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By Steve Levy

Is the Office Cap a "Blunt Instrument"

Uploaded: Jun 16, 2015

Last night the city council took another step toward designing an interim office space metering plan. There was a spirited discussion in the public comments and council discussion as to whether the cap is a "blunt instrument".

I think the answer is mostly yes since growth will continue under the plan including exemptions to the annual cap and much external growth. More about this later.

But as Councilmember Burt argued, the answer is partly no mostly as a result of some pleasant cooperation among council members in remembering important concepts like making an impact on existing housing shortages and traffic and fairness to applicants who are already well down the path to project approval.

With unanimous support the council accepted staff's recommendation to exempt projects with very small increases in square footage. With leadership from Council members Scharff and Kniss, the council exempted medical office projects under 5,000 square feet.

After Council member Scharff stressed the importance of fairness to applicants who had put time and resources into applications that are already complete, the council reached a compromise to exempt some projects and give others some priority in deciding which new projects are accepted under the cap.

But it was Council member Wolbach who made the most innovative and most discussed proposals to focus the office cap design on what we want—more housing, better design and mitigation of traffic and parking impacts. And it is the progress on these issues that supports Council member Burt's reminder that the council was working to soften any bluntness in the cap.

Wolbach had two compelling (at least to me) suggestions.

The first was since it is impacts we are concerned about, that projects that address impacts such as the housing shortage and traffic/parking and successfully improve these situations should be applauded and exempt from any cap because they address and not increase the problems that residents are concerned with.

During this part of the discussion Council members Filseth and Schmid also made suggestions with regard to measuring progress on addressing housing and in the end Council member Burt was persuaded that Wolbach;s mitigation proposal would actually address impacts even beyond those caused by a new project and help offset the impacts of existing projects.

Wolbach's second proposal found a vigorous discussion, seemed close to approval many times and ultimately was referred to the Planning and Transportation Commission. This proposal was to encourage developer and community cooperation in design of specific area plans and to exempt from the cap projects that were developed as a result of these processes. The other potential benefit is that decisions would reflect the participation of people in the directly affected plan areas such as the Cal Ave area.

So my thanks to Wolbach and to the positive response his proposals are getting.

They focus us on what I heard at the summit and what the public comments were last night.

We have a housing shortage that affects many groups. We have traffic and parking challenges that can only be addressed by having more housing and having active plans to mitigate, manage and reduce future car traffic and related parking. Slowing future office growth can only be a very small part of addressing traffic and parking (does not address existing problems) and may actually hinder the options for more housing.

But we will have an interim cap and last night's discussion brings hope to me that our council recognizes that the real problems people want addressed are housing and the impacts of past and future growth.