We’ve been talking a lot about transit oriented development over the past weeks, and the Seattle Times has picked up the story of a Bel-Red area upzoning around the future light rail stations there. In a 1.5 square mile stretch of land between Bel-Red road and SR 520, Bellevue will upzone to allow 12-15 story buildings in exchange for developers paying to day-light buried creeks and building parks, part of a practice of exchanging building rights for public amenities nicknamed “incentive zoning”. Bellevue thinks this plan could bring 4.5 million square feet of office space and 5,000 units of housing by 2030, plus some unspecified amount of parks space. If it works out, it’ll be a great example of applying recent lessons of New Urbanism in our area, and even the Seattle Times editorial board is oh so slightly impressed.
I think Seattle needs to do the same thing around the two stations in Sodo and the two U-District stations. The land around Sodo isn’t perfect for development since it’s in a soil liquefaction zone where the cost of building large structures is significantly more expensive. However, recently remarkable progress has been made in construction technologies for liquefaction zones, and the University of California system is building a massive research campus in a similar industrial soil liquefaction zone in San Francisco, next to their new T-Third Street light rail line. If it can happen there, it can happen here.
The University District has extremely unimpressive zoning currently. The neighborhood is capped at the normal NC-65 or NC-85 zoning for most of the area, which allow for 65 or 85 foot tall buildings, while there are already several high-rises, and many old brick buildings taller than that. A couple 12-15 story buildings there won’t hurt anyone, especially if they come with nice amenities like green space or affordable housing.
TOD seems to be an area where Bellevue is moving ahead of Seattle.