City planners ask for public input on growth plans

Look for signs of Seattle’s explosive growth over the past several decades and you’re likely to see them mostly clustered in your nearest neighborhood hub. Apartment towers, triplexes, stores and restaurants — all these generally have been concentrated in key areas, while big swaths of land elsewhere are still home to mostly detached single-family houses.

That’s not by accident.

For nearly 30 years, Seattle has directed growth using its “urban village” strategy. Now, a new round of planning at City Hall will determine whether the future takes a different shape.

Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development on Thursday released a draft set of growth strategies it plans to study later this year. The ideas are an early step in updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the blueprint that guides where new jobs, housing and other development will be directed during the next 20 years.

Seattle is required to plan for a minimum of 80,000 new housing units and 132,000 new jobs over the next two decades. But a city-commissioned report says even more homes will be necessary to make a dent in housing affordability.

That analysis found the city would need at least 152,000 more market-rate units in the next 25 years to accommodate more middle-income households. And, even in that scenario, Seattle would still face a shortage of tens of thousands of units of affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes.

The new planning options lay out ways the city could continue with or move beyond its urban-village strategy as planners figure out how to accommodate that new growth. A racial equity analysis last year recommended the city allow more housing types outside of urban villages.

“It has been very effective in concentrating that growth. … At the same time there are growing concerns about that strategy,” said Brennon Staley, a strategic adviser at the Office of Planning and Community Development. “It does reinforce the pattern of racial exclusion that we’ve had in the city by limiting housing choices in most of the city, which are primarily detached homes that are pretty expensive.”

The options released Thursday are, for now, high level and vague. They range from maintaining the status quo to opening new areas of the city to new types of housing:

  • Alternative 1, “No Action,” would maintain the city’s current urban village strategy “with no change to land use patterns.” Most areas outside urban villages would remain off-limits for significantly denser housing. State law requires the city to study a “no action” option.
  • Alternative 2, “Focused,” would add new or expanded urban villages and possibly new “smaller nodes” of growth.
  • Alternative 3, “Broad,” would allow triplexes and fourplexes in areas that are today zoned mostly for detached single-family homes. (The city recently renamed these areas “Neighborhood Residential” zones.)
  • Alternative 4, “Corridor,” would allow options such as triplexes and fourplexes only along corridors near frequent transit.
  • Alternative 5, “Combined,” would meld several of the other options to allow different types of housing along transit corridors and outside urban villages.

In an initial round of public feedback, city planners are looking for input on whether they’re studying the right strategies. Later, they’ll study each alternative and look for comments on the meat of the matter: where new housing should be built.

“We want to make sure that we’re not missing something or off-base in terms of the range of alternatives,” said long-range planning manager Michael Hubner.

Feedback on the draft alternatives is due by July 25. The city expects to publish its draft environmental study and take more public comment next year. In 2024, the mayor would choose his preference and the City Council would vote.

City staff will host virtual meetings at 11 am on June 29 and 7 pm on July 19. Find more information and submit feedback at engage.oneseattleplan.com or by email to [email protected]

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