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City's plan to 'upzone' Seattle neighborhoods keeps moving forward

caption: Under a new city plan, apartment buildings could be as high as the UW Tower (tallest building pictured). They are currently capped at 65 feet.
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Under a new city plan, apartment buildings could be as high as the UW Tower (tallest building pictured). They are currently capped at 65 feet.
Flickr Photo/Atomic Taco (CC BY SA 2.0)/

Seattle lawmakers are getting closer to implementing their solution to the city’s housing problems. They call the plan HALA, or the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.

As part of HALA, lawmakers will rezone most of Seattle to make a more a taller, denser city. The City Council will rezone the University District first and has already drafted new zoning rules for the neighborhood.


The rule making is happening under Council Member Rob Johnson's committee on land use. Johnson explains that the U. District is going to look a lot different. On top of a new light rail station opening there in 2021, the rezone will build the neighborhood up.

Johnson: "Around the light rail station, it looks like taller buildings, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-300 feet tall. As you taper away from the light rail station, those buildings get smaller and smaller 'til you get out to the single family neighborhoods. It's sort of concentrated in that about-10-minute walk distance from the light rail station."

Last week, the City Council refined its University District zoning proposal. They now want to require that developers build slightly more affordable units than the original proposal required. Also, commercial buildings will be able to have a larger floor plan, by about 4,000 square feet, than originally planned.

Critics, like the Seattle Displacement Coalition, contend that hundreds of existing affordable units would be demolished under the rezone. But Johnson estimates it will produce up to 900 new affordable units and as many as 5,000 new households total. He says lawmakers can't ignore the fact that Seattle needs more housing.

Johnson: "The Capitol Hill that my great-great-grandmother moved to in the late 1800s is very different than the Capitol Hill of today. A lot of the folks that have concerns about the changes in the neighborhood, in the next breath talk about how difficult it is for their friends, family to be able to afford to stay in the neighborhood."

U. District changes have been in the works for five years. Johnson expects the City Council will make a final vote by the end of February.

They will rezone other neighborhoods after that, including downtown/South Lake Union, the Central District, Chinatown-International District, and lower Queen Anne.

Paige Browning can be reached at or @paigebpaige_.

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