The Ave in 2014 (Google Maps)
The Ave in 2014 (Google Maps)

[Update 12:41pm. I neglected to mention any specific advocacy opportunities, but your first opportunity to have an impact is to attend the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee hearing on Tuesday, September 20th at 9:30am in Council Chambers. Supportive public comment would be most welcome.]

[Update x2 2:58pm. Corrected numbers for Seattle’s population and housing growth rates.]

Yesterday Mayor Murray held a press conference to announce the penultimate move in the big UDistrict Rezone. After half a decade and nearly 100 meetings, it’s finally time to send it to the City Council. And make no mistake, this is the big one.

To date, Link-related zoning changes within Seattle have been meager and disappointing, while many suburban jurisdictions have done relatively better. Lynnwood has created a Center City zone around its future Link station, with heights up to 125′ permitted. And in Kent near Highline College, the height limit is 200′ and there are minimum densities required by code.

By contrast, the most-lauded rezones, at Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, Mount Baker, and Othello, still cap development at 85′. Other residential Link stations are still waiting for their first big rezone, with single-family or lowrise zoning still predominating around Beacon Hill, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach. And of course there are several stations with industrial or institutional uses that inhibit either commercial or residential growth, at Sodo, Stadium, UW, and to a lesser extent Northgate.

2023-link-zoning-chart-01-01
Chart by the author

So the UDistrict Station rezone is a big deal; it’s our only crack at creating another true urban center, or even a second downtown. If the Council approves, we will create 5,000 new housing units and build the dense high-rise neighborhood that the state’s largest major institution deserves. An entire generation will be able to live in or near the UDistrict, instead of making the commute from Snohomish or South King Counties. It needs to happen, and it will need your support.

The proposal seeks a core density of 320′ buildings immediately around the station, stepping down progressively into 240′, 85′, and 75′ zones, all mixed use. The broader urban design includes provisions for protected bike lanes, green space, community-oriented commercial uses such as daycare, and more. It largely eschews the misguided windswept plazas that had earlier momentum, and most of the aggressive height increases have made it through the 5-year process relatively unscathed. Let’s help take it across the finish line.

The Council appears to be softly supportive at this time, but potential amendments (particularly by Herbold and O’Brien) have the potential to jam the gears a bit. In a joint press release, Herbold and O’Brien announced their intent to encumber developers with requirements beyond the newly-enacted Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) regulations,

Because this upzone increases zoning capacity beyond what was anticipated in the MHA-R bill, we look forward to working together to ensure increased affordability requirements for the neighborhood. From the MHA-R legislation: ‘The Council intends to consider whether to include higher [affordability] performance and payment amounts … (b) [in] areas where the increment of increased development capacity is greater than the standard MHA-implementing zone change; and (c) … to increase affordable units sufficient to offset the affordable units at risk of demolition as a result of the increase in development capacity due to MHA. (emphasis mine)

We’ll have to see the numbers, but it would be ironic and unfortunate for the Council to seek even higher developer fees because they fear the production of too much housing. The Mayor’s own release estimated that MHA in conjunction with the rezone would produce 620-910 affordable units, more than offsetting the older affordable units at risk of demolition whether the rezone passes or not. So the appropriate question is not if those units will be replaced, but what will replace them. In that context, more units means less competitive pressure on housing prices.

Seattle is gaining 15,000 new people per year, and we’re only building housing for 12,000 of them, so population growth is outpacing construction by 25%. Even if it were true that stopping upzones would keep newcomers from coming in the first place, you would be actively advocating for a local recession, urban decay, and the impoverishment of your friends and neighbors. But in all likelihood slowing housing production only means that the newcomers will outbid those of us already here with the only leverage they have: their wallets. Let’s give them lots of places to live, shall we?

85 Replies to “The UDistrict Rezone Needs Your Support”

  1. Hopefully this comes to fruition, but I wonder how Link will be able to cope with the loads during the peak. CHS/Husky Stadium riders already fill the trains pretty well and CHS’s own development will add 100s of new riders, let alone Northgate and Roosevelt. Good problem to have, but we’re remarkably close to tapping out Link’s surplus capacity.

