Proposed zoning changes laid over existing zoning

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development has published a draft of its recommendations for the Roosevelt Station area rezone plan. The rezone is a substantial increase from what current is currently zoned, but is quite far from what the increased transportation options can bear. The DPD estimates “the proposed rezones would increase total development capacity by 348 residential units and 215,209 commercial square feet” from 269 units and 10,604 feet of commercial space with current zoning.

I personally feel this proposed zoning to be woefully inadequate. With substantially more aggressive zoning, the Northgate station area has already accommodated that much housing and commercial space on a single block long before the station opens. Most of the proposed height limits in the Roosevelt corridor are just 40 feet, which really isn’t all that different from 65 feet from a sunlight and massing perspective, but would allow a far smaller amount of development.

The Roosevelt station is one of just nine subway stations that will be built  in our region, and as taxpayers I feel we are owed the right to get as much from these stations as we can. I wrote this about the Beacon Hill station area a few years ago:

I’d also like to appeal to everyone’s sense of civic fairness. We’ve all been paying sales tax for the past dozen or so years to build this light rail line and this subway station. Now that’s almost done, shouldn’t we try to get our money’s worth and encourage the most riders possible? Increasing density around the stations will mean more people using the system and a better value for all of us. Increased use will also make the station safer: there’ll be more eyes watching for muggers or other predators.

As Matt Yglesias correctly pointed out the other day (with a bit of hyperbole thrown in) when writing about the upzone in the South Downtown area, nobody will take transit to work unless you build tall buildings near stations. The residential portion of the entire rezone generates only an extra 1,922 riders per day for the light rail system, which will have a fully grade-separated, 16 minute ride to downtown Seattle and just an eight minute ride to the UW. This is a case of Seattle zoning itself to death.

Bellevue seems to get how transit can unleash a lot of development demand and both increase tax revenue and make infrastructure a better value. Leaders there see a surface line and imagine 12-15 story buildings with 4.5 million square feet of commercial space and 5,000 housing units. Seattle sees a subway and envisions just 215,000 square feet and 348 more units. Those of us who desperately want more urbanism and great value from our investment are looking forward to be disappointed again.

149 Replies to “Roosevelt Rezone Recommendations”

  1. You conveniently ignore the 11,000+ riders the retail will bring on link each day.

    1. give or take-
      You’d still get those riders with more housing. 348 is a paltry amount.

  2. And it’s a little strange to “praise” Bellevue who of late is trying to “derail” its progress in getting a rail line. They are however zoning their “industrial zone” out of existence in favor of urban residential density around light rail north east of downtown. Maybe they get the “bi-polar” consideration.

    1. To be fair, Bellevue was actually being pretty rational about East Link until quite recently, the only disagreement was tunnel vs surface downtown.

    2. The Bel-Red industrial corridor is becoming obsolete. It was the only neighborhood in the city to witness significant declines in employment while the rest of the city burgeoned.

    3. The area I mentioned – the Bel-Red corridor – has never suffered any large disagreement.

    4. The better lesson from Bellevue is that the density will force the transit issue.

      I’m not sure what your point is with the Bellevue industrial zone. Apart from the rather obvious changes in the nature of employment in Bellevue and the east side over the past several decades, I expect that there’s not a whole lot of transit ridership generated in the industrial zone.

      1. My point is, is that often what is called “the march of progress” that sees industrial zones within cities get supplanted by residential redevelopment can have the adverse affect of moving jobs outside of the city and thus contributing to sprawl and requiring more people to drive longer distances to these jobs instead options such as walking, taking public transit or a “short” drive.

        Industrial zones are not sexy, they’re grimy, noisy and sometimes dangerous. But they are an important engine of our economy and like farmland, shouldn’t just be left to the “Highest and Best Use” whims of the free market. Natural economic forces would drive up the value of these properties making them untenable for their current purpose. Pressures mount to re-purpose them for other things.

        Don’t minimize the area’s importance simply because you value residential density over industrial use. You say it has diminished as an important employment base, if anything the city should have done everything in its power to keep these kinds of businesses there. Distribution,warehousing, light manufacturing, light industrial are very important activities that generate jobs. Just not the sexy, office dwelling jobs that downtown Bellevue enjoys.

        My question is then, why wouldn’t Bellevue consider selling off its blueberry farms or the Wilburton wilderness? If your answer is because they create an aesthetic value that makes Bellevue special then you have your answer about why land use decisions shouldn’t always be left to the free market. Because as you should well know, the free market isn’t sentimental about anything and if it could, it would have carved up Wilburton into thousands of lots in a heartbeat.

      2. Charles, I feel like you really don’t understand these issues.

        When an industrial zone takes on residential instead, it’s because that zone was in decline – the rezoning doesn’t change the land use, the land use demands force a rezone.

      3. Ben, I think you’re missing the on-the-ground reality. Industrial uses aren’t going away on their own. They are being priced out. A speculator comes in and buys up relatively cheap industrial land, but pays somewhere between the lower industrial use price and the much higher intensive use (residential or, more likley, office) price. to cover his costs, he raises the lease value, forcing the manufacturer to seek lower price elsewhere — typically in the suburbs or where the farms used to be in the valley.

        The developer then seeks an upzone to a more intensive use so he can profit from his speculation. This is precisely what’s happening on many parcels in the IA of Seattle.

        Your comment ignores this reality by assuming a “decline” in manufacturing use just happens.

      4. Adding to David M’s response:

        Land speculators will sit on land in any neighborhood if the numbers don’t work, waiting for a future upzone that will pay. Just look at the number of surface parking lots in this city.

      5. The truth always hurts but seriously, this isn’t Bellevue. This a pro-transit neighborhood that also wants to get rid of, not reward, the Sisleys.

        I know that human emotion is alien to a lot of people here, but that’s the situation so you could start with that. Instead, we get the bitching about how a neighborhood doesn’t get it when, you know, they actually probably do get it but have a pressing local concern.

