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Originally published May 9, 2012 at 7:55 PM | Page modified May 10, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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Committee takes heat for mayor's call to ease development rules

Seattle's land-use committee is talking about scaling back proposals by Mayor Mike McGinn to streamline development regulations, including parking requirements.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Some Seattle City Council members signaled a willingness Wednesday to scale back some proposals from Mayor Mike McGinn meant to streamline development regulations, proposals that have been criticized by neighborhood advocates as favoring developers over residents.

Three members of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee — Richard Conlin, Tim Burgess and Mike O'Brien — indicated they would consider a compromise on McGinn's proposal to eliminate parking requirements for new developments within a quarter-mile of frequent transit.

The committee members said they favored a proposal that would reduce the existing parking requirement by 50 percent, rather than eliminating it. Currently the city requires one parking stall per unit in new apartments and condominiums except downtown, in urban centers and around light-rail stations.

"I don't think this is going to be a major windfall for developers. I don't think it's going to be a terrible disaster for neighborhoods," said Conlin, the committee chairman, after the hearing. "What we're proposing are fairly modest changes."

The hearing was dominated by testimony on other elements of the proposed package, including the elimination of state environmental review for any but very large projects — those more than 75,000 square feet or 299 units.

Planning officials say city codes already require most of the safeguards contained in state environmental regulations.

But union members denounced the proposal as opening the door for Wal-Mart to move into the city.

Steve Marquardt, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, said the international retail giant, which doesn't have a store in Seattle, could take advantage of the proposed changes and remove the public from decision making because its in-city stores can be smaller than 75,000 square feet.

"We're deeply concerned about any legislation that lowers the standards for public process and environmental review," Marquardt said.

However, Conlin said before the meeting that Wal-Mart's urban stores typically rent existing commercial space and so wouldn't be subject to state environmental review, which covers only new construction.

More than a dozen Capitol Hill residents testified against a proposal to allow small businesses on the ground floor of buildings across the city in neighborhoods of low-rise, multifamily buildings. They said they already have nearby business districts and worry about their property values if commercial activity were to spread into residential areas.

"We're deeply concerned about the proposal to allow ground-floor commercial uses not just on select street corners, but across vast swaths of what have always been quiet, residential neighborhoods," said Patrick Tompkins, a Capitol Hill resident.

Committee members discussed limiting commercial uses to arterials and requiring restaurants or cafes in residential areas to close by 10 p.m., but they didn't reach a consensus on the issue.

"This city has taken a pretty aggressive approach to density," said Burgess, who said he was struggling with the proposal. "The implied compact is we're going to protect residential areas, which includes multifamily areas. Are we violating that compact and allowing commercial uses to seep in?"

The land-use committee will take up the proposed package again May 23 and could vote to send it to the full council for approval.

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

On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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