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Letter-to-Editor: Missing Middle Housing does not make sense for Lynnwood

I am a member of the Lynnwood City Council, and the Snohomish County Tomorrow Steering Committee.  My comments below represent my views and are not intended to imply these are the positions of these organizations.

The politicians in Olympia are once again pushing a bill intended to destroy the sovereignty and self governing rights of local cities for City planning  zoning.  Similar efforts have been defeated in previous years, but that does not keep the politicians from trying again this year, and this year it looks like they are going to have their way, despite the objections of local City Leaders and the Association of Washington Cities.

At its core, this bill will remove the right of local cities to zone their communities based on local information and needs.  It uses Olympia’s typical one size fits all governance model and forces all cities across the State to accommodate Olympia’s vision of what our neighborhoods should look like.

To that end, the bill that has passed the State House of Representatives and will now be discussed in the Senate, mandates that Cities change their zoning to allow high density multifamily residential construction in areas of the city previously zoned for low density single family housing.  That means that you will see apartments, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and potentially even 6 plex housing units built next to your home in your single family neighborhood.

This is a very bad idea for many reasons. 

First, this bill will not increase affordable housing. In fact, just the opposite is occurring where similar changes have been made.  An 800 SF unit recently sold in North Seattle for $600k.  That is $750/SF.  Someone looking to sell a house in that neighborhood is going to raise the price they sell for so that they also get $750/SF, which means a 2000sf house would sell for $1.5 Million dollars.  Rents move with housing prices and usually are established just under typical mortgage rates for the area.  The mortgage on an 800 SF house at $600k is going to be about $2,000/mo.  Mortgage on that $1.5M house is going to be almost $6000/mo.  Rent for an 800 SF apartment is going to be around $1800/mo and rent for a 1000sf apartment is going to be almost $2500.  Instead of creating affordable housing, this measure is going to drive up housing costs and rental costs, decreasing affordability in our cities.

This bill will decrease safety in our neighborhoods. 

Single family neighborhoods typically are farther away from transit centers and light rail than multi family.  Those distances make it unlikely that these new multi family units will have folks walking to mass transit.  They are going to drive, and that means more cars which, in turn, means more traffic moving faster on roads which are not designed for that level of traffic.  We have already seen a significant increase in traffic offenses in our city.  Crush even more cars into our single family neighborhoods, and the number of people racing through our school zones is going to increase exponentially.  Gridlock on our arterials is already one of the biggest complaints of our citizens, right after safety.  These calls for increased density are just going to exacerbate those traffic issues and destroy the ability of our citizens to move around the city safely.

These additional cars will increase wear and tear on infrastructure.

We already have insufficient budget to properly maintain our roads.  These additional cars are going to worsen our roads leading to increasingly dangerous driving conditions.  We already have insufficient parking in our city.  Passage of this bill will cause the same parking problems you see in North Seattle, where folks park on curbs, across sidewalks, encroach on driveways, and block mailboxes in search of a place to park their vehicle.

This bill is bad for the environment – more cars, more pollution, more CO2 emissions.  More houses means more pavement, fewer trees, less grass, less open space.  Our already over used parks will be destroyed due to over use from the rising population.

Higher density means increase crime.

It is a proven fact.  A study by two professors in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University demonstrates how land use planning affects incidents of violent crime.  According to that study, and a long list of similar studies, rates of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault are all higher in areas with high density residential developments even after accounting for overall population.  “Apparently, high-density housing units promote serious violent crime.”

Conclusion

Lynnwood already has very high housing density.  We don’t need to destroy our single family neighborhoods in order to remake Lynnwood into the irrational image the politicians in Olympia want.  We are not and do not want to be Seattle, but that is exactly what this Missing Middle Housing Bill is intended to do.  Destroy our single family neighborhoods and remake them to look like Seattle.  This Bill is being driven by the Building and Mortgage lobbies in Olympia who will be the only ones who actually benefit in any material way from this. 

What is next?  Call your elected officials in Olympia and tell them you do not want this irresponsible over reach where Olympia is micromanaging zoning in the local cities. Tell them we do not want those bought and paid for politicians telling us what is good for our city, overriding the local planning commissions and locally elected officials who you voted for and who answer directly and specifically to you.  During this election season, look carefully at which local politicians and candidates are aligned with Olympia in the Seattlization of Lynnwood, which politicians have their campaigns paid for by the Building and Mortgage lobbyists, then vote for the candidates who are instead fighting for your safety by protecting your homes, your families, and your neighborhoods in opposition to this bill.  Protect Lynnwood from Olympia’s overreach and keep our city safe for our residents.