        Remove the Sisleys from the equation and magical things could happen in the long-term.

      6. No offense, but to oppose an entire neighborhood’s upzone just so you can spite one family EVEN A REALLY REALLY BAD FAMILY seems a tad bit petty and shortsighted.

      7. Put laws in place to punish specific behavior, NOT to punish specific people. Punishing everyone just so you can make sure these Sisley’s don’t make any more money is childish, shortsighted and stupid.

        Grow up.

        Joseph Stalin killed 20 MILLION people and died in his sleep at age 74.

        Life isn’t a damn fairytale.

        Sometimes the bad guys live happily ever after.

        Doesn’t mean we have to frak over the rest of the population in an attempt to get some kind of ‘justice’ in this life time.

    5. I argued yesterday against destroying Seattle’s industrial district, so the point about Bellevue made me think how is it different. I grew up in Bellevue when the Coca-Cola plant and Safeway distribution center were in production and everything around them was one-story because… because all of Bellevue was like that. (BTW, it looks like Amazon Fresh is using the Safeway facility now.)

      One difference is that SODO, south Ballard, Interbay, and Northlake have consciously been industrial areas, and a new company comes in when an old one leaves. But Bel-Red in the 70s and 80s was not seen so much as an industrial area as just “the place where Coca-Cola and Safeway are”. The buildings are also larger than most of the industrial facilities in Seattle; I wonder how many other companies would be able to use the buildings as-is, or whether they’d have to tear them down and and put up several smaller buildings for multiple companies. Bellevue’s “industrial district” is also smaller than Seattle’s; it’s not that much to lose.

      1. A few things, I’ve driven through that Bel-Red area in the past couple of months and while Safeway may have left for Auburn ( I saw that huge facility while on my Sounder excursion last week) there are still plenty of other warehouses, and light industry that are holed up in there. Where are they going to go? Where are the jobs they provide going to go? How are the people who work at those jobs going to get to them? Bellevue would be faced with fewer jobs and fewer services. You want your auto body repaired? You’ll have to drive farther now. You want your business to have a place to store inventory? You’ll have to look elsewhere. You want a place to assemble that product? Not a chance.

        It is perfectly alright for Bellevue to make that choice, just know that such choices have consequences.

      2. It’s a very good thing to keep a light industrial base. Safeway still has a presence. I believe they have office space and bake bread. Coca Cola still runs a lot of trucks in and out of the bottling plant. It’s a shame (sham) that the rail connection has been abandon. Cadman still has a big hole in the ground but I haven’t seen any activity there in a while. It’s likely going to be something just short of a superfund site to clean up but I don’t understand why it’s not being used for the P&R instead of the land between 130th and 132nd which is where Goff Creek runs. I was thinking the other day which businesses someone would want to live above. Not a tire store or auto repair for sure. But a carpet store, matress store, why not. A grocery store or dance studio, sure. A gun range… well, for some it would be a plus :=

  3. According to the graphic, they aren’t even upzoning any of the land that’s the most upzoned already near 65th and Roosevelt.

    But Roosevelt’s existing housing stock is mostly single-family houses that would probably revolt at anything much more than this. A shame too. In recent years the University District has been increasingly creeping northwards, with more college guys moving into the high 50s. Roosevelt could end up serving as a relief valve to University District demand.

    As this may just barely edge out Brooklyn as the closest station to my home, I may write them something in the morning, depending on what sort of comments they’re taking at the moment if any.

    1. I’m not convinced that’s true. Part of the reason why Roosevelt pushed for a 12th Ave alignment was because of the prospects for an aggressive rezone.

    2. So if they ‘revolt’, does that mean pitchforks? What’s the downside if some of them move away?

  4. Is it possible it has something to do with the neighborhood’s sensibilities? I was at some citizens advisory brown bag a while ago, and the Q&A was 50% hijacked by people from Roosevelt complaining about some midrise development someone wanted to build in their neighborhood.

    Not disagreeing that this continues a regrettable pattern, but if they were going to choose a place to break the pattern, this might not be it.

    1. I don’t know of any midrise developments that Roosevelt folks are complaining about, but I know that they’ve long fought the Sisley proposals for the 150 foot developments around 15th, which makes more sense.

    2. Not really, the Roosevelt neighborhood has been very YIMBY (yes in my backyard) about asking for increased density. This isn’t just developers and business owners but residents including those in single family houses.

      The residents did object to the proposed rezones for the Sisley properties, but what the developer wants is way out of scale, would block view corridors for Roosevelt High School and have the highest density far from the rail station.

      1. That’s all like 1/8th of a mile from the rail station. They should really go for 150′.

      2. If by really far form the rail station, you mean 1-3 blocks, then yes.

        It is property literally adjacent to the new station. And currently, it is all decrepit single family homes falling apart.

      3. Ben, you know who the Sisleys are? And how they manage their properties? Do you not see why a neighborhood might reject such a severe rezone when it is being championed by people who could be charitably described as slumlords?

      4. [Snack] I hear you (and others) about the Sisleys. It’s a fairly typical strategy for developers – buy up properties and board them up. We see this all along Westlake, and we saw it all over South Lake Union before the Amazon construction started. But I’d love to hear a solution other than never changing zoning anywhere, ever. Light rail is coming to Roosevelt. That’s been public information for quite some time, and everyone expects an upzone. Are you really saying we shouldn’t upzone just to say FU to the Sisleys? That sounds like a terrible way to plan a city.

      5. What you are missing is that the Sisleys aren’t typical developers.

        Their record of bad practices isn’t just a case of them scooping up properties that may be rezoned and boarding them up in anticipation. That is forgivable (and understandable – other developers did the same thing in Roosevelt!).

        It is their (probably criminal) neglect of their existing properties, intimidation of renters, use of literal strong arm tactics and overall race-to-the-bottom behavior.