    Still wondering why we don’t see more 240′ (or higher) zoning in Belltown, which still has lots of 85′ and 125′ limits. There is a brand new building (offices, I think) at 3rd/Battery that can’t be more than 40′ tall and occupies an entire block face. If that was another Insignia or Via6 type complex you’d have 100s of housing units, but that block is zoned to 85′ so we get this instead.

    1. The point of allowing more people to live next to UW is so that they don’t have to commute. This housing should actually result in less future Link congestion than there would have been without it.

      1. Exactly,

        Austin upzoned similar neighborhood next to University of Texas. Not only has it become a model medium density neighborhood with walkability and street life, but and now about 1/2 of undergrads walk / bike to class instead of commuting through half the city “Riverside” the prior area with cheap car-centric apartments half the city away.

        This is very needed. If anything, I am surprised the central zone has any height cap at all.

    2. Crushloads are a valid concern, especially between Northgate and Downtown, but we should remember that 4-car trains every 3 minutes during peak will be 80 traincars per hour, 2.3x today’s peak level of 24 traincars per hour. If it were intolerable in a post-ST3 world (in which the Rainier Valley line goes to Ballard), we could probably engineer it down to 2 minute headways, which would be a further 50% boost to 120 railcars per hour, 4x higher than today.

      1. Or, during the peak run three service patterns with a train on the Northgate to IDS trunk every two minutes. One would be Lynnwood to Bellevue, one Lynnwood to 260th, and one Northgate to IDS, perhaps running two operators in order to reverse quickly. That would be a bit expensive because of the two operators on 1/3 of the trains, but it could be done well before the new tunnel opens to relieve the street running problems.

        I grant that would make the headways at Lynnwood 2 minutes then 4 minutes then 2 minutes then 4 minutes and so on. But four minutes is frequent enough that the difference in wait times is pretty tolerable. It’s not five ten five ten or something like that.

        In order to do this the center “turnback” track at IDS would need connections to the northside tracks as well as the southside and people who wish to deboard at IDS would have to stay on the train during the reversal operation. While that’s certainly sub-optimal, people would learn that if they want to travel to IDS without the wait not to get on a train with “International District Station” as its destination.

        This could work if need be.

      2. To clarify, I was speaking of the pre-new tunnel time frame, essentially 2023 to 2033. If the rezone goes through the U-District will have been radically changed well before 2033. And don’t be surprised to see a huge influx of folks from Snohomish County — maybe 50% again of today’s bus ridership — when Lynnwood Link opens.

        It would be a good idea to keep the dotted line labeled “Existing Northbound Track To Be Abandoned” in Frank’s diagram (https://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/turnback_IDS.png) in order to store two trains in the pocket when something goes wrong. A switch just south of the new switch to be added at the south of the pocket track could lead to the existing track. Yes, storing two trains would probably foul the main south switch of the pocket, but it would only be used in an unusual situation.

        Normal operation would be Northgate train pulls into the pocket rather than calling at the southbound platform. As soon as the next train from the Eastside, RV line or the previous pocket train clears the merge switch at the south end of the pocket the train moves into the shared northbound track and into the track on which the just passed northbound train arrived. This allows a couple of minutes for control to be passed from the formerly leading cab to the other end safely and do a systems check. As soon as the northbound train from the other line passes, the train stopped on the other would move out to wait at the south end of the platform for the just-passed train to clear the platform.

        A similar operation would occur at Northgate where I believe the turnback track is planned to be double-ended.

        Here’s a link to a modified version of Frank’s map (I hope): https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-08h83t71j6o/V9g8tLNQbFI/AAAAAAAAAEc/4c9O7Sv_LAspRVvhiLS9NQWeP1f3f8VyACLcB/s1600/Pocket_IDS_Option.png

      3. Zach,

        Do I remember correctly that ST has the option to run “Seattle” trains if it chooses to do so? — running Northgate to Stadiums / Sodo and back? Are they looking into that with any degree of seriousness?

