Proposed Updates to Design Review Program Are Now Available

Draft legislation to modify the design review program is available for public review and comment on our Design Review Program Improvements webpage and in the Land Use Information Bulletin. Comments will be open through Thursday, June 22.

Our proposed amendments to the Land Use Code (Title 23) are intended to improve the overall function of the program to enhance the efficiency and predictability of project reviews, improve dialogue among project stakeholders, and make the program more transparent and accessible to the public and project applicants. In addition, the changes would focus Design Review on the development projects most likely to influence the character of a neighborhood, and reduce the costs of building housing.  They build upon the recommendations in a report we released in March 2016.  This update is also a recommendation from the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda.

Key proposals in the legislation include:

  1. Simplify and raise the thresholds for projects subject to design review, switching from a variety of thresholds based on use, units, and zoning to simple square footage thresholds that respond to the complexity of a site and type of project.
  2. Create a new “hybrid” process that allows one phase of design review to be handled administratively and the remainder by the design review board.
  3. Require that all applicants for projects going through design review conduct outreach to the communities near their projects before they begin design review.

The legislation would also modify the composition of design review boards, eliminate the streamlined administrative design review process, modify the review process for exceptional trees in Title 25, and update and clarify other provisions related to design review.

We anticipate making final recommendations to the Mayor later in 2017.

An environmental (SEPA) decision on the draft legislation is also available.  This decision is subject to a comment and appeal period that runs until June 29.  Please submit comments on the proposal and the environmental decision to:

City of Seattle, SDCI
Attn: William Mills
P.O. Box 94788
Seattle, WA 98124-7088

If you have questions regarding the proposed code amendments please contact:

Christina Ghan
(206) 233-3749

Lisa Rutzick
(206) 386-9049

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.

Hundreds of Comments on the Seattle 2035 Draft Plan

Thank you Seattle for offering over 2,100 comments, opinions, letters, and surveys about the Seattle 2035 Draft Comprehensive Plan. Staff is now organizing and reviewing your feedback. We will post verbatim comments and summaries at in the coming month.  

The Draft Plan went live for public review in July 2015. We received online comments on the plan throughout the summer and fall. In October and November, DPD organized five citywide community open houses in Capitol Hill, Ballard, Othello, the West Seattle Junction and at the North Seattle College. Over 400 people attended the meetings, browsed displays, posed questions to city staff and listened to a presentation. Displays included an overview of the Plan, description of 10 Key Proposals, plus information about the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). Up to 18 city staff attended each event to answer questions, listen and document comments on large easel pads.

Although the comment period on the Draft Plan is now closed, the conversation with the community will continue next year after City Council receives the Mayor’s Final Plan, and as community meetings about urban village boundaries and HALA begin. Look for the release of the Mayor’s Plan, Final EIS, and Final Equity Analysis in March 2016.