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Mayor Mike McGinn left office on January 1, 2014.
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City of Seattle

Building a great neighborhood in South Lake Union

Today Seattle has taken an important step toward sustainable, environmentally friendly economic growth. The City Council, after thoughtful deliberation, has adopted our proposal to rezone the South Lake Union neighborhood to support more jobs and housing. This rezone helps to secure Seattle’s future as a global economic leader. It provides more opportunities for people to live, work, and enjoy a modern urban neighborhood while also bringing important investments in infrastructure, parks, and affordable housing.

This comprehensive rezone of South Lake Union will help us continue to build shared prosperity in Seattle. We anticipate that by 2035 this rezone will have created 12,000 new housing units (reducing the pressure on tenants in existing housing stock) and 22,000 new jobs, along with $378 million in new property tax revenue for the City.

It’s taken almost ten years to get to this point. The process for a comprehensive rezone of South Lake Union began in 2004 when the neighborhood was designated as an Urban Center as part of the 10-year update of the Comprehensive Plan. The City partnered with the community to update the neighborhood plan to establish goals and policies for the neighborhoods future growth as an Urban Center. That was done in 2007, and the City then began working with the community and stakeholders to develop a new zoning ordinance for the neighborhood to implement the neighborhood plan.

Upon taking office in 2010, I began working with members of the City Council, the Department of Planning and Development, King County Executive Dow Constantine, property owners and businesses in the community, housing advocates and neighborhood activists to move this process to completion. After two years of hard work we agreed to a proposal that allows us to leverage private investment in the area to provide more affordable housing, improve local infrastructure and provide other public benefits that serve Seattle residents, visitors and the South Lake Union neighborhood.

The proposal as adopted includes greater height and development capacity for much of South Lake Union, but excludes most of the Cascade area, a long-standing residential enclave in the eastern portion of the neighborhood. Some of the elements of the rezone include:

  • Establishing new development standards to ensure towers are well-spaced and floor plates are limited to preserve openness to the sky and public views through the neighborhood
    • The number of permitted towers is limited to 2 per block, or 1 per block on blocks fronting Lake Union.
    • Floor plates for residential towers are limited to 10,500 up to 240 feet or 12,500 up to 160 feet.
    • Floor plates for commercial towers are limited to 24,000 square feet.
    • Tower setbacks are required on Fairview, Thomas and John Streets to preserve view corridors.
  • Ensuring active public spaces through well-designed ground floor retail along key streets, façade transparency and parking standards, and pedestrian pass-throughs on large blocks
  • Creating new incentives to preserve landmark properties and existing open space
  • Significant public benefits for height and size beyond new baselines:
    • Saving up to 25,000 acres of farm and forest lands in King County,
    • $28 million for infrastructure improvements in South Lake Union and downtown Seattle
  • Significant new funding for affordable housing
  • Providing Incentives for development of a public school:
    • Exempt floor area in a project that is used to establish a school in the neighborhood,
    • Projects that include a public school may exceed the residential height limit by 30% or the commercial height limit by 20%.

I want to thank the City Council for voting to approve the rezone today. In particular, I want to thank Councilmember Richard Conlin for his work in helping develop the proposal and shepherding it to approval by the City Council.

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from Broc Stenman
Time May 6, 2013 at 8:36 pm

The proof rests on seeing SLU livability front and center on all project planning and enhancing pedestrian friendly street scapes. Greenbelts and pocket parks will be critical to making the long range plan a success.

Comment from mspat
Time May 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm

40 story tenements that people will not be able or willing to inhabit when they have families. Just NOT what we need. But, will the glittering $378 million in new property taxes have any effect of reducing the obscene level of property taxes for existing homeowners in Seattle/King County? I’d bet the farm they won’t. I’d love to see the city council live like the rest of us and stop behaving as if they’re royalty

Comment from Duncan Thomson
Time May 7, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Well McGinn just lost my support in the next election.