      4. Yes, it’s being seriously considered for the 2018/9-2021 period when buses are out of the tunnel but Northgate Link isn’t yet online. We’ll have to wait for the One Center City plan to find out.

      5. Igor, doesn’t the problem with at-grade fouling the cross-streets apply to the busway trackage as well? I’ve noticed that trains sometimes wait at the south end of IDS before moving out toward Stadium. If Royal Brougham could be closed across the tracks (which might mess up bus operations royally — har, har) it might be possible to use the pocket at Stadium for Northgate reversals. But it would best to keep the high frequency to within the grade-separated portion of the system.

      6. Royal Brougham Way has nothing to do with the trains slowing or stopping but there is a security wall that is automatically lowered when the train approaches but the trains has to slow down or sometimes stop until it is completely lowered. There is a similar one for the northbound trains and the trains move slowly out of Stadium station until that is lowered.

    3. Also, the Roosevelt “BRT” line is a solid complement to Link. If we actually find ourselves in a position where Link’s capacity is truly tapped out by riders boarding north of U District, the bus corridor can be improved & extra bus capacity added during peak hours.

      1. If they actually built it as a BRT (better yet Rapid Streetcar) this would be true. As proposed it will not be much help to anyone.

      2. Agreed – my point was to answer someone objecting to U District growth via arguing Link can’t handle the extra demand.

        If somehow Link can’t handle the demand, there are other ways to move people in & out of the U District.

  2. Upzone the U-District to the clouds. Leave the Ave be. It just wouldn’t work out as a sterilized canyon like Capitol Hill (not that it worked out for Capitol Hill either).

    1. As someone who moved to Seattle after college, I’ve found the Ave very underwhelming. While there are dozen of great shops & restaurants that I’m sure UW students are very fond of, the actual building a very low rise & there are several parking lots effectively right on the Ave. 5 or 6 stories would work great with a set-back, but what’s more important are zoning rules around on the 1st & 2nd stories interact with the Ave. Would also be good if the Ave would be a festival street?

      You’re right about “not that it worked out for Capitol Hill either” – height limits are almost irrelevant when it comes to redevelopment & gentrification. Eventually those buildings are going to be replaced, and I’d rather they be a bit bigger & more urban than the current buildings.

      1. that is sort of the name of the game outside of older institutions — the nostalgia and anxiety prevent development (cause it would likely displace current tenants) so we preserve nonsensical 1story commercial in some of the most desirable and densest neighborhoods.

      2. There’s a specific thing that makes The Ave’s old buildings work: narrow, deep retail spaces, so tons of shops fit on that one street. Many newer buildings, on The Ave and elsewhere, do away with this. Ground-floor space ends up being devoted to parking infrastructure; the worst form is parking entrances right on The Ave, but even using other parts of the ground floor prevents deep retail spaces, forcing them to either be tiny or wide.

        Other streets in the U District are full of this sort of thing. They’re bigger than what’s on The Ave, but by what definition are they “more urban”? Do they fill the streets they’re on with life?

        None of this means we should restrict heights on The Ave, but that would be better than turning it into another Roosevelt. We should recognize what works about The Ave and encourage it elsewhere along with more residential density!

      3. The Ave has been the generator of the U-District’s walkable urbanism for decades. Its attractiveness goes up and down as the combination of businesses change, but it will always do that. You can’t see now the four used record shops and four used book stores and video-game parlors that used to exist and attract people, or the Last Exit coffeehouse for that matter. (Big round tables where people sat down with strangers and often played chess or board games.) But it will keep changing and probably still attracting people. It’s now a pretty good mixture of old 1-2 story buildings and new mixed-use buildings. If we can keep a couple old buildings per block south of 47th, that should be enough. North of 47th may be already lost; that strip mall south of 50th is not worth preserving, and the remaining one-story buildings between 47th and Ravenna Blvd may not be important enough. Except that nice lemon yellow University Theater and the Grand Illusion. (Not that I care about the Grand Illusion, but I know it has passionate fans.)

