The Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) document today. Mayor Tim Burgess officially released the FEIS at a noon event at Broadway Hill Park.

The final urban village maps with explanations of the decisions are viewable starting around page 113 of this FEIS attachment. The MHA maps (with no explanations) are in Appendix H and start at page 207 of the PDF. An interactive zoning map of the FEIS preferred alternative is also available at this link.

Generally speaking, OPCD has elected to go with a middle path between MHA Alternative 2 and Alternative 3. Alternative 3 included a displacement analysis and shifted some additional growth to neighborhoods with low displacement risk and high opportunity and away from high displacement risk urban villages. Enacting minimal changes in areas with high-risk of displacement remained a core principle for the MHA proposal. Still, OPCD’s final preferred plan keeps some elements of the Alternative 2, which more closely followed the Comprehensive Plan.

Central Seattle zoning. Downtown and South Lake Union have already seen their MHA rezones. (OPCD)

The highest zones will be in First Hill with Highrise 440-foot zoning, followed by Northgate, which is slotted to get some 240-foot zoning near its future light rail station. Low displacement risk neighborhoods like Wallingford generally see heightened upzones over high displacement risk neighborhoods like Rainier Beach, Othello, and Columbia City, the last of which is also a high opportunity area. See the preferred zoning maps below:

Wallingford zoning under the preferred option. (OPCD)
Rainier Beach preferred zoning map includes Seattle Mixed zoning in order to follow the Rainier Beach Action Plan. (OPCD)
Othello preferred alternative. (OPCD)
Columbia City preferred alternative includes a few instances of M1 (bigger) upzones but mostly M class upzones. (OPCD)

Outreach

The FEIS includes results of the extensive outreach the City of Seattle undertook. For example, door-to-door canvassing of 10,000+ single-family homes revealed 40% households supported the MHA proposal, 22% opposed it, and 38% were undecided. Additionally OPCD held 198 public meetings.

Here’s how the 198 MHA outreach events broke down by council district. (OPCD)
Mapping opportunity. (OPCD)

Expanding Urban Village Boundaries from “Frequent Transit Nodes”

OPCD’s HALA project manager Sara Maxana said proximity to frequent transit nodes was the basis for deciding which urban village to expand, and about a dozen will be expanded. Specifically, the City would expand urban village boundaries to 10-minute walkshed around frequent transit nodes, which is defined as the intersection of two transit frequent bus lines or a light rail station. That definition was set two years ago in the Comprehensive Plan process before several urban villages like Greenwood got a second frequent transit line (with the improvements of Route 45 running along NW 85th Street in that case.)

Greenwood Urban Village remains as skinny as ever, despite recent frequent transit upgrades. Should concurrency work both ways? (OPCD)

On the other hand, neighborhoods like Crown Hill and Ballard met the definition of a frequent transit node since the RapidRide D Line and Route 40 run though each urban village and met the definition two years ago. Since frequent transit expanded greatly in the last two years, it would behoove the Seattle City Council to expand more urban village boundaries as the continuous work of the Comprehensive Plan continues.

Additionally, five-minute walksheds of transit see heightened M1 and M2 even in high displacement risk neighborhoods, whereas high displacement risk neighborhoods mostly the bare minimum upzone to trigger MHA outside that five-minute transit walkshed. Maxana said OPCD did make some exceptions for properties owned by by affordable housing providers.

A Family-Size Rule for LR1

Another wrinkle to make it into the FEIS proposal was a rule to require buildings with small units (400 square feet and under), to have one two-bedroom apartment (of at least 800 square feet) for every four small units–the goal being to serve to serve families. Today, Lowrise 1 is not seeing many micro-units go in, OPCD senior planning manager Geoff Wendlandt said.

Introducing Residential Small Lot

One new zoning category makes a big debut in the plan: Residential Small Lot or RSL. About 50% of single-family areas getting rezoned go to RSL, said OPCD director of communications Jason Kelly.

RSL allows up to three units per lot with a density limit of one per 2,000 per sq feet lot (rounding at 0.85). RSL’s maximum dwelling unit size is 2,200 square feet, precluding new mansions from going up in RSL zones. A 3,700-square foot lot is large enough for a second unit in RSL zoning. By my calculation, a lot would have to be 5,700 square feet to get a third dwelling unit. Thus, RSL is still modest in scale but a big improvement over existing single-family zoning, which is producing a lot of teardowns for mansions and not much else.

Looking Ahead

The Seattle City Council plans to vote on the Northgate MHA rezone separately from the rest of the urban villages in order to facilitate transit-oriented development plans around the Northgate Link station. The rest of the village will be in one big package expected to be voted on this summer. The council can of course make further tweaks to the package.

We will continue to comb through these nearly 1,500 pages worth of documents and follow-up with more insights. Might take some time!

Main FEIS Document

FEIS Appendices

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll give it about five seconds before someone in Wallingford hires a lawyer to try and exploit any possible technicality to delay this.

  2. They really should have gone further. Anything within a 10 minute walk of frequent transit network should be RSL at least – not single family. What a missed opportunity to do something bold to address our housing shortage.

    • I agree with you that we should go bigger around frequent transit. Seattle is terribly under-zoned as is. These changes will help, but they’re not good enough.

      With regard to RSL in particular, I honestly have a hard time looking at it and calling it an “upzone” when compared to single-family, especially if and when the proposed single-family ADU changes go through.

      Once those changes are made, you’ll be able to put three housing units on a lot in a single-family zone: a main house with a mother-in-law unit plus a backyard cottage. As a concrete example of how that might work, a 4,000 sq. ft. lot (pretty typical in our urban villages) is allowed 1,600 sq. ft. of lot coverage. The backyard cottage can be two stories, 1,000 sq. ft. total. That leaves 1,100 sq. ft. of lot coverage for the main house. That house can be three stories: one story occupied mostly by the mother-in-law unit (limited to 1,000 sq. ft.), with the other two stories for the main house (~2,200 sq. ft.)

      Under RSL zoning, the 0.75 FAR limit would mean that same 4,000 sq. ft. lot could only have 3,000 sq. ft. of house on it, down from 4,300. Meanwhile the density limit of 1 unit per 2,000 sq. ft. of land would mean that you could only put two housing units on that lot, down from three.

      RSL does have some good things going for it. It’s much more flexible about how you split the allowed square footage between housing units: the units can be equal size or different size, connected or detached. It allows for the lots to be split so each unit can be owned separately without complicated condominium arrangements. These are all good things that I’d love to see apply to every residential lot in the city.

      But when you look at the numbers, RSL isn’t going to allow for more density than single-family after the ADU changes. The number of allowed units on most lots will be the same or less than single-family would allow, and the allowed building size will be going down.

  3. “For example, door-to-door canvassing of 10,000+ single-family homes revealed 40% households supported the MHA proposal, 22% opposed it, and 38% were undecided. ”

    What isn’t noted here is that the response rate was only 13%, or 1300 homes out of 130,000 homes in Seattle. Most would not consider such a response to provide valid data.

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