Seattle’s Lake Union

After months of review and work, the Council is now moving towards decisions on the South Lake Union rezone. The rezone has been in development since 2004, when the Council adopted a revised neighborhood plan and designated South Lake Union as an Urban Center. Since then, South Lake Union has become one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the country, with large numbers of new commercial and residential development projects constructed and planned.

As an Urban Center adjacent to downtown, South Lake Union is intended to absorb some 17% of the City’s projected household growth and provide the location for 19% of new jobs. Since the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan in 1995, Seattle has focused on bringing jobs and housing to Urban Centers and Urban Villages where growth makes the most sense. This protects our farms, forests, and wilderness areas from sprawl and concentrates new development where there are transportation and commercial centers to support it. It also prevents ‘in-city sprawl’ from overwhelming our single family neighborhoods.

The South Lake Union Community Council has fully embraced the proposed rezone, and just about everyone who has testified or written to the Council agrees that there should be substantial rezoning of South Lake Union. There are only a few areas that are contested, and the Council will look carefully at those as we move into the final stages of deliberation.

On February 25, the Council will review issues around affordable housing incentive programs. We have commissioned two consultant studies to help us identify ways in which we can ensure that new affordable housing is included in the neighborhood.

On March 4, the Council will review a decision agenda for South Lake Union, and on March 18 I plan to ask for a vote in Committee, to be followed by a Full Council vote on March 25. Here are the major decisions that will be considered:

  • Cascade neighborhood increase in allowed height from 75 to 85 feet.
  • Fairview Avenue transition between Fairview and Cascade.
  • 8th Avenue possible allowance for Research and Development uses on blocks otherwise designated for residential.
  • Mercer Blocks decision between 160 and 240 foot towers and other decisions on tower floor plates. The Council has not indicated an interest in pursuing the proposed agreement that would trade property on Block 59 for the additional height.
  • Review of the proposed 400 foot height on the north side of Denny.
  • Possible rezone of property on the northwest corner of South Lake Union to allow additional heights.
  • Setback standards to protect views of the Space Needle.
  • Additional funding and location requirements for affordable housing.
  • Updates of the transportation mitigation program.
  • Extending historic preservation incentives to additional sites.

A Council consensus is beginning to emerge on most of these issues. The details of the Mercer Blocks and affordable housing funding are the areas where several options remain on the table, but it is likely that those will also be narrowed in the coming meetings.

The Council’s process began last July, but delays in the delivery of the legislation from the Executive; a break during budget deliberations in October and November; and the requirement to complete the Shoreline Management Program update delayed the serious work. I am confident that the Council can complete its process by the end of March.