        If that short summary doesn’t convince you, feel free to start with these articles and then Google “Drake Sisley” and “Hugh Sisley” for more fun.

      6. As to your second point, there are regulatory choices that the city can and should make in upzones to prevent this kind of bad behavior. I.E. More stringent code choices. This isn’t about saying FU to developers but FU to developers who, based on their past behavior, would totally build a Roosevelt version of the Carpenter’s Tower.


      7. [Snack] Those articles sound like exactly what should be done with bad developers like these. In the first article, the then-mayor adds legislation to stop specific bad behaviors. In the third, their collegue is sent to prison for 10 years.

        But wasting our multi-billion dollar investment so that you can exact revenge? That’s hardly logical.

      8. Yeah, except that didn’t stop them… please note the dates. And there’s a lot more.

        [Ad hominem] SnackAttack read our comment policy. It’s much easier for us to just delete your whole post so keep it civil.

        If the City had proposed to buy up the Sisleys’ properties and build 400′ towers of subsidized housing, it would have probably been more popular in Roosevelt.

        Yeah, I know that because this is a human issue that it is baffling to an engineer, but come on!

      9. Actually, let me make that something other than a counterfactual. The City SHOULD condemn/buy-up as many of the Sisley properties as possible and redevelop them. That might be “rewarding” them in the short-term but certainly less so than straight upzoning and letting them and their son/nephew profit for many more decades from already decades of sleaze and abuse.

        NB I am not a Roosevelt resident.

      10. I’m thinking mostly of the neighborhood’s counter-proposal to the Sisley proposal which had a good sized height increase right across from the station and a somewhat more reasonable 65′ height limit over most of the rest of the Sisley properties.

        Neighborhood anger over the Sisley’s current and past behavior is a factor to consider. Mind you that the neighborhood has still been asking for an upzone, at least double what DPD is reccomending, just not anything quite to the level the Sisley’s have been asking for.

        It has to be remembered this is a rather huge and refreshing change from neighborhoods who seem to not only want to freeze current zoning in place but prevent any changes to current land use at all.

      11. I think Matt’s issue isn’t so much that the neighborhood’s response can’t be happening, so much as it shouldn’t be happening. In other words, he may understand the existence of the emotion fairly well, he just doesn’t think emotion over one family should influence long-term planning.

  5. I can sort of understand worry about a huge upzone. Still, the difference between 40′ and 65′ is huge. Moreover, there’s land on Roosevelt around Ravenna that’s not being upzoned at all, but still walkable to the station. It’s missing an opportunity.

    1. I disagree. The level of regional connectedness this area will now have is huge and this upzone is a joke.

      1. This upzone IS a joke. The arterial properties should be zoned for 400′. It’s a fucking subway station.

    2. The 40′ height zones are nearly useless from a developer perspective. It is hard to make buildings that high in NC zones pencil out. 65′ is far more practical as it allows 5 over 1 construction. For that matter the areas closest to the station should be upzoned to 120′ height limits. Again it is hard to make buildings over 65′ pencil out until you reach 11-12 stories.

      1. Why even stop at 120′? Why not go Vancouver style and just let them do whatever they want? Say you can go to 400′ if you don’t offer parking.

      2. Ben I think that is overkill. I want dense, but not so dense that no neighborhood in the region will no long want rail because they are worried about 400 ft towers.

      3. I can’t imagine:

        a) any neighborhood in the future rejecting light rail
        b) that 400′ towers are really terrible for neighborhoods. Urban villages have been great for our neighborhoods, and towers are a way to get the benefits of density (shopping, restaruants, transit, etc.) while still keeping their SFH.

      4. I’m with Ben and Matt.

        We are wasteing WASTEING billions of dollars building a world class transportation system if we’re going to keep buildings smaller than the downtown of my farming community of 6k in Alabama. WTF?!?!?

      5. I think the talk of 100’+ towers is a unnecessary. Most of this zoning, even across the street from station entrances is only 40′, not even 65′. 65′ would allow for double the number units of housing and hundreds more riders. Instead we get 40′.

      6. I think going for 65′ around a subway station is a travesty. But Adam has a point that individual people might start voting against light rail if we went for 400′. :)

      7. I think going for 65′ around a subway station is a travesty

        I’m not saying “go for 65′”. what I’m saying is “you can get a lot more density with merely 25 more feet”. That Thornton creek place in northgate has 500 units or so (including retirement units), 100,000+ sq ft of commercial, and open space on a little more than an acre of land all with just 85′ zoning.

        It really doesn’t need to be 400′ feet or 120 feet or whatever. It’s just that what they are proposing isn’t enough.

      8. Ben I’m with you. Given my drutheres I’d have all height, density, and FAR restrictions removed inside city limits. The only restrictions would involve historic preservation and how a building relates to the sidewalk (IOW no garage entrances or blank walls on pedestrian corridors).

        Political reality is getting station area zoning to allow 50 net units/acre is going to be a major acheivement in most cases. Outside of downtown the only two stattions DPD is even likely to consider heights above 65′ is around Brooklyn and Northgate stations. At this point the empty parking lots to the NorthWest of Brooklyn station are probably the best bet for getting Vancouver style towers at a rail station here.

      9. Yep, it’s just too bad this is going to be built there first.

        290 units/acre is serious density.

      10. You’re right, the larger project is better (especially the parking, that’s awesome) but the smaller project is still pretty dense.

        You can’t come anywhere close to that with this Roosevelt re-zone.

      11. Damn, something like 1200 Madison should be the goal for the entire 1/4 mile station circle around every light rail station.

        Definately the parking lots near Brooklyn station should be filling with this sort of development.

  6. Just a hunch: they don’t get it. They simply don’t know or can’t imagine what urbanity looks like. Or they just want to keep their precious desolate parking lots.

    In any case the market pressure will push for a more extensive upzone to put those empty spaces to more productive use. There is still time (when are they gonna finish Northlink?) to revise those decisions.

