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Downtown and South Lake Union up next in HALA rezones

Mandatory housing affordability is coming to Seattle’s tallest neighborhood

A view of South Lake Union and Downtown from the east Wonderlane/Flickr

Now that the U District upzone has passed both the City Council and the Mayor’s office, it’s time for another neighborhood to get the HALA treatment. Next up for mandatory housing affordability (MHA) is Downtown and South Lake Union.

A black and white map of areas being rezoned
The area currently being rezoned includes Belltown and parts of Pioneer Square to the south, and extends east to I-5.
City of Seattle

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use, and Zoning committee heard a proposal to rezone the area with housing affordability requirements.

Brennon Staley of the Office of Planning and Community Development called the area a “workhorse” in a presentation to committee. They’re expecting 2,100 affordable housing units to come out of MHA in the area, compared to 6,000 citywide, over the next ten years.

Residential height increases, under the proposal presented to committee, would increase more the higher the current maximum height—ranging from 10 extra feet where the limit is currently 85 to 50 extra feet in zones with a 500 foot limit. Areas of Downtown with no height limit would be given an extra 1,000 square feet of width. Commercial buildings would be given additional floor area ratio.

In exchange, as with the U District upzone, developers would either have to make a portion of their building affordable housing or pay into an affordable housing fund. In residential buildings, 2.9 to 5 percent of units would need to be affordable—significantly lower than the U District, since the change in density isn’t as significant. For commercial buildings, that requirement jumps to 5 to 10.6 percent.

In one example, a half-block, 35 story commercial tower Downtown would result in either 74 affordable homes or funding for 93 affordable homes, depending on which option the hypothetical developer chose.

The Pioneer Square and Pike Place historic districts would be excluded from MHA, as well as lakefront property in SLU, the Pike Place view corridor, and the historic piers. The International District will be addressed in separate legislation.

Incentive zoning, a voluntary program that exchanges extra height or floor area for public benefit, including childcare, will still apply to the height limits.

The proposal still needs to clear committee before going to full council. The committee is holding a public hearing about the zoning changes on Monday, March 13 at 6 p.m.; the next regular committee meeting, which will include amendments by council members, is on March 21.