Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about Seattle’s major update to the Comprehensive Plan–perhaps better known as Seattle 2035–as it approaches final adoption. In August, the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee met to dive into discussion on the Mayor’s Recommended Plan and to consider 159 amendment proposals, including 11 key policy issues. Committee members gave direction to City staff on each of the 11 key policy issues, which touch on almost every element of the proposed Comprehensive Plan. Most of those issues have been addressed by newly drafted amendments or otherwise dropped (these are outlined below). During the committee’s three-week recess, a further two dozen technical amendment proposals have been compiled and added to the list–bringing the total of possible amendments to more than 180 different proposals.

Key Policy Issues

Policy 1: Community Involvement Element

At the direction of committee members, City staff were told that a new Community Involvement Element should be created to clearly outline the City’s role in engaging the public. The proposed Community Involvement Element would be broken up into two general parts. The first section would focus on how to foster inclusive and equitable community involvement. The second section would explain the City’s approach to community planning. A few policies that would be added through the new element include:

CI 1.2 Develop well-designed, responsive, culturally-relevant community involvement plans.

CI 1.5 Achieve greater equity in decision-making processes through meaningful involvement of diverse community members (homeowners, renters, businesses, employees, property owners, institutions, youth, seniors, etc.), and especially members of marginalized communities.

CI 2.2 Consider areas with the following characteristics when allocating City resources for community planning:

Areas designated urban centers or villages in the Comprehensive Plan;

Areas with high risk of displacement;

Areas with low access to opportunity and distressed communities

Areas experiencing significant improvements in transit service;

Areas experiencing a growth rate significantly higher or lower than anticipated in the Comprehensive Plan;

Areas identified for multiple capital investments that could benefit from coordinated planning;

Areas experiencing environmental justice concerns; and

Areas with outdated plans that no longer reflect a citywide vision of the Comprehensive Plan or local priorities.

CI 2.5 Use an integrated, interdepartmental planning approach to implement community plan recommendations such as capital improvement projects, affordable housing, services, zoning and other City investments.

Policy 16: Amend Urban Village Growth Rates

Possible policy amendments are still pending.

Policy 17: Growth Along Transit Corridors

Possible policy amendments are still pending.

Policy 35: Scale of Development in Urban Villages and Urban Centers

Growth Strategy figure explaining the scale and quality of urban villages and urban centers. (City of Seattle)
Growth Strategy figure explaining the scale and quality of urban villages and urban centers. (City of Seattle)

The Recommended Plan vaguely identifies the scale and density of development allowed in urban villages and urban centers. To resolve this issue, the following amendment is proposed to give better direction in how to apply to the policy:

LU 1.3 Provide for a wide range in the scale and density permitted for multifamily residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects to generally achieve the following overall density and scale characteristics, consistent with the guidelines in Growth Strategy Figure 1:

In urban centers, a moderate to high density and scale of development

In hub urban villages, a moderate density and scale of development

In residential urban villages, a low to moderate density and scale of development

Policy 36: Future Land Use Map (FLUM)

At the last PLUZ Committee, councilmembers decided that it was best to hold off on changes to the FLUM until further work could be completed to determine what boundaries may change for urban villages and urban centers. The Committee did express support for adding cemeteries as a unique land use.

Policy 37: Industrial Lands Policies

Committee members felt that the Recommended Plan’s discussions on industrial lands were not sufficient, primarily because a host of policy recommendations will eventually be forthcoming from the Mayor’s newly-established Industrial Lands Advisory Panel in early 2017. Councilmembers feel that it would be better to retain the current language from the Comprehensive Plan–the one now in effect—over the Recommended Plan. Here are just a few of the current policies that could find their way back into the future Comprehensive Plan:

UVG21 Encourage economic activity and development in Seattle’s industrial areas by supporting the retention and expansion of existing industrial businesses and by providing opportunities for the creation of new businesses consistent with the character of industrial areas.

LUG27 Restrict or prohibit uses that may negatively affect the availability of land for industrial activity, or that conflict with the character and function of industrial areas.

EDG11 Support the retention and growth of the industrial sector, retain existing businesses and small firms, and actively seek to attract new industrial businesses.

ED6 Work with other levels of government and with the private sector to support and encourage the cleanup of contaminated soil and other environmental remediation associated with the re-use or expansion of industrial sites.

Policy 38: Allowing Development in Proximity to Urban Villages and Urban Centers

The PLUZ Committee decided to table the issue expanding the scope of LU 7.3 to include areas outside of urban villages and urban centers. Therefore, no amendment is proposed.

Policy 52: Frequent Transit and High-Capacity Transit Language

There was support in the PLUZ Committee to use the term “frequent transit” over “high-capacity transit” and similar terms, which amendments would resolve.