    1. We will fight over and over again to keep ratcheting these limits up, and we will win.

    2. Roosevelt doesn’t really have desolate parking lots, not the way, say, the Denny Triangle does. Roosevelt has single-family housing. SFH is harder to upzone, because people develop emotional connections to their houses and their neighbors’ houses. They don’t develop emotional connections to parking lots.

      I wouldn’t count on market pressures fixing things. There are single-family houses right across the street from the Rockridge BART station in Oakland, which is the best model for Roosevelt I can think of.

      1. Oh, so Roosevelt’s desolate parking lots (QFC, Whole Foods/Magnolia Hifi and across the street, auto parts, how about the torn down SFH that’s now just dirt?) just aren’t as bad?

        The best model for Roosevelt is the model that keeps Sammamish from growing.

      2. Between the Sisley properties, a lot of rental houses, parking lots, gas stations, commercial structures at their end-of-life, etc. there is actually a fair bit of developable land in the Roosevelt Urban Village. It would be a shame if the zoning isn’t adjusted to allow denser development than the DPD proposal.

      3. Okay, sure, there are some parking lots in Roosevelt. But the vast majority of 1/2 mile radius circle is zoned for single family housing. Redeveloping the 8 existing parking lots into towers can get us some density, probably very high cost density. But you can get a lot more density, and cheaper (= more potential buyers/renters), if you can rezone the single family areas so that midrise apartments pencil out.

    1. You’re assuming the DPD did this because of pressure from the neighborhood. I don’t think that is the case. I seem to recall neighborhood groups asking for far greater density increases. DPD is being way too timid for unknown reasons.

      1. The unknown reasons start with “H” and “D” and end with “ugh” and “rake.”

      2. The last time I checked in on the Sisley rezones the neighborhood was willing to let them have higher density, just not as extreme as they had requested.

        This DPD proposal is even timid compared to anything I’ve seen come from neighborhood groups. Even the counterproposals for the Sisley properties allowed more density than this.

  7. I don’t understand what all the whining is about. There’s already a large area zoned for 65′ heights to the west of the station, and they’re adding more. It makes sense to preserve the SF character of the neighborhood farther away from Roosevelt Ave. and NE 65th.

    1. Why does it make sense to preserve the single family nature of Rooseveltlt? The U District is mere blocks away.

      1. ‘mere blocks’ is 15 to 20 blocks, with a park boulevard between. There is a high school and a resvervoir that take away large chunks of land. And it’s an urban village, not an urban downtown.

        It makes sense to rezone the area that’s closer to the freeway and along the main arterials, but the SF housing is already there and built pretty densly. Why change it? Those people that live there probably don’t want to move out. It’s going to take some time to build out the rezoned area anyway.

      2. Zoning won’t knock those houses down.

        65′ makes sense for that neighborhood. Taller around the Link station. This is the same Roosevelt whose neighborhood association was pushing for a streetcar, no? You can’t support the trappings of dense, urban living without actual density.

        And I would argue that SFH is, by definition, not dense.

      3. There’s lots of area to be redeveloped in the rezone. Let that be built out, and the character of the neighborhood will change over time. In a couple of decades, it can be rezoned again.

        65′ is plenty high enough in that neighborhood, even in the station area.

      4. aw it will be just a few minutes away from UW by Link. Like literally 2-3 minutes.

        I’m going to stop you and say single family housing is not dense, period. This is the problem, some people think that a ~5k sf single family lot is somehow dense. It is not.

      5. So what? That’s not “dense” by any sensible meaning of the word. That’s like saying compared to a 700lb man, a 500lb man is thin. It’s a meaningless comparison.

        I’m against a massive citywide up zone because of the speculative market it would create, especially in areas that will never receive the transportation infrastructure to support 150′ megablocks. But Roosevelt is very much not one of those areas. It is a prime candidate for a significant up zone, with its proximity to the UW and subway station.

    2. So now suburbia is the standard? If we want to make the most of this massive investment we have to look well beyond suburbia.

    3. My whining is that we’re building a $5 billion light rail line from downtown north and one of it’s stops is going to attract a very small amount of housing because the city thinks like you and says SFH is mostly good enough.

      we’re all paying for that station and we should get our money’s worth.

      1. The SFH is already built. As others have pointed out, it’s not going to be redeveloped just because it’s rezoned. It’s best to focus the upzone in the immediate station area, and in the less desirable area (for residential) near the freeway. From the arial, it looks like there is a substantial amount of SFH in the station area overlay.

        A better question may be whether there’s the right balance of residential vs. commercial space in the upzone.

      2. There is a lot of abandoned SFH zoning right on Roosevelt and 65th. You can’t say that won’t be redeveloped; it’s mostly parking lots and empty buildings. But it’s only being zoned to 40 feet.

  8. So they’re bumping a few little sections to 65′ and a few other sections to 40′ and that’s it? Typical Seattle. If I were zoning this I’d let the area around the station grow much higher, and step down in all four directions to 65′. Maybe even build new 40′ sections on some of the side streets.

    Pet peeve:
    One thing that jumps out at me is all of the SF-5000 zoning. If Seattle’s going to have all of these massive areas of single family homes, why limit them to a minimum of 5,000sf?! My house is in a “streetcar suburb” built 100 years ago and is on 3,600sf. I have space for 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, an office, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a family room, a laundry room, a beer brewing room (it’s a hobby), a spacious front yard, a large back yard, and a 2 car garage with a workshop area and a garden on the roof. Even with a kid and 2 dogs this is far more space than I need and miss the days when my sister-in-law’s entire family lived with us. Yet this house could not be built today because it doesn’t take up enough land.

    Could we at least add in a 2,500SF zone? Then we could build 2 homes on some of these vast properties.

    1. Does Seattle allow SF with a ‘common wall’ on smaller lots?
      That was how I was able to afford my first house, and it was actually quite nice.

      1. You can build up to the property line with the neighbor’s permission, but 5000 sf is a minimum. So you’ll just end up with more yard space on the other side of your house.

