Planners: Capitol Hill has room for 71% more residential units


Above, a 1906-built house on Malden Ave E awaits the start of its move a few dozen yards to make space for a new townhouse project

Under current zoning, Urban Centers like parts of Capitol Hill, have lots of room for growth, city planners say (Source: City of Seattle Development Capacity Report)

Under current zoning, Urban Centers like parts of Capitol Hill, have lots of room for growth, city planners say (Source: City of Seattle Development Capacity Report)

Think Capitol Hill is a densely populated, bustling urban neighborhood? Just wait.

The Department of Planning and Development earlier this month released a revised Development Capacity Report as part of its every 10-year review of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The full report is embedded at the bottom of this post.

According to the report’s estimates, under current zoning, Capitol Hill could add more than 19,000 residential units to its existing 26,600, an increase of about 71%. In the report, Capitol Hill includes the sub-areas of Capitol Hill, Pike/Pine, First Hill and 12th Ave.

The commercial side could see an increase of more than 950,000 square feet of space, in addition to the existing 11.9 million square feet. This would translate into enough space for about 3,200 more jobs, above the current 40,100, an increase of almost 8%.

The forecasts and estimates will play a big role as Seattle sets about updating its next 20-year plan by mid-2015. In the meantime, rents in Seattle are rising faster than in any other major U.S. city — and, as any renter was probably sad to read on CHS, they’re rising even faster on Capitol Hill.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 8.42.03 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-05 at 8.40.18 PMThe gains are all net gains, and on Capitol Hill would largely represent re-development pieces of land that might have something on it, but aren’t built up to the maximum allowed under their current zoning. So, if a pair of single-family homes comes down, and is replaced by a 30-unit apartment building, that’s considered adding 28 units.

These numbers refer to what could happen right now, today, under the existing zoning, but they come with a lot of asterisks.

First off, the report does not try to predict when the market conditions would be ripe for any new project. It might take 20 years, it might happen next week. Most likely is a situation similar to what we’ve seen in the past – boom and bust growth cycles.

Second, while the numbers for existing conditions are fairly spot-on, or were when the report was developed (residential numbers in January 2014, jobs in March 2013), future numbers are guesses. Educated guesses, to be sure, based on past development patterns.

But, patterns can change; mixed-use buildings could have a different ratio of commercial to residential going forward. The number of units in an apartment and or condo building could easily change depending on whether or not any given project has a larger number of small units or a smaller number of large units. And the zoning can change — right now, some in City Hall are pushing to roll back height limits in Seattle’s lowrise neighborhoods.

Also be clear, number of housing units is going to be lower than the number of people. A single family house, or a studio apartment or a two-bedroom condo are each considered one unit, no matter how many people live there. The report doesn’t try to estimate what the actual population will be.

One more big caveat on the hill – these numbers don’t include public institutions like the hospitals, Seattle Central or Seattle University; they each have their own planning process that they go through. Mostly, this would show up on the jobs side.Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 8.41.14 PM

To put these in perspective, citywide, current zoning would allow for 224,000 housing units, so the Hill accounts for about 8% of the city’s total residential growth. On the commercial side, Seattle could add space for 232,000 jobs, giving Capitol Hill 1.4% of the jobs growth (again, not including hospitals and colleges).

The biggest share of the growth under the current zoning would go to downtown, Belltown, Denny Triangle, Pioneer Square and the ID, which are slated to absorb more than 33,000 housing units (14.7% of the city total) and almost 52,000 jobs (22.4%).

The next biggest goes to South Lake Union which would take more than 20,000 residential units (9%) and 25,000 jobs (10.7%).

(Source: City of Seattle)

(Source: City of Seattle)

Of course, by this time next year, all of this could change. The city is in the midst of its state-mandated review of the Comprehensive Plan. That document underlies all of these numbers, in addition to covering information about things like transportation, economic development, quality of life, the environment and more.

The Department of Planning and Development expects to release an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing possible changes to the Comprehensive Plan (grouped into four broader options) likely in January. A revised Comprehensive Plan must be approved by the City Council by June 2015.

For more information about the Comprehensive Plan review, visit Seattle 2035. The full development capacity report updated last month is below.

Development Capacity

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7 thoughts on “Planners: Capitol Hill has room for 71% more residential units

  1. But will it be enough to stop Seattle from being the liberal bastion that it is–which, I believe is part of the long-term goal of this reconstruction? Is it enough to distill the creative edge out of the city–an edge that has made this city unique and amazing and as exciting as it was when I first started visiting in the eighties? Is it enough to send away all of the artists, the dreamers and unicorns to cheaper climes? Are we building the ghost town Seattle of the future, a cruddy, boxy, dual use, overpriced condo-filled space of faces and philosophies that all look and sound the same. Will we all have to suffer through more of the crap corporate art that is in front of the VIVA building–and art as advertising as we have seen in West Seattle (Let us all breathe a sigh of relief that we have avoided having a giant boot in the middle of the city) –as more and more of the city is about less and less of the people that have made it their homes for the last thirty years. But maybe this is all for the best–is there really any room for artists, poets, philosophers, teachers, etc. in the Seattle of the future–will there even be any room for them with all the new police officers that will be bussed in real soon?

      • Agreed. As usual excellent reporting from this site on a complex topic that can be difficult to understand. Thank you for broadcasting information in a factual and unbiased manner.

  2. This is a pretty disturbing projection. Seattle will become as dense as New York and very stratified and segregated both economically and ethnically. Is that the legacy the city is planning for us? One thing I don’t understand is who will be able to afford to live in these new structures. A recent article in the Seattle Times showed that 20% of the Seattleites make under $30,000/yr and 20% make over $170,000/ yr. The remaining 60% will be the ones the city is targeting. As you increase density prices increase. If you don’t believe this compare housing or rent with 10 years ago when there was less population and fewer housing units. most people with kids don’t want to live in a condo or epodment. They prefer to live in single family homes with a yard close to parks, good schools ect. Want to buy an average new house in Seattle in a decent neighborhood with good schools. Plan on spending about a million dollars and oh your taxes will be $1,000/month. We will become a city of wealthy retirees or young urban professionals who don’t have kids. That is not a thriving community by my standards more like a Disney land fantasy.

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