The University District is a major neighborhood in North Seattle, home to some 14,000 residents and key institutions like the University of Washington. Change has become an increasingly common thing throughout the district as infill development has added more than a dozen new multi-family housing developments, a hotel, and retail over the past decade. More than a dozen other projects are either underway or in the planning process to provide even more. And with these changes, countless new neighbors, visitors, employees, and students are joining the growing ranks of folks who consider it their place. In a few short years, light rail will open in the heart of the district completely revolutionizing how commuters, residents, and others experience this vital district.

In many ways, these are wonderful things, but they don’t come without growing pains. Recognizing that, community advocates and residents have been exploring ways to make this neck of the woods a more dynamic, inclusive, and liveable district, leading to the creation of the University District Urban Design Framework (UDUDF).

The UDUDF process has evaluated a variety of options to deliver needed community assets like open space, transportation facilities, and affordable housing. The process has also considered how to retain and enhance valued community character while accommodating more housing and more jobs over today’s zoning and development regulations. To put numbers to it, the UDUDF Final Environmental Impact Statement assumes that up to 5,000 new dwelling units and 4,800 new jobs could be added over baseline zoning.

We already have some idea about the direction of where things might go in the draft zoning proposal, but in a statement released last week, the Office of Planning and Community Development offered a few more tea leaves for things to come:

What is the Zoning Proposal?
Our zoning proposal, informed by extensive conversations with the U District community, includes three key features:

  1. It allows for increased height and density (including highrise buildings) around the light rail station. Heights would taper down to surrounding areas, and stay relatively low on the Ave.
  2. It includes design standards to fit the U District’s neighborhood context. Examples include: maximum building width limits; upper-level setbacks; tree and landscape requirements; and requirements for active street-level uses on key streets.
  3. It implements new affordable housing and open space requirements, as well as incentive programs for childcare, historic preservation, and street improvements.

The draft proposal for zoning and development regulations will be made available online on Friday (May 27th), but the City will also offer ample opportunities during late May and June to learn about the proposal and have in-person conversations with City staff. Next week kicks off with a community open house followed by four drop-in sessions in June. Questions and comments can be directed to udistrict@seattle.gov.

Open House

Tuesday, May 31, 6pm to 8pm
Neptune Theater
1303 NE 45th St
Presentation at 7pm

June “Office Hours”

Thursday, June 2, 2.30pm to 4.30pm
Suzzallo Library Café
University of Washington

Wednesday, June 8, 3pm to 5pm
Café Allegro
4214 University Way NE (entrance from the alley behind Magus books)

Tuesday, June 14, 4pm to 6pm
University Heights Community Center, Main Floor Lobby
5031 University Way NE

Thursday, June 16, 9am to 11am
Café Allegro
4214 University Way NE (entrance from the alley behind Magus books)

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.