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Capitol Hill 2035 — Seattle’s next 20-year plan

The most interesting parts of the planning are the facts, figures, and datasets used to create the forecasts and predictions. Here's  a look at various predicted metrics for the four alternatives under consideration in the Seattle 2035 plan. The full report is at the end of this post.

The most interesting parts of the planning are the facts, figures, and datasets used to create the forecasts and predictions. Here’s a look at various predicted metrics for the four alternatives under consideration in the Seattle 2035 plan. The full report is at the end of this post.

The report is also full of tables and figures illustrating how Central Seattle neighborhoods stack up with the rest of the city

The report is also full of tables and figures illustrating how Central Seattle neighborhoods stack up with the rest of the city

If CHS understands the way this works correctly, back in 1995, City of Seattle planners predicted $15 cocktails, drones, the demolition of Piecora’s, and Anarchists. And they did nothing to stop it. The good news is there is a chance to help influence the next 20-year plan and what place Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the Central District play in Seattle 2035… and beyond.

If you’d like the “too long, didn’t skim” version, ready about Alternative 2 which is forecast to create the most new housing and jobs for Capitol Hill out of the four models under consideration. Meanwhile, housing affordability is brought up as a problem under all of the options, but for different reasons. Alternative 2 would likely lead to lots of new, tall buildings. These tend to be expensive to build, and end up with higher rents and higher priced condos. Alternatives 3 and 4, which spread the development to more areas, could see people who currently live near light rail stations (in particular lower-income people in south Seattle) displaced as their neighborhoods are rebuilt with shiny, new buildings. The proposal recommends developing “strategies” to help lessen the problem.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 2.23.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 2.22.10 PMLast fall, CHS reported on some of the growth analysis underway as the city drafts a re-written Comprehensive Plan, the document that will shape growth and development through 2035. City planner expect there will be 70,000 new housing units over that time (housing 120,000 people) and 115,000 new jobs.

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to grow, it’s how we’re going to grow.”

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to grow, it’s how we’re going to grow,” said Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas at Wednesday’s May 27 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the process. “Where do we want to channel that growth?”

To understand the possible changes, it’s best to understand how things work now. The city is divided up into different areas, and growth is channeled, in different amounts, into these villages.

There are six Urban Centers: Downtown, First/Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Uptown (you might call it Lower Queen Anne), University District and Northgate. The first four of these are next to each other, creating what looks on a map like one big Urban Center.

Then there are Hub Urban Villages: Ballard, Bitter Lake, Fremont, Lake City, West Seattle Junction and Mount Baker.

Finally, there 18 Residential Urban Villages such as 23rd and Union-Jackson, Madison-Miller, Eastlake, Green Lake, Othello, Wallingford and Columbia City.

Other parts of town are either industrial, like the ports or Interbay, or none of the above, just low-density residential — the north part of Capitol Hill, Montlake or Phinney Ridge, for example.

Under the current plan, most of the growth is channeled to the Urban Centers (keep in mind, Capitol Hill is considered an urban Center) while a lot of the residential goes to the Hub villages and residential villages.

Seattle is considering four different options going forward, each of which mean a very different feel for the city as a whole, and for the Hill.

The City has identified four alternatives for consideration in this EIS. The alternatives assume the same level of total growth, but evaluate differing levels of growth emphases that may occur in various areas of the city, and with differing levels of resulting land use intensities. Each alternative emphasizes different patterns of projected future growth amount and intensity among the urban centers, urban villages and transit-related areas.

Alternative 1, Continue Current Trends (No Action), would plan for a continuation of current growth policies associated with the Urban Village Strategy along with a continuation of assumed trends that distribute growth among all of the urban centers and urban villages.

Alternative 2, Guide Growth to Urban Centers, prioritizes greater growth concentrations into the six existing urban centers—Downtown, First/Capitol Hill, University District, Northgate, South Lake Union and Uptown.

The emphasis in alternatives 3 and 4 is on providing opportunity for more housing and employment growth in areas closest to existing and planned transit service. Specifically:

Alternative 3, Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Light Rail, prioritizes greater growth concentrations around existing and planned light rail transit stations.

Alternative 4, Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Transit, prioritizes greater growth concentrations around light rail stations and in specific areas along priority bus transit routes. The boundaries of the existing urban villages would remain unchanged under both alterna- tives 1 and 2. alternatives 3 and 4 would result in expansions to some urban village bound- aries and the designation of one new urban village (at NE 130th Street/Interstate 5) in order to encompass a 10-minute walkshed around existing/planned future light rail stations and priority transit routes.

Alternative 1 means to basically keep doing what we have been doing. Under this scenario, the Urban Centers get 42% of the new housing and 61% of the new jobs.

