City Council holds public hearing 5:30PM Nov 16th to take testimony on UDistrict Highrise Upzone Plan & U of W now seeking approval for highrises on campus



To what degree will the UW’s plans for development (to 17-stories) threaten character of the main campus and adjacent neighborhoods?

You’ve probably read our earlier reports on plans to upzone most of the UDistrict neighborhood for highrises – adding amounts of both residential and commercial development at a scale that threatens the existing physical and social character of the community.   But you may not be aware of the U of W plans for highrises on the campus itself – as tall as 17 stories.  First regarding ongoing plans to upzone the neighborhood:

On November 16th The City Council has scheduled what may be it’s one and only public hearing on the proposed changes before the matter goes back to the City Council’s Land Use Committee and possible votes on the plan as early as December.  Housing advocates and resident organizations from the UDistrict strongly urge you to attend and speak against the City’s plans “if you care about the future not only of the UDistrict but our City”.  Here are the particulars:

  • When? November 16. Open house  5:30, presentation 6, public hearing 6:15.
  • Where? Hotel Deca, 4507 Brooklyn Ave NE

Within “ground zero” of the area of the upzone there are over 1500 units of existing low income and affordable housing and many dozens of small businesses.  All are threatened by these plans driven largely by large property owners and the U of W.

Groups including Livable UDistrict, UDistrict Community Council, and the Seattle Displacement Coalition are opposing these highrise plans and instead are calling on the City to instead adopt measures to mitigate the runaway growth we’re already seeing in the District under the existing zoning code.  The community in fact now has 2-3 times the zoned capacity needed to accommodate expected growth projections through 2035 and is drowning in record levels of new construction as it is.  These groups say set aside plans to fan the flames of still more runaway growth and instead “put first things first”: impose requirements that developers pay impact fees to cover some of these infrastructure costs for added School capacity, transportation, and parks and open space systems demanded by current growth.  And they want developers to replace 1 for 1 at comparable price, any low income housing they tear down.  

The UDistrict Upzone is effectively the first of the Mayor’s planned “HALA upzones” and one of the most egregious examples of how his plan ignores community needs.  Neighborhood and housing advocate groups in the UDistrict point out that if and when they get away with these changes to the UDistrict “they’ll be coming for your neighborhood next”.  They’re strongly urging all to attend and speak out on the 16th at the public hearing.  

U of W seeks city approval for changes to it’s ‘Campus Master Plan’ that would bring even more highrises to the neighborhood – including 17 story buildings on campus

The Campus Master Plan changes (about a year behind the upzone plans for the neighborhood) are currently undergoing environmental review and more details on this process can be found here.  Here are graphics of the likely build-out. A hearing was held earlier this week but written testimony will be accepted through November 21st.  Here’s video of last night’s hearing courtesy of Mike McCormick.  Residents of the University community point out that these changes also threaten the future of the neighborhood.  They’re urging the public to join community efforts to challenge these plans. 

Changes to Campus Master Plan would take place on campus, east of the current campus, and along and south of  Campus parkway to Portage Bay.  The City now is taking comments on the EIS for these changes driven singularly by the U of W.  


Say good bye to golf & view from Burke Gilman Trail looking east

When combined with the City’s Highrise Upzone Plans for the neighborhood, it would accommodate levels of commercial development exceeding Amazon’s meteoric growth in South Lake Union.   The U of W is seeking amendments to the Campus Plan that would allow another 12.9 million square feet of commercial space, but they say they expect to develop ‘only’ 6 million sq ft over the next 10-20 years.   Gee the neighborhood is getting a real break here; only another 6 million square feet.  

Let’s a add to that the capacity for another 4 million square feet accompanying the UDistrict Neighborhood Highrise Upzone (with added capacity for 20,000 jobs – assume conservatively 200 sq ft per employee equals 4 mil. sq ft) and we’re looking at growth over the planning period for another 10 million sq ft of new commercial space crammed into the UDistrict under both neighborhood and U of W campus upzones (with capacity for another 6.9 million on campus. )   

Ten million sq ft of office space translates into about 50,000 jobs the U of W and City Planners would like to accommodate.  If only 40 percent live in the suburbs (altho it’ll be more).  And lets say only 30 percent of them drive alone, that’s about 6000 additional cars coming into the UDistrict every day to a community already facing near gridlock every rush hour….     

Again in the area of the neighborhood upzone we’re looking at 1500 existing affordable units – all placed at risk over the planning period…..  this was and is an important source of affordable housing for U of W service employees etc……  so we’ll see many of them displaced living further out and commuting longer distances to the U of W as well.  

Where is the capacity and infrastructure and affordable housing for all of this planned growth….. Combined (or even singly) these plans will destroy the physical, historical, and unique social character of the district.  Its multicultural mix of first generation shops and businesses along the Ave (the final plan calls for increased heights even north of 45th on Ave).  all of it on the line….  a set of campus plans and city plans that reflect callous disregard for the neighborhood’s existing character.

South Lake Union right now has about 8-10 million sq ft of office space total – and may get 3 million more due to Amazon expansion over the next 5 years or so….  

Together these land use changes on campus and adjacent to campus turn the UDistrict into another downtown for Seattle.  

Why not locate a significant portion of the office space planned for the U of W main campus at their satellite campuses such at Bothell and Tacoma and closer to where many if not most of their new employees (and many of the students and teachers) will be living anyway….. taking pressure of the UDistrict community and our city as a whole.  That is more environmentally sound (by reducing commutes and commute distances and number of cars on roads into and out of Seattle) putting most of those jobs closer to where people will choose or for economic reasons choose to live.

About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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