      4. “There’s a specific thing that makes The Ave’s old buildings work: narrow, deep retail spaces, so tons of shops fit on that one street.”

        +1, +1, +1

      5. There’s plenty of room in the U-District to upzone to the point that the added capacity on the Ave would be a drop in the bucket. If you want people to support this a U-District, declare the Ave from Campus Parkway to 47th or 50th as hands off.

        What the hell is the point of neighborhoods if we bulldoze the smaller, more affordable storefronts/restaurant spaces that can accommodate the stores and restaurants that actually have character? I swear there are people on this blog that will stop at nothing to turn each neighborhood’s downtown into a cookie cutter canyon of terribly designed, unwelcoming mixed-use retail that can only support sterile chains or overpriced one-offs. If you truly want that, I would encourage you to move Southern California (I know, not the same).

        People love their neighborhood downtowns. The inability of the “density at all cost” people to see that and preserve the protected and eclectic downtown areas is what causes a lot of people that might be on the fence about upzoning to jump to the NIMBY crowd.

      6. And you can even take it off The Ave a few blocks. Imagine replacing the humble one-story Safeway on Brooklyn and its adjacent surface parking lot with, say, a copy of the “Bridges@11th” building. What do all those shoppers do for groceries, hoof it on down to U Village or Wallingford? You can bet a lot more people are going to want to drive to make those trips! The Safeway is a low-density block that supports high-density blocks nearby. If it can support some denser uses while retaining its current utility that’s good, but it’s not clear that’s the most likely market outcome.

      7. Another kudo for: “There’s a specific thing that makes The Ave’s old buildings work: narrow, deep retail spaces, so tons of shops fit on that one street.” That’s retail density, or storefront density if you want to look at it that way. That’s good for pedestrians and for having a variety of businesses. So the narrow storefronts are worth a second story in terms of their value.

  3. I don’t live in that council district, but I will pay close attention to whether my councilmember tries to displace hundreds of future U-District residents to suburgatory or informal group housing all over Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods.

    Also, is UW allowed to expand? I’m concerned that fewer and fewer Washington residents will be allowed to attend the state’s pre-eminent public university. (This is not a call to limit out-of-state and out-of-country admissions, but to recognize UW’s value as a place of learning, and allow it more room to teach more students.)

    1. I don’t think there’s anyone on the council I trust to be more pro-density and pro-housing than Johnson. I’m always prepared to be disappointed by politicians, but I strongly suspect if he’s looking to compromise the upzone it’s because his read of the politics is that it’s necessary to do so to get the best upzone you can and keep five votes.

    2. That’s related in some ways to money they get from the state. When state universitys are squeezed, they let in more out of staters (since they pay more tuition than in staters). Then state representatives complain that their constituents aren’t being let in– and the chicken/egg debate continues

    3. As far as state universities go, Washington needs to grow up, understand how populous we are and create one or two more major state universities within 30 miles of Downtown Seattle with thousands more engineering graduates. I’ve read that we graduate only half of the number of new engineers to fill the openings here. Seattle is the only major metro area over 3 million people in the US that I can think of with only one major state university campus. Even San Diego, Sacramento, Atlanta, St Louis, Detroit and many others have more major state campuses near them than we do. Our UW-loyal and education stingy legislature needs to embrace the future better and graduate our fair share.

      1. Thanks for the link, AJ! It’s interesting that a new campus has been delayed indefinitely. So why do neither UW Bothell or UW Tacoma have 15,000 to 20,000 students already? Why does the legislature keep a cap on the number of Bachelor degrees offered at Bellevue College? It’s clear that there is a documented need but there isn’t the political will to actually implement a solution..

      2. There’s no cap on students. It’s just the number that the universities can fit in the buildings and afford to subsidize. The state is worst in the country for the number of university slots per capita because it didn’t expand the universities as much as the population increased after the 1980s. UW Bothell and Tacoma and the myriad branch campuses are a step in that direction but it’s only slowly catching up. And more students means more subsidies for in-state tuition, and the state has been adverse to raising taxes since the Eymanites became a force in 2000. The universities’ subsidies actually went down, so they admitted more international students who are unsubsidized to make up for it, and thus lowered the number of slots for in-state students.

