Regulatory Reform Passed by Council

On July 23, the City Council adopted Mayor McGinn’s regulatory reform package that will promote economic recovery by providing new code flexibility to encourage more investment and business startups in Seattle. By reducing “red tape” and streamlining environmental review processes, it will be easier for entrepreneurs to grow a business and provide new housing with greater flexibility in design. These reforms will help Seattle grow in ways that promote livability and sustainability and are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan’s “urban village” principles.

Highlights of the package include:

  • Change SEPA environmental review thresholds: In the urban centers, and urban villages that contain light rail stations, SEPA review thresholds for residential and mixed-use development are raised to 200 dwelling units in most zones, and 250 units in Downtown. As long as these areas have not already met their growth target, these thresholds will encourage infill in designated growth centers where transportation is most available. The threshold for commercial uses in mixed-use development is also raised to 30,000 square feet. Other codes and processes such as Design Review will support growth that contributes to neighborhoods and includes affordable housing opportunities. DPD will monitor growth trends and adjust thresholds if an area meets its growth targets.
  • Reduce and eliminate some parking requirements: The reforms extend a no-minimum parking requirement to all uses except hospitals within ¼ mile of frequently-served transit stops in Urban Villages. The reforms reduce by half the minimum parking for all uses along frequently served bus corridors that are outside urban centers and villages. This will encourage buildings that are more flexibly designed and don’t oversupply parking.
  • Concentrate street-level commercial uses in pedestrian zones, and provide more flexibility for residential uses in commercial zones: The package retains the current emphasis on street-level commercial uses in “pedestrian” zoned districts and in 60 other local commercial districts. In several other commercially zoned areas around the city, there is now greater flexibility to mix residential uses into street-levels of buildings along arterials. This also promotes design flexibility that will encourage new development expected to add new residents and vitality to several areas.
  • Encourage home entrepreneurship: The package refines the rules on home-based businesses to allow more opportunity to advertise a small business, have an additional employee, and use any legal structure on a property. The rules maintain a strong emphasis on preventing spillover impacts on neighboring residents.
  • Simpler permit renewals for temporary uses: Temporary use permits up to six months will be renewed using simpler and faster reviews, as long as they are not impacting their neighbors.
  • Expand options to accessory dwelling units: The package clarifies and streamlines rules to encourage accessory dwelling units within a variety of existing residences and as backyard cottages, and in a wider variety of properties that includes “through lots” that have streets on two opposite sides.

The legislation will become effective 30 days after the Mayor signs the bill. The effective date should be in early September. Stay tuned to DPD’s website for more details:

For more information, contact:

Gordon Clowers, Senior Planner
(206) 684-8375