Sponsors: Senate Committee on Transportation (originally sponsored by Senators Liias, Gildon, Kuderer, Lovelett, MacEwen, Mullet, Braun, Billig, Dhingra, Frame, Hunt, Kauffman, Nguyen, Nobles, Pedersen, Saldaña, Salomon, Shewmake, Stanford, Valdez, Van De Wege and Wilson, C.; by request of Office of the Governor).

Sponsors: House Committee on Appropriations (originally sponsored by Representatives Bateman, Barkis, Reed, Taylor, Riccelli, Berry, Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Duerr, Lekanoff, Alvarado, Street, Ryu, Ramel, Cortes, Doglio, Macri, Mena, Gregerson, Thai, Bergquist, Farivar, Wylie, Stonier, Pollet, Santos, Fosse and Ormsby)

Sincerely,
Patrick Decker, Lynnwood


Editor’s Note: Letters-to-the-Editor do not reflect the views of the Lynnwood Times, it’s publisher nor those of it’s employees and contributors, and are solely those of the author.

2 thoughts on “Letter-to-Editor: Missing Middle Housing does not make sense for Lynnwood

  • While I appreciate Mr. Decker owning up to the fact that his comments represent his views, this letter should be regarded as nothing more than simply that – his views. Many of his comments make use of political “sleight-of-hand” that omit or misrepresent statistics to further an agenda.

    Starting from the top…

    The bill does not, in fact, mandate construction of apartments, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes etc in your neighborhoods. If Council Member Decker actually read the bill – or in this case, was honest in his conveyance of the context, he would have included that there are thresholds for each “level” so to speak – sixplexes come into effect for populations greater than 75K. Lynnwood falls well below this threshold at ~35k. As such, the largest allowance is for 4-plexes, and only within a half mile of walking distance of major transit or community amenities.

    There may be some quibbling about what constitutes a major transit amenity – but this boogeyman of density will not be appearing everywhere overnight – and certainly not in the form of residential towers. It will occur in a controlled manner in predictable areas.

    This segues into #2… Affordability.

    Mr. Decker doesn’t actually describe how density will lead to a decrease in affordability here – he just cites random sales information and extrapolates that out. The reason housing in Seattle (and other communities) is expensive is because people want to live here. The reason it is more expensive than what I (someone who grew up here and am now looking to buy my own home, much in the way your kids, your grand kids, and their friends are) can afford is because there is not enough housing available and we are being outbid by people like Mr. Decker. Mr. Decker works at Microsoft and can afford these incredibly expensive prices. While I am happy that he and his family have been able to build a home here, I wish he would work to ensure that others will also have this opportunity.

    More housing means more opportunities for more people – including those who already live here – to build a home and a community. If prices remain unaffordable, then the City Council should step in and require affordable units rather than luxury units, rather than oppose whether or not there should be any to begin with.

    #3 – again, I refer to the actual text of the bill, available for everyone to read on the WA Leg website – just search HB1110. The density will be constructed within a half mile of transit access. If people choose to drive, that may be symptomatic of a lack of transit accessibility to their destinations.

    #4 – once more, back to the text of the bill. Lynnwood can, and should be designing a city that people do not *need* to drive in. People can and should be able to walk, bike, scooter, skip, or take transit to destinations within their own community, rather than be mandated to purchase and maintain a car. I do not fault people who have cars, because their leaders – like Mr. Decker – have failed to provide a system to support *not* needing one. Too many cars on the road is not indicative of a need to build more car infrastructure. It is indicative of a need to reduce the need to use them.

    It’s also just… not accurate to say that 4-plexes lead to more pavement. Building vertically does not increase the amount of surface area used. Some time ago I encountered a factoid that said if the whole planet was as dense as Manhattan, we could fit all of humanity within the state of Colorado. I will note that very few people – if anyone – are advocating for this, but increased density is GOOD for protection of greenspace. It is sprawl that actually causes issues – anyone who lives or has been in the nearby city of Brier will know about a greenbelt that was just clearcut to make way for… 5 homes?