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Alternative 2 is like Alternative 1, but more — direct even more of the growth and housing to the Urban Centers like Capitol Hill and First Hill. In this version, the Urban Centers get 66% of the housing and 72% of the growth. The EIS notes that this option is the one most likely to generate more tall buildings (of the mid- and high-rise variety) in these urban centers.

Alternative 3 starts to share the wealth. A lot of growth is still targeted to the urban centers, but it’s also spread among the Urban Villages near an existing or planned light rail station (Mount Baker, Columbia City, North Beacon Hill, Othello, Rainier Beach and Roosevelt) along with possibly creating a new village at the stop at 130th Avenue. It would also adjust the boundaries of these center to include areas within a 10-minute walk of the station. Under this one, Urban Centers get 49% of the residential and 51% of the jobs.

Alternative 4 starts with Alternative 3, but adds in four neighborhoods with very good bus service:

Ballard, Fremont, West Seattle Junction and Crown Hill. Here the Urban centers get 49% of the residential and 53% of the jobs.

Options 3 and 4, since they spread the growth out over more nodes, mean more low- to mid-rise buildings and generally fewer mid- to high-rises.

‘Round here
Specifically for Capitol Hill and First Hill, we are getting more — but how much differs widely across the alternatives.


Under Alternative 1 (the existing plan) the EIS assumes 7,000 new households (10% of the whole city’s projected growth over the period. The only area that gets more is Downtown, which gets 10,000. The next one after us is South Lake Union at 4,700.

Under Alternative 2 (focus more growth in the urban areas) The Hill would get 8,000 now housing units. Downtown still gets the most, with 15,000, but South Lake union leapfrogs us and would add 12,000 households.

Under Alternatives 3 and 4 (focus growth around light rail/ good bus service), Capitol and First Hills would get 6,000 new residential units, downtown 12,000 and South lake Union 8,000.

Residentially-speaking, 3 and 4 see big changes in some other parts of the city. Areas around the light rail stations see big jumps. North Beacon Hill, for example, would go from 200 units under the current plan to 1,500 under 3 or 4 while Roosevelt jumps from 400 to 1,500. Obviously, neither ends up close to the numbers we’re going to see, but the increases would be dramatic for those areas.

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Employment growth sees roughly the same patterns. Alternative 1 would give First/Capitol Hill 4,000 new jobs, while Downtown gets 30,000 and South Lake Union 20,000.

Alternative 2 means the Hills get 7,000 jobs, downtown 33,000 and South lake union 20,000. Alternatives 3 and 4 mean 5,000 jobs for the Hills. Under option 3, Downtown gets 25,000 and SLU 15,000 and under option 4, Downtown 30,000 and SLU 12,000.

Once again, Light rail stations would see big jumps under changes. Othello would go from 600 jobs under Option 1 (the current plan) to 2,000 under 3 or 4. Roosevelt goes from 400 to 1,600.

Or, at least, the framework will be put in place. The vision for Seattle 2035 doesn’t mean there won’t be unintended consequences, missed forecasts, and exogenous events.

Pluses and minuses
All of the plans have pluses and minuses. Under all of the options, parking gets worse. More people means more cars, but since there’s no new streets, there’s no new curbs. There’s a 1,400 acre deficiency, citywide, in park land, a problem felt more acutely in the Urban Centers like Capitol Hill.

The plans realizes that there’s likely to be some conflict in areas adjacent to the new, higher density spots as neighbors see single-family houses and one story buildings turn into mid-rise complexes (sound familiar?).

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Traffic, while it will get worse, won’t get to the point that the road network is considered failing. (Believe it or not, the current road network is not considered failing). Even though we’re adding people, planners expect the per capita vehicle miles traveled to drop, helping to relieve some of the strain. It also expects to see drivers as a smaller percentage of travelers, both single-occupant cars and carpools, with more people taking transit, walking and busing.

Air quality should get better under any scenario, though it improves more under Alternative 2, with everyone packed in tightly, allowing even more walking. Most of the improvement, however, is a result of cleaner fuels, not anything we do.

Next steps
Written comments can be submitted through June 18. The full document (it’s a surprisingly readable 327 pages) is available below and on the city’s website dedicated to the plan, along with a form to submit comments and an address if you want to mail it in the old-fashioned way. The department hopes to narrow things down to a single option to be released in early July, at which point, there will be another round of comments going into a final study. That study, which will be the mayor’s preferred option, will be released by the end of the year and head to the City Council early next year. The council (an all-district council by that point) will then have a chance to make changes to it prior to adoption.

Here are some more of our favorite tables and metrics pulled from the report about the current state of Capitol Hill and Central Seattle. The full Seattle 2013 report is below.

