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Mayor Murray Proposes Improvements to Design Review Program in Seattle

Mayor Murray, Seattle, Puget Sound, Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), Mercy Housing,

August 1, 2017 — Today, Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a proposal to make it easier and faster for new housing to be built all across Seattle by updating the City’s Design Review program. The legislation strengthens community input on major projects and streamlines the review process to reduce delays and costs associated with new building construction. The legislation fulfills a key recommendation from Mayor Murray’s to generate new housing quicker while reducing construction costs.

“Our economic boom has put a strain on Seattle’s housing stock and overwhelmed our design review process,” said Mayor Murray. “To take on this challenge, we are comprehensively updating the City’s review process for the first time in decades with changes that will help reduce delays and cost overruns that are driving up housing prices and give communities an opportunity to weigh in on projects in their neighborhood. This change will create more housing and more affordable housing in Seattle.”

The proposal will reduce the wait time typical projects undergo with the Design Review process by four to eight weeks. The time saved will create more capacity for the Design Review program to evaluate larger, more complicated projects allowing developments to enter the housing market more quickly. The measure will also require all developers to conduct mandatory early outreach to neighborhood stakeholders to ensure the community has a more impactful say in the design of projects. Currently, neighborhood engagement is voluntary for developers.

“Creating housing that is affordable for Seattle’s most vulnerable residents takes time and we work with finite resources to create environmentally-sustainable, high-quality housing,” said Bill Rumpf, President of Mercy Housing and a member of the HALA committee. “This measure makes the production of affordable housing more efficient, meaning we can build more housing for more people, faster. It also assures a community voice in the outcomes of buildings being developed in their neighborhoods—a win for everyone.”

Key recommendations made in this legislation will:

  • Simplify and revise building criteria that triggers design review by basing thresholds solely on the size of a project, which will encourage developers to build more units on a site.
  • Create a new “hybrid” process that allows one phase of design review to be handled administratively and the remainder by the Design Review program.
  • Require applicants to establish a dialogue with the communities near their projects before they begin design review.
  • Allow affordable housing projects to be reviewed through the administrative design review process, speeding up affordable housing production throughout the city

Since the Design Review program was launched in 1994, the Design Review boards have reviewed more than 1,500 projects using citywide and neighborhood-specific design guidelines. Despite a marked increase in reviews in recent years, the Design Review program has not been comprehensively updated since the creation of the program.