Last summer Seattle Subway pointed out how the PSRC’s population estimates for Ballard were EXTREMELY low. In summary, just built/under-construction/
In response PSRC reached out to us and wanted to go over their methodology. When we sat down they agreed that their numbers for Ballard were low. When we dug into the why, it turned out that the designation of Regional Growth Center is pretty significant. It signifies that the local jurisdiction is going to put in the infrastructure and land use policies necessary for growth. The converse of that is the assumption that areas that are not designated as Regional Growth Centers will not be slated for that kind of intensive infrastructure investments and land use policies. Thus in PSRC’s modeling those areas are not projected to grow very quickly.
PSRC’s numbers are important because as our regions Metropolitan Planning Organization they allocate 100s of millions of dollars of federal transportation money (that isn’t an exaggeration, click the link, the last grant was for $440 million). Currently, suburban and exurban locals are more than willing to label themselves growth centers (Silverdale, Bothell Canyon Park and Totem Lake are all Regional Growth Centers) while due to NIMBYS urban areas are afraid to. Combined with outdated models of urban v suburban growth patterns that means this huge pot of money is being incorrectly allocated. The numbers are also important as they are the basis for Sound Transit’s ridership projections.
Right now Seattle only has 6 of the region’s 28 Regional Growth Centers. Four of those six are in the Central Business District (CBD). Only Northgate and the University District are outside of that core. However, rapid growth is happening all over the city. It’s just not recognized by the modeling and thus is missing out in the infrastructure improvements that should come with said growth.
I contacted Councilmember O’Brien (chair of Seattle’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee) to find out if the city had started the Designation Process for adding any more of our De Facto growth centers (for instance Ballard, Lake City, etc.) and he looking into it. He was kind enough to pass along his response from staff. Tom Hauger, who works on growth management and comp plan issues at DPD (below the fold):
The two outside bodies that establish criteria for designating regional growth centers are the King County Growth Management Planning Council (GMPC) and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). To be designated a regional growth center requires meeting both sets of criteria.
The GMPC adopts the Countywide Planning Policies, which include the following criteria for what they call “urban centers:”
- Land area up to 1.5 square miles
- Zoning and infrastructure to accommodate:
- A minimum of 15,000 jobs within ½ mile of existing or planned high capacity transit station
- At minimum an average of 50 employees per gross acre
- At minimum an average of 15 housing units per gross acre.
Ballard meets the housing-related criteria, but not the job-related criteria. The Ballard Hub Urban Village contains 425 acres. So to meet the 15 housing units per acre, it would need to be able to accommodate 6,375 housing units (15 x 425). Ballard currently has over 7,200 housing units. So, it meets the housing criterion, without even counting the additional 6,700 units allowed by the current zoning. To meet King County’s 50 jobs/acre criterion, Ballard would need to be able to accommodate a total of 21,250 jobs. It currently has about 6,700 jobs, and DPD’s development capacity report indicates that it could accommodate another 5,600 jobs. That would lead to a total of just over 12,000 jobs – well short of the county’s criteria for both the total number and the density of jobs.
PSRC’s Vision 2040 is the regional growth strategy for the 4-county region and the basis for establishing criteria for regional centers. PSRC’s criteria are actually less stringent than King County’s. They require zoning that would allow an average of 45 ‘activity units’ per acre. An ‘activity unit’ is a job or a resident, and an area can achieve the 45 units through any combination of population and jobs.
Ballard does meet PSRC’s 45 activity units per acre. To reach that, Ballard needs a total of 19,125 units (population plus jobs). The 12,000 potential jobs that could be accommodated in Ballard plus the 7,200 existing housing units put Ballard above the PSRC threshold for being a regional center (even assuming only one person in each housing unit and no additional housing being built).
Because the regional center process requires designation first by the county and then by GMPC, Ballard would not get past the county-level review to be considered by PSRC.
The benefit from being designated a regional center is that transportation projects serving regional centers are the highest priority for regional funding.
Councilmember O’Brien is looking into policy changes that could get more of Seattle’s De Facto growth centers designated as De Jure growth centers. Please email the council and let them know that this is important to you.