        (runs off to do research)

        Scratch that! In what looks like part of the cottage housing regulation, we now have RSL: Residential Small Lot (pdf). This allows a minimum of 2,500sf! They artificially constrained them to be 25′ tall maximum, but other than that they can be reasonably dense. Don’t you love it when something you wish existed actually exists?

        This updates my comment on Rosevelt zoning: All of that housing should at least be allowed to be RSL (or tandem housing, or cottages).

    2. I haven’t paid much attention to this station, so forgive my ignorance. Why does the commercial district and larger density areas seem to have their backs to the station entrances? Or why did ST tack the station entrances on the edge of the core rather than in the middle? Whatever the case, it doesn’t look well thought out.

      In response to Matt, I agree with your comment regarding heights around the stations, but good luck with that here. I wanted larger heights immediately around the Cap Hill station stepped down in all directions; look what we are stuck with. If Seattle can’t even get past their hatred of anything over six stories in Cap Hill, where would we?

      Oh well, who knows; maybe one day we’ll have the skyline of Paris, a flat plane of 6-story buildings as far as you can see.

      1. For ST to tack station entrances on the middle of the core, they’d have had to tear out all the businesses. The station is cut and cover.

    3. We do have the small lot zone- just talk to your neighbors about changing the zoning. When it was created, the City recognized that simply imposing it citywide would be unpopular and would not serve the urban village stategy because it would put a lot of density outside of areas well-served by transit. So they said to neighborhoods, if you say you want it, it is a tool you can employ. It is a slow way to add density but it might be helpful in a few locations.

    4. Beer brewing? I vote Matt the Engineer to host the next STB meetup! Assuming the beer is good…

  9. Where’s Hugh Sisley in all of this? Afterall he pretty much owns half of that area…

  10. I think that the article and most of the posts ignore the tremendous amount of unused capacity in the area already. with NC3-65 zoing, residential density similar to central Paris can be achieved. I am a proponent of increased density, but not one that believes that everyone who lives in the city should be able to afford a high-rise apartment. South Downtown, Belltown, Northgate, South Lake Union, and First Hill are all areas where highrise building forms are or could be allowed, most within a short distance of light rail. Very chic, but not a solution for the great majority of people who work in Seattle.

    Roosevelt is not targeted as a major employment center, otherwise I might suggest that a couple sites for highrise office be allowed. Right now, the idea isto focus employment growth on urban centers.

    This proposal seems to focus on bringing a few multifamily zoned areas into the mixed use zoning, something that 15 years ago you could not find many neighborhoods (ort the City) ready to consider. It is important to remember that most people do not feel the need to have a shop or a tavern right below their aprtment to have a high quality of life.

    What we need are fully built out and stable neighborhoods that can last long enough for the housing costs to be fully amortized. To get that, the land prices need to be stable (and with everyone asking for rezones these days, and many getting them, rezoning itself may be fuleing speculation). Our mixed use zoing has produced ahuge amount of housing citywide and will probably continue to do so as builders get even better at making money building the light frame “4 over 2” type of apartments.

    So yes, this proposal is modest, but the argument that it should be more immodest seem to be taking a one-size-fits-all attitude about how density should be erected around stations.

    1. Is there anything in this blog post whatsoever that suggested Belltown-like zoning for this station area?

      1. This neighborhood is crying for similar density as is found around some of the SkyTrain stations in Vancouver and in Belltown here.

      2. This is not Vancouver. :) NIMBYs have political clout here. It has to be a compromise between the urbanizers and the single-family residents, otherwise you end up with a backlash that hinders future transit improvements. I agree that we should push for moderately more, meaning 65′. But Seattle is not ready for 150 feet except between SLU and SODO. Maybe in time downtown Federal Way and Lynnwood will be willing to go to 150 feet, and they’ll be like Bellevue or New Westminster. In the meantime, the city has already agreed to make Northgate the largest urban village, so let’s make it like Metrotown.

      3. I’m getting 150′ and 400′ confused because I’m not sure of the sizes in stories. So substitute “tall” for 150′.

      4. In the meantime, the city has already agreed to make Northgate the largest urban village, so let’s make it like Metrotown.

        Even there the zoning isn’t especially aggressive, 85 feet or so.

    2. I agree. Reading posts like this makes me wonder if I’m the only one who doesn’t like the patches of skyscrapers that pop up along the SkyTrain or Toronto subway lines. That kind of development is out of scale and inorganic. It completely levels the entire neighourhood in one fell swoop.

      1. The ‘level the neighborhood’ impact of Skytrain-style development is NOT because of height limits. It’s because there was no street grid, and lots didn’t already exist along arterials there. High height limits in a place like Roosevelt would mean buildings that have surface retail aligned with the grid. It’d be much more organic, and wouldn’t happen all at once like greenfield development does in those cities.

    3. I’d go with even NC3-65. Most of that on the map is LR2 or LR3. That’s 40 feet.

      1. Steve, agreed. NC3-65’s residential can’t support its retail. If you go to 150′ you provide enough residential to support that much retail.

      2. Part of the plan is to build 215,000 sq feet of retail/commercial. Not sure exactly why, but the DPD wants the retail.

      1. High rise is more expensive to build, though, so it’s usually luxury when new. It’s not always after it’s aged (e.g. there are non-luxury high rises on First Hill in Seattle), but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

      2. When the land value costs more per square foot, the cost to build up becomes reasonable. And there are a number of mid and high rise properties in Chicago that were designed as “middle class” residences. And there’s even an interesting development where a former Housing Authority project was refurbished by a private developer.

  11. Does anyone know offhand what the current zoning allows in terms of net units/acre in the 1/4 mile station circle? How many additional units would need to be allowed to get to 50 net units/acre? Any station area upzones that don’t hit at least 50 units/acre in the 1/4 mile (even better 1/2 mile) are a waste of time, effort, and the tremendous capital investment of Link.

