Design Review Program Improvement Recommendations Available for Public Comment

Seattle DCI and OPCD released draft Design Review Program Improvement recommendations on March 9, 2016. Our recommendations identify and evaluate organizational, structural, and procedural changes to enhance the design review program’s efficiency and enable it to better achieve its purpose. You can comment on our recommendations through April 8.

Over the last year, we worked with a 16-member stakeholder advisory group as well as the general public to develop specific recommendations about how to improve the Design Review program. We gathered input through stakeholder and focus group interviews, an online survey, and two community open houses held in September and October 2015.

The Design Review Program began in 1994. Since then, the Design Review Board has improved over a thousand development projects! The program and its boards review multiple aspects of private development projects in Seattle, including:

  • The overall appearance of the building
  • How the proposal relates to adjacent sites
  • Pedestrian and vehicular access
  • The unusual aspects of the site, like views or slopes
  • Quality of materials, open space, and landscaping

Even though it’s a very successful program, the process hasn’t changed significantly. Concerns regarding the program’s effectiveness and efficiency prompted us to identify opportunities for improvement.

Goals of the Design Review Program Improvements Project include:

Develop recommendations that:

  • Cultivate the program’s purpose of encouraging better design
  • Improve the level of consistency, efficiency, and predictability in how the City administers the program
  • Increase accessibility to encourage better dialogue between the boards, applicants, and community
  • Use communication strategies and tools (both traditional and emerging technologies) to improve how information is presented, shared, and reviewed throughout the entire design review process

Our general approach to identifying methods to improve the program focused on:

  • What people like about the program
  • What could be improved
  • How people currently engage with the program
  • How people prefer to engage with the program in the future

For more information, visit the Design Review Program Improvement website.

Changes to the Department of Planning and Development

New planning office takes effect January 1, 2016

2016 brings some significant changes to the leadership and organizational structure of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD). After 38 years with the City and 14 as director of DPD, Diane Sugimura will be retiring. At the same time, the department will become two – the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections and a new Office of Planning and Community Development. Current staff and services within DPD will remain in place for most of 2016. Staff in both departments will continue to work closely together to help ensure coordination as we move forward.

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (Seattle DCI)
The new department will be led by Nathan Torgelson, current DPD deputy director. Seattle DCI will primarily include regulatory functions such as: permitting, construction inspections, code compliance, tenant protections, rental housing registration and inspections, but will also include a smaller unit for code development.

The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD)
In June 2015, the Mayor issued an Executive Order 2015-04, announcing the creation of OPCD. Council approved the creation of the new Office as part of the 2016 Budget. This group will be primarily composed of staff from the City Planning division of DPD. As the Mayor stated, “I’m creating a new office to integrate all of our priorities and to better coordinate how we grow and invest.” The office will take our planning efforts and look at them through a lens of race, social justice and economic equity for all Seattle communities.

The search process for a new OPCD director is underway.  During that process, Diane will serve as interim director until the new director arrives. Major work items for the new office in 2016 include the update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan Seattle 2035, and assistance with implementation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), which will include approval and implementation of plans such as the University District, and 23rd Ave. at Union/Cherry/Jackson.

This new Executive Office will be working closely with many departments, particularly the capital departments.  Departments are already starting to align their work more closely.

What Will Our Customers and Stakeholders See?

  • The department/office names will change on January 4, 2016
  • For the first part of the year, staff will continue to be in their same offices in the Seattle Municipal Tower (SMT), with the same phone numbers and email addresses
  • Around August, OPCD will be moving to the 5th floor of City Hall, and SDCI will use the City Planning space on the 19th floor of SMT for a much needed expansion


For more information read the Mayor’s frequently asked questions.

Torgelson sworn in as director of the new Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections

After the Seattle City Council confirmed Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee to lead the newly created Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Nathan Torgelson was sworn as the department’s first director.  Previously, Torgelson was deputy director of the Department of Planning and Development.

“As a proven leader with a strong track record at the City, Nathan is the right person to launch our new agency,” said Murray. “I look forward to his continued leadership on the regulatory issues governing housing and construction. Seattle’s current building boom and our expanding inspection efforts to support the quality of rental housing will certainly keep him busy.”

Torgelson has 25 years’ experience in land use, planning and economic development in various roles at the City of Seattle and Kent. He has dedicated his career in the public sector to improving communities and the built environment.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to serve as the director of the new Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections,” said Torgelson. “We will continue our work to improve rental housing conditions and reach out to our community leaders on how decisions can be shaped through positive community engagement.”

As coordinated planning is elevated to the new Office of Planning and Community Development, the existing regulatory functions of the Department of Planning and Development – permits, code enforcement and inspections – will be housed in the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

Plans Submitted for Electronic Review Must Include Space for Approval Stamp

Since DPD started the electronic plan pilot (the DPD Project Portal), we have instructed applicants to provide a dedicated space for approval stamps, preferably in the lower right hand corner of each plan sheet.

Beginning January 4, 2016 we will reject all plan sets for Construction and Land Use that do not include this dedicated space (excluding surveys).

Please set up your projects’ plan sets with this space for approval stamps to ensure that we accept your drawings for review. The space dedicated for the approval stamps has to be in the same exact place on each sheet and should be approximately 4.5” wide and 1” tall, or 2.5” wide and 2” tall, to leave room for two stamps. The space can be in your title block or in the drawing space, but the lower right corner is preferred.

Download our flyer for examples of the approval stamp space requirements.

For more information, contact
Cindy Hoover,
Janet Oslund,

DPD Raising Land Use Hourly Rate

Effective January 1, 2016, DPD will be raising the Land Use hourly rate 12%, a change from $250/hour to $280/hour.  The new hourly rate will be applied to billable review hours or fees that are linked to the Land Use hourly rate that are incurred on or after January 1, 2016.  The current Land Use hourly rate of $250/hour was established in 2001 and has remained at that rate for 14 years. During that time, hard and soft costs for the Land Use program have increased significantly, so it’s time to raise the hourly rate to ensure adequate revenue to cover the program costs.