Making the University District Work

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University District (Seattle Municipal Archives)

University District (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

The City is embarking on a three year program to support investment in the University District.  With construction of light rail from Husky Stadium to Northgate about to break ground, the U District is poised to take a major step forward as an Urban Center, and the City initiative is designed to help make that happen.

The University District and Northgate are the only designated Urban Centers north of the Ship Canal, and the City’s growth management strategy is dependent on their success as walkable and vibrant communities connected by light rail to other major centers of employment and housing.  Urban Centers are intended to have a mix of commercial activity and employment along with a range of housing types suitable for diverse populations.

The ‘University District Livability Partnership’ will include three major areas of activity:

  • A set of strategies and actions that will encourage commercial activity and economic development.
  • An Urban Design Framework that will create a suggested development strategy around land use, zoning, urban design, transportation, with an emphasis on areas within a ten minute walk of the University District light rail station.
  • A collaborative partnership with the community and University to coordinate this work and ensure a broad range of public involvement.

The commercial revitalization plan will be developed in a partnership between the Office of Economic Development and the Greater University District Chamber of Commerce, with broad based stakeholder involvement.  This plan is intended to be completed this year, with action steps beginning immediately.

The Urban Design Framework will be developed in phases involving a range of community engagement activities.  Core concepts will be developed and ideas gathered through 2012, with recommendations then put together by DPD staff, reviewed by the public during 2013, and presented to the Council for legislative action in late 2013 or early 2014.  Legislative action will require environmental review, and will likely include zoning, design standards, housing incentives, and a streetscape concept plan.

This program will also inform other possible future initiatives, including a possible community led EcoDistrict initiative and the shaping of the next University of Washington Master Plan update, scheduled to begin in 2015.

I am committed to having the City take a more active and proactive role in implementing and updating Seattle’s neighborhood plans.  We have heard from communities that their primary interests are generally not to revisit and completely rework the existing plans.  Instead, communities have generally emphasized that they are comfortable with the neighborhood plan visions but want to ensure that implementation continues, especially of major initiatives that are not yet complete.

With the expansion of light rail, RapidRide service, streetcars, and other possible transit initiatives, there is also interest in revisiting some transportation issues, but the primary areas that need attention are updating zoning, land use, and housing plans in order to get the maximum integration between development and transit, and in order to further economic development and meet the next stages of the City’s long range housing goals under the Growth Management Act and the region’s Vision 2040 Plan.

The University District is an absolutely critical element in this work.  I had included U District planning as one of my priorities for 2012-2013, and I am very pleased that this work is getting underway.