are trying to get away from a car culture. Miller park is an area where people _can_ live without a car. If owners value parking, they will buy units with adequate parking on their street or in their garage. Go density!


Christopher said...

We need to be encouraging people to use their cars less, and buy smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Small or no garages will help encourage that. The last thing we want to do is encourage more and bigger parking spaces. I recognize that picture, and do see the problem you are pointing to, but the vast majority of townhouses are not layed out like this.

I do agree that there should be changes to the code for townhouses though. Some ideas include:

-require that units facing the street have an entrace off of the sidewalk, and require a front porch. This encourages neighbor interaction, and helps increase the number of eyes watching our streets.

-specify that windows cannot be white vinyl. These are hideous and look cheap, ruining streetscapes all over Seattle. Vinyl is ok if the builder really wants to go that route, but do it in a more interesting color that coordinates/contrasts with the townhouses. Look at any older building to see how windows can look so much higher quality simply by not being stark white.

-require that limited or no parking be built. Yes, this may sound drastic, but since our neighborhood is so close to the center of everything, we really could and should be encouraging people to walk or use transit, and not drive everywhere. If every single-family house zoned for townhomes in our neighborhood is torn down (which one day will be the case), we will have 8 cars on lots that used to have only 1 or 2. This will increase neighborhood traffic many-fold.

Michael said...

Yes, I agree with all suggestions regarding Townhouse design and would add a few more:

revise open space requirement to allow common open space as an alternative to requiring 300 sf per unit adjacent to unit

revise site circulation requirements to allow more flexibility in building orientation and site design- currently townhouse developers are left with very few choices about where they can put driveways and garage access - especially a problem where there is not an alley, which is most cases

don't allow 6' fences, and where there is a substantial grade difference requiring a retaining wall, further restrict the type of fence that can be used...a 4' opaque fence on top of a retaining wall creates a fortress-like appearance and deadens the ped environment

require a minimum size for ALL bedrooms- many 3rd bedrooms are completely inadequate-difficult to even fit a bed in them. This is a very important issue for family housing.

i tend to agree with comments regarding parking - the market will respond and/or people will adapt, of course there will be a period of difficult on-street parking and generally car clutter

that's all

Andrew Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I actually like that particular townhouse you pictured, and I used to live on that street. Overall, this sounds like a solution in search of a problem. Let the buyers dictate what kind of townhouses they want, and the builders build them. While I understand the city has a legitimate interest in providing design and other guidance, dictating garage size and storage requirements seems overly meddlesome. If it doesn't involve overt safety or quality of life issues the city should strive first to leave it alone.

Ryan said...


The townhouse you used as an example last sold in 2003 for $429,000. Don't you think that a more plausible explanation of the situation at that development might have more to do with dual car families? I have to agree with the other suggestions which have pointed out that the revisions need to be away from our current car based society. The best part of the current townhouse situations is that it pushes purchasers towards a single car lifestyle.

Andrew Taylor said...

E-mailed comment:
This parking for townhouses plan, is part of many of our beloved elected and appointed representatives' to raise the height of buildings to encourage more dense development. For townhouses they can squeeze more families per building lot. You notice that building codes have less parking spaces required per individual unit.

This is part of the rational for light rail. Tight concentration around rail stations, with limited parking for the high rise buildings. The plan is to force residents to use the light rail for commuting and shopping. They envision stores and markets locating in the areas around these stations that will have dense populations.

These urban plans have built in problems. They tend to become neighborhoods crammed with commuter and resident street parking -- on sidewalks, blocking driveways and double parking.

All this is an attempt to make people give up their cars and use the light rail instead.
The only answer to all this is to elect leaders who represent the will of the people. If they don't -- vote them out of office and vote for initiatives that deny them their unwarranted means to get their way.

Until that time, we have to give up "civility" and being "nice" to them.

Art McDonell
Capitol Hill

Andrew Taylor said...

E-mailed comment:

I agree totally with your comments!!!! I am concern about the affordable housing component being linked to the 45 foot height limit.... I believe that the L3 and L4 zones should not be combined to one height limit.. These zones should stay "as is" with separate height limits so that there will be some variation in scale and massing which will help keep a "neighborhood" character..... The affordable housing component should be linked to "green" design and construction, roof gardens and similar amenities,,,, not height....


Anonymous said...

E-mailed comment:

Don't builders do what they can with the space available? It is not in their interest to make the garage too narrow, but if the interior hallway is too narrow (to allow wider garage) that is not a good feature. Maybe the setbacks should be reduced? ks

Anonymous said...

E-mailed comment:

We totally agree that every new building should provide real parking (a big enough space) for a car and some storage. Thanks for working on this issue

Julie and Rogers Weed on Cap hill

Anonymous said...

At the very least, they should require builders who advertise a "1-car garage" to provide adequate space for an average compact car (that you can actually purchase in the U.S.). The problem that Andrew is addressing is that most of these townhouses are sold before they are even finished being built -- meaning the buyers can't tell exactly what they're getting, or just decide that ooh, this garage is too small, let me go to the next block and buy a townhouse with a bigger garage (especially when all the developers are trying to eke out the most of these "specs" that up the Zillow price of the house). Especially when most of them are buying what they can barely afford anyway, just to get into a house in this market. "Excellent! buy a smaller car" -- catchy, but just doesn't cut it when you're already driving a tiny hyundai and can't open the door once you've pulled into your brand new "one car garage." There needs to be some kind of consumer protection.

Jim Nabor said...

How about parking zones? I'm a little new to the area and see that some neighborhoods have zoned parking. Why not lobby for that in the neighborhood? ONE sticker for each household.

Also, as a motorbike commuter who will now have to use the bus more often, Metro needs to cut back on the number of stops it makes. It's obscene that as I stand on the corner of Madison and 22nd waiting for the bus, I can see people getting on the bus 1 block away at 23rd....

I think if you halved the number of stops that Metro buses make, you'd have more people willing to take the bus. It takes me 20 minutes (if everything goes perfectly - including timing the buses) to commute downtown and 25 minutes to walk. That's not mass transportation. That's waste of taxpayers' money.