The City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) committee meets Tuesday morning at 9:30 am. Towards the end of the agenda will be the first committee briefing on the big UDistrict Rezone announced last week after more than 5 years of planning. With the Comprehensive Plan entering its final stages, the meeting being held on a mid-week morning, and the neighborhood in question being home to the Seattle Displacement Coalition, it’s safe to say that public comment is likely to be highly oppositional to new housing and development in the UDistrict.
But this proposal deserves support from anyone who supports more housing near transit. The proposed plan isn’t just about height, but even more about urban form. It permits tall and skinny residential towers up to 320′ while capping office uses at 160′, a sensible framework for a neighborhood long on jobs (20,000+ at UW) and short on housing. The rezone design includes generous pedestrian amenities and bike lanes, 3 parks, preserves much of the Ave, incentivizes community retail uses such as daycare, breaks up long facades, requires ground-level parking to be “fully wrapped in other uses”, places stricter limits on commercial parking, and supports Vision Zero with raised crossings and other traffic calming measures. As an opening volley before the Council, this is pretty good work.
The PLUZ Committee is composed of Chair Rob Johnson (who also represents the UDistrict via District 4), Mike O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold. The latter two have already signaled their intent to push for additional regulations on development “because this upzone increases zoning capacity beyond what was anticipated” and to require one-to-one replacement of any affordable units at risk of demolition. It should be noted that existing zoning doesn’t protect any of these units currently, and adding additional restrictions immediately after passing the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation could be seen as a bait-and-switch for HALA-supportive developers. The most important thing is for the additional units to be constructed, and for that to happen the projects have to pencil out. Even if the units are built but the developer passes the costs of mandatory subsidy onto the market-rate units, this would only exacerbate economic inequality. But we’ll have to see the substance of these amendments before making a final judgment.
But a common refrain in opposing development is that we shouldn’t grow until we build the infrastructure to support it. Well, a high-capacity subway station to serve our state’s largest institution is just the ticket, isn’t it? If you have the privilege of taking a Tuesday morning off, please attend the meeting and speak in support of housing near transit. If not, please email Councilmembers Johnson, Herbold, O’Brien, and (alternate) Gonzalez with your thoughts.