South Lake Union Rezone Public Hearing

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My Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee will hold our second public hearing on the proposed South Lake Union Rezone on Wednesday, November 14, at 5:30 PM in the Council Chambers.  We held an initial hearing in August, and have discussed the proposed rezone several times in Committee.  The legislation is now in final form, and we hope to complete Council action early next year.

The proposed rezone is the last step in a comprehensive update of the South Lake Union Neighborhood Plan.  The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been working with the South Lake Union community since 2008 to develop this proposal.  Most of the work was completed this summer, and the Council received the final legislation in September.

Key components of the legislation include:

  • Linking increased building height and floor area to incentive zoning to create opportunities for affordable housing;
  • Maintaining current scale in the Cascade Neighborhood;
  • Preserving public views through new development standards for tower spacing;
  • Encouraging a strong pedestrian environment through strong street-level design standards; and
  • Strengthening incentives to preserve landmark properties and existing open spaces while including a new program that will preserve farm and forest lands by transferring development rights into the urban area.

Historically, South Lake Union was a mixed commercial/industrial community with pockets of residential development and relatively low buildings.  Over the last few years, since being designated as an Urban Center in 2004, there has been significant commercial and residential development, including some height increases, notably for the Amazon complex and the University of Washington Medical Buildings.  Projects under development are generally seeking additional height, floor area, and zoning for more residential units.

The designation as an Urban Center comes with a set of Comprehensive Plan policies that are designed to encourage more development and significant increases in employment and housing.  The 2004 Comprehensive Plan update set twenty-year growth targets for South Lake Union at 8,000 households and 12,000 jobs, about 17% of citywide household and 19% of citywide employment growth.  The next twenty year update will likely maintain these percentages.  That will mean significantly more households and jobs in South Lake Union, because Seattle will grow even more significantly as we fully implement our growth management responsibilities.  Meeting these goals will require additional zoned capacity, and the proposal provides for an estimated capacity of 22,000 to 24,000 dwelling units and 28,000 to 30,000 jobs, which should cover projected development over the next twenty years.

The proposed new zoning includes increased height near Denny Way adjacent to the similar heights in the Denny Triangle neighborhood; increased heights through the center of South Lake Union where much current development is taking place; towers on the blocks between Valley and Mercer, across the street from the South Lake Union Park; smaller increases in height and density on the east and west sides of the neighborhood; maintaining current zoning in the Cascade neighborhood to the northeast; and modest adjustments on the northwest (partly as required under FAA regulations to preserve the flight path from the Lake Union Seaport).

The proposal carefully spaces out higher buildings, limiting the size of the floor plates and the density of towers, and using setbacks to preserve public view corridors. There are also a number of regulatory standards and incentives designed to ensure a lively and vibrant pedestrian environment and a series of subarea standards designed to ensure that development maintains the character of specific communities.

Under the proposed rezone, additional height and floor area must be gained by providing public amenities through the incentive zoning program.  Developers will generally be allowed to build to current height and floor area ratio (FAR) (called the “base” height and FAR) without using the incentive program.  Those who choose to build above this base height and FAR will be required to contribute public amenities in proportion to the amount of extra floor area.  This includes affordable housing, child care facilities, and open space enhancement and preservation. 

Projects using the incentive program will also be required to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification of silver or better for building environmental performance, have a transportation management program that ensures that no more than 40 percent of trips to and from the project will be made using single‐occupant vehicles, and have an energy management program and conservation strategy.

Projects can use the “TDR for TIF” program as part of their incentive requirements (see my blog post for more details).  This will transfer development rights from farm and forest land into the development while providing the City with additional funds for parks and other local infrastructure.

The changes in South Lake Union are creating an exciting and lively community that provides the kind of housing and employment opportunities that will keep Seattle a strong and healthy City.  My Committee will work through the details of this proposed rezone with the goal of ensuring that this neighborhood thrives – and that all of Seattle benefits from these developments.  Follow this link for more information on the details of the rezone.