(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.
Above: I took this photo in 1999 of the Kingdome, before the overzealous planners literally demolished the historic Settle landmark to the ground, wasting taxpayer money, building not one stadia, but two. Not an uncommon move, for a tax and spend, authoritarian planning system inherent to the city limits of Seattle.
(News: June 18, 2010) The national center for historic preservation has announced that Seattle, San Francisco, and Dubuque, Iowa will be pilot cities for its green agenda of energy efficiency and smart growth (“Preservation Green Lab”). As reported on the PBS McNeil/Lehrer news tonight, Dubuque, Iowa will be implementing Smart Growth Infilling as IBM comes to town.
Seattle residents don’t want anymore smart growth, and many smart growth developments are neither renting or selling. Liz Dunn, a Seattle mixed-use infill developer with Dunn and Hobbes, will oversee the smart growth infilling in all three cities. Despite public opposition, Ms. Dunn wants to increase Seattle’s population density with smart growth infilling.
I know people who want to move away, precisely because of the increasing smart growth density, car exhaust, crime, gang activity, horrible weather, very real earthquake risks, and horrible schools. This January, 2011 letter to the Seattle Times describes the situation with affordable housing: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/northwestvoices/2014027439_strongcommunityabsentinseattlesfirstneighborhood.html
It’s just an overrated place:
Apparently, even the Seattle suburbs are not safe. A friend emailed and said she was shopping in a retail grocery store, when someone tried to snatch her purse in front of other people. She also says there’s gang activity near her condo, just a few hundred yards from the shores of Puget Sound. And, her condo’s value has plummeted, due to the housing market collapse, and depreciation of her formerly vibrant and affluent suburb.
Unfortunately, superstar cities both Seattle and San Francisco support the very rich and highly educated among us, and the middle class have to commute up to 2 hours from suburbs, and even from the distant suburbs and exurbs such as Snoqualmie, North Bend, Enumclaw, Ellensburg, Cle Elum, and Roslyn.
Indeed, if the smart growth proponents really wanted to conserve oil and stop global warming, they would shorten commutes by advocating massive regional land use reform. This would include building single family homes on buildable lands closer to the immediate Seattle-Bellevue area, such as areas east of the Sammammish plateau, as I discuss in this post.
The same can be said for the San Francisco Bay area, where significant amounts of wilderness areas have been designated as off-limits to construction. Consequentially, residents commute from the Central Valley and greater Sacramento, the so called “leapfrog” commute, traversing a series of urban growth boundaries. In Seattle, they “leapfrog” from distant places surrounded by urban growth boundaries, such as Enumclaw, Black Diamond, Maple Valley, North Bend, and Snoqualmie.
However, under the current model of non-negotiable urban growth boundaries, from the Smart Growth policies of the Puget Sound Regional Council and their Vision 2040, the existing open space, and rural lands with large lot sizes, must be preserved. This forces developers and their single family homes into these outlining areas of Bonney Lake, Enumclaw, North Bend, and even places like Ellensburg, Cle Elum, and the destination resort Suncadia in eastern Washington. These commutes to downtown Seattle are over an hour, each way, weather and traffic permitting. Here’s a map of Vision 2040, with the four county regional urban growth boundary administered under the PSRC:
Now, of course, as Wendell Cox has mentioned several times that most Americans work in the suburbs, not the downtown areas. However, a commute from Lafayette to Redwood City (both are suburbs), across the San Francisco Bay is over an hour each way, with traffic. A commute from Bonney Lake to Renton in the Seattle area (both suburbs) can be up to an hour during commute hours, and the Auburn-Kent Valley has high air pollution. When cars travel faster, they produce less emissions and consume less fuel. Therefore, our current policies of disregarding suburban auto transportation contribute to air pollution, and our addiction to foreign oil, from countries that don’t like us and want to destroy Israel.
Smart Growth Is Not Selling: No Demand for Smart Growth in Pioneer Square?
