Updating the Comprehensive Plan

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Seattle Streetcar in South Lake Union

The opening of Seattle’s first streetcar line is just one of the many changes since the last Comp Plan update. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

On Monday, May 14, the Council adopted a resolution describing how we will carry out the second ever update of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan.  The Plan was first adopted in 1994, and then updated in 2004.  The next update is scheduled for 2015, and will respond to lots of changes in the City (for example, we now have light rail and streetcar lines, with more under construction), new learnings and understanding about how cities work, and new approaches to successful City planning.

The ‘Comp Plan’, as it is known informally, sets a framework for City actions to change, develop, and manage Seattle over time.  It is required by Washington’s Growth Management Act, and the core policies are required to plan for the City’s share of projected state growth.  For Seattle, that means 70,000 housing units and 115,000 jobs over the next twenty years.

The resolution lays out a three year timeline for completing the update.  It asks the Executive to address the themes that have been developed after a round of broad and inclusive public outreach process:

a. Promote economic opportunity. Foster a business environment where employers are encouraged to stay in or to move to Seattle because of the available labor pool, the amenities and services provided, and the regulatory environment.

b. Leverage growth. Encourage shops and services to locate where existing or planned residential and employment densities are sufficient to make delivery of services efficient; and where the City and the private sector can collaborate on further enhancements to the urban environment.

c. Become a climate-friendly city. Guide the form and location of growth and transportation infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gases produced in the city, even as the city grows, and identify strategies for coping with the likely effects of a changing climate.

d. Build healthy, complete communities. Develop policies that further the Comprehensive Plan’s current Urban Village strategy by improving the availability of services within convenient walking and bicycling distance of where people live.

e. Create housing choices. Continue to encourage a sufficient land base that is appropriately zoned and with regulations in place that allow a wide variety of attractive and affordable housing types in sufficient quantity to serve current and future Seattle residents and workers.

f. Balance transportation investments. Continue to maintain existing transportation facilities, while encouraging expansion of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and increasing transit service to densely developed neighborhoods.

g. Build on transit. Encourage appropriate levels of development near existing and planned high-capacity transit stations in order to make it possible for more people to easily take advantage of the access that transit service can provide to jobs, services and entertainment.

h. Invest strategically in neighborhoods. Direct public improvements in neighborhoods where growth is occurring, so that those neighborhoods can continue to serve current residents and attract additional ones.

i. Encourage great design and innovation. Identify ways that new development can respect the natural beauty and unique neighborhood identities that make Seattle an attractive city. At the same time, look for ways to attract new industries that can thrive in the city.

The resolution also lays out a set of recommendations to make the document more accessible and usable, and a plan for public engagement.  Finally, there is a specific schedule for the next three years of work.

In 2012-2013, the Council will consider early action on crucial issues where the City is already developing recommendations to address social and community change.  These include adding more explicit urban design considerations; policies related to the City’s Climate Action Plan; policies regarding appropriate development types and densities near existing and planned transit investments; and policies that encourage equitable access to healthy food.

In 2013-2014, the focus will be on identifying citywide policy issues requiring further review, reconfiguring the online Plan format to improve readability, and recommending new citywide growth expectations and appropriate policy revisions.

Finally, in 2014-2015, the new Recommended Comprehensive Plan will be submitted, reviewed, and adopted by the Council.  The resolution calls on the Executive and City Council to review amendments suggested as part of the annual Comprehensive Plan processes for 2013 and 2014 to determine whether those amendments fit with the schedule and guidance described in this resolution.