Mayor releases plan to guide growth, investments in U District

After five years of community engagement and more than 90 public meetings, the City of Seattle today released the plan for growth and coordinated public investments in the U District. As the neighborhood continues to change rapidly, today’s announcement will guide future density for affordability and livability.

“This is an exciting day for the U District as we roll out our shared vision for the future of the neighborhood,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Over the last five years, hundreds of U District residents have contributed their opinions on how to build a more livable, walkable neighborhood as Sound Transit light rail comes to the community. And for the first time, all new development will contribute to affordable housing. Together we can shape a U District that reflects our values.”

With the Sound Transit’s U District Link light rail station opening in 2021, the City’s plan focuses future housing and employment density in areas with excellent access to the transit station.

The plan’s proposed zoning changes respond to community priorities for rigorous design standards that requires new public spaces, attractive buildings, and active street fronts. New incentives will encourage sidewalk improvements, space for social services, and childcare centers in private development. Other incentives will help preserve historic buildings and the pedestrian shopping district of the Ave.

“The University District has such a unique character – our students, faculty, and staff of the University bring a vibrant diversity to the community, and the neighborhood’s access to public transit, jobs, and local businesses make it an attractive place to live,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson. “But due to the pace at which Seattle is growing, we need to take bold and critical action to ensure that it remains an affordable place to live.

The proposed zoning changes here in the University District are the result of a four year process which has involved over 90 meetings and hundreds of participants. I want to thank everyone who, through their hard work and their feedback, has gotten us to this critical milestone today.”

As the neighborhood grows, Seattle’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) ordinances will require all developers of multifamily and commercial buildings to build or fund affordable homes.

The City estimates that the MHA requirements that come with greater development capacity will create hundreds of new affordable homes. Without the proposed zoning changes that trigger MHA requirements, Seattle’s existing incentive zoning programs are projected to yield only an estimated additional 20 income-restricted homes built by private developers.

“As an organization that provides housing for low-income people every day, Bellwether is very excited to see the passage of this important legislation,” said Susan Boyd of Bellwether Housing. “By implementing MHA, we can create high quality, affordable homes for more low-wage working families in neighborhoods like the University District – close to great schools, great public resources, and rich job centers.   Funds from the MHA’s predecessor, the Incentive Zoning Program, is what made our 133-unit Arbora Court project in the heart of the University District possible. MHA implementation in the U District will expand the capacity to create affordable housing like this in the U District and across the City.”

Through the existing Housing Levy and incentive zoning programs, the Office of Housing recently has funded 182 new affordable homes the U District, 49 of which have already opened.

The University of Washington has been engaged in the plan as an active partner in the future of U District. The City and University continue to discuss their shared interests in improving connections to the new Burke Museum and the rest of the campus, expanding faculty and employee housing, creating jobs, providing additional childcare and creating a new public plaza adjacent to the light rail station.

“UW is proud to be a partner with the City of Seattle and the U District community in making this Seattle’s best neighborhood,” said UW Vice President Randy Hodgins. “The UW has sat shoulder to shoulder with City staff and U District residents to review and shape the ideas that have informed Mayor Murray’s proposal. We believe it’s the way to ensure the growth that’s coming will produce the great, inclusive neighborhood our students, faculty and staff want.”

As the neighborhood grows, the City of Seattle has made, and will continue to make, significant investments in the U District:

  • New parks and open space to serve the neighborhood, including upgrades at University Playfield, the new University Heights Plaza, the Christie Park expansion, and the future park on the Portage Bay waterfront.
  • A network of new bike lanes on 11th Ave NE, Roosevelt Way NE, NE Campus Parkway and NE 40th
  • Expanded sidewalks on NE 43rd connecting the light rail station to the Ave and campus.

“University Heights partners with the City of Seattle to ensure that everybody has a place to play, learn and grow in the U District regardless of their age, ability or economic status,” said Maureen Ewing, Executive Director of University Heights Center. “With the support of the City, we have saved our historic building from demolition, increased open space in the U District and are currently expanding arts and cultural opportunities that are accessible to all.”

The City is also expanding social service and public safety partnerships to make the U District more welcoming and safe for families and students:

  • The University District Partnership’s Clean and Safe initiative helps address vacant properties, graffiti and trash, making the neighborhood safer and more pleasant.
  • The Mayor will seek to expand his Youth Employment Initiative with the local non-profit ROOTS to build a “shelter to employment” program for homeless youth.
  • The Seattle Police Department and University Police continue to deepen their collaboration to support neighborhood safety.

“The City has played a critical role in this neighborhood’s plans for renewal,” said Kristine Cunningham, Executive Director of ROOTS. “ Once divisions and short-term thinking hampered our capacity to affect real change.  Now we are supported to combine diverse views and tackle the social, economic, and housing issues in the U District.  It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve made real progress.

Mayor Murray will transmit U District legislation to City Council next week.