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U District upzone passes Seattle City Council

The HALA plan would allow buildings as high as 320 feet

A three-story building on the Ave Bjørn Giesenbauer/Flickr

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance today that would allow buildings from 240 to 320 feet in Seattle’s University District and require developers to make 9 percent of their units affordable.

The denser, taller neighborhood zoning is part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), often referred to as the “grand bargain,” which, among other things, exchanges increased density for affordable housing requirements. Under the program, developers must either make a certain amount of new residential units affordable or pay into an affordable housing fund.

The upzone has been controversial, with strong opinions from both residents and small business owners on both sides.

Council member Mike O’Brien introduced an amendment raising the affordable housing requirement in the ordinance from nine to 10 percent led to a long, robust discussion, but ultimately failed.

O’Brien argued that upzones as significant as this one—in some cases, 65 feet to 320 feet—require the highest possible investments in affordable housing. Opponents argued that, counterintuitively, the nine percent would lead to, as council member Rob Johnson put it, a “Goldilocks zone” that would ultimately lead to more affordable housing.

However, an amendment did pass allowing the council to revisit the neighborhood if their cost of living changes in the future.

The council also passed resolutions acknowledging the need for affordable childcare, small business support, social services, and other neighborhood programs, and “requesting evaluation of residential displacement” from increased development capacity.

The U District will serve as a kind of pilot as the city prepares for a citywide rezone, expected in early 2018.