The City of Seattle is holding a listening session for developers and owners of older brick buildings for a proposed new Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program to support funding of seismic retrofits.
The 23rd anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake is February 28. The Nisqually earthquake shook Puget Sound, injured 400 people, and did $2 billion in property damage. Amidst the recent news of natural disasters such as record-breaking freezing temperatures and flooding, we must not forget the pending disaster underfoot. Over the next 50 years there’s an 86% chance that we will experience another earthquake of similar magnitude to the Nisqually earthquake. The type of building most heavily damaged during the Nisqually earthquake, and in other earthquakes globally, are old brick buildings, often referred to as “unreinforced masonry buildings” or URMs. These buildings are prone to collapse due to their lack of structural reinforcements; they stand upright thanks to brick and mortar but have no support system for the horizontal motion of earthquakes. Seattle has 1,100 URM buildings and wants to require structural retrofits to prevent their collapse in the next earthquake that could happen any day. The City plans to adopt a voluntary retrofit ordinance by the end of 2024 and expects to follow-up with a mandatory retrofit ordinance in the near future.
The City hasn’t previously mandated seismic retrofits of URM buildings due to the associated expense. A 2019 study estimated a retrofit would cost nearly $650,000 for the average three-story URM building. Inflation, worker shortages, and other factors have surely increased cost projections. Since City Council passed joint resolutions 32033 and 32111 in support of creating a URM program, the City is making progress in establishing retrofit standards and identifying funding resources for building owners.
The City of Seattle is holding a listening session for developers and owners of URM buildings for a proposed new Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program to support seismic retrofits of URM buildings. The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) are hosting this meeting on Tuesday, February 27 from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. in the Bertha Knight Landes Room in Seattle City Hall. You can register and view the meeting agenda for this in-person event on the Unreinforced Masonry Buildings website.
The proposal for this potential new TDR program was developed by the Alliance for Safety, Affordability, and Preservation! (ASAP!) and would allow URM building owners to voluntarily sell unused development rights to fund seismic retrofits. The City wants to hear from URM building owners and developers regarding the merits of this proposal.
The listening session will include a:
- Presentation on the City’s current and planned progress with URM retrofit requirements and legislation
- Conceptual overview of transfer of development rights
- Facilitated session to consider various scenarios and perspectives of the proposed program