Councilmember: Seattle bid to end single-family zoning label designed to ‘reflect reality’

Sep 23, 2021, 5:14 AM
Seattle single family zoning...
An apartment complex in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

Seattle City Council’s Land Use Committee met Wednesday to continue discussion on a proposal to do away with the city’s “single-family zoning” label.

Seattle proposal to end ‘single-family zoning’ label garners wide support

The bill — sponsored by Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Dan Strauss — would replace the city’s single-family zoning moniker with “neighborhood residential zoning” instead. While it won’t change the actual makeup of Seattle’s density, it’s seen as a necessary first step toward more equitable housing practices, doing away with a term regarded by many as rooted in discriminatory policies.

Members of the council’s Land Use Committee spoke in support of the proposal Wednesday, with Councilmember Strauss emphasizing that the “changes would only be to the name, not to zoning policy.”

“This is changing the name to reflect reality that we have legacy duplexes, rowhouses, apartment buildings that were built in what are now single family zones,” he said. “We are endeavoring to change the name only to reflect the neighborhoods that we live in.”

Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Alex Pedersen expressed their support as well, with the latter noting that he was “mindful” of concerns from some that the name change could potentially be a precursor to future upzoning efforts.

Conversely, Lewis expressed that he was “looking forward to discussions where there can be an increased amount of planning around 15-minute communities,” where residents in dense neighborhoods would be within walking distance of resources like schools, parks, and grocery stores. That said, he also clarified how that would be “a separate conversation from this name change.”

Wednesday’s committee meeting featured feedback from the public, with most expressing support for the bill.

“What brings us together is the belief that everyone in our city should have access to a safe, stable, and affordable home,” said Brady Nordstrom, with the Seattle for Everyone Coalition. “We believe it is important to decouple this designation from the past so that we can better assess our future needs and challenges.”

Seattle and Tacoma weigh changes to single-family zoning

“We currently have a land use code that is stuck in the past,” architect Matt Hutchens agreed.

Not everyone was on board, though, including a Magnolia homeowner who questioned why the council doesn’t consider the “multi-family zoning” label to be equally as problematic, arguing that the labels the city uses “should be consistent.”

Another person cited concerns over the lack of protections for tree canopies in existing single-family areas, and that shifting to the “neighborhood residential” moniker could be a slippery slope.

“The next change will be a change in zoning, with less restrictions and oversight,” she opined.

The bill will go up for a vote in the council’s Land Use Committee on Friday, where it is expected to pass. After that, it will go in front of the full council for further discussion.

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Councilmember: Seattle bid to end single-family zoning label designed to ‘reflect reality’