Below, I show a number of photos of smart growth towers around the region that are not selling or renting. First, a recent article on the Seattle Times’ “Pacific Magazine” complained about the lack of residential development in the old and run down Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pacificnw/2013908319_pacificpioneers23.html
The insightful comments for this article appear at this link: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/reader_feedback/public/display.php?thread=430953&offset=0#post_2364444
This politically incorrect article describes circumstances that happened decades to over a century ago, and then tries to claim that they’re the reason for various alleged “problems” with residents, landlords, and infrastructure of Pioneer Square – today. Among the circumstances include:
1. Elements that define a community are “missing,” such as children, grocery stores, and people walking dogs.
2. Only 1,200 condos and apartments (implying that this “isn’t enough,” for whatever unspecified reason.
3. Pioneer square is better known for panhandlers and soup kitchens, that served people who have been there since WWII ended.
4. The area is known as Skid Road.
5. The Square used to serve loggers, longshoremen, and miners by way of saloons, brothels, and gambling.
6. The business district “crept north” out of the Square.
7. The Great Depression turned the Square into a down on your luck place.
8. Urban renewal (of an unspecified nature) was practiced in the 1950’s and failed.
9. Monies from Boeing and Microsoft somehow “never made it” to the Square.
10. The old brick buildings are “too expensive” to retrofit, in order to meet Seattle’s new earthquake codes.
11. Plans to turn Smith Tower into condos have stalled, due to the economy.
This author loves to blame historical characters and circumstances on today’s problems. A lot of people. And, now the author even blames the State of Washington for Pioneer Square “issues:”
“Washington’s constitution and tax system prevent cities from offering tax and other incentives that have boosted communities all over the US, including the Pearl District (a smart growth district) in Portland.”
Sounds like Pioneer Square is one of the poorest areas of Seattle. However, the author is missing the point. It has nothing to do with the poor, the homeless, the WWII Veterans, the loggers, the miners, the gamblers, or anything else. It’s the year 2011, not 1880 when Seattle was just beginning.
The reason that the Square hasn’t turned into what the author wants it to, a “smart growth” (or other type of) community, is Capitalism. Apparently, there’s no demand for smart growth in Pioneer Square. And, perhaps none of the local or national smart growth agencies have issued any monies to the City of Seattle for public hearings and a consultant.
Of course, Pioneer Square is a great place in Seattle with great people. Eventually, someone will start some new businesses and employ the homeless people. Historical events do not “condemn” a neighborhood to eternal poverty. There is economic potential for entrepreneurism in any neighborhood, especially Seattle.
Should I place the blame? On the subject of “squares,” Why is Bellevue Square More Successful?
No, I’m not going to place the blame. I’m all about free markets. Clearly, smart growth isn’t meant to be for Pioneer Square. Well, at least not right now. Maybe in 5 years. 10 years. Or, maybe never. Somebody will come up with an idea someday.
However, consider that Bellevue Square is a success story, whereas the buildings below are not renting or selling. And, what is the difference?
First, Bellevue Square was developed by a private developer, F. Kemper Freeman Jr. and his Father. The mall and condos were developed together, and are surrounded by rich residential neighborhoods.
As Kemper Freeman emphasizes, retail is the key to residential. Many smart growth projects, such as the photos of towers below, have insufficient retail. Downtown Bellevue features thousands of condo units and nearby residential homes, all centered around Bellevue Square, one of the top 20 malls in the US. There’s lots of retail in the Square and neighboring Bellevue.
Here’s a quote from a summary of a May, 2010 conference by Kemper Freeman (link: http://www.theintelligentinvestor.com/bellevue-real-estate-moguls-secret)
“In the 1940’s when Kemper and his dad were developing downtown Bellevue they were in a meeting with other business gurus that had a vested stake in Downtown Bellevue, a man in the audience said, “What the Freemans are trying to do with the Bellevue Square (Retail!) will benefit everyone in Bellevue. You need them to succeed so you can succeed. And, if he succeeds, you’ll make a lot more money than him.” Needless to say, the Freemans weren’t so excited about the last statement. Retail is necessary, but not necessarily the most lucrative.”
“While seemingly elementary, many commercial real estate people still don’t get it. Retail drives the high density urban areas and local businesses like restaurants, condos, and hotels all hinge on retail.”
