Seattle mulls a rezone of all residential neighborhoods

Jul 14, 2022, 1:53 PM

Seattle neighborhood...

Aerial view of Laurelhurst. An upper class residential neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Seattle City Council is considering upzoning all residential neighborhoods to comply with a federal housing mandate.

The consideration of a more comprehensive residential upzone was among several options that Seattle’s Office of Planning & Community Development (OPCD) considered in a presentation Wednesday. The City has an October deadline to finalize growth management strategies under the Growth Management Act with its Comprehensive Plan.

“This is a process that happens about once a decade,” said Michael Hubner, the Program Manager and Senior Policy Analyst for OPCD. “The last update process happened in the middle of the last decade. And each time we update a comprehensive plan, we’re looking out to a new 20-year planning period and anticipating the kind of growth that we expect over that time.”

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Beyond comprehensive upzoning, OPCD considered several other options, labeled “No Action,” “Focused,” “Broad,” and “Corridors.”

“Broad” would potentially allow a more comprehensive range of low-scale housing options, like triplexes and fourplexes, in all neighborhood residential zones.

“This envisions new types of housing and somewhat more growth at a very dispersed and lower level than you would see certainly in an urban village,” Hubner said. “But with housing types like triplexes, and fourplexes, townhomes, that sort of thing in all areas of the city and trying that emphasize what that would look like. It’s not tossing out the centers and villages, it’s a new feature.”

This plan would expand housing choices, particularly homeownership, in all neighborhoods while addressing the exclusionary nature of current zoning. It would also allow more housing options near existing parks and other neighborhood amenities with a slight increase in at-home and commercial businesses, spread throughout the city.

Another option, No Action, maintains the status quo of focusing most housing and jobs within the existing urban centers and villages. This would mean no change to land use patterns.

“This has been the city’s growth strategy for almost 30 years since the original comprehensive plan was adopted,” Hubner said. “The intent has been to concentrate new housing and jobs in compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that are linked by transit. It also focuses on industrial development and manufacturing centers. We’re also aware from community comment from our own data, that they’re growing concerns about this strategy with respect to equity, housing, supply and diversity, and affordability and displacement.”

Under the current plan, new housing is primarily rental apartments concentrated in existing mixed-use areas. Most land outside urban villages remains limited to high-cost detached houses.

The goal is to create 80,000 new homes and 132,000 new jobs over 20 years, which is the minimum requirement for Seattle under the regional framework.

The third strategy, Focused, creates additional areas of growth, including new and expanded urban villages and potentially new smaller nodes.

“Essentially, [Focused] is taking over the current strategy and growing it with new or expanded urban villages in appropriate locations, smaller places, we’re calling them nodes for now, but think of those as mini-urban villages with businesses, services, and new housing opportunities around largely some of our existing neighborhood commercial centers across the city,” Hubner said. “And the idea here is to bring that walkable, complete 15-minute experience opportunity to more people across the city.”

Smaller nodes are defined as places with diverse housing and mixed uses to support complete neighborhoods.

Focused was designed to increase opportunities to grow “complete neighborhoods,” where more people can walk to everyday needs alongside a greater range of housing options, primarily rental apartments near amenities and services. There would be a slight increase in at-home and commercial businesses due to a larger number of people living in Seattle.

The final proposal, Corridors, would allow a wider range of low-scale housing options only in areas near frequent transit and amenities. These areas would allow options like triplexes and fourplexes, but might also enable other types of housing such as townhouses or small apartments.

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“Essentially, this is the same kind of concept as in the last alternative where more areas of the city allow what some people refer to as missing middle housing, but along our major transit corridors and around some of our major amenities in the city,” Hubner said. “Some of these large parks, community centers, or existing commercial retail areas, would be an area those places would allow not only triplexes and fourplexes, but also sixplexes, or small apartment buildings and new forms of townhomes.”

Hubner described the Corridors option as essentially the same amount of housing spread across the city the Broad plan would provide, but with more concentration and a greater array of housing types.

An additional pitch, called Combined, would use a combination of plans 2, 3, and 4, resulting in more areas identified as appropriate for more housing and mixed-use development.

Under the Growth Management Act, Seattle has to adopt an updated plan by the end of 2024.

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Seattle mulls a rezone of all residential neighborhoods