On Wednesday, Seattle City Councilmembers convened for the first Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee meeting of the year. While regulatory reform related to neighborhood parking requirements was hot on the agenda, the committee also heard from Council Central Staff about possible land use-related projects that may come before the PLUZ in 2018. A host of departments, including the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD), Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), Office of Economic Development (OED), and Office of Housing (OH), are slated to work on a wide variety of projects, pending code writing and policy capacity by staff and completion of procedural hurdles like environmental review (SEPA). The City Council also has a hand in directly initiating and processing several pieces of land use legislation.
City Council-Initiated Legislation
A few years ago, Councilmember Mike O’Brien sponsored a backyard cottages reform proposal. That project made it through policy formulation and code drafting processes, but hit a snag during environmental review with the City Hearing Examiner requiring a formal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). A Final EIS and adoption of revised regulations is anticipated this year.
Last year, Councilmember Debora Juarez sponsored a temporary moratorium on new heavy commercial, manufacturing, and warehouse uses in the Aurora-Licton Springs Urban Village. The moratorium was approved in October allowing a one-year pause on those uses while new development standards are developed to encourage a pedestrian-oriented and mixed-used district in the Aurora-Licton Springs Urban Village. Formal land use legislation to achieve that is expected later this year.
Finally, the City Council has indicated a desire to tackle the unicorn that is impact fees. The topic has been long-fraught in the city with many advocating for and against the imposition of impact fees on new development for schools, parks, fire protection, and roads. Perhaps this will finally be the year that the city adds a new tool in the toolbox to help manage and keep up with growing demands that new development places on existing facilities capacity. Legislation on impact fees could come before the City Council as soon as summer.
Office of Planning and Community Development Projects
Council Central Staff identified 16 different land use-related projects and reports that OPCD would be responsible for shepherding in 2018. These involve:
- Processing annual amendments to the Comprehensive Plan;
- Updating neighborhood Design guidelines for Ballard, Capitol Hill, Central Area, South Lake Union, University District, and Uptown;
- Processing a Development Agreement request for the Northgate Mall property owned by Simon Properties;
- Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones for Northgate and citywide (these may be addressed in a separate committee);
- Developing a clean-up bill for incentive zoning regulations, particularly as it relates to MHA;
- Developing special development regulations and design guidelines for the International Special Review District and Little Saigon;
- A new project called “Outside Citywide” will involve multiple departments on how to better management public open space; and
- New rules related transportation concurrency, developed in conjunction with the Seattle Department of Transportation, may come forward for committee review.
Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections Projects
Meanwhile, SDCI has 21 different projects that will be processed this year. These tend to focus more on the permitting side of the land use control framework. Projects include:
- Legislation related to bus layovers, curb ramps, electric vehicle charging, tree regulations, and parking reform;
- University of Washington Campus Master Plan update;
- Small fixes to the recently passed design review reforms;
- Updates to the Living Building Program;
- Seattle Building Code amendments that would help realize some MHA-related code changes for larger wood-frame construction;
- Upper-level development standards changes in South Lake Union to support a project by ONNI Group, a Canadian development firm;
- Reform to environmental review under SEPA for infill development;
- Unreinforced Masonry Building regulations; and
- A variety of technical amendments to the Land Use Code and process improvements.
Office of Economic Development and Office of Housing Projects
Finally, the OED and OH each have consequential projects moving forward. OED is leading the effort to develop possible regulatory changes for development in industrial areas (i.e., Duwamish, Interbay, and Ballard). OED briefed Seattle Planning Commission in the fall with concepts that could allow greater share of office uses in industrial lands, provided that minimum thresholds of industrial developments are achieved on sites zoned for industrial uses.
Meanwhile, the Office of Housing is considering redevelopment of property at Fort Lawton for 235 or so low-income housing units. Fort Lawton is a brownfield site next to the expansive Discovery Park property operated primarily by Seattle Parks and Recreation. A public hearing on the Final EIS will be held next week. If the project moves forward, amendments to the Land Use Code and policies may be necessary.
The planning work never stops and 2018 is clear evidence of that. Look forward to these projects and more in the year ahead.
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.