Seattle City Limits May Change For First Time In Decades

Feb 11, 2014

If a county review board and voters agree, these sections of unincorporated South Park will become part of Seattle.
If a county review board and voters agree, these sections of unincorporated South Park will become part of Seattle.
Credit Seattle City Council

For all of Seattle's economic and population growth in the past few decades, its city limits have remained static. That could change after the City Council advanced a plan Monday to expand Seattle's boundaries for the first time since the mid-1980s.

The council's resolution, if approved by King County, would allow about 100 residents of unincorporated South Park to vote on annexation of industrial land called the Duwamish Triangle and a mostly residential strip known as "the sliver on the river."

Ballard initially resisted incorporation into Seattle city limits.
Ballard initially resisted incorporation into Seattle city limits.
Credit Flickr Photo/Brittney Bush Bollay

Although annexations are mostly a relic of the city's past, Seattle owes much of its "city of neighborhoods"  feel to the fact that many neighborhoods used to be their own municipalities, complete with main streets, libraries and city halls.

Eight of those towns were absorbed into Seattle between 1905 and 1910. There were half a dozen annexations in 1907 alone — including West Seattle, South Park and Columbia — which nearly doubled the city’s footprint.

Even Ravenna was its own town for a few months before merging with Seattle.

City Archivist Scott Cline said in many of those cities, residents were eager for the benefits of Seattle citizenship and the annexation votes were landslides.

"And then there’s a place like Ballard, which in 1905 voted against annexation almost two to one. And then, two years later, had a very close vote in favor of being annexed," Cline said. On the day Ballard lost its independence, its city hall was draped in black crepe and the flag flown at half-mast.

Since the annexation boom 100 years ago, Cline says the city has grown dramatically at times, incrementally at others.

"The annexation of Greenwood, for instance, was almost eight square miles. But there have been annexations that appear to be just one or two lots, that are just miniscule, less than a tenth of a percent of a mile," Cline said.

The city hasn’t changed its boundaries since annexing more of South Park in 1987. That's kept Seattle city limits static for the longest stretch in history.

In a written statement about the City Council's vote in favor of annexation, Council President Tim Burgess said expanding the boundary to include more of South Park "would solve a longstanding anomaly in our city limits."

In the same statement, South Park Neighborhood Association President Dagmar Cronn applauded the council's move toward annexation.

"South Park is a cohesive neighborhood that has long had an artificial barrier between its incorporated and unincorporated parts," Cronn said. "Soon, all of us will receive the same fast police, fire and medical help when it is needed."

The annexation resolution must be approved by the county Boundary Review Board before it goes to voters in the affected areas.