    1. Honestly, around subway stations, any station area upzones that don’t hit 300 units/acre are a waste of time and effort.

      1. Would someone tell us again why we are so fearful of 300 units/acre near rail transit stations? It mayn’t happen overnight, but it should most assuredly be part of the planning for these areas.

      2. Again I’m with you, but if we can even get the station zones to a net 50 units/acre it is a major win compared to the rather lame upzones DPD has proposed lately including downtown.

    2. Current zoning for the .5mi radius around Roosevelt Station area is about 38/acre, according to the Futurewise report about the failed 2009 “Creating Transit-Oriented Communities” bill. I can’t seem to find it online right now but I have a copy.

      I don’t know exactly how many acres will be rezoned but this rezone should put Roosevelt just above 50 units per acre in the station area. Current actually built density is about 20 units per acre, which is just above what many consider the minimum that makes a walkable neighborhood work. Roosevelt has a great walkscore and I think it will continue to be a great walkable neighborhood.

      1. By the way in central Seattle at least a full block of land is about 2 acres, so I think to see if it increases by 12 units per acre you’d take (348 – 269) / 12 = about 6.5 acres, or about 3.25 city blocks. So I think this would NOT get the area over 50 units/acre.

        However, there’s also been a theoretical increase in the density of single family zoning due to the cottages Matt mentioned so maybe New Math would say 50.

  12. This article beautifully makes a point I have been making for years: building little trains does not cause Transit-Oriented Development, or “TOD”. What “causes” “TOD” is rezoning and tax incentives.

    If you like “TOD”, you can get it anywhere, just by rezoning and offering tax incentives to build it. You will get exactly the same sort of “TOD” along bus routes that you get along rail lines, if you just have the same zoning and tax incentives.

    Development in Ballard:

    Development in Lower Queen Anne and the Counter Balance:

    Development along Dexter Ave:

    This very same sort of stuff is being built in W. Seattle, Mercer Island, and anywhere else zoning allows it. There is absolutely zero “need” to built light rail lines to get this sort of development.

    1. Norman, you’re brilliantly missing the fact that WE WOULDN’T BE HAVING THE DISCUSSION IF WE WEREN’T BUILDING A SUBWAY STATION.

      You’re saying “DPD sucks, so there’s no reason to build transit”, when in reality we’re going to flog the hell out of DPD until they get a clue.

      1. They have been upzoning and building dense housing in Seattle all over the place withOUT subway stations. I have even drawn you pictures to illustrate this. How can you not understand even after I showed you pictures? lol

        They have had, and are having exactly this sort of discussion over rezoning in neighborhoods all over Seattle withOUT subway stations. Have you ever been to Belltown? Did you see a subway station there? Did you notice the tall, dense apartment and condo buildings? How do you think those happened? By building a subway station, or by just rezoning?


        The middle of this picture shows part of Belltown, with condo or apartment buildings well over 10 stories high. There is no light rail serving this neighborhood — only buses. These buildings were built as high as zoning allowed. If you want higher buildings, you don’t need to waste billions of tax dollars on little trains. All you need to do is zone for higher buildings. Developers will build as high as the zoning permits. Train stations have nothing to do with that — it’s all about the zoning and tax incentives.

        Here is a photo of the condos lining the water in W. Seattle. These buildings are about 6 stories high, I believe. They would be twice as high if zoning allowed that. Again, no light rail over there. Just zoning to allow multi-family housing six stories high.

        Housing density is all about zoning and tax incentives — not little trains.

      3. I grasp your idea of the “big picture” very well: we must spend billions and billions of dollars on light rail because………..uh………..hmmm…………..well……………because we just love little trains. Especially when someone else is paying for them.

      4. Where is the fantasy ROW that will allow reasonable travel times on buses? We built light rail for the same reasons other places have historicly increased transit capacity, demand for transit is outstripping the current infrastructure’s ability to supply it.

        Beyond that you aren’t going to see developers build high-density in areas without the demand and land prices to support it. You aren’t going to see 400′ condo towers out in Covington no matter what the zoning or transit access is.

        If we look at Vancouver, I’m quite sure many of the areas around skytrain stations would not have been developed had the zoning been there without the transit.

    2. There’s zero need to build LRT to get that sort of development, which is why we should be building even more aggressive development in station areas, not substantially less aggressive.

    3. Alright, this ends now.

      Norman, stop citing Ballard as an example.

      You clearly don’t live here, don’t know anyone who live here, and especially have never come here on a bus!

      Ballard’s “urban village” designation and upzone came attached to a promise of significant transit improvements that have yet to arrive.

      Instead, we have massive rush-hour backups at every major junction in the neighborhood. The Ballard Bridge takes 10+ minutes to clear each time it goes up. And collisions at the intersections of unsignalized side streets (now filled with auto-centric townhouse 6-packs with occupants who must drive everywhere) have dramatically increased.

      Meanwhile, the buses — your precious, precious buses — run slower and less reliably now than they ever have before. Primarily because they’re fighting all those new car-driving condo-dwellers, but also because the any new resident who does attempt to switch to transit causes a cumulative and compounding drag on the inherently poorly scalable mode of transportation you come here to tout.

      And don’t even try to bring up RapidRide. The Ballard RapidRide proposal — the shining beacon of the mode of transit you claim to “advocate” — is un-fucking-acceptable and everyone in Ballard knows it. There has been no indication that any substantive behavioral change will come of it.

      Here’s the reaction to each newly proposed “development along existing bus routes” (as you love to say) elicits from Ballard residents:

      “Where are they supposed to park?”

      Even with our presently-warped zoning requirements demanding nearly 1 on-site parking space per unit, causing harm to street-frontage, hemming retail space into useless dimensions, and subverting architectural worth to the needs of the almighty automobile…

      “Where are they supposed to park?”

      Because no one can imagine the need for <1 car per unit (or even for <2 cars per unit) with the crap transit you like to claim has spurred this very development.