Even Lizz Dunn, with Preservation Green Lab, is qouted in the Pacific Magazine article on the importance of retail:
“(What creates demand for housing) are really robust, everyday, street-level amenities that can help people imagine living their live there.”
Indeed, nationally recognized Bend, Oregon offers a vibrant retail scene with the Old Mill shopping district and the revitalized downtown, both adjacent to a variety of housing choices, including smart growth condos, two smart growth towers, old bungalows, traditional suburbs, and golf course properties.
Similarly, the Pearl Street District in Boulder offers the same pattern of retail amenities as Bend, along with towering smart growth condos extending for blocks. Issaquah Highlands works, due to the presence 2 miles away of just about every big box store in Issaquah, along with upscale specialty stores and restaurants, including those at Gilman Village.
Eugene-Springfield, Oregon; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Ashland, Oregon are conservative (meaning status-quo) places with limited downtown development, smart growth or otherwise, local economic problems, significant restrictions on new developments, and low demand for smart growth. They are college towns, where people move away after graduation. Unlike Bend, Boulder, Bellevue, or Seattle, they are not places that foster significant entrepreneurism and business expansion.
More on Kemper Freeman:
Smart Growth Towers Force Out Manufacturing
The City of Seattle recently rezoned all or part of the “Interbay” neighborhood (between Queen Anne Hill and Magnolia) from industrial to residential. While this may sound harmless, a Seattle Times reader, “FTO,” commented on-line that Apartment Developers are much richer than manufacturers, and that there’s a scarcity of land for manufacturing due to the construction of Seattle Smart Growth Towers. He’s right, and he is the first person to ever bring this up. Here’s what he wrote to The Seattle Times, from the article, “Apartment builders target long-ignored Interbay.”
Why are Other Smart Growth Towers Not Renting? Consider Burien, near Sea-Tac Airport.
Some of the PSRC (Puget Sound Regional Council) Smart Gowth Regional Growth Centers are in areas with insufficient retail. For example, the expensive Burien smart growth towers are in an area with a blue collar area. Nobody can afford the smart growth condos.
In addition, the Burien / Three Tree Point / Normandy Park / Des Moines area seems to have a ban on big box food and hardware stores that blue collar folks can confirm (I’d have to confirm this). My evidence for this are no Wallmarts, Costcos, Sams Club, or Home Depots within 8 miles (about 20-40 minutes) of Burien.
QFC’s and Safeways (both very expensive) are overrepresented in the area. Fred Meyer and Top Foods (cheaper) are underrepresented, but the Burien Fred Meyer hasn’t been remodeled or landscaped in years. And, there are very few Wallgreens in the three city area, and expensive Rite Aid gets prime real estate at the corner of SR-518 and 1st Ave. South.
Retail Stores and Lack of Medical Care in Cities with Strong Growth Controls like Burien
Kemper Freeman and Lizz Dunn both stress the importance of retail for residential to succeed. The Tri-City area of Burien / Normandy Park / Des Moines does not have adequate retail, and meets the pattern of other Western US towns with strong growth controls (i.e. Corvallis, Eugene, and Ashland, Oregon, and Flagstaff-Sedona, Arizona). In addition, these over-regulated places have something else in common, a lack of medical care. In Burien, the Highline Hospital Medical Group refuses to take Medicare, even for long time Burien residents.
And, Burien has many development idiosyncrasies, such has a strict shoreline management act, high impact fees, no street trees, and they turn off most of the streetlights at night (at least by 6pm). Des Moines and Normandy Park are even worse, in terms of the absence of these aforementioned stores and restaurants. Empty storefronts are everywhere in Burien and these other cities. In this seperate post, I discuss Normandy Park’s smart growth controversy.
How Can Burien and its neighbors Succeed?
Obviously, to succeed, for starters Burien will have to scrap its apparent dark skies ordinance, and turn the lights on at night. Local businesses who turn down interior lights and parking light lots at 6pm should cease doing this. Burien needs to allow more retailers, cancel impact fees, and lower its smart growth tower prices.
