Live-Work Units in Commercial Areas

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On April 21st, the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee passed Council Bill 118327, which adds pedestrian (P) designations to neighborhood commercial areas in 37 neighborhoods across the city. It also removes restrictions on street-level residential uses in 17 areas, and revises regulations for Neighborhood Commercial areas.

Included in this Bill are live-work units, dwellings that combine living space with space for operating businesses. Seattle zoning generally treats live-work units as non-residential uses. They are not permitted at street-level along principal pedestrian streets in P designated areas, such as along main retail streets, but they are allowed in other locations where non-residential uses are required, such as side streets.

seattle-safety-pedestrianLive-work units must include a business with a business license. However, in a 2011 survey of live-work units my office performed,  it was revealed that few units have a valid business license. Most were being used as apartments, generating no business activity that could activate the streets upon which the units were located.

While the Executive’s proposed amendments clarify rules for live-work units to ensure they include a work area along the street-level street-facing façade, I wanted to make sure these units, which can be highly prized by small business-owners, fulfill their intended use as places of business that help activate streets. I offered two amendments toward that goal:

  • Require property owners to keep business licenses on file for each live-work unit they own; or,
  • Require property owners to provide an exterior sign for each live-work unit indicating the business that occupies that unit.

The PLUS Committee adopted both of my amendments. The full Council is expected to vote on the Bill by the middle of May.

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