Seattle Loosen Downtown Zoning Regulations

1 min read
September 27, 2023
Seattle, Washington, USA

The Big Picture: The Seattle City Council approved a new ordinance that paves the way for taller residential towers along Third Avenue, showcasing City Hall’s ongoing efforts to rejuvenate dormant downtown areas.


  • Height Surge: The newly approved bill permits the construction of residential towers up to 440 feet, a significant leap from the prior cap of 170 feet. This applies to a zone on Third Avenue from Stewart to Union Streets.
  • Area Impact: The rezoning will influence 11 parcels. Notably, the vacant Kress building, once an IGA store, and the art deco building currently housing Ross Dress for Less at Third and Pike Street.
  • Anticipations: Proponents of the rezoning are optimistic, expecting it to attract developers. The aim? Convert these properties into high-rise apartments featuring retail spaces at the ground level.

Voices from the Council:

  • Council-member Dan Strauss, who sponsored the bill, labelled the changes as “critical” for amending the prevailing challenges in downtown Seattle.
  • However, the bill saw opposition from Council-members Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant, and Alex Pedersen, primarily over concerns related to affordable housing. Although supportive of additional downtown housing, Morales expressed skepticism about the tangible benefits to the working class. She argued, “Working people, not downtown, are the economic engine of our city.”

Retail vs. Residential: Once a hub for retail, the area around Third near Pike has seen many vacate due to the surge in e-commerce and the pandemic’s challenges. Mayor Bruce Harrell’s team proposes this rezoning as a remedy to attract developers to rejuvenate empty retail spaces and curtail illicit activities on Third Avenue. How? By initiating construction projects that would occupy significant sidewalk areas for prolonged durations.

Looking Ahead:

  • Council-member Andrew Lewis, a downtown representative and bill supporter, underscores the need for downtown evolution. “By fostering a robust residential presence in our downtown core, we’re spurring the demand for new storefronts,” Lewis mentioned.
  • Yet, Morales and Sawant have reservations. They believe the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability regulations may need to exact sufficient funds from developers taking advantage of the new zoning rules. As Sawant articulated, “The city could extract more from developers in return for this upzoning.”

Forecast: City analysts estimate these rezoning measures might lead to two residential towers in the upcoming 20 years, housing between 600 and 1,200 units. Based on city affordability requirements, this could translate to 10-20 affordable units within these towers or amass $4.2 million to $8.4 million in fees to champion affordable housing initiatives elsewhere.

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