Whether any of this relates to Pioneer Square or Seattle’s regulations, I have no idea. However, my point is that smart growth just doesn’t always sell. In the case of Burien, they have killed themselves and their allegedly (again, would have to confirm) bankrupt smart growth developer with the factors above.
This is why the private sector must operate in the context of smart growth. A smart growth developer would never build anything as expensive as the photos in Burien below, knowing that it’s a blue collar area with lower wages. Overall, there’s an affordable housing shortage in Burien and high rate of homelessness, and no 24/7 homeless shelter, due to Burien City Officials restricting businesses and local prosperity.
What Types of Retail Development Sell?
Streetfront shops in Burien and other Puget Sound area regional growth centers are not renting. Instead, traditional malls are doing well, such as Southcenter Square, a new trendy development in the Southcenter Mall shopping area, in Tukwila just east of Burien. The Square features a more Southwestern or Midwestern array of popular stores with modern architecture, including Kohls, Petco, IHOP, Pamera Bread, Nordstrom Rack, and Old Spaghetti Factory.
Instead of the smart growth towers, something like Southcenter Square instead of smart growth would double Burien’s tax revenue, with the Kohls in particular attracting customers from White Center, Burien, Sea-Tac, Normandy Park, and Des Moines, due to the absence of clothing and sporting goods stores.
Photos – Towering Condos at Regional Growth Centers: Low Demand and Some Near Foreclosure
The Puget Sound Regional Council thinks that 6 story condos with no balconies are a good way for your family to live. Check out a few ugly places below at their various “regional growth centers,” (see map below) positioned along major freeways, boulevards, and light rail lines. Many locations feature high crime, high air pollution, and just about all of them have “FOR RENT” signs. At least one was going to foreclose, the one in Burien (as I’m sure you could predict from reading above; I’m not sure what eventually happened). And, there are problems with most of the others, as noted in the captions.
Again, another example where overzealous urban planners have grandiose somewhat paranoid ideas about population growth. As a result, they elect to “warehouse” human populations into towering condos with no yards. However, when there’s no demand for this type of housing, foreclosures are inevitable.
Smart growth “consultants” tend to be highly idealistic with their environmental presentations to unsuspecting City planners, who know nothing about landscape architecture or the economics of land use. Unfortunately, smart growth has been sold as an overvalued idea to thousands of City councils worldwide, and the result has been a housing recession of epidemic proportions.
Here are some new towers in Sea-Tac (the town the surrounds the airport), with sheets of plastic just hanging for no reason. Amusing. Probably designed from a company out of state. While they force the rest of us into concrete boxes, they live in luxury in 6,000 square foot properties, in the foothills above Berkeley and Boulder.
How could Lizz Dunn and the Puget Sound Regional Council Be Successful?
It would be best if Lizz Dunn and the PSRC would not change anything. Just keep selling the same thing that’s successfully met consumer demand for decades – single family homes. Americans overwhelmingly prefer single homes with yards, over towering smart growth condos where there’s no place for their kids to to play outdoors.
In terms of the global warming and carbon footprint issues, there’s nothing wrong about commuting a few miles from the suburbs into the central business district of a given city (or, suburb) for work, shopping, or entertainment. Even residents of the smart growth condos shown above would need to drive a few miles to work or the grocery store. And, it’s unrealistic to expect one to bicycle home with a gallon of milk or dozen eggs. Sure, I do it, because I’m a cyclist. But as an Independent trending Conservative, I can’t tell you not to do it, because of the unproven theory of global warming.
There is no practical way to eliminate the use of the automobile for fears about greenhouse gases. To lower air pollution and asthma rates, the best we can do is to convert to natural gas as an auto fuel, along with more hybrid electric cars. And, for those who do wish to bike more, I have no issues with widening shoulders and building bike paths. (I’ve linked logos to many bike trail volunteer service organizations on the sidebar.)
Fortunately, the Seattle area has many nice neighborhoods that will always attract families, such as Newport Hills, Normandy Park, and Medina below. As smart growth crashes in Seattle, these peripheral suburbs will remain in high demand, due to their numerous family friendly amenities: