Over the next 30 years, the Central Puget Sound Region is slated to grow by more than 1.8 million residents and 1.2 million jobs. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is well underway in the planning process guiding how growth should be apportioned through 2050. In February, the PSRC released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) evaluating three alternatives for growth:
- A no action alternative (i.e., stay the course with the existing approach to growth under VISION 2040);
- A transit-focused alternative (i.e., focus most growth around high-capacity transit facilities existing and planned); and
- A reset urban growth alternative (i.e., use the development trends from 2010 to 2017 to focus growth).
Underpinning the long-range planning effort is the designation of existing Urban Growth Areas, Rural Areas, and Resource Areas as well as the classification of cities and unincorporated areas, and areas with special Regional Centers designations (i.e., Regional Growth Centers and Manufacturing Industrial Centers). The designations are associated with specific growth targets, which differ between each of the alternatives.
Last year, the PSRC also recognized a new framework to designate different scales of Regional Centers and Countywide Centers, but it is not quite clear yet how that will factor into the long-range planning effort since those designations are much finer grain and have yet to be formally designated.
Will the Central Puget Sound become more compact?
The DEIS considers three primary options for growth over the next 30 years, each with apportioned rates of population and employment growth by geography and classification of places in the four-county region. While the differences may seem trivial, the ramifications of which set of targets is chosen could be significant. The process will chart whether the region should see communities sprawl or be more contained. The PSRC has an interest in planning accordingly so that valuable and limited federal transportation dollars are efficiently dispersed across the region.
The numbers to apportion growth by alternative go deeper than just Metropolitan Cities and Core Cities, they also are broken down further by county. That, however, is likely too fine grain for this overview. Nevertheless, it is worth discussing what the alternatives would do for population distribution and to a lesser degree jobs.
The “Stay the Course” Alternative
The “Stay the Course” alternative would mimic the existing VISION 2040 strategy for urban growth throughout the region. Gleaning from the proposal, it would mean:
- Modest pressure for Urban Growth Area expansions;
- Modest levels of rural population growth; and
- Fairly distributed pattern of population growth and jobs within Urban Growth Areas.
This alternative would still put an emphasis on concentrating jobs and housing around light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail stops as well as in Metropolitan Cities and Core Cities, but at a slightly lesser degree than the “Transit Focused Growth” alternative. Population growth area high capacity transit communities would be 5% less than the “Transit Focused Growth” alternative. Meanwhile, this alternative would put a modest share of development in regular Cities and Towns (up to 9%), Urban Unincorporated areas (up to 5%), and rural areas (up to 5%). The distribution of jobs is similar to “Transit Focused Growth” alternative.
The “Transit Focused Growth” Alternative
The “Transit Focused Growth” alternative would result in the most compact approach to growth. Gleaning from the proposal, it would mean:
- Minimal pressure for Urban Growth Area expansions;
- Very low levels of rural population growth; and
- High concentration of jobs and housing around light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail stops.
This alternative focus 23% of all population near high-capacity transit areas. This is the highest amongst the alternatives by 5%. It would also emphasize population growth in Metropolitan Cities and Core Cities, higher than the alternatives. In terms of jobs distribution, fairly similar to the alternatives. But there the “Reset Urban Growth” alternative would put a noticeably larger share of jobs in Urban Unincorporated areas and regular Cities and Towns.
The “Reset Urban Growth” Alternative
The “Reset Urban Growth” alternative would mimic more recent development patterns, which do not necessarily reflect the adopted Regional Growth Strategy. Gleaning from the proposal, it would mean:
- Higher pressure for some Urban Growth Area expansions;
- Higher levels of rural population and jobs growth; and
- A highly distributed pattern of housing across the region.
This alternative would still put an emphasis on concentrating jobs and housing around light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail stops as well as in Metropolitan Cities and Core Cities, but to a lesser degree than the “Transit Focused Growth” alternative. It would especially emphasize population growth in rural areas (up to 6%), Urban Unincorporated areas (up to 12%), and regular Cities and Towns (up to 8%). A similar type of distribution is reflected in the apportioning of job growth amongst geography and designation type.
Impacts of the alternatives
Each of the alternatives comes with positive and negative impacts. The “Stay the Course” alternative is considered to be the baseline from which the other two alternatives are evaluated against. Generally speaking, the “Transit Focused Growth” performs better in most topic areas, except for displacement risk and improvement of old stormwater systems.
PSRC considering equity in analysis
The planning process that the PSRC is using concerns itself with equity. Similar to the approach Seattle took in developing the city’s new comprehensive plan in 2016, the PSRC evaluated the alternatives for access to opportunity and risk of displacement. The analysis looks at wide ranging issues from race and income to environmental health and access to parks and recreation.
Generally speaking, the areas with the most risk of displacement are denser urban areas while also having some of the highest access to opportunity. Balancing this will undoubtedly be a challenging and require appropriate tools to reduce risk of displacement under any long-range plan adopted by the PSRC.
The PSRC has a 60-day public comment period open on the DEIS. Comments on the DEIS are due by April 29th and will be critical to refining the alternatives into a final set in the final environmental impact statement (FEIS). Elected officials from across the region will be responsible for choosing a preferred alternative to pursue as part of VISION 2050. Adoption of a final plan is anticipated in 2020, following the environmental review process in 2019.
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.