With Capitol Hill ‘open house,’ planning commission report recommends shake-up of Seattle single-family zoning

Representatives from City Hall and the Seattle Planning Commission will be at Capitol HIll’s 12th Ave Arts Monday night to talk about a newly released report that officials say shows changes to single-family zoning are “necessary for the city’s future.”

“Restoring the flexibility in housing types seen in Seattle’s historic residential neighborhoods is critical if the city is to achieve its goals of being a diverse, equitable and sustainable place to live,” a statement on the new “Neighborhoods for All” report reads.

City reps will be on Capitol Hill to talk about the report’s findings and the strategies the commission says should be implemented by Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council to begin “a return to the mix of housing and development patterns found in many of Seattle’s older and most walkable neighborhoods” across Seattle.

Seattle Planning Commission ‘Neighborhoods for All’ report release event

Among the findings:

  • Seattle’s current zoning map shows three times more single-family land than multifamily and mixed-use land combined
  • The vast majority of new residents were absorbed in areas zoned for multifamily dwellings, while areas zoned for one house per lot showed little change, and some even lost population.
  • The average house size has increased by 1,000 square feet since 1900

Seattle officials identified the city’s growing affordability and equity problems years ago but changes to improve the situation have been ineffective, slow, and bogged down by legal challenges. Just before Thanksgiving, one major legal hurdle was finally overcome for the process to implement a Mandatory Housing Affordability program in the city’s densest neighborhoods. Under the MHA framework, affordability requirements chained to the proposed upzoning vary by scale and developers can choose to pay fees instead of including rent-restricted units. The legislation was expected to result in $380M in revenue from the payment option and 1,325 units over 20 years, according to city planners. That $380 million could build another 4,300 affordable units, according to the city’s analysis.

But Seattle’s zoning — even with the surgical MHA boosts — still leaves any future growth concentrated in certain areas of the city.

The new report could be the beginning of changing that equation.

“Seattle’s neighborhoods that grew around streetcar stops as compact walkable centers incorporated a mix of commercial activity and housing, including single-family houses, duplexes, triplexes, small apartments, and corner stores,” the city’s statement on the report reads. “Neighborhoods such as Wallingford, Queen Anne, and the Central District retain some of the mix of housing that was allowed in many areas until the 1950’s and as late as the 1970’s, when downzones made it illegal to build small multi-unit dwellings in neighborhoods zoned for one house per lot.”

A copy of the full report is below:


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4 thoughts on “With Capitol Hill ‘open house,’ planning commission report recommends shake-up of Seattle single-family zoning

  1. These days, there seems to be a juggernaut at the City (government) level to make major changes to our residential neighborhoods. But I think many of us “regular Joes” are not at all happy about it, and will make our voices known. Unfortunately, it is the rich developers who hold more sway with City officials, and it is they who will benefit financially from any zoning changes.

    I am not opposed to some modest changes and tweaking to our zoning codes, but it sounds like what is planned is more like a wholesale destruction of certain neighborhoods. Sad.

    • I disagree. There is no juggernaut behind this — just folks who think that much of our city is too suburban and exclusionary. Neighborhoods will not be destroyed if duplexes and backyard cottages are allowed to be built. It will simply allow more people to live in the city. Simple as that.

      • Nope, it’s not that simple. I’m all for density housing, but it would sure be nice to proceed thoughtfully. We can actually add housing without compromising the integrity of green spaces, historical neighborhoods and our neighbors homes. But it does need intelligent planning.

    • Well, if just low-rise duplexes and backyard cottages happen as a result of the upzoning, that would be OK. It’s the talk of higher apartment buildings in purely residential areas that worries me.

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