But construction in Seattle continued on plenty of multifamily projects. That hasn’t always been the case in the rest of King County. In recent years, several suburban cities, including Issaquah, Sammamish, and Federal Way, halted construction on new projects by enacting construction moratoria.
Under the Growth Management Act, a city can pause work on any or all kinds of new projects by enacting a construction moratorium. The power is broad, but not unlimited. A city has to cite specific detrimental impacts caused by new construction, and use the period of the moratorium to enact code changes that address the problem. A moratorium only lasts six months at a time, but can be renewed indefinitely. Issaquah, for example, renewed its moratorium three times before letting it expire earlier this year.
You might think that those laws are the product of NIMBYism. In some cases, that’s true. But the reality is more complicated.
Seattle’s growth is still accelerating. Census estimates released yesterday show almost 21 thousand new residents in Seattle in the year ended July 2016. With 704 thousand residents, Seattle is once again the nation’s fastest growing city with 3.1% annual growth.
We’ve become accustomed to fast growth, averaging 15 thousand new residents in Seattle annually between 2010 and 2015. So it’s impressive how Seattle has stepped up its game to add even more residents. As Gene Balk observed yesterday, Seattle is only the second top 50 city to grow more than 3% in one year this decade (the other was Austin in 2012). 3% growth in a mature city is a big deal.
Demand for urban living is strong, as evidenced by high prices for homes in walkable neighborhoods all over the US. But most cities have a hard time delivering those homes. Curbs on urban growth push many involuntarily to the suburbs, and most metropolitan areas are still becoming more suburban. More so than any large American metropolitan area, Seattle has densified as it has grown.
Seattle accounted for a massive 58% of all King County growth in 2016. Seattle’s acceleration was matched by a slowing of growth in many King County suburban cities. Total growth in King County in 2016 was about the same as 2015. A few cities on the central Eastside performed well. Bellevue (+1.3%), Redmond (+3.2%), and Issaquah (+3.6%) all showed healthy growth rates. But the rest of King County had its weakest growth since the recession, and expanded just 0.8%. Continue reading “Seattle booms on”
For over a year, regional planners have wrestled over growth plans with six small cities that are planning to ‘grow too fast’. Last month, the PSRC Executive Board tabled a decision on reclassification that could have eased the way for faster growth in Covington and Bonney Lake.
The region’s growth management strategy, VISION 2040, focuses most development within an urban growth boundary. Inside the growth boundary, the highest planned growth in each county is in “Metropolitan Cities” like Seattle and Bellevue. The next highest growth rates are planned for “Core Cities”, with progressively lower growth in “Larger Cities” and “Small Cities”. Small cities outside the contiguous urban area should grow more slowly than cities within.
In the last round of comprehensive plans, Six small cities created plans with growth capacity well above their regional targets. Four of these (Carnation, Snoqualmie, North Bend and Covington) are in King County, and two are in Pierce (Gig Harbor and Bonney Lake). In response, their plans were certified conditionally until they could come into compliance with regional goals. To date, the conditional certification has not impacted their access to grant funding, but might do so in the future.
Small cities have lower growth targets because they are typically further from major business centers. This means longer commutes that increase demands on regional transportation infrastructure. Unplanned growth impacts traffic in neighboring communities and on rural roads. The character of small towns is to be preserved. (Some small cities are indeed charming, others maybe less so). But slow growth strains the budgets of many smaller towns, dependent on an influx of new residents or businesses to fund existing services and infrastructure.
Last week, the US Census Bureau released 2015 population estimates by city. To nobody’s surprise, Seattle continues to grow rapidly, having added 15,300 more residents in the year ending June 2015. Seattle has grown by 74,000 residents (12.1%) in just five years. Seattle, for the third year in a row, is among the five fastest growing cities in the nation. Seattle, with 684,000 residents last year, is now the 18th largest city, overtaking El Paso and Detroit.
Seattle’s growth was 44% of the 34,800 residents added in King County in 2015, or 41% of the 179,400 added in King County since 2010.
Among cities larger than 50 thousand population, only Bellevue (+2.4%) and Marysville (+2.5%) grew faster than Seattle (+2.3%) last year. None have grown faster than Seattle over five years. (A few smaller exurban communities have posted higher growth rates).
Bellevue added 3,200 residents in 2015, bolstering its role as a major employment center for the Eastside. Tacoma added 3,300. Everett added 1,200. Nine other cities added over 1,000 residents, including Issaquah which saw a 5.8% growth spurt and almost 2,000 new residents.
Renton, growing more slowly, nevertheless saw its population exceed 100,000, becoming the sixth city in the region to reach this milestone.