New South Lake Union Zoning Regulations

The City Council recently adopted legislation, that will take effect on June 13, increasing height and density through incentive zoning in the South Lake Union Urban Center.  This legislation concludes a multi-year collaboration between the City of Seattle and neighborhood stakeholders to plan the future of the South Lake Union Urban Center.  Key milestones of our effort include an updated neighborhood plan and an Urban Design Framework.  The new zoning regulations that Council passed will implement the community’s neighborhood vision to support Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan’s designation of South Lake Union as an Urban Center. 

Why is the City rezoning South Lake Union?

In 2004, South Lake Union was designated one of 6 Urban Centers in Seattle.  This means in the future, South Lake Union will gain a substantial share of citywide growth in jobs and housing.  The rezone legislation will implement an incentive zoning program that will allow additional height and floor area in exchange for providing the amenities necessary to support the increased growth in the neighborhood.

What does the rezone accomplish?

  • Property currently zoned as Industrial Commercial (IC) (which prohibits residential development) to Seattle Mixed (SM) (which allows residential and commercial development)
  • New development standards were put in place to ensure towers are well-spaced and designed to preserve openness to the sky and minimize interference with public views throughout the neighborhood
  • Active public spaces are created through well-designed ground-floor retail along key streets, façade transparency, parking location, and pedestrian pass-throughs on large blocks
  • Incentives to preserve landmark properties and open spaces were strengthened
  • Standards to ensure the development of a residential corridor on 8th avenue between John Street and Republic Street 

Will towers be allowed at the lakefront?

The rezone steps down overall building height from 400 feet near Denny Way to 160 feet between Valley and Mercer Streets. Additional limits for taller buildings near the lake include:  

  • Only one tower is allowed per block (two towers per block are permitted in other areas where taller buildings are allowed)
  • No building can be taller than 160 feet (about 16 stories)
  • No more than 12,500 square feet is allowed for each building floor
  • The maximum dimension for any part of the building facing the lake is 105 feet

Will Traffic be a problem?

In analyzing the impacts of the rezone, the City undertook an extensive traffic study as part of the environmental review process.  Through this study, a set of improvements to the transportation system were identified that will be implemented through mitigation fees paid by developers and new infrastructure financing tools.

How does incentive zoning work?

The new regulations use additional height and floor area as an incentive for developers to provide affordable housing and to transfer development rights from rural farm land and forests to relieve pressure on rural lands.  Developers seeking to build above a base height and Floor Area Ratio (the size of the building in relation to the size of the lot), are required to contribute public amenities in proportion to the amount of extra floor area they would gain.  Public benefits vary by building type.  For commercial development, 75 percent of the additional floor area could be gained by providing affordable housing and child

care, and the remaining 25 percent through transfer of development rights.  For residential development, 60 percent could be gained by providing affordable housing and 40 percent through transfer of development rights.  Through the Transfer of Development Rights Program, not only will we preserve up to 25,000 acres of working farms and forests in rural King County, but the City will have access to new infrastructure funding that may result in investments of $28 million in parks and transportation funding.

For more information, visit our South Lake Union website or contact:

Jim Holmes
(206) 684-8372