Transit Oriented Development Bill Significantly Alters GMA

House Bill 1490 is an environmental bill that has become well known for its emphasis on fostering transit oriented development. AGC opposes the measure because of the prescriptive burdens and costs that will be placed on businesses families and local governments and corresponding land use litigation and appeals that will result if the bill passes.

The bill amends the Growth Management Act (GMA) so that it includes numerous provisions pertaining to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. GMA would be amended to specify that part of the current environmental goal is to establish land use and transportation patterns that at a minimum achieve and support state and federal greenhouse gas emissions reductions requirements.

Plus locally adopted housing elements must designate sufficient land for and encourage housing within walking bicycling or transit distance of employment concentrations that is affordable to persons employed within such concentrations. This land must be designated at densities that support transit services. The bill establishes numerous comprehensive plan and development regulations pertaining to transit oriented development. With some exceptions comprehensive plans and development regulations must authorize transit oriented development within one-half mile of a major transit station.

The original bill would have required zoning for an average minimum density of 50 units per acre within a half-mile radius of transit stations. A substitute version (SHB 1490) requires that number only around stations located in Puget Sound Regional Council-designated urban centers and the magic number may be reached via a combination of jobs and housing units.

In testimony before the House Committee on General Government AGC Legislative Counsel Van Collins stressed the impact the bill would have on the GMAs planning goals. Currently the GMAs 13 planning goals are not listed in any order of priority. One is no more important than the other and it is left to each jurisdictions policy makers to determine how and to what extent the planning goals will be incorporated into the formation of that jurisdictions comprehensive plan and development regulations.

With this bill that coequal status amongst the planning goals is drastically altered Collins said. The measure states that each jurisdiction shall establish land use (i.e. density) and transportation patterns that at a minimum support state greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements. Forget for the moment whether local jurisdictions possess the necessary expertise and financial resources to satisfactorily implement this modified goal this environmental amendment means that for the first time one planning goal is made subservient to another. This is because planning goals number 3 and 4 transportation and housing would be specifically required to be implemented in a manner that is deferential to the paramount environmental goal.

Make no mistake this signifies a paradigm shift in the GMA Collins noted. Whereas regulation to date has been almost exclusively on new development it is AGCs opinion that this manifest shift will now for the first time create untold pressure on existing development as well on existing businesses and on existing homeowners. The upshot of this is that there will be a rash of litigation to address conflicts inherent in the bill. One goal of GMA says preserve existing housing but how can you do that and also be denser?

Collins noted that densification and transit oriented development can be better achieved through incentives rather than mandates.

The measure has been passed out of the House Committee on Local Government and Housing and is in the General Government Committee. HB 1490 is sponsored by Representatives Nelson Pedersen Goodman Simpson Upthegrove Appleton Dickerson Liias Morris Roberts White Ormsby McCoy and Miloscia.

Contact Van Collins at 360-352-5000 with questions or comments about the bill.