Zoning name change would more accurately reflect Seattle’s diverse neighborhoods with new equitable and inclusive definition
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide) announced legislation today that will change the name of single-family only zones, a recognition that the term “single family” as used in Seattle’s zoning code is a misnomer, inaccurately describes current uses, and has roots in exclusionary practices. The legislation, co-sponsored by Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6, Northwest Seattle), is in response to the Seattle Planning Commission’s repeated request since 2018 to change the name of single-family only to “Neighborhood Residential,” as laid out in their Neighborhoods for All report. The Planning Commission has reiterated this call in their recommendations for 2019/2020 Comprehensive Plan amendments and in their recommendations for analysis for the 2020/2021 Comprehensive Plan update.
“Seattle’s neighborhoods have always been more diverse than the single family only designation would have us believe—from some of the longest-standing and beloved neighborhood businesses, to brownstone apartment buildings built before tightening zoning restrictions, connected housing with shared courtyards, that all allow for residents to live near schools, parks, and services our communities rely on. Changing the zoning title can help reflect the diverse housing we need across our city to support community well-being, walkability and affordability in Seattle, and create a more equitable and inclusive Seattle to accurately reflect our diverse neighborhoods,” said Mosqueda.
“Language matters. ‘Single family’ zoning may seem to some as merely a planning term, but we know historically it has been used to further exclusionary practices and discriminatory policies of the past. If Seattle is going to be an equitable and just city, then we must also apply that same lens to our zoning code. After years of discussion, we are acting on what we know is right to undo the legacy of exclusion that exists within our planning documents—starting with how we talk about our neighborhoods,” Mosqueda concluded.
“I look forward to taking up this important proposal in my Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee to align our planning documents to reflect the diverse mix of households that make up our residential neighborhoods. Our city is a series of neighborhoods that are more vibrant than the name ‘single-family’ suggests—from backyard cottages and legacy duplexes to multi-generational households—this proposal reflects the Seattle of today,” said Councilmember Strauss, Chair of the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee and co-sponsor.
“One hundred years ago, housing of all shapes and sizes was legal to build anywhere in Seattle. Since its introduction in the 1920s, ‘single family’ zoning has been expanded over time to encompass areas with apartment buildings, duplexes, triplexes, and more. ‘Single family’ zoning was designed to exclude and continues to hurt families and communities struggling with a status quo that doesn’t meet their housing needs—but the multifamily holdovers from the past remind us the status quo can be changed. Let’s use language that better reflects our values and vision for a zoning system that works for all,” said Rep. Nicole Macri (43rd Leg. District – Seattle).
“‘Neighborhood Residential’ is a more accurate description of the zone currently constituting the majority of Seattle’s land area. Current single-family zones allow for more than one family to live on a single parcel and are home to a wide range of uses. Seattle needs a zoning code that permits a range of housing types already existing in many single-family only areas, including townhomes, rowhouses, backyard cottages, in-law suites, and apartment buildings. Legalizing more diverse housing options is the best step forward for livability, walkability, affordability, and the climate.” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (37th Leg. District – Seattle/White Center).
“Updating Seattle’s planning documents to call our single family zones ‘Neighborhood Residential’ will allow us to be more accurate in our description of these areas that contain a diversity of households, services, amenities, and structures, and will help Seattle move beyond a system that singles out a specific type of household to one that’s welcoming to all neighbors,” said Rep. Frank Chopp (43rd Leg. District -Seattle).
“We/I applaud and support the City Council in the proposed amendment changing the name of the zoning sooner than the beginning of the Major Update to the Comprehensive Plan, that should be completed by 2024. It is an important change that will serve as a foundation to inform the policy process considering alternatives to Single-Family zoning which will make it possible for the city to consider expanding the range and affordability of housing choices,” said Patience Malaba, Director of Director of Government Relations and Policy, Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County.
“Small businesses can often serve as a hub and center for community and play a central role in the fabric and dynamic of our neighborhoods. Equitable policy and planning must include our small neighborhood businesses—and reflect their role in our communities—in order to support and encourage their future success,” said Andrea Reay, President/CEO, Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce.
“A neighborhood is so much more than a single type of building—it’s a place people live and love and work and call home. This simple change reflects both the current reality of the way many Seattleites live and our vision of Seattle as a city rich with homes for all shapes and sizes of families,” said Brittney Bush Bollay, Chair, Sierra Club Seattle Group.
The City Council requested this zoning name change be studied by the Executive every year since 2018 in the Comprehensive Plan Annual Docketing Resolution. This proposal would finally implement that recommendation by first amending the City’s Comprehensive Plan to make the change, and then follow with changes to the land use code.
This change will touch many elements of the Comprehensive Plan, including: (1) the Future Land Use Map; (2) the Land Use, Housing, and Parks and Open Space elements; (3) seventeen neighborhood plans; and (4) the Housing appendix.
These proposed changes can be seen on the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee website at: www.seattle.gov/council/committees/land-use-and-neighborhoods. The City Council’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee will hold a public hearing to receive input on the preliminary proposal on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at 9:30 AM. Councilmember Mosqueda intends to formally introduce legislation in August as part of the annual Comprehensive Plan update.