    Density paired with people-centered design elements is what preserves the environment, preserves your health AND enables you to “age in place” when you become unable to drive.People should have the freedom to go to the store and buy a gallon of milk, or a carton of eggs without needing to spend $X in gas money.

    Finally… NUMBER of crimes may increase as population density increases, but RATE of crime generally decreases. The reason for this is that more people residing in a given area increases the amount of ambient eyes. The presence of bystanders / witnesses and improved lighting / visibility is what deters criminal activity – not a lack of density. It’s also rather audacious to purport that density is a significant factor when it comes to crime. Beyond that though – Mr. Decker has said on his City Council page that he has lived in China and Japan – two nations with very dense population centers and very low crime rates.

    Beyond that though… are you, or your younger family members (or friends) getting priced out of Lynnwood? Or, are you hoping to buy within Lynnwood but can’t afford it? Mr. Decker is asserting that you are a member of “Big Mortgage” and “Big Building”. Maybe that’s the case for some of us – but I – a student who attended K-12 in this area, went to Alderwood Mall with my friends, and did Running Start at Edmonds College – am not a member of either of those lobbies, and I am being priced out of my home, and he, a (likely) Microsoft Millionaire is fighting to keep it that way.

    Mr. Decker is more than entitled to his opinion, but it is disappointing to see him make his case on misrepresentations, and omissions of fact. His constituents – and the larger debate around housing policy – deserve honesty and good-faith discourse / debate, not whatever this was.

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  • “A recent study analyzing the costs of sprawl estimated that more than $100 billion in infrastructure costs could be saved over 25 years by pursuing better planned and more compact forms of development.”

    “A study conducted for a suburban community outside Milwaukee found that public services for an average-price single-family house in that community cost more than twice as much as the property taxes paid by the homeowner.”

    “One reason for the disparity between property tax revenue and the cost of public services is expenditures for public schools. Low-density suburbs and exurban areas generally attract families with more school-age children. In fact, single-family developments average 64 children for every 100 units, compared with only 21 children for every 100 units of garden apartments and 19 children for every 100 units of mid- to high-rise apartments. The reason is that multifamily housing attracts predominantly childless couples, singles, and empty nesters.”

    “Although residents of low-density single-family communities tend to have two or more cars per household, residents of high-density apartments and condominiums tend to have only one car per household. And according to one study using data from the National Personal Transportation Survey, doubling density decreases the vehicle miles traveled by 38 percent”

    “Higher-density development also makes public transit more feasible..It is estimated that a minimum density of seven dwelling units per acre is needed to make local bus service feasible with an intermediate level of service. Light rail needs a minimum density of nine dwelling units per acre to be feasible. When a community can take advantage of these options and increase the transportation choices for residents, relief is greater as total car dependency is further broken. Such choices are impossible for low-density developments.”

    “A study in Irving, Texas, using geographic information systems and crime statistics, found no link between crime and density. In fact, it found that single-family neighborhoods are “not all associated with lower crime rates. Another study conducted by the University of Alaska found no relationship between housing density and crime in Anchorage.”

    “Arizona researchers found that when police data are analyzed per unit, apartments actually create less demand for police services than a comparable number of single- family houses. In Tempe, Arizona, a random sample of 1,000 calls for service showed that 35 percent originated from single-family houses and just 21 percent came from apartments. Similarly, a random sample of 600 calls for service in Phoenix, Arizona, found that an apartment unit’s demand for police services was less than half of the demand created by a single-family house.”

    “…a ULI study of different housing types in Greenwich, Connecticut, shows that higher-density housing is significantly less likely to be burglarized than single-family houses.”

    “The United States is now losing a staggering 2 million acres of land a year to haphazard, sprawling development. More than 50 percent of Americans live in places where the air is unhealthy to breathe, and childhood asthma and other respiratory diseases are on the rise. Almost half the damage to our streams, lakes, and rivers is the result of polluted runoff from paved surfaces.”

    “Since 1994, housing lots larger than ten acres have accounted for 55 percent of the land developed.”

    “Two studies completed for the state of New Jersey confirm that compact development can achieve a 30 percent reduction in runoff and an 83 percent reduction in water consumption compared with conven- tional suburban development.”

    https://americas.uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/HigherDensity_MythFact.ashx_.pdf

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