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We’re making progress on ending overdevelopment

As I have been going door-to-door talking with our neighbors about the issues that concern them, I hear time and time again that we need to manage growth and stop overdevelopment. When I launched my campaign, I listed my priorities — including stopping overdevelopment.

As a Sammamish Planning Commissioner, I am one of seven Commissioners responsible for reviewing draft city code before it goes before the City Council. Since March, we have been working through Phase 2 of the development code update. Phase 1 made significant progress in areas like fixing setbacks, so houses weren’t so close together (and much more!). Phase 2 goes further and “right-sizes” houses so they are not too big for the lots they’re on. This was accomplished using a Floor to Area Ratio (FAR).

The proposed city code defines FAR as this:

“Floor to Area Ratio” is the ratio of the gross building square footage to the parcel size. Gross square footage for the purpose of calculating floor to area ratio includes all gross square footage that is above grade including garages. Any visible wall height of more than 3’ shall count towards the gross building square footage.

The diagram below provides an example of current requirements vs the new requirements we just recommended to the City Council.

The text above may be difficult to read. Each grey area represents a 4,000 sq ft lot. The current regulations are represented on the left, while the new regulations are represented on the right.

Current Regulations:
Due to setbacks, A 4,000 sq ft lot requires 2,350 sq ft of unbuildable land. This allows for 1,650 sq ft of buildable area (represented in green and black border). The house could take up 1,600 of 1,680 buildable sq ft. A 40′ facade would allow for three stories. While the house could not be a full three stories due to the requirement that a 4,000 sq ft house would need a bigger lot, the 3rd story could be 800 sq ft. This results in a house that is much too big on a small lot.

Proposed Regulations:
The proposed regulations allow a FAR of 0.5, allowing for a max of 2,000 sq ft (although basements that do not rise 3′ above grade do not count toward FAR). Setbacks still limit the property to 1,650 sq ft of buildable land. However, a two-story, 2,000 sq ft home might now only have a 1,000 sq ft footprint to get to two stories, demonstrated in blue. Alternatively, using FAR the house could take up the same footprint of orange on the left, but the second story would now be limited to 400 sq ft. This results in a house that better fits the size of the lot.

This new code (you can read all of it here) will ensure any new residential development better matches the character of our city and results in homes that are appropriately sized for the lot. There are many other good changes included (such as tougher penalties for developers who break the rules, construction project management to protect neighbors next to construction, and design standards to ensure new construction has a more natural look and feel).

When the Planning Commission recommended Phase 2 of the development regulations to the City Council, we identified Reasonable Use Exceptions (21A.50.070) as an area that needed more work done by staff, and we pulled Planned Unit Development Standards (21.30.400) from our recommendation entirely. Planned Unit Developments (PUD) can result in great outcomes for our city, but I and others did not feel comfortable recommending the new PUD regulations as written and believe they need a lot more work.

Most credit for this work goes to our city staff and the consultants they hired to go through this process with us. A lot of time and effort went into this and they deserve a lot of praise. I am proud of my fellow Planning Commissioner’s work to help guide the outcomes and improve the code. Every member of the Planning Commission volunteered a lot of time and provided valuable input that resulted in a better product.