Policy 73: 10-Year/20-Year Housing Goals

A policy issue was raised regarding the mixing of 10-year and 20-year housing goals in the Recommended Plan. The PLUZ Committee agreed that language should be modified slightly for a specific goal in order to retain a more generalized outlook for the next 20 years. So while the “Housing Supply” discussion section in the “Housing Element” would reference the City’s 20-year and 10-year housing goals, language specifying a 10-year goal under Housing Goal 2 (H G2) would be stricken.

Policy 92: Municipal Broadband

A proposed amendment would add municipal broadband as a discretionary project for the City to pursue.

Policy 113: Metrics and Goals for Parks and Open Space

The PLUZ Committee felt comfortable with moving the parks metrics and goals from the Comprehensive Plan to the Parks Development Plan–a plan likely to appear before the City Council in 2017. Therefore, no amendment is proposed.

Policy 121: Historic Preservation and Cultural Resources

The Land Use Element could get revisions to language surrounding historic preservation and cultural resources over the proposed Recommended Plan language. For starters, the discussion section would see the title stricken from “Historic Districts and Landmarks” and replaced with the more encompassing “Historic Preservation and Cultural Resources” name. Kicking off the discussion section would be focusing language for why this issue important to the city, which would be pulled from the Art and Culture Element:

Historic preservation recognizes and protects aspects of our shared cultural heritage–buildings, districts, and designed landscapes that link to Seattle’s past. From the Native Americans who first established trading centers along the Duwamish River to the latest waves of newcomers from around the world, all have left their mark. Over time, Seattle has acquired historic features that have become part of the city’s civic identity. Through the preservation of icons and historic locations such as the Space Needle, the Olmsted network of parks and boulevards, and Pioneer Square, the city can continue to celebrate its heritage and maintain its unique sense of place.

Similarly, proposed language in the discussion section would reiterate that protection of such resources isn’t merely aesthetic in design:

Preserving historic buildings can help incubate small businesses, revitalize commercial districts, and generate local jobs. Historic preservation promotes sustainability through the reuse, repair, and upgrading of existing built resources.

A few key added policies include:

LU 14.1 Maintain a comprehensive survey and inventory of Seattle’s historic and cultural resources.

LU 15.2 Encourage rehabilitation opportunities and reinvesting in vacant or underutilized historic properties to spark economic revitalization.

LU 16.2 Promote seismic and energy efficiency retrofits of historic buildings to reduce carbon emissions, save money, and improve public safety.

LU 16.3 Encourage the creation of ecodistricts to achieve sustainability and resource efficiency at a district scale.

Policy 136: Direction for Neighborhood Planning

The was consensus by the PLUZ Committee to provide clarity about decision-making and the role of neighborhood planning. Proposed changes to address this issue are included in the Community Involvement Element discussed above.

Other Major Amendment Topics

Policy 15: Amending Neighborhood Plans

A package of amendments are proposed to the Neighborhood Planning Element, which would address specific policies in the Central Area, Fremont, North Beacon Hill, North Rainier, Rainier Beach, South Lake Union, and Downtown. These topics were not originally presented to the PLUZ Committee in August, but have been identified as inadvertent omissions in the Recommended Plan and are intended to be added back since they were adopted in 2015. It’s hard to categorize the changes overall since they range in substance. Some are merely minor adjustments to phrasing and grammar while others change language to become more actionable and greatly revise policy over the wording in Recommended Plan. Examples include the following: (F refers to Fremont, DT to Downtown, and NR to North Rainier)

F-P14 Make use of existing tools ((in striving to assure that the impacts of new growth are mitigated))to address affordable housing needs.

DT-LUP10 Consider allowing((Allow)) voluntary agreements to mitigate the impact of development((earn floor area increases above the base density)) in certain downtown zones, and also consider adopting non-mitigation-based strategies for the provision of low-income housing….

NR-P13 Encourage a mix of home prices and sizes through ((active))use of incentives, requirements on development, and/or funding.

Policy 15.1: Commercial Affordability

Language to address the affordability of commercial space and success of small locally-owned businesses could also be added. Six specific policies in the Land Use Element and Economic Development Element could be changed, putting pressure on the City to tackle the issues.

LU 5.16 Require higher-density development to offset its impacts through mechanisms such as incentives for landmark preservation, open space amenities, ((and ))affordable housing, and affordable commercial space.

LU 9.23 Use zoning and other planning tools in urban centers and urban villages to address displacement of small locally-owned businesses that provide culturally relevant goods and services to Seattle’s diverse population.

ED 1.3 Prioritize assistance to commercial districts in areas of lower economic opportunity with high concentrations of small locally-owned businesses.

ED 1.6 Pursue strategies for community development that help meet the needs of marginalized populations in multicultural business districts, where small locally-owned businesses are at risk of displacement due to increasing costs.

We’ll provide a follow-up after the PLUZ Committee has met to discuss these topics further.

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Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.