Could Single Family Neighborhoods Be Upzoned?

Upzoning involves changing the zoning designation of a neighborhood to allow taller, boxier buildings than were allowed previously (as in the change to the 2010 land use code that allowed 5 story buildings in formerly 3-4 story neighborhoods, now called LR3 zones). Traditionally, single family neighborhoods in Seattle have been protected from upzoning, due to the political power these communities hold. However, in recent years, developers have gained more power in shaping Seattle’s land use decisions.

In the resulting rush to upzone Seattle, some people in power are finding clever ways to quietly push for upzoning of single family neighborhoods.

Note that attempts to upzone single family neighborhoods have not yet been successful — but they’re working toward it.  For example, as noted on our “Who’s pushing for Upzoning?” page, the City tasked the Seattle Planning Commission to advise them on city planning.  The Seattle Planning Commission consists largely of people with ties to the real estate development and construction industries, who stand to profit from upzoning.  

Using taxpayer funding, the Seattle Planning Commission recommended this year that the City:

 “…evaluate Single Family zoned land within transit communities to identify the opportunities for rezones to higher density or intensity…”.

They also recommended reducing protections to single family neighborhoods provided by section LU59 of the current Seattle Comprehesive Plan:

“Depending on the specific location, zoning could be changed to accommodate additional households and jobs; for example, LU59 emphasis on the protection of single family zoning may not be appropriate in transit-rich areas.” 

Wow!  Read that last line again: it says they might quietly take away those single family protections you thought you had!  With recommendations like that from the Seattle Planning Commission, you cannot assume you are safe from upzoning just because you live in a single family neighborhood.  You will need to stay active to keep developers from building a tower next to you.

One way you can prevent upzoning of your single family neighborhood is by signing our petition (click here to sign) and asking your neighbors and friends to sign.  

How does this petition help prevent upzoning of single family neighborhoods?

The main focus of our Simple Fix petition is to ask the City Council to rollback the allowable height of apartments in LR3 growth zones from 40 + feet to their pre-2010 limit of 30 feet.

But in many places LR3 zones are directly adjacent to single family zones. Capping heights at 30 feet in the LR3 zones protects adjacent single family zones from traffic, noise, and other hassles of high density zones.  If this buffering effect is eroded by the construction of 40-48 foot buildings in LR3 zones -often without much parking- then single family zones will be more heavily affected by density and congestion.

Hence, it is in all of our interests to protect both our residential multifamily zones AND single family zones from upzoning if we want a livable urban Seattle to be preserved for the future. It is relatively easy for developers to push the upzoning of smaller, piecemeal sections of the city one at a time but will be much more difficult for them if all of Seattle’s neighborhoods join together with one voice to protect Seattle’s livability.

In addition to protecting lowrise zones, our proposed legislation (see Section 4 below; and also at the bottom of our petition)  asks that the City provide a thorough, inclusive discussion of any proposed changes to the land use code, including mailed notices.  This important clause seeks to protect all neighborhoods -including single family neighborhoods- from “quiet upzoning”.

What is “quiet upzoning”?

The 2010 changes to the land use code are an example of “quiet upzoning”, since many people who live in those zones did not hear about the proposed changes and their implications before the decision was made, indicating that the city’s outreach effort was not sufficient.  (Read more about the consequences of this change on our homepage.)  For that reason, we want the city to adopt the following proposal:

“Section 4. Any future changes to the land use code, including those linked to mass transit, will be informed by a thorough, inclusive discussion with affected residents and community members. Whenever possible, mailed notices should be sent at the outset of discussion of proposed changes to all affected property owners…”

All Seattle residents should be FULLY informed about any proposed zoning changes and what they will mean for neighborhoods BEFORE decisions are made.  This will protect single family neighborhoods as well as lowrise neighborhoods from “quiet upzoning”.