      3. One of the profound missed of ST3 is that there is no partnership with new higher education facilities. A UW commitment to expanding the Tacoma campus and tying in Link better there, a slight diversion to an expanded Bellevue College with an on-campus station like San Diego State, or a new Paine Field campus next to a Link station would make ST3 more compelling.

        With rapid population growth and fewer in-state slots, I would conclude that the state is losing ground rather than slowly gaining ground.

      4. The admittance of international students to the UW campuses in the absence of a greater subsidy to the state university system smells like a de-facto H-1B student program, but instead of specializing in software skills they specialize in bringing in the “Benjamins.”

      5. ST3 will do much for commuting to campuses:

        – any extension of the ‘spine’ get people more 1-seat rides to UW’s main campus
        – UW Bothell will be have a Transit Center on campus, and will be the terminus for the 522 BRT
        – Bellevue College is within walking distance of the Eastgate Link station
        – UW Tacoma will benefit from the improvements along Pacific Ave for route 1

      6. A good solution would be letting community colleges offer many more bachelors degrees. AJ, as well North Seattle College will have a pedestrian bridge tom the link station that goes over I-5.

    4. UW recently updated its master plan. It calls for towers south of Pacific Street and in the Montlake parking lot, and probably more buildings on campus. It will probably be building those in the next few decades.

      1. Given the magnitude of the shortage and building life-cycles, this would appear to not seriously address the problem.

  4. If the rezone needs our support, how ’bout the contact info of the council and mayor’s office, or a link to the contact info, in the post?

  5. As an urbanist and transit supporter, I don’t support this type of upzone. I don’t want a second downtown, and I don’t want Seattle to look like Vancouver or New York. I want Berlin, Paris and Copenhagen. I want an upzone of no more than 10 stories in all directions.

    Creating a small island of highrises will not be optimal for those living in this “new downtown”, and it will further drive anti-density people away. We should keep pushing a moderate upzone outwards–to at a minimum of a five minute walk from the station in all directions, but ideally 10 minutes. But we should not be pushing for small pockets of highrises.

      1. In my personal opinion, midrise cities are more enjoyable than highrise ones. Better balance of height and light, better street activation, more likely to have more but smaller retail stores at ground level. And I think it would win over far more sceptics around the city than dropping another downtown north of the ship canal.

        But ultimately, I’ve traveled a great deal and the cities that I love are midrise cities. I just haven’t found highrise cities (or the section of any city with highrises) to be nearly as humanizing or enjoyable. Again, I’d take Berlin over Vancouver any day.

        Also, I don’t really agree with Martin’s post from 2013. But oh well.

      2. Limiting development to a certain height because of aesthetics is as economically selfish as defending Single Family zones because of aesthetics. You are making the same argument as defenders of Seattle’s SF neighborhoods, but through a different aesthetic lens.

      3. A few secondary points:
        First, the primary obstacle to density in Seattle is not limits to urban villages (e.g. height limits in Ballard, Cap Hill), but the strong limits to growth in SF homes. Seattle will never resemble these cities you love until the politics around SF zones change.

        Second, the bulk of Seattle will continue to be lowrise development – Uptown, Ballard, Capital Hill, Ranier Valley, Ballard, West Seattle – all of these neighborhoods are or will be zoned for the midrise space you crave.

        Third, a healthy city needs a mix of density. Certain locations are going to have such high demand that high rise is needed to meet demand.

      4. You can build crappy, low-activation buildings at 5-10 stories just as well as at 30-50 — Seattle is a poster child for this! Instead of trying to protect what matters at street level by capping height, protect what matters at street level by protecting what matters at street level directly.

      5. Amen, Al!

        Aside from light, which can be addressed through setbacks, what is going on 3 stories & up has very little to do with what is going on at street level.