      Where are they supposed to park, Norman? And where's the road capacity to handle all their new cars? No one is moving to Ballard for the damned bus service:

      "I don't know about all of you, but I'm still waiting for the mass transit that was the original reason all these high rise condos were permitted to be built." (Note Gurple's bus-lamenting reply to this comment as well.)

      So shut up, Norman! Take Ballard off your "exhibits list." Absolutely no one buys your crap.

      1. Clearly Ballard needs to require a minimum of 4 parking spaces per bedroom for all new housing.

  13. This post is not mentioning the negative impact of parking spaces. Whether the Sisley is 4 floors of 15 floors, the amount of parking they will likely build will half the number of potential units available. This is the case for anything they build in the area. In this case, the city needs to reward TOD building in close proximity to this station that reduces the number of stalls. Even a completely-underground garage can wipe out a couple thousand square feet with its massive entrance and air ducts.

    I think the best case scenario that Roosevelt with ever except (and will probably happen) is for Sisley to be 85 feet with upper floors setback, with 1.0stalls/per unit (residents cannot stand people taking their street parking). Most of this will probably be from Sisley compromising with the city, and not on the resident’s part.

    1. dabman, raising height limits and removing parking requirements are two different discussions. We didn’t bring it up for the same reason we don’t bring up train design in every post about Link. We still need to have the parking fight, you’re right, but we don’t have to do it in every post. :)

      1. Errr… you have it the wrong way around. He is suggesting, quite rightly, that the Sisleys are the ones who are likely to be all for parking out the wazoo and not the city. Removing parking requirements/minimums is going to do sweet FA unless you impose a parking cap.

    2. Thanks for mentioning the air ducts. “Seattle density,” with its minimum on-site parking that inevitably shoots garage air at 100 mph directly at the pedestrians you claim you want to attract!

      It’s bad when it’s 100 mph at your socks (PCC building, Fremont). It’s unacceptable when it’s 100 mph directly at your face (QFC building, Ballard)!

      1. Pathetic! We’re so auto-centric that we demand new on-site parking even when pursuing density, but we can’t even be bothered to require vents more than 6 feet above grade!

        Meanwhile, our sole subway line is node-based (rather than corridor-based), but we can’t bring ourselves to upzone more than a handful of lots at those exalted nodes!

        Sorry, Seattlites. Can anyone make a case for why a city-lover like myself should hold a shred of hope for this place?

      2. Man, and I forgot to even think to mention Whole Food’s fans in Roosevelt! On a cold day, it looks more like an industrial plant on the sidewalk, with a massive cloud of condensing air blasting out of the side of the building. I walked up Roosevelt Ave just yesterday, and the problem with the zoning code is not height limits alone. It is unwalkable buildings with nothing but walls, parking lots, or garage entrances at the front level.

        The upzoning should give developers incentives for 85feet+ if they meet incentives (onstreet commercial, wide sidewalk with trees, upper level setback, reduced parking stalls). These codes should be fairly straightforward and simple so there aren’t any loopholes or actually discourage development.

      3. Dabman, you just triggered a shudder-worthy reminder of an even worse example: the industrial kitchen exhaust pipes at the South Lake Union Whole Foods.

        They shoot garlic at 100 mph, directly at eye level and directly at the #8 bus stop.

        Are these designers going out of their way to make life on Seattle sidewalks unpleasant?


    New developlment in W. Seattle with NO subway stations. Just bus routes. This is exactly the same sort of stuff they are building a little bit of around Link light rail stations on MLK Jr Way. You don’t need trains to get this type of stuff. If these areas had been zoned for 125 feet, they would have built to 125 feet. It is the zoning that determnies what gets built — not little trains.

  15. I don’t think people fully appreciate the special impact Sisley has on this area at least for the current residents. He literally buys properties, lets them decline to the point they burn down on a regular basis and overpacks them with residents often importing extremely undesirable tenants i.e. the actual neo-nazi the police had to cart away a few years ago. What’s nasty about this process is it reduces value of the adjoining properties and puts pressure on them to sell to the only remaining buyer which is usually Sisley. In other words, this is an artificially created slum that is employing a network effect. Do you really expect current residents to cheer this process or in any way work to facilitate it?

    What’s worse from a property development point of view is that he doesn’t plan to sell the underlying land but only lease it to potential developers. This obviously limits what could be built it on it and slows any potential real redevelopment down tremendously.

    The core notion of increasing density along the north-south Roosevelt corridor rather than the 65th Street one is a reasonable one for the next decade given the current state of land use. There’s enough low-rise area here to build a significant new urban district and the neighborhood association identified uneven mixes of zoning areas and did recommend a general up-zone along these areas which is better than almost any other neighborhood I can think of off-hand. Does anyone really believe in a completely unzoned environment this area would turn into a sea of 400′ high rises any time soon?

    My major complaint is that given the station’s location, some of the closest property is the sports field and parking lot for Roosevelt high school. While the building can’t be moved: I’ve thought about land swaps where the school got the property near 15th and 65th and sold the closest parcels to developers to build apartments adjacent to the station.


  16. OK, I can understand stepping up from single-family zoning to towers, so that you don’t have a towering building next to suburban homes. SFH should be left in place away from stations and arterials to preserve neighborhood character and history and promote housing diversity. But this is ridiculous.

    This should be zoned 65 feet all the way along Roosevelt and 65th (with the rest of the blocks from the 65′ street-facing lots at 40, to buffer the SFH a block away). Much of that won’t develop right away because there’s not the demand for that much retail, but rezoning now will allow it to happen organically as the market adjusts.

    Around the stations, from say 63th to 68th between Roosevelt and 12th there should be no height limit, or something in the 150’+ range. There’s room to step down to 65 and then to 40 without changing much of the current designation there. It’s true that the northeast corner of this area is zoned SF 5000 but most of it Roosevelt High School! A tower across the street from the football field makes sense. In fact, the one-block perimeter around the high school on all sides should be upzoned to 65′ facing the high school and 40′ on the other side. There’s plenty of SFH left intact east of 15th and in other areas outside of these upzones.