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Seattle 2035 DEIS

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17 thoughts on “Capitol Hill 2035 — Seattle’s next 20-year plan

  1. How about Option Five: Direct the bulk of new growth to the 2/3 of the city currently zoned single family. It’s time the the rest of the city – if you can call it that – picks up some slack and shares in some of the growth.

    Why squeeze all the growth into already-dense neighborhoods when we have plenty of underutilized land elsewhere in the city?

    • Absolutely. The biggest concern these days is affordability. All these options seem to encourage more concentration of resources to the same areas. The reason the rest of the city is less expensive is less demand because of worse infrastructure and fewer amenities. We need to make those areas more desirable as an option by giving people more reasons to live there. More $$ should go to the NW and SE areas. These plans will only make the lack of affordability worse.

      • Exactly. And that means less investment in CH, or higher property taxes. You can’t get all the desirable improvements and expect people to move somewhere else.

    • Too bad we just expanded transit options here. More development coming for sure.

      Next time you don’t want growth, make sure you don’t ask for a shiny new subway station, tramway or a farmers market. City has spent billions making sure CH will be able to accommodate new growth.

      What is the % of Capitol Hill zoned as single family?

      • We didn’t only expand transit options here. There are expansions to Metro all over the city. And it’s not just metro, it’s zoning variances, incentives, favorable tax breaks, etc. It’s not all about a shiny new subway station.

    • Yeah really. The simplest and best approach would be to relax zoning throughout the city and let development spread out naturally from the existing density nodes. Packing everything in like we currently do drives up the cost of apartments, since there are so few places where they can be built, and drives up the cost of adjacent houses, since they are located *so* incredibly close to density zones. Meanwhile it is impossible to serve vast swaths of the city with decent public transit since there are not enough people living there to justify service, and so we have tons of crappy low-frequency bus lines.

      I’d love to see a zoning rule to the effect that the owner of a parcel can automatically upzone it to match the zoning of an adjacent parcel. If you own a single-family house next door to an apartment building, why shouldn’t you be able to knock it down and build an apartment of your own? And if your next door neighbor is a coffee shop, why shouldn’t you be able to put up a storefront and open a bookstore or a gym or a little market or whatever you think your neighborhood needs?

      Limiting this automatic upzone to neighboring parcels would protect the “neighborhood character” so beloved by NIMBYs, but allowing upzones as a normal and natural process would allow development to spread and density to build in a healthy, progressive way without slowing everything down through constant DPD hearings.

    • Your “option 5” idea isn’t much different from suburban sprawl. For better or for worse, Seattle’s economic, housing and transportation options are not, and cannot be evenly distributed across the city. Take Expedia’s upcoming move to Elliott Ave from Bellevue, for example. 6k people will be “in” Seattle, but unless you live in Ballard, Queen Anne or Belltown, your transit options aren’t much better than they were crossing the bridge. In other words, the move does a horrible job of leveraging the city’s infrastructure. Increasing density in Bitter Lake or Westwood may provide more (affordable) housing in the city, but I would argue that this will have little impact on the popularity of Capitol/First Hill and other neighborhoods near downtown. Proximity is king and people will always be willing to pay for it.

    • That “underutilized” land is being utilized by single family homes. Duh? You’d rather have all of Seattle proper become one boxy, high-rise, expensive landscape. Boring.

      • Single-family homes with yards are appropriate for suburbs and small towns. It makes no sense that the majority of our city land is zoned in a way that prohibits the development of ordinary urban levels of density.

      • Medium-size cities like Seattle all have residential neighborhoods without high-rises or much commercial activity. Many people prefer to live on quiet streets in the city…..nothing wrong with that. Such areas are not just for small towns or suburbs.

  2. I would dearly love to sell off part of my traditional SFR lot to a developer, but it’s not allowed in our neighborhood. Ironically, it is just three blocks to the north and one block to the west, where the are urban village overlays.

      • They may be glad homeowner can’t but it doesn’t make it right that homeowner can’t. The fact that accessory dwelling units (granny flats) are so hard to build (due to owner occupancy and parking requirements) means that there are thousands less units in the city that could be providing homes for people looking to rent. It also eliminates a potential income source for homeowners. And this is something to celebrate? Do you feel good celebrating the fact that your neighborhood remains unchanged, while so many people suffer because our housing policies are so restrictive? It’s the selfishness that is the worst part of NIMBYism.

      • They’re expensive because demand is high, supply is low, and thanks to nimbyism and zoning they’re expensive and hard to build.

        If the city would just relax zoning and height limits, you’d get a lot more building and costs would come down as supply meets demand.

  3. Thank you for this great article and for gathering all this divergent information into an easily digestible article. Kudos.