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Originally published March 28, 2012 at 8:57 PM | Page modified March 29, 2012 at 1:27 PM

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Parking proposal gets mixed reaction

Many neighborhood activists were skeptical of the proposals that would eliminate parking requirements for some new construction, but business, labor and environmentalists said the result could help get people out of cars, streamline development rules and spur economic development.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A proposal to allow Seattle developers to eliminate parking in new construction within a quarter-mile of frequent transit was met with mixed reviews at a City Hall hearing Wednesday.

Many neighborhood activists were skeptical, saying families and businesses depend on parking.

"The message is, if you're a small, locally owned business, get out. If you're a family with children, get out," said Greg Hill, a small-business owner and Wallingford resident who testified against a package of proposed land-use changes.

But business, labor and environmentalists told the City Council's Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee that the proposals could help get people out of cars, streamline city-development rules and spur economic development.

"These reforms will help kick-start a difficult construction industry," said John Littel, political director of the Northwest Carpenters Union.

The City Council is considering a number of measures proposed by Mayor Mike McGinn and a 28-member round-table he appointed as part of his 2010 Seattle Jobs Plan. The mayor said his goal was to reduce red tape while enhancing the city's commitment to the environment.

The proposals include eliminating some environmental review for new developments and allowing small commercial businesses in low-rise residential neighborhoods.

Representatives of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Seattle King County Realtors and the Seattle Builders Council all spoke in favor of the proposals.

Environmental advocates said the elimination of parking requirements provides flexibility to builders, who can add parking where it's needed but won't have to when it's not.

"This is not a parking ban. This is a ... measure that allows developers flexibility," said Chuck Wolfe, an environmental and land-use attorney who served on the round-table.

Other environmentalists said the proposals move the city toward fewer carbon emissions and fewer single-occupancy car trips.

"We've got 1.5 million people coming to this region," said Brock Howell, with Futurewise. "We don't want those 1.5 million to be parking and driving."

Some advocates of low-income housing also supported the elimination of parking requirements, saying their grant money is specifically for housing, not for parking, and that many of their residents don't need it.

"Parking is expensive. We can reduce housing-development costs. For low-income households in particular, the parking spaces often go unused," said Emily Alvarado, policy director of the Housing Development Consortium.

Neighborhood residents who testified Wednesday often said they felt largely left out of the round-table discussions and that the group was weighted toward developers and transit advocates.

Chris Leman, treasurer of the Seattle Community Council Federation, said removing state environmental review for projects smaller than 200 units or 75,000 square feet — about the size of a full-service grocery store — would roll back protections for neighborhoods and deny residents the right to comment on and participate in land-use decisions.

After the hearing, he also criticized the process, saying, "I can think of no major package of land-use changes that any previous mayor brought to the City Council with so little public notice and public engagement."

Richard Conlin, chair of the land-use committee, defended the process, noting that the proposals were introduced at a news conference last summer and that no one has appealed the city Planning Department's determination, under state law, in August that they have no significant impact on the environment.

The council will continue to debate the proposals and consider amendments throughout the next month, Conlin said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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