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Originally published Friday, December 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Think parking's hard to find? It could get worse in Seattle

Parking spaces may become harder to find in Seattle, but there could be more greenery to admire while you're looking. To get people out...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Parking spaces may become harder to find in Seattle, but there could be more greenery to admire while you're looking.

To get people out of their cars, sprout new neighborhood commerce and grow a greener city, the Seattle City Council may tell developers and businesses they no longer need to provide parking in some areas, but will need to plant more grass.

The proposed rules, which Councilman Peter Steinbrueck calls the most sweeping change to commercial land-use laws in two decades, could make parking tougher across the city.

But the aim, he said, is to turn neighborhood business areas into verdant urban villages to which people could walk, rather than drive.

"We want to advance good environmental policy, improve transit, bicycling and walking, and hopefully become less car-dependent in the future than we are today," Steinbrueck said.

The council may vote Monday on the rules, which would not include residential buildings. The council's urban-planning committee, which Steinbrueck chairs, on Thursday recommended passage.

Some worry that such a politically lofty vision could harm business. Fewer parking spots could mean fewer customers, said Dennis Ross, president of the Admiral Community Council in West Seattle.

"Without parking, our business will suffer," Ross said. "If you disinvest in parking, you need to invest in transit."

Under the proposed rules, the city would stop requiring businesses to supply off-street parking in Capitol Hill, First Hill, Lower Queen Anne, the University District, Northgate and South Lake Union. Some businesses, depending on size, already are exempt from providing parking.

Developers in those areas could still offer parking if they wanted, but the city would no longer dictate the number of spaces.

Downtown businesses have not been required to provide parking, and that wouldn't change.

Parking requirements would be reduced for some businesses in the rest of the city's neighborhood commercial areas, such as Wallingford, the Junction and Admiral in West Seattle and Madison Park.

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To encourage businesses to move into existing buildings in those neighborhoods, the council committee also is proposing that the new businesses would not have to add more parking even if the city code would normally require it for that type of business.

Tyler Myers said he's been trying to open a hardware store near downtown for three years but couldn't find a site where he could provide the required parking. He found a warehouse on Capitol Hill that has six spaces, but under current rules, he must provide 24, and he can't fit that many on the lot.

"I want to provide a basic service to the community and I can't do that under the current code," Myers said. "The new code will allow me to do it."

Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA, said San Francisco, Boston, New York and Chicago have put caps on the amount of parking that can be built, while Los Angeles and Phoenix, for instance, maintain minimum parking requirements.

"You will have to decide what kind of city you want to be," he said.

He expects the lifting of parking requirements will result in small lots being developed.

The council is also considering the "Seattle Green Factor," requiring all new commercial development outside downtown to cover 30 percent of the property with grass, trees, green roofs with vegetation, vine-covered walls or permeable paving.

"It will support all sorts of new beautiful green vegetation," Steinbrueck said. "I hope to see green roofs developed as part of this. It helps with our goals for carbon emissions, habitat for birds."

He believes Seattle would be the first U.S. city to institute such a requirement.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

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