      6. Limiting development to a certain height because of aesthetics is as economically selfish as defending Single Family zones because of aesthetics.

        This is the key right here. I’d love to be in a position where we could have a proper civic debate about what kind of city we’d like to build, debating the Berlin/Paris model contrasted with Vancouver. In the world we actually inhabit, maybe just maybe if we fight hard for every last scrap of density we can get, we might just might create conditions that lead to almost enough housing growth to keep up with demand. Pretending we’re in a position to choose from a menu of density options in this political environment is just a form of anti-density politics. Something much more important than anyone’s aesthetic preferences is at stake here.

    1. I think a single island of highrises wouldn’t be that bad, especially when connected by super-frequent 8-minute transit to downtown. It wouldn’t really be a second downtown, just a mini downtown, populated largely by students. There are already two highrises anyway. U-district should and probably will be the only neighborhood treated this way, while the other neighborhoods can keep their 85′ height limits.

      1. One of the issues is FAR and lot coverage. Building mid-rise buildings with no setbacks on narrow streets can be less hospitable than having fewer but taller buildings. That was behind Corbusier concepts. I’m not sure of the magic equation but it’s something to be considered.

      2. The opposite is true. mid-rise buildings with no setbacks on narrow streets are MORE hospitable than high-rises set in huge plazas. Corbusier was wrong; he was the enemy of urbanism.

        The problem with trying to create Paris in Seattle is that the streets are massively wide and everything is set back and far apart from everything else. You can’t fix that; you’d have to scrap the entire street network and start over, which simply isn’t possible.

        Paris has some super wide streets, too, but they were cut through the dense fabric of basically alleyways that covered the city by Hausmann. And the wide streets are not the interesting ones; they warrens of narrow ones are.

      1. So if requirements for a well-connected street grid and first-floor retail increase development costs and thereby reduce density, are these things not urbanist?

        I’m an urbanist both because I believe density is one of the most effective tools we have in combating climate change, and because I think suburbs are soulless, ugly, conformist, isolating places. I think it’s fine to prioritize density as urban value #1, but foolish to be so absolutist about it that “anything else… isn’t urbanism at all”.

        We should fight for high quality urban spaces that people want to live in, not just urban spaces, period. I support the U-district rezone, but I think such absolutist reasons to support it are misguided.

      2. A well-connected street grid means many short blocks with two-lane streets. That gives pedestrians many choices of paths to their block, and avoids the pedestrian-unfriendly situation of taking a long time to walk each block. It gives cars many choices of paths so they don’t all crowd on one street and require four lanes. You still need arterials but as many or large. The Central District, Wallingford, Greenwood south of 85th, and much of Rainier Valley and Mt Baker are the best examples in Seattle. To make them better you’d eliminate the parking lanes and pull the setbacks in. You’d sometimes move the houses forward to put more of the front yard in the back yard.

        Ground-floor retail is an essential component on every block so that people don’t have to walk far and so that there are more pedestrians around. Maybe not every parcel. Some people have criticized Seattle for requiring ground-floor retail in every building, but that’s kind of a blunt instrument to make sure we don’t have too little retail. Some people object to retail requirements in the Denny Triangle because they say there aren’t enough customers there to make them viable. That may be true now and they may be empty for a while, but we have to think about the future when there will be more people. If we don’t build the retail now we’ll be stuck in the same problem is now, that too many buildings are all-residential so people have to go excessively far to businesses and that discourages walking and increases car dependency.

      3. Yep, that’s my point, Mike. Dense is not the only measure of urban spaces, and we should keep this in mind. Street grids and first floor retail are the most uncontroversial, but I think on the long timescale, aesthetics are important too, and we need to be careful to balance them with goals like density.

    2. @SeattleBeer, I’m with you. These out of town planners that are trying to ruin a great city should go back to their failed cities that no one wants to visit. ST and metro have screwed up NE Seattle’s public transit and now they want to screw-up what’s left of a nice area.

      1. Nice for those who already own it because they came in the 1970’s when the lights were out or inherited the home. Not so nice for anyone else.

