On Wednesday, December 11, the last meeting of my Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee voted out four pieces of important land use legislation. Unlike many land use actions, these bills generated relatively low levels of controversy. However, approval of the Virginia Mason Major Institution Master Plan, the 2013 Omnibus Land Use Code revision, an ordinance consolidating and coordinating design guidelines, and a resolution supporting the transit communities work of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) are all significant steps towards ensuring that future development will meet the needs of our neighborhoods.

The Council reviews future plans for what are called ‘major institutions’ (typically schools and hospitals) on a regular basis – typically one or two every year. The goal is to provide predictability for the institution and for the surrounding neighborhoods, so that everyone knows what is most likely to happen over the next ten or twenty years. The plans define where and how the organization will grow, and provides new zoning and other regulations that govern that growth. Major Institution Master Plans (MIMPs) are quasi-judicial actions, which means that the Council must make its decision based on a formal record and that Councilmembers are prohibited from receiving input except as part of a structured public process. Of the parties who participate in the Virginia Mason MIMP, including the formal Advisory Committee, none brought issues to the Council. The Committee developed a formula defining how Virginia Mason must fund replacement housing for about 50 units of housing that Virginia Mason expects to demolish as it constructs new facilities. We then approved the expansion plan, which allows the hospital to occupy most of the remaining land on the blocks northwest of the corner of Madison and Boren. See items 5 and 6 on the agenda for the legislation and supporting documents.

Every year or two, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) proposes what is called an Omnibus Land Use Code revision. This includes a variety of amendments to correct errors, resolve inconsistencies, remove ambiguities, and make minor changes to ensure that the intent of the code is accurately reflected in the actual legal language. Most of the issues are very technical and raise little controversy, although there is always concern that there might be unanticipated consequences. The One Home One Lot group, for example, identified five changes that they thought might have negative impacts on single family neighborhoods. DPD reviewed their concerns, and removed one amendment from the legislation, agreeing that it was not well worded. The group was satisfied with the explanations for the other four. Probably the most substantive amendment in the package is one that exempts rooftop greenhouses that produce food from FAR (allowed floor area). The Council had already approved exempting such greenhouses from height limitations, but developers have been reluctant to give up rentable space in order to allow these community amenities. The Committee determined that exempting them from FAR was consistent with the intent of the code, since the additional height was already allowed.

The PLUS Committee began discussing the design guidelines package in April, but remanded it to DPD to respond to community concerns that the package had omitted some provisions in neighborhood guidelines, such as introductory statements that expressed the intent of the actual provisions. DPD revised the proposed legislation and brought back a package that addressed these concerns. The new legislation consolidates code provisions and clarifies language to create clear and comprehensive guidance for design review without changing any of the specific requirements. This will be much easier for developers, neighborhoods, and the Design Review Boards to use and interpret.

Finally, we approved a resolution endorsing the Growing Transit Communities Strategy, a program organized by PSRC to encourage development around transit stations that is carried out with appropriate attention to the interests and needs of current residents and businesses. This means including provisions for affordable housing and retention and support for small and locally owned businesses. The resolution asks the Mayor to submit a strategy to implement the ‘Equitable Transit Oriented Development’ principles developed by the PSRC process and authorizes him to sign the Growing Transit Communities Compact on behalf of the City. These pieces of legislation, incorporating the amendments made in the PLUS committee, will be voted out of Full Council on December 16.

The PLUS Committee has worked hard over these last two years, and has generated a wide range of land use legislation to implement our Comprehensive Plan, ‘Towards a Sustainable Seattle’. I am proud of what we have accomplished and of the groundwork we have laid for a strong and better Seattle with healthy neighborhoods that embrace our core values of economic development, environmental stewardship, social justice, and community.