What Density Looks Like

Much of the heat in the debate over urban density arises from a lack of understanding of what the metrics correspond to in the real world.  Below is a series of slides presented at a public hearing on HB1490 by a colleague of mine from GGLO, that illustrates a wide range of densities, i.e, Density 101 for Legislators.

The first two slides address the difference between gross density and net density — this has been a source of confusion for HB1490 opponents, as discussed here.

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The following eight slides illustrate net densities ranging from 14 to 220 dwelling units per acre (DU/AC).  Keep in mind that the proposed 50 DU/AC threshold in HB1490 is defined in terms of the net density allowed by zoning.

(Some or you smarty-pantses may recall that in this previous post I claimed that the net density in the Rainier Vista building shown above was about 100 DU/AC.  My guess was high because I wasn’t considering the 3-story north end of the building, and also because I didn’t realize there is so much surface parking on the parcel.  Go here to see an example of a 3-over-1 building with a net density of 99 DU/AC.)

46 Responses to “What Density Looks Like”

  1. Spencer

    Dan,

    thank you so much. This helps make clarity out of this issue. At the Columbia City meeting these terms were very confusing without the visuals.

    Spencer.

  2. BrianM

    Dittos on the thanks. Very interesting.

  3. Patrick

    So I have a question that I haven’t seen much discussion on – what does HB 1490 mean for SODO?

    There’s a whole lot of non-residential within half a mile of the SODO and Stadium stations. Do they get an exemption like UW? I assume the heavy rail lines fall out of the net calculation as right of way, but do the container yards? And what about SafeCo and Qwest?

  4. Sara @ Futurewise

    HB 1490 does not exempt any station areas; rather it exempts specific land that is designated for certain uses that are not consistent with residential uses, specifically industrial use, airport use, or land beneath a stadium of 25,000 or greater capacity.
    So, as a result of these exemptions, the Sodo station and Airport station are completely exempt. In addition, portions of the Beacon Hill station area, the Stadium station area, and the Husky stadium station area are also exempt, meaning that the exempt land would not be used in the calculation of net density.

  5. Cindy van Empel

    This is a nice piece. I wonder if you could forward me a copy of the ppt? I’d like to see if I can make a similar series using local projects.

  6. John Niles

    The graphics above are very helpful in explaining how net density works out. Thanks.

    A useful supplement would be to include an estimate of the average square feet per unit in each of the examples shown. I’m thinking the dining room table might need to be pretty small in some of the units in the denser blocks?

    In “TABLE 13. POPULATION TARGETS AND DENSITIES” sourced to U.S. Census data in the Puget Sound Regional Council report, Central Puget Sound Regional Growth Centers — 2002, posted at http://psrc.org/projects/monitoring/pdf%20files
    /chapter2.pdf, “Capitol Hill/First Hill” is reported as having a year 2000 population density (persons/gross acre)of 36 people per acre. The planning target for 2014 is stated as 43.

    Is there a rule of thumb for turning urban measurements of persons per gross acre into housing units per net acre? Gross acres to net acres would drive the number up, but persons to housing units would drive it down, yes?

    Capitol Hill is revealed in the cited PSRC table as densest of all the officially-designated growth centers of our region. Seattle Downtown comes in at 23 people per gross acre, University Community is at 26, Seattle Uptown Queen Anne at 16.

  7. joshuadf

    The visuals are certainly helpful. I do fear that showing pictures of all new development might lead to a misconception that the entire neighborhood would be replaced.

    Also, correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t it a little misleading to put actual density figures like “14 DU/AC” when the bill has more to do with maximum allowed by zoning? What is the “allowed net density” of those same parcels?

  8. joshuadf

    John, looks like your link above should be psrc.org/projects/monitoring/pdf%20files/chapter2.pdf. Please note that those “Regional Growth Centers” are also much larger areas than just the .5 mi radius from stations (and presumably density would drop off in many locations).

    I’d love to see the net density numbers around the existing and proposed Link, Sounder, and RapidRide stations if anyone wants to crunch them. Both actual built like PSRC provided and maximum allowed by zoning, thanks. :)

  9. stephen goldsmith

    For those of you wanting .ppt’s to help demystify density, there are outstanding, downloadable lectures and .ppt presentations available at: http://www.designadvisor.org

    Great work by our friends at NJIT.

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