Legislators plan to tweak urban density law

Legislators plan to tweak urban density law
HB 6334 and HB 2343 would tweak parts of HB 1923 which was enacted during last year’s legislative session, Photo: freepik.com

HB 6334 sponsored by Rep. Jesse Salomon (D-32) and its companion bill HB 2343 introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) tweak several provisions in SB 1923 which was also sponsored by Fitzgibbon and enacted during last year’s legislative session. At HB 6334’s Jan 27 public hearing in the Senate Housing Stability & Affordability Committee, stakeholders said the proposal will greater enable cities to improve housing density and affordability.

Under HB 1923, cities are given a “menu” of different land-use and zoning options to improve housing density and capacity. To help cover the planning costs, qualifying cities may apply for grants through the state Department of Commerce.

“This bill just improves on that process,” Association of Washington Cities Government Affairs Advocate Carl Schroeder told the committee. “It provides more time, more options and better options.”

Under SB 6334, the following options would be added:

  • Allowing duplexes, triplexes, or courtyard apartments on one or more parcels;
  • The creation of a zoning district in which individual lots can be no larger than 3,500 square feet and single family residences may be no larger than 1,200 square feet; and
  • Removing parking requirements for accessory dwelling units (ADU).

Salomon said the bill would maintain the optional nature of HB 1923 in which cities may choose to participate but are not required to do so. He added that the single-family zoning district option is meant to provide additional smaller houses. “I think that’s really missing. If you go out and try to buy a 1,000 square foot house as your first home, good luck finding that. They’re being torn down and built into huge houses, and so we really need to work on some of these things.”

However, Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-31) noted that smaller lots will mean less ground to absorb stormwater. “We need more available land, but my concern is reducing lot size.”

Another bill provision eliminates minimum population requirements for cities to apply for state Department of Commerce planning grants used to increase residential supply provided in the state law. Under HB 1923, cities had to have 20,000 or more residents.

Schroeder said many cities were interested in zoning for transit-oriented development around transit stations, “but the acreage threshold is too large for them.”

Also testifying in support of the bill was Washington Realtors Assistant Director for Land Use/Planning Jeanette McKague. “We’re pleased with what happened last year – all the cities that have actually taken advantage of the opportunity to change their housing ordinances and starting to look at their regulations so we can get more supply on the ground. We just see this is another extension (of that).”

She added that the bill should “make it as clear as we can for local governments this will be a good thing for our communities.”

No further action is yet scheduled for SB 6334. HB 2343 received a public hearing on Jan. 16 in the House Committee on Environment & Energy and is scheduled for an executive session on Jan. 28.

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