SEATTLE UNIVERSITY TO ADD 2500 STUDENTS AND 1500 FACULTY AND STAFF

On Monday, December 10, the Council unanimously adopted a new Major Institution Master Plan (MIMP) for Seattle University.  The MIMP replaces the current plan, which was approved by Council in 1997 and expires this year.  Under the new Master Plan, Seattle University is authorized to double in size, expanding from the 2.2 million square feet of development to 4.4 million square feet. Seattle University needed this amount of development to accommodate a forecasted increase in full time students (from 6,700 to 9,200), and to support an increase of 1500 new faculty and staff positions.  Seattle University does this with only a very modest increase in campus size from 55 to 57 acres, adding some small pieces of property adjacent to the University on Broadway and east of 12th.

The MIMP process is designed to provide certainty to neighborhoods and institutions about the long-range growth plans, in this case for at least the next twenty years.  It is a multi-year process guided by the City’s Department of Neighborhoods who works with a Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC), the institution, and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to review the proposed plan and make recommendations to the City’s Hearing Examiner.  The Hearing Examiner makes a recommendation that goes to the City Council as a quasi-judicial issue.

Under quasi-judicial rules, which are also used for contract rezones (a rezone of a specific piece of property, as opposed to a neighborhood rezone) and a few other proceedings, the Council sits as a judicial body making a decision on the issue based on a formal record established in the Hearing Examiner process.  Councilmembers are not allowed to take input and collect opinions and arguments except in a formal public proceeding (although they may take cognizance of City documents such as Neighborhood Plans, and may visit locations to view proposed land uses). Council is required by State law to adopt such rules as they are deciding on the property rights of an individual property owner, in this case Seattle University.

The MIMP process can be a long and drawn out procedure.  Fortunately, since MIMP’s forecast growth over a period of at least 15 to 20 years, the Council only receives about one MIMP every two years.  The last MIMP that the Council worked on was for Seattle Children’s Hospital, which involved significant expansions in both area and development capacity, and took a number of months to work through.  The Seattle University MIMP, in contrast, was one of the least contentious MIMP’s that I remember.

It helps that there was such a small proposed addition to the Major Institution Overlay area.  Most stakeholders were included on the CAC, and they worked out many of the issues.  The Hearing Examiner process went smoothly as well, and by the time the MIMP came to the Council there were only two fairly narrow appeals that my Committee had to consider.  We reviewed the key documents and heard oral arguments, and were able to make fairly quick decisions.

Both appeals came from members of the CAC.  Two neighborhood representatives requested five changes, three to deny the eastward expansion areas, one requesting that student housing not qualify as replacement housing, and one requesting a stronger community notice process.  The CAC as a whole also asked for a stronger notification process, and that student housing not qualify as replacement housing.

The PLUS Committee agreed with the appellants and deleted one of the proposed expansion areas, a single site extension north of Marion on the east side of 12th Avenue (the “Photocenter NW” site).   We felt that SU had not demonstrated a need for this area, and were concerned that it might limit potential private development in an area that was important to the 12th Avenue Neighborhood Plan.  We denied the other two boundary appeals and the housing and process appeals, noting that SU already owned most of the few properties involved and that there were appropriate development standards, mitigation, and procedures to address the concerns raised by the appellants.

This was my first time managing a MIMP process as Land Use Chair, and I am pleased by how smoothly it went.  Good cooperation by all the parties involved and excellent staff work made this pretty painless.  We are pleased that Seattle U was able to put together a plan that will allow it to grow with such limited impact on the surrounding community.

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