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Originally published Monday, July 23, 2012 at 8:40 PM

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Seattle council touts job creation in easing some development rules

Legislation approved by the Seattle City Council on Monday eases parking requirements for new development, raises the threshold for environmental review and eliminates a requirement for ground-floor retail space outside of busy shopping districts. City leaders said the changes will create jobs and increase flexibility for developers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Seattle City Council Monday unanimously approved a package of land-use changes that city leaders say will create jobs and encourage flexibility and creativity in new development.

The legislation eases parking requirements for new development, raises the threshold for environmental review to 200 residential units from 30, and eliminates a requirement for ground-floor retail space outside of busy shopping districts.

Councilmember Richard Conlin, who shepherded the complex legislation through five months of hearings, praised the changes.

"As we move Seattle in the direction of becoming more welcoming to denser development around transit facilities, we should promote good development, rather than trying to stop development because some of it is problematic," Conlin said before the vote.

Mayor Mike McGinn, who recommended the changes as a way to streamline city land-use regulations and jump-start construction, said in a statement that the "council vote supports jobs, urban vitality and environmental sustainability by removing outdated and unneeded regulations."

Neighborhood activists criticized the bill as favoring developers over residents, particularly the higher standards for environmental review, saying it eliminated an important avenue for communities to weigh in on new buildings.

"It takes a tool away from neighborhoods willing to sit down with developers and talk about their projects," said David Miller, president of the Maple Leaf Community Council.

The council rejected, on a 4-4 vote, an amendment by Councilmember Jean Godden that would have raised the threshold for environmental review from 30 residential units only to 60, rather than 200, in new buildings.

Godden said the higher thresholds would weaken the public-input process on neighborhood issues ranging from construction noise and air quality to land use and traffic impacts.

Conlin argued that existing city code requires small and medium-size development to address most of those issues. And he noted that the council added language to require review of transportation impacts and historic preservation.

The council also amended or eliminated some of the most controversial of the mayor's proposals. It rejected the plan to allow commercial development in low-rise residential neighborhoods, including large areas of Capitol Hill. It retained parking minimums for hospitals but exempted colleges.

The council reduced by 50 percent the parking minimums in new development within a quarter-mile of frequent transit, rather than eliminating the parking requirement altogether.

Before 2007, the city generally required that new developments outside of downtown provide parking for people who live or shop there. Over the past few years, the city has eliminated parking requirements in urban centers, around light-rail stations and in multifamily zones with access to frequent transit.

Conlin said about 5,670 acres of the city currently have no minimum parking requirement for residential development. He said the new legislation adds about 540 acres. The required minimum would be reduced by 50 percent for an additional 2,590 acres with frequent transit service.

Conlin argued that the legislation in no way prohibits developers from building parking spaces in new buildings, but rather leaves the number up to market demand rather than "an arbitrary city minimum."

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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