The Trauma of the Rezone

[ Rendering of the proposed 6-story mixed-use building at 23rd and Union, via CD News ]

Developer Jim Mueller has been granted a contract rezone raising the maximum building height from 40 to 65 feet for his site on the SW corner of 23rd and Union, see PI coverage here. It’s good news for that troubled corner, and it is encouraging to see the City is willing to make corrections where current zoning is inappropriate. Unfortunately however, it added an extra year to the entitlement process for that project.

A big challenge to progress on compact development and reduced car-dependence in Seattle is zoning code that has become incongruous with the realities of today’s world. And one of those realities is that the Puget Sound Region will grow by 1.7 million people by 2040. If we hope to accommodate these people while minimizing our business-as-usual scorched earth policy of unsustainable growth, it will require planning that is both visionary and rapidly responsive.

In the past, the City of Seattle has done an admirable job of involving the neighborhoods in planning, but that sort of public involvement adds years to the process of making updates to code. If we are serious about sustainability, we may have to reassess whether or not we still have the luxury of so much time. For example, any credible assessment of the opportunities for sustainable development in Seattle would dictate that at 23rd and Union the maximum building height should be raised to 65 feet on all four corners. But it will likely be something like five years or more before any code change can be made if we have to wait for another full-blown round of neighborhood planning. The neighborhood planning that led to the current zoning at 23rd and Union concluded in 1992.

In the coming months the trauma of the rezone will no doubt be making its presence known in the communities surrounding the light-rail station areas in southeast Seattle, as the City moves forward with planning efforts. More to come on this in a future post…