Mayor Murray unveils affordability and growth plan, Arts and Culture District for Uptown neighborhood

Today, Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a plan for the future of Uptown, implementing requirements that will generate 600 new affordable homes for low-income people, providing capacity for more market-rate housing and jobs, supporting new spaces for cultural organizations and enacting the community’s vision for the future of the neighborhood. Additionally, Mayor Murray announced Uptown will become Seattle’s third Arts and Cultural District, providing resources to preserve, strengthen and expand arts and cultural spaces. Uptown has long been a cultural destination in Seattle, with over 30 arts, cultural and educational organizations located in the Seattle Center campus and surrounding neighborhood.

“By coupling growth with affordability, we are ensuring that Uptown’s booming culture and economy can be a model for community building rather than a model for gentrification,” said Mayor Murray. “With this announcement, we are ensuring everyone has access to housing in this local hub of arts, culture, transit, green space and jobs. Our housing policies must be about inclusion—this proposal makes good on that goal.”

Over the next 20 years, the proposed zoning changes will result in an estimated 600 new income-restricted and rent-restricted homes for low-income residents through the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, a key recommendation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. Under MHA, Uptown developers will be required to include affordable homes in between five percent and 10 percent of each building, or contribute between $8.00 and $29.75 per square foot to the Seattle Office of Housing to support affordable housing, depending on the specific location in the neighborhood.

“Uptown is one of our fastest growing urban centers, and borders on Seattle Center, one of the great civic spaces of our city,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia). “With its connections to Downtown, the Waterfront and the growing Belltown and South Lake Union neighborhoods, Uptown is already becoming a vibrant business and residential center. Not surprisingly, rents are rising rapidly in this neighborhood, and we clearly need affordable housing right in Uptown. Through this plan, hundreds of developer-funded affordable housing units will be built. I am committed to working with Uptown leaders to ensure we are using a suite of tools to create the housing we need.”

“I am excited for the implementation of MHA in the Uptown neighborhood. Through these zoning changes, we can ensure that more people have access to this vibrant neighborhood,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle). “As an area with great access to job centers, open space, transportation, as well as arts, culture and civic institutions like the Seattle Center and KeyArena, its density and amenity mix support a high level of livability. It is important that we continue to implement MHA and create additional affordable housing in our communities so that our artists, nonprofit employees, and workers of all wages can continue to contribute to the character of Seattle.”

For more than three years, Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) worked with community members to envision a vibrant future for the Uptown neighborhood. The proposal includes neighborhood priorities, such as design standards, that support vibrant streetscapes, incentives for new arts and cultural spaces, improved connections to Seattle Center, and enhanced walkability as outlined in the Uptown Urban Design Framework (UDF).

“The Urban Design Framework in this ordinance will help create the neighborhood where we want to live and work as Uptown grows,” said Deborah Frausto, chair of the Uptown Alliance UDF Committee. “We still have work to do in creating more possibilities for open space, affordable and workforce housing, and walkable community that’s safe and welcoming. Our community, with its generosity of spirit and gifts of time and expertise, will continue to stay involved and share ideas of what they want their neighborhood to be like.”

Mayor Murray’s proposal allows new building heights for many areas of the neighborhood already zoned for multi-family residential and mixed-use commercial buildings, providing additional capacity for market-rate and income-restricted housing within walking distance of South Lake Union, Belltown and Downtown. The rezone proposal includes an increase in building height along the Mercer Street Corridor from the current 40 feet to 85 feet, the same as the current height limit on the Seattle Center campus. The iconic public views of the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline as seen from Kerry Park, Bhy Kracke Park and other key view corridors are protected under the proposal.

The triangle bounded by Broad, Aurora and Denny could feature taller, thinner, well-spaced, 16-story residential towers. Other areas of the Uptown Urban Center currently zoned for multi-family residential or mixed-use would receive one or two stories of additional height. No zoning changes are proposed outside of the Uptown Urban Center or in nearby single-family neighborhoods.

Additionally, the rezone will create incentives for new arts and cultural spaces, giving smaller organizations a chance to operate in or near Seattle Center, which attracts visitors from around the world. The rezone will also help preserve historic buildings by allowing them to sell unused development rights.

In the last two years, 20 King County Metro bus lines that serve the neighborhood have expanded service because of voter-approved Proposition 1, improving transit speed and reliability. The Seattle Department of Transportation has updated signal controls on Mercer, Roy, and Valley streets to be more sensitive to real-time traffic conditions. Similar signal upgrades are planned for Denny Way. New street connections across Aurora at John, Thomas and Harrison will ease pressure on Mercer and Denny after the SR-99 tunnel opens.

Uptown Arts and Cultural District

Since the 1962 World’s Fair, Uptown has been a hub of Seattle arts and culture with the largest concentration of diverse organizations that range from independent artists, to internationally renowned classical arts, to innovative theater and visual arts, to ethnic festivals from around the world, to major music concerts. The Arts and Cultural District designation recognizes the culturally rich neighborhood and seeks to enhance its character.

“We are thrilled to be recognized as an official Arts and Cultural District,” said Cyrus Despres, co-chair and president of the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition. “Uptown is experiencing the same growing pains as the rest of Seattle, and we are committed to enhancing our cultural experiences and evolving our identity as a welcoming home for the arts in Seattle.”

The designation includes access to the Creative Placemaking Toolkit, a suite of tools designed to preserve, strengthen, and expand arts and cultural spaces. The district will have access to $50,000 to be used toward the toolkit’s programs and resources for right-of-way identifiers, wayfinding, busking and plein air painting, art historic markers, pop-up activations, and parklets. The toolkit was designed to support artists, art spaces, and neighborhoods in maintaining and investing in their cultural assets.

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