On Monday, two big events are happening. At 6:30pm, The Urbanist is hosting activist architect Matt Hutchins at the November edition of our monthly speaker series. Register at the bottom for Zoom link or watch for the video recording to drop by Tuesday.

Also happening Monday is the first in a series of community meetings that the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) is hosting for the Comprehensive Plan Update it is working on for 2024 (see our primer for the latest). The Monday OPCD community meeting will be at New Holly Gathering Hall from 6 to 8pm. The Hutchins talk will be recorded, so urbanists can participate in both events by watching after the fact.

Here’s the full schedule of the five community meetings OPCD has planned throughout Seattle this winter. The agency is also accepting comment online.

  • Monday, November 14 – 6:00-8:00pm: 
    New Holly Gathering Hall
    7054 32nd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118
    Light Rail: 1 Line
    Metro Bus: 36
  • Thursday, December 1 – 6:00-8:00pm:
    Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
    104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144
    Metro Bus: 8 and 27
  • Thursday, December 8 – 6:00-8:00pm:
    South Seattle College, Brockey Center
    6000 16th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106
    Metro Bus: 125 and 128
  • Monday, December 12 – 6:00-8:00pm:
    Loyal Heights Community Center
    2101 NW 77th St, Seattle, WA 98117
    Metro Bus: D Line and 40
  • Tuesday, January 10 – 6:00-8:00 pm:
    Meadowbrook Community Center
    10517 35th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98125
    Metro Bus: 65

How to Comment at Comp Plan Meetings

If you attend the community meetings, bring a friend (if you can) for moral support and commiseration. We encourage folks to stress the importance of going big for housing in order to tackle the housing crisis that’s displacing working class folks and contributing greatly to homelessness. While the community-driven add-on of Alternative 6 didn’t make the cut in OPCD’s scoping report, the agency did augment the Combined Alternative 5 to be a promising option that would be a significant improvement over the status quo.

We encourage you to share your own housing story, but here are a few points to raise about the Comp Plan. The Hutchins talk is likely to provide a few more insights, so we’ll update as needed.

  • Apartments shouldn’t be confined to busy arterials. OPCD did say their Corridors Alternative 4 now includes more apartment zoning off of the arterials and on quiet streets. Thank them and ask for more of that.
  • Allow sixplexes on most residential lots to make Neighborhood Residential (a.k.a. single-family) zones less exclusive and expensive. OPCD said they’re studying sixplexes “on larger lots” but has declined to define where the cutoff would be. Encourage them to think broadly in the Broad Alternative 3 and exclude only the smallest lots. The study should look at sixplexes on the majority of Neighborhood Residential lots, not just exceptionally large ones.
  • Sixplexes are more likely to get built than fourplexes because land is expensive in Seattle and the permitting process too often is a costly nightmare, which discourage homebuilders from building anything other than a bigger single-family home. If we want to actually provide more housing, sixplex zoning is a no-brainer.
  • Neighborhood Anchors are intriguing but making them bigger could serve as a better anchor. The Focused Alternative 2 adds about 40 neighborhood anchors across Seattle drawn as circles 2,000 feet in diameter or less. This provides just 70 acres of denser mixed-use zoning to act as a community node with amenities and services. It might not be enough to make the 15-minute neighborhood transformation as envisioned, and it’s not going to guarantee much housing growth without being paired with other approaches like the Combined Alternative 5 does.
  • Expanding the skinnier urban villages is a great idea. The study will look at expanding the boundaries of some of the most anemic urban villages today (Admiral, Greenwood–Phinney Ridge, Morgan Junction, and Upper Queen Anne). We encourage OPCD to look at even more expansions. Why is the eastern half of Wallingford Urban Village so skinny, for example. Why is North Fremont not an urban village? Why does the Northgate Urban Center end just 2 blocks east of the light rail station?

Urbanist Talk with Matt Hutchins

In his hourlong talk and Q&A, Hutchins will help us understand the multiple land use and housing issues we are facing and how they can help us become a more affordable, equitable, and climate responsive city.

There is a lot going on in Seattle right now that will shape how it will look and feel, where it will grow, and who will get to live here for decades into the future: The Seattle Comprehensive Plan update process is underway and will determine if we grow by doubling down on existing Urban Villages or look to our city’s vast single-family neighborhoods and end exclusionary zoning. Due to grassroots pressure and city council action, Seattle is currently — and chaotically — studying ways to reform or limit the cumbersome Design Review process and make our system of creating housing more equitable.

Mayor Bruce Harrell has floated bringing back micro-housing as a more affordable housing option and a way to build more housing in a city that desperately needs it. And this is all happening in the context of an ongoing housing affordability and homelessness crisis and the region just coming out of one of the longest smoke seasons we have ever experienced, a taste of what’s to come if we don’t do everything we can to fight climate change.

As one of the founders of CAST Architecture, Hutchins has spent more than 20 years working to increase the vitality of the city and the environment through the thoughtful design of housing, vibrant urban spaces, inclusive community design, and advocacy for more open space and abundant housing. As a certified Passive House architect, he has striven to design deep green buildings that are resilient to smoke pollution and extreme weather events. He’s also advocated for sixplexes and a “Seattle Six” design aesthetic to make sure they’re great and beautiful places to live.

The Seattle Six can add to any neighborhood. (Image by Matt Hutchins / CAST)

Hutchins serves on the Seattle Planning Commission, on the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Board of Directors, and as co-chair of the Public Policy Board. He has co-chaired AIA Seattle’s Housing Task Force, organized many public programs on urban design, housing, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). He was named AIA Seattle’s Volunteer of the Year in 2020. He is a former Southwest Design Review Board Member, and Groundswell NW Treasurer. In 2017, he co-founded MOAR (More Options for Accessory Residences), a grassroots organization that helped pass Seattle’s landmark ADU reform. Seattle Magazine named Matt one of the 35 Most Influential People in 2019. He has taught design at the University of Washington and Arizona State University.

The line opens at 6:25pm. Note that we moved our talk from our normal second Tuesday timing due to the conflict with Election Day.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.