    3. Limiting development to a certain height because of aesthetics is as economically selfish as defending Single Family zones because of aesthetics. You are making the same argument as defenders of Seattle’s SF neighborhoods, but through a different aesthetic lens.

    4. I’m fairly inclined to agree – capitol hill is much more beloved than downtown, and I think a lot of that is attributable to low-rise density. Cafes have patio seating on cap hill, because sunlight reaches store fronts, but that just doesn’t exist downtown. We can create a place that works for transit, majorly reduces our carbon footprint, balances housing supply and demand, and is aesthetically appealing. Mid-rise is where it’s at. (note – because midrise development is so much cheaper than high rise, when supply and demand are balanced, it makes for more affordable – especially family-sized – housing than high rise.

      However, the opposition to growth in single family zones is a major impediment. Mid-rise also tends towards residential and retail, but not office space; we need multiple employment centers to get all-day, all-direction transit use. We need density, and this is one of our best opportunities to increase density – I don’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I’m supporting the rezone

    5. “I don’t want a second downtown”

      The U-District has been Seattle’s second downtown for at least forty years. The presence of the UW and student housing guarantees that, as well as the non-university businesses and residents in the district. No other neigborhood outside downtown has as many bus routes, or its own peak-express routes from three counties. “Second downtown” doesn’t mean growing as large as downtown; it means recognizing it’s a serious urban center and building on that.

      On the radio this morning it said the U-District has the potential to become bigger than Capitol Hill because it has so many surface parking lots that can be converted. It already is bigger of course; but the parking lots are a good point and often overlooked. There’s room for significant growth right there. And it’s also a caution that we have to do it right because you can only convert parking lots once. At the north end of Broadway is a 4-story building that went up just before the zoning was raised to 6 stories. Now those two phantom stories will be lost for a long time. Capitol Hill has had so much conversion already because the population pressure couldn’t wait any longer; but all of that lesses the opportunities for future conversions that might have been better. We need to get the zoning right before the conversions, not after them.

      Northgate is the next opportunity. Make Northgate a big urban center too.

    6. We need both highrises and mid/low rises. (There’s an ambiguity because some people define lowrise as 2-4 stories and midrise as 5-8, while others define lowrise as 2-6 stories and midrise as 7-12. I’m talking about the levels between 5 and 12.) We need highrises to increase the number of units for rich people, but we can’t afford the highrises so we need mid/lowrises for the rest of us.

  6. Why does the ID have such a low heigh limit? Seems like there are a few blocks there that should have office towers given the proximity to King station.

    1. Cities are complicated things. There’s more to think about than just density. The ID is the International District, the hub of Seattle’s Asian community. A few blocks of office towers there and that Asian identification goes away. The Asian community doesn’t want that, and neither should we.

      1. Agreed. Also, a lot of the ID is built on fill, which is a really dumb idea in a place with earthquake hazards like we’ve got. It’s hard to say if replacing with modern buildings, but higher density, would make the ID more or less of an earthquake hazard, but in general, we should focus density away from the Duwamish because it’s bad, bad news when the earthquake comes.

  7. A little history The U District was the neighborhood that prompted height restrictions in the first place. Back in the 70’s the Safeco insurance company built the Safeco tower (now known as the UW Tower) which was massively out of scale with the neighborhood. An outcry ensues and VOILA! You have highly restrictive zoning. History may be the biggest impediment toward relaxing height restrictions in the University District.

  8. On a slightly different tangent, assuming ST3 passes, will there be a debate/proposal to upzone West Seattle (or has that fight already taken place?)?

  9. “Trying to cure the ‘housing shortage’ by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt.”

    – Sam. 2016

    And 40 years ago today the top selling album was Frampton Comes Alive.

    1. obese?

      seattle could hardly be considered even “plump” with housing…

      the more appropriate analogy would be that:

      “undernourishment can indeed be lessened by providing food.”

      1. ….and yes, that leaves open the possibility for an analogy-stretching discussion of the relative nourishment values & benefits of fast-food vs. sit down; mass-market vs. locavore; eating out vs. homemade; etc.

