North Beacon Hill and Othello Rezones

City of Seattle Seal

On Monday, April 2, the Council unanimously approved rezones in the North Beacon Hill and Othello Residential Urban Villages.  These rezones are designed to take the next stage in implementing the neighborhood and station area plans for those neighborhoods, by creating the zoning needed to promote additional development around the station.

The North Beacon Hill legislation  (Council Bill 117375) will rezone 85 parcels on 12 acres of land around the station, along with expanding the Station Area Overlay boundary to include the block immediately north of the light rail station and some areas on the north end of the Beacon Hill business district.  It is estimated that these rezones will almost double the current capacity for growth in the North Beacon Hill Residential Urban Village, from 677 units to 1294 units.  Not all of this capacity is expected to be used in the 2031 planning horizon.  The actual number of units expected to be developed by 2031 increases from 233 to 446.  This is still a fairly modest level of development for an area served by light rail, but it represents the best estimate of what developers would actually be willing to proceed with over this time period.  The rezones include requirements for affordable housing.  Development on the site owned by El Centro de La Raza between El Centro and the station is expected to create a major portion of the new housing.  This project will also include community amenities such as a plaza and spaces for small businesses that serve community residents.

The Othello legislation (Council Bill 117412) will rezone 29 acres of land around the station.  These rezones will increase the estimated capacity in the Othello station area from 6046 units to 6350 units, a fairly modest change.  The actual number of projected units to be developed by 2031 will increase from 2082 to 2187.  These rezones also include requirements for affordable housing.   The Othello area has already had significant new development at New Holly and in the Station at Othello project.  The City hopes that these minor modifications will create a pattern of development that will be more balanced and attractive to property owners and the development community.  Achieving the 2187 units by 2031 would be a major addition to Seattle’s housing stock, and still leave significant capacity for future growth.

The proposals were developed through an extensive community process, beginning in 2009.  A set of Comprehensive Plan Amendments derived from this planning process and providing the framework for these zoning changes were approved as part of the 2010-2011 Comprehensive Plan Update in April of 2011.  This legislation completes the plan update process.

These are the first neighborhood plans to be formally updated as part of a systematic process focusing on the opportunities for transit oriented development.  The updating process was initially limited to light rail station areas, especially those that do not have sufficient zoning to truly support the effective utilization of the light rail line.  The Mount Baker Station area (part of the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan) was also designated for review in this phase, but that work has not yet come to the Council.  The Roosevelt neighborhood initiated a plan update on its own, a modified version of which has already been adopted by the Council.

The next phase of plan updates expanded the criteria to include neighborhoods served by extensive bus service, and covers the Bitter Lake Neighborhood Plan on Metro’s Aurora Rapid Ride line along with the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan on the light rail line.  I am advocating for an accelerated process to consider future plan updates, and I am especially concerned that the City focus on the Northgate and University District plans, which are the two urban centers located on the next extension of light rail.  The City has already extensively updated zoning on Capitol Hill.   

Experience from the initial plan updates suggests that communities are fairly satisfied with their existing plans.  Neighborhoods have asked that the City concentrate on implementing the remaining items from the original plans, rather than trying to create whole new lists of implementation measures.  Updates could be more carefully focused on changes to reflect changing conditions, such as the land use changes in response to increased transit opportunities that were the major new elements in the North Beacon Hill and Othello plans.  My hope is that by concentrating on implementing existing plans and limiting updates to changed conditions, we can start doing as many as four plan updates per year.

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