Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New rules: parking spaces optional

Seattle Times staff reporter

To wean people from their cars, encourage new small businesses and add greenery, the Seattle City Council told businesses and developers Monday they no longer need to provide parking in some areas but must plant more shrubs.

The new rules, to take effect in January, could make parking tougher across the city.

"This looks to the future for a vision of a city that is less auto-dependent," said Councilman Peter Steinbrueck.

Some developers and business owners support the changes, which will not apply to residential neighborhoods, but some worry a Utopian vision could harm their livelihoods.

"It's very business-unfriendly," said Dan Wiseman, the second-generation owner of Wiseman Appliances in the Admiral area in West Seattle. His customers, he said, "are going to go to the big-box stores that have the parking."

The city will stop requiring that new and existing businesses supply off-street parking in Capitol Hill, First Hill, Lower Queen Anne, the University District, Northgate and South Lake Union. Some businesses, depending on size and location, already were exempt.

Developers and business owners in those areas could still offer parking if they want, but the city will no longer dictate the number of spaces. The city last year eliminated commercial parking requirements downtown.

Parking requirements will be reduced for some businesses in the rest of the city's neighborhood commercial areas, such as Wallingford; the Junction and Admiral areas in West Seattle; and Madison Park. Currently, each building in those neighborhoods is exempt from providing parking for the first 2,500 square feet. The exemption is divided among all the businesses in each building.

Under the new rules, each business in a single building will get an exemption for up to 1,500 square feet.

To encourage businesses to move into existing buildings in those neighborhoods, new businesses will no longer have to add more parking even if the city code normally would require it for that type of business.

The previous parking requirements were set up based on national standards in suburban cities in the 1980s, according to the city Transportation Department. Because of growth during the past 20 years, many city neighborhoods now have enough businesses to support urban villages where it's easy to walk, city planners found.

The city's Transportation Department also did a parking study in 2004 and found that many parking spaces sit empty. For instance, grocery stores are required to provide about three spaces per 1,000 square feet, but the department found that only two spaces per 1,000 square feet were being used. The department does not know how many spaces business owners will choose to take away.

The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce favors the change, but some businesses say less parking will hurt. "We used to own a bakery on 45th in Wallingford and we finally ended up giving it up because our customers didn't have a place to park," said Terry Halverson, now chief executive of Metropolitan Market.

Steinbrueck said he heard the same concerns when the city got rid of commercial-parking requirements downtown, but no businesses have complained. "I do not think this is going to be any significant deterrent to business or the competitiveness of Seattle," he said.

The council also passed the "Seattle Green Factor" on Monday, which will require all new development in commercial zones outside of downtown to cover 30 percent of the property with grass, trees, green roofs with vegetation, vine-covered walls or permeable paving. Steinbrueck believes Seattle would be the first city in the nation to impose such a requirement.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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