  10. I am totally supportive of the U District rezone. Few areas have the ability to absorb such an amount of growth. One thing I will point out to folks is that there is little difference between 85 and 125 foot zoning. You can build to 85 feet with wood frame construction. To go higher you generally need concrete and steel. The added cost doesn’t really pencil out until you get to 160. So, if you zone 125, you will still get mostly 85 built.

  11. What worries me is that crappy old buildings will be replaced with shiny new ones, which is great, EXCEPT: the retail goes away. The U District is among other things the incubator of small immigrant business of a type that is being driven out of the city into the cruddier suburbs. These businesses cannot possibly afford the rents in the new buildings, and the spaces in those buildings are wildly inappropriate for the kinds of businesses that keep cities interesting. So you end up with places like lower Stone Way, with lots of new apartments but almost no retail — just gigantic empty gyms. Or places like SLU, with just a couple of wide, shallow businesses per block, instead of the long rows of cheap 10- or 20-foot-wide storefronts. Try to imagine a business like Thai Tom going into one of those. Or Magus Books, or Neptune Records.

    Basically, every interesting business in the U District is at risk in a plan like this, unless the city makes a special effort to accommodate them, and the developers, who almost always hate and work against retail other than the usual CVS, Chase Bank, gyms, high-end concept restaurants, etc., while all the immigrants and small businesses are pushed out to Kent or into the sea.

    1. The rents are already going up. The U-District and Broadway are expensive for businesses. That’s why they have so many empty storefronts now, because the landlords are greedy and the mom-n-pop tenants can’t afford that much. We lost The Vogue in 2000 because the landlord tripled the rent. The building didn’t change; just the tenants did.

    2. Solution is simpler – un-ban neighborhood commercial off arterials. Less expensive form factor (small walk up buildings with commercial on ground floor) and major chains won’t want them.

  12. Why on earth would we want to upzone an area with lots of small parcels, horribly congested arterials that lead to the station which will bog down all modes including buses and fire trucks, and a light rail corridor segment that will already be too crowded?

    Northgate, Rainier Beach and Judkins Park seem much more strategic. Add Interbay and Delridge if ST3 passes. Better yet, build new dense downtowns further out like Federal Way, Paine Field and Issaquah so that we get more two-directional commutes on light rail.

      1. I disagree, Mike. Height restrictions and single-use zoning specifically legislate where most growth can go. Fire ladder truck locations, electrical substations and water/sewer pipes also can facilitate high-rise growth.

      2. I meant the other way around. Upzoning Rainier Beach and Tukwila and Federal Way isn’t going to make all the businesses and residents flock there. It’s still worth doing and will attract some people, but you can’t just replace the U-District’s potential growth that way. The businesses and people who would locate in the U-District upzone aren’t always willing to go to Tukwila or Federal Way instead. The people who will go to Tukwila and Federal Way are poor/working class people who have no other choice, and low-paying businesses, and people who work in south King County. South King can start to turn that around slowly, but it can’t replace the U-District, and capping growth in the U-District would just eliminate that potential economic growth and urbanism.

  13. This may add 5000 new housing units… but it will probably take another 4 years for the rezone to go through, and for those buildings to be built. In the mean time, something like 20,000 people move to seattle per year. This will be a drop in the bucket.

    The city council needs to move much faster to upzone across a much wider range of neighborhoods. They are taking a very leisurely pace, but in the meantime there is a massive displacement of long time residents and widespread homelessness.

    1. Four years? This is the rezone going through. If it’s going to Council now, the final vote must be this year or next year. In four years the Council will have different members. I agree that we need to go big and quickly in upzoning the other urban villages. And pass all of HALA!!! And put ADUs and duplexes and microapartments back on the table after that.

      1. Piecora’s closed years ago, but it’s just sat abandoned while the new building is in design review, waiting for permits etc. It’s not like sim city where you redone and a new neighborhood pops up in 5 minutes. The I district will still be building 10 years from now.

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