  17. I live in Ravenna, and am extremely disappointed by this rezone. I think I’m the only one in the neighborhood who supports anything higher than 40′ on any of these properties; when I wrote in support of sustainable midrise development on the neighborhood listserv, people accused me of not actually living in the neighborhood and being hired by the developers.
    Anyways, I can understand why they don’t want to build high-rises here. It’s designated an urban village, not an urban center, and the city wants to concentrate the most intense growth in the urban centers. But this is just ridiculous. At the very least, 85′ would be completely reasonable for the blocks between Roosevelt and 12th, and 65′ should be completely reasonable for the blocks along 65th going east to 15th. There is now land across the street from a subway station entrance that you can’t even build more than 4 stories on! Ridiculous.
    To those who say we shouldn’t allow higher zoning because Sisley is a bad guy, that’s ridiculous. Sure, he’s horrible, he leaves his houses in awful condition and makes that area a slum right in the middle of our neighborhood. So shouldn’t we be arguing that the zoning should allow for the best possible future for the neighborhood? Disregarding the public benefit in order to spite one person is extremely misguided.

    1. Since you’ve decided to describe honesty about just who certain people are white-knighting as “say[ing] we shouldn’t allow higher zoning because Sisley is a bad guy,” then can we describe your position as “saying that illegal rent-seeking behavior isn’t a bad thing?”

  18. If anyone’s curious where this zoning came from, it looks almost a *.* copy from the Tomorrow’s Roosevelt plan from 1999. It’s great they put this much thought into the process, but is it possible attitudes or needs might have changed slightly in the past 12 years?

  19. Here’s what I’m thinking of sending to the DPD:

    To Whom It May Concern,

    I am a concerned citizen who has lived in the City of Seattle for all but two years of my life and have since 1996 lived just a few blocks south of the borders of the Roosevelt Urban Village, and have for most of that time been a stalwart supporter of transit whose support has in recent years extended to transit-oriented development. I have recently had occasion to look briefly at the Department of Planning and Development’s recently released recommendations for a rezone of the Roosevelt district in anticipation of the arrival of Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail. I would be the first to admit that I’m not a planner or developer, or an active member of the Roosevelt community, so I am sensitive to my own ignorance of the issues. Nonetheless, I patronize the Roosevelt neighborhood on a regular basis and attended Roosevelt High School, so I am also sensitive to the single-family character of the neighborhood. So it is as a concerned citizen who seeks the best outcome for the neighborhood, the city, and the region, who is sensitive to the serious discussions that must have preceded it, that I feel I must say this about your proposal:

    Are you out of your minds?!?

    Token upzones in the immediate station area basically up one notch, and nothing at all in the existing commercial core? Are you serious? We’re talking about a place that will be less than ten minutes from downtown on light rail, and provide access to the University of Washington nearly instantaneously!

    I used to consider the place where I lived to be somewhere in-between the Roosevelt district on the other side of Ravenna Blvd and the University District that kicked in as I got closer to 50th St. In recent years I have sensed the U-District creeping closer to where I live. The character of the area and quality of life has been affected by more and more college students moving in to surrounding housing, some of whom we have butted heads with, and me and my parents are keenly aware that our landlords could make much more in rent from our home if we moved out and they stopped collecting a legacy rent from 1996. The Roosevelt area will be incredibly valuable as a relief valve for demand from the University District and must be allowed to house the students and others who will desire it.

    The population of the greater Seattle area has been projected to grow by 50% by 2050, to as much as 6 million. It is imperative that we find ways to house these people that will respect the environment and surrounding land and create a livable environment that will sustain Seattle’s leadership in the world, which will require the city of Seattle to embrace a new urban fabric that accomodates the density needed to accomplish these goals. Seattle has made many commendable efforts to densify, especially around transit stations, but these efforts have been somewhat diluted by NIMBYs and other forces. However, this proposal is not nearly enough, either in general or given its relatively close location. The present skyline of the area around 65th and Roosevelt is not nearly enough for an area around an underground rail transit station, yet it is zoned as high as any area around the station would be under this plan.

    I have been led to understand that there are neighborhood concerns about a certain developer’s exploitative and possibly illegal practices concerning certain properties in the area, especially the depressed and abandoned properties near 65th and 15th, and his influence on and potential profit from the process, but that seems to me to require an effort to take steps to prevent him from continuing such exploitative practices, including removing his properties from his hands if need be, not to limit the density from the area just so he won’t profit from it or out of a sense that he would hold the neighborhood back anyway. One developer should not slow down or ruin the necessary evolution of the Roosevelt area.

    I hope the DPD will reconsider the proposal as it currently stands and eventually adopt recommendations more conducive to the future of the neighborhood, the city, and the region.

  20. Wow, just got to read this page and I can’t believe no one sees what’s going on.

    The reason the rezone is minor is so that DPD can avoid the expense of an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement)! Of course Roosevelt will get more density, it will just happen on a parcel-by-parcel basis through contract rezones, paid for over the years instead of all at once right now when the city can’t afford it.

    The SLU draft EIS is 659 pages with a ton of analysis done by various consultants, architects, etc as well as city planners.

    1. I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense, the rezone would have to be kept modest to avoid an EIS which would cost a lot of money and time to conduct.

      1. Well, “significant adverse environmental impact” does. :)

        I’m not a expert and don’t know if SEPA has any exact threshold. I think it’s a bit of a game whether or not anyone would sue.

        You can get the Roosevelt “environmental checklist” here:

        “After review of a completed environmental checklist and other information on file, DPD has determined that the amendments described above will not have a probable significant adverse environmental impact, and has issued a Determination of Non-Significance under the State Environmental Policy Act (no Environmental Impact Statement required).”

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