Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee

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On January 9 the Council will adopt its new Committee structure for 2012-2013.  I will likely Chair a Committee we have named Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS).  Once approved, this committee will work on legislation relating to land use and urban planning, as well as oversee the Office of Sustainability and Environment and the Office of Emergency Management.

I have identified the following ten priorities for planning and land use:

  1. Develop Transit Communities Policies/Advance Neighborhood Plans.  The City adopted a set of Station Area Plans in 2000, which were designed to prevent auto-oriented development around the light rail station areas.  Since then we have developed an enhanced understanding of the role of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), we have new light rail areas coming online, and there is a new interest in considering TOD on major bus corridors in addition to rail corridors.  The recent debate over the Roosevelt station area rezones demonstrated how important it is to give clear guidelines to neighborhoods about what TOD means and how it can be best achieved.  My goal is to develop those guidelines and have them adopted by the Council.  While we are developing the policy approach, it is also important that we move forward on the plans that are already in process.  That includes ensuring that the Capitol Hill, University District, Rainier Valley, and Roosevelt station areas have strong TOD on sites owned by Sound Transit.  It also means moving zoning proposals from existing neighborhood plan updates in Othello, North Rainier, and Beacon Hill through the Council, ensuring that the Rainier Beach and Broadview plan updates continue to progress, and launching a neighborhood plan review in the University District, the only Urban Center that has not had its plan updated.
  2. Create an Industrial Development District.  Business, labor, and community organizations are working with the City to create an Industrial Development District that will encourage new industrial jobs through coordinated development, regulatory flexibility, and complementary environmental infrastructure.
  3. Move Yesler Terrace redevelopment forward, and include District Energy.  The Yesler Terrace legislation will be considered in a Committee of the Whole Chaired by incoming Council President Sally Clark.  My Committee will play a support role, and will have the leading responsibility for working towards a District Energy plan for Yesler Terrace as part of our overall work on District Energy strategies.  The Yesler Terrace redevelopment is a remarkable opportunity to create a strong mixed use and mixed income community adjacent to downtown – with assurance that low income housing will be maintained and possibly expanded.
  4. Advance the Vision Duwamish Plan.  As I wrote last month, we have a great opportunity to leverage the Duwamish Superfund cleanup to make the River a more integral part of Seattle, improve the residential communities adjacent to the Duwamish, and stimulate ecologically responsible industry in order to create jobs, amenities, environmental restoration and community vitality in the Duwamish valley.
  5. Develop coordination policies for Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), other similar transfer policies, and incentive zoning.  The City has put in place a number of different policies that require developers to either purchase development rights and/or include affordable housing under an incentive zoning policy.  We have a great opportunity to implement a new TDR program with King County to protect farmland that supplies Seattle’s farmers markets.  These programs should be coordinated and integrated to ensure maximum success.
  6. Adopt new Shoreline Management Program (SMP) regulations.  The City is required to update our SMP by the state, and proposals have already gone through several drafts.  I expect the final proposal to come to Council in the first few months of 2012.  I will work to ensure that the new regulations compliment our efforts to incentivize Industrial Development District projects that are located on our waterways.
  7. Develop new tree regulations with an emphasis on incentives and forests.  We have been debating how to enhance Seattle’s tree cover for several years.  It is time to move forward with a new tree code that emphasizes the environmental value of trees, especially in groves and forests that function well ecologically.  My goal is to focus on incentives that will lead to more tree cover.
  8. Update energy code and green building policies.  Seattle continues to be in the forefront of energy code and green building policy development, and we are now pioneering Living Buildings that are net zero energy users.  We should continue to push the envelope on these policies, encouraging creativity and commitment in property owners.
  9. Advance a Regulatory Reform Package.  A set of proposals developed by a stakeholder committee was brought to the Council last September.  With most of the fall taken up with budget work, there was not time to consider these in 2011.  I hope to take them up early in 2012 and take action on those elements that will effectively coordinate regulations to maximize community value and minimize unnecessary process.
  10. Find ways to get unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings renovated to earthquake standards.  The Pacific Rim earthquakes of the last several years should have given us a new sense of urgency about our built environment.  The 800 or so URM buildings in Seattle are the most vulnerable to earthquake damage, and we must find a way that is affordable for property owners to renovate them.

In addition to these priorities, there are numerous other pieces of land use legislation that will come to the Committee, and we will also continue to work to improve our emergency preparedness.  Our oversight of the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) will include continuing my office’s work on food issues, which will now be located in OSE, along with the urban forest and district energy.  Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who will be taking on the Committee that oversees Seattle City Light, will also be the Council lead on climate neutrality and the Community Power Works energy retrofit program, which are also part of OSE.