Seattle City Council passes South Lake Union rezone

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City of Seattle

Council President Sally J. Clark
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw
Councilmember Tim Burgess
Councilmember Richard Conlin
Councilmember Jean Godden
Councilmember Bruce Harrell
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Seattle City Council passes South Lake Union rezone
New zoning increases capacity for housing, jobs

SEATTLE – Seattle City Council unanimously passed Council Bill 117603, a package of land use changes that increases the development capacity of the South Lake Union neighborhood to accommodate projected future job growth and housing demands.

“After eight years of collaboration with South Lake Union stakeholders, neighbors and city staff, we’re finally implementing the 2004 designation of South Lake Union as an ‘Urban Center’ and the South Lake Union Neighborhood Plan update,” said Councilmember Richard Conlin, Chair of the Special Committee on South Lake Union and the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee. “By 2031, South Lake Union will have to absorb some 12,000 households and 22,000 jobs to continue to meet its share of future growth. This rezone will take the pressure off other neighborhoods and will shape South Lake Union for the next hundred years,” added Conlin.

In addition to allowing greater building heights, the new zoning also imposes development standards and incentives to encourage a diverse urban form, more open space and an improved streetscape. For example:

  • Only one tower per block will be permitted on the lake front blocks. Other blocks can have two towers but they must be more widely spaced than anywhere else in the city.
  • There are strong street-level design standards and incentives to ensure a lively and vibrant pedestrian environment, such as requiring retail at ground level.
  • A series of subarea standards will maintain the character of specific communities through incentives for preservation of landmark properties and existing open spaces.
  • A new program that preserves farm land and forest land by transferring development rights into South Lake Union will generate funds for transportation improvements.

“This is the culmination of many years of hard work by many people,” said City Council President Sally J. Clark. “Cascade neighbors, the South Lake Union Community Council, businesses large and small, property owners, research institutions, social service and low-income housing providers – they haven’t always agreed, but they’ve all worked to shape a vision and now the rules for development of an amazing place to live and work.”
“Imagine our South Lake Union alive with growing businesses a bustling neighborhood, connected to green spaces and great transit,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “We’ve reached a sound compromise that will work.”

The Council modified the legislation submitted by Mayor Mike McGinn by adding requirements for greener buildings, historic preservation and view protection, and strengthening affordable housing provisions. Major amendments approved by the Council include:

  • Reducing the allowed height on the Mercer blocks from 240 feet to 160 feet, and reorienting the towers to protect views by limiting east-west width to 105 feet.
  • Adding the opportunity for up to four 125 foot residential towers on two blocks between the intersections of Westlake and Dexter and Highland and Galer, where the slope of Queen Anne Hill creates a significant change in the topography. This will replace most of the development capacity lost with lower heights on the Mercer blocks.
  • Requiring all new buildings to meet the Gold standard of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the US Green Building Council.
  • Expanding incentives to encourage preservation of all landmarked structures.
  • Raising heights in part of the Cascade neighborhood from 75 feet to 85 feet to allow more flexibility in design.
  • Strengthening incentives if developers include a public school in their project.
  • Creating permanent setbacks on east-west corridors to protect views of the Space Needle, which was accomplished without reducing development potential.

The Mayor’s proposed legislation included a requirement for developers to either include affordable housing in their projects or to contribute to funds for building low income housing if the developer chooses to build above the base height, which is 85 feet in most of the neighborhood. The Council increased the amount of the required fee by 43% for residential projects in hopes of generating more affordable workforce housing in the neighborhood. The fee for commercial projects will increase 33%, phased in over eighteen months.

“We improved the South Lake Union proposal significantly for the public by generating more resources for affordable workforce housing, encouraging the creation of a new public school and establishing a positive precedent for future upzones that will ensure smart growth for Seattle,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess.

“I am proud of the work Council did to strengthen the incentives to build more affordable workforce housing in South Lake Union, creating more opportunities for people to live near where they work,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

“As we grow denser – and we must – we are growing in a manner that promotes Seattle values: affordability, an inviting pedestrian environment, open space and protected public views, and design standards that will give us a neighborhood worthy of civic pride,” said Councilmember Jean Godden.

“The rezone package strikes a sensible balance between developers and the affordability targets by the City. This year, we will begin a 7-year major update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan so policy work will continue to address the city’s share of affordable housing needs and stimulate the market with smart development,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “We want a City where residents can live, work and play. Most importantly, in this process to set a clear vision for the South Lake Union neighborhood, Council was forward-thinking and inclusive.”

[View in Council Newsroom]