State housing bills would end local cities’ zoning control

The state Legislature is once again trying to strongarm Washington cities into giving up local control over land use, density and zoning decisions. Two bills have been introduced that would do just that: SB 5190 and HB 1110.

For those reading this who think “nothing can be done,” consider what those who care deeply about their city’s unique qualities and fragile natural environment were able to accomplish over the last several years. For instance, local governments and citizens were able to prevent passage of a HB 1782 (2022) that would have allowed two to six housing units per lot anywhere near a “transit center,” which would include ferry terminals and bus stops, essentially removing almost all single-family zoning in cities.

The bills recently introduced in the Legislature are stunning in their overreach.

These bills allow for:

At least four units per lot in all residential areas;

Six units per lot in all residential, if two of the six are “affordable”;

At least six units per lot in all residential if within a half mile of a major transit stop.

The bills would lock cities into straitjacket compliance. If cities do not comply within a certain time frame, “model ordinances” mandating the mass increase in density would supersede local development regulations.

If the state wants cities to focus on housing supply, a better approach than these heavy-handed bills which preempt local control, is to update the Growth Management Act housing targets and then let local jurisdictions do what is best for their own communities. Cities have elected officials, planning departments and citizens who know best how to thoughtfully and appropriately increase housing supply to fit within their communities.

What can citizens do? Call or email your lawmakers now to keep Washington cities in control of their own future. Let lawmakers know that citizens want to maintain local control!

Lynne Chelius


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