How high is too high for ‘lowrise’ development? You’re invited to citywide meeting January 14th

That’s our section of the official zoning map for the city of Seattle. You can see the city map in its entirety, including the color-coding explanation, by going here. Take note that the olive-green areas are “low-rise multifamily.” What’s allowable in that zoning is an area of interest/concern, literally, in neighborhoods around the city, including ours, as multifamily development intensifies, particularly in that zone, which is often adjacent to single-family areas. So if you share that interest/concern, from whatever viewpoint, you’ll want to make plans to be at a citywide meeting on January 14th, regarding possibly changing the rules.

We first heard about this from the Morgan Community Association, which has been working on development-related education lately as new projects start popping up in its area, mentioned it first. The meeting was sparked by a coalition called Seattle Speaks Up, which petitioned the city about the zoning rules and explains the meeting here.

As for the city Department of Planning and Development, this is from a note DPD sent today:

On January 14th, we’re holding a citywide meeting to talk about the citywide issue of building height limits in Lowrise Multifamily zones. We want to hear from residents and others about how buildings built recently in lowrise zones are fitting into neighborhoods. We’re evaluating possibilities for reductions to allowable building height.The meeting will be held on Capitol Hill at Lowell Elementary School 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM.

The city’s full description of the meeting’s purpose is here. An even-fuller description of the potential “code correction” project is here. A map to the meeting site is here.

31 Replies to "How high is too high for 'lowrise' development? You're invited to citywide meeting January 14th"

  • ttt December 23, 2013 (3:36 pm)

    I’m glad this meeting will take place. 7 stories seems too high for our neighborhood of WS. I think 5 stories should be the max, but 3 or 4 would fit in even better… I’ll try to make the meeting!

    • WSB December 23, 2013 (3:49 pm)

      TTT – 7 stories is not lowrise zoning – this is specifically about lowrise zoning. The higher buildings are generally NC zones (follow the map link to see where they are – Alki and The Junction, mostly, with part of Avalon counted in the latter) – TR

  • cascadianone December 23, 2013 (4:10 pm)

    Madness. The height limits should be RAISED, not lowered. The urban hubs (Admiral, Junction, Morgan) should have infinite height limits, as high as the engineers can safely build. Trend down from there, limit it to 5 or so stories at the LEAST in the farther-flung places.

    If we don’t densify, we are not going to get light rail out here. If we don’t get light rail out here, then our parking and traffic problems are only going to worsen. You cannot send a rail line out to a 1950’s era suburb. It’s too expensive.

  • LivesInWS December 23, 2013 (4:22 pm)

    Low-rise multifamily? I’d say 3 stories, but I expect the city thinks it’s double that.

    Glad to have WSB publicize this upcoming meeting.

  • Chris December 23, 2013 (4:23 pm)

    Reduce the sizes back to a human scale that is appropriate for the community. West Seattle has become a wasteland of huge mid-rise buildings. I’m saddened by these towering structures along the Junction, and how they don’t even remotely come close to “fitting-in” with the surrounding area.

    I know that Seattle has to address the State and County GMA, and one of the goals is to maximize density in urban areas, however what is happening in West Seattle is going too far.

    This seemingly unfettered growth of mid-rise buildings only compounds the traffic-related problems, and you can clearly see the effects on all days of the week.

    While much has been discussed about dense housing and the goal of putting housing near major transit corridors and hubs (a la Transit Oriented Development), people still love their cars. Those living in the mid-rise apartments/condos still clog the streets with their vehicles. In a mere 10 years, traffic in West Seattle has gotten really bad. You simply can’t build all this housing and not improve the transit arterials.

    No more mid-rises in West Seattle!

  • LivesInWS December 23, 2013 (4:26 pm)

    Density limit for rowhouses: “No limit.”
    And check out the parking requirements, or lack thereof, people.

    OTOH At least the height isn’t 6 stories which was my first guess.

  • LivesInWS December 23, 2013 (4:27 pm)

    BTW, Portland has light rail without having to mash so many people together in the same buildings.

  • JanS December 23, 2013 (4:57 pm)

    cascadianone…you’d be happy with 10 or 20 stories built next to you? Are you serious? No limit at all?
    I have never considered West Seattle “urban” in the 40 years I’ve been here. Is it suburban? Maybe…but probably somewhere in between. Sadly no one has to also include parking anymore…and mass transit here, as we all know only too well, sucks…period. And after all these “no limit” buildings are built? The city could still decide no rail line of any kind? What then?

  • Wes C. Addle December 23, 2013 (5:09 pm)

    You omitted one thing from your Portland Light Rail comment, very few people use it. Those that do use it, rarely take it to work.
    (Lived in PDX until 3 years ago)

  • Hmmm December 23, 2013 (5:22 pm)

    I believe we need to rethink the whole “urban” bit. I moved to ws because it feels like a suburb. If I wanted urban I’d move back to Capitol Hill. The city should be building the transportation infrastructure long before they allow massive infill.
    I’m starting to think we should secede.

  • Hmmm December 23, 2013 (5:38 pm)

    Wait, they’ve done it! 12m worth of water taxis will now carry 26 bikes instead of 18!

    Were like the face palm of the U.S.

  • G December 23, 2013 (5:46 pm)

    Light rail is no panacea. To begin with, it will not reduce traffic congestion within West Seattle. Secondly, it will require parking in and around stations and I’m not sure where the land for park-n-rides will come from, unless through cooperative agreements with private owners. Thirdly, light rail will run at street level and compete with motorists at crossings and cause it’s own share of traffic disruption and congestion in what is already congested. Lastly, not everyone works downtown, and light rail simply does not work for them.

    On top of that, based on recent bumbling, I’m just not confident in Seattle’s ability to design practical transportation solutions. Not anymore.

  • EMO December 23, 2013 (5:56 pm)

    You might want to engage your brain before you start to write. My son had a job along the waterfront last year, and his preferred mode of transportation was to ride his bike to the taxi, then ride the mile or so up to his building. Safer and faster than either riding all the way or having to drive/walk on either end of the commute.
    Will it solve ALL of our transportation problems? No. But will every little bit help? You betcha.

  • Hmmm December 23, 2013 (6:22 pm)

    Merry Xmas EMO!

    What’s wrong with the current boats? Are they sinking? Seems like 12m would be better spent on buses or maybe railroad tracks? A very simple view is that the rail yard is right on the other side of the bridge. G is right on, but it is a start. I will say that with the topography of seattle doesn’t make any of it easy.

  • Genesee Hill December 23, 2013 (6:22 pm)

    I cannot drive my Range Rover in West Seattle anymore without using a crapload of gasoline.

    Get out of here you people who don’t belong.



  • Gatewooder December 23, 2013 (6:42 pm)

    Density without infrastructure to support it is the core problem.

  • WSPS December 23, 2013 (9:35 pm)

    I have to wonder if the density complainers are transplants.

  • Concerned December 23, 2013 (9:43 pm)

    Wow, not sure if map colors are clear, but there seems to be an awful lot of olive green on our shorelines and beach front, which I’d hate to see over-towered, like another Waikiki. Yikes, thanks WSB for monitoring this important proposal and giving us a chance to steer development in a more sane direction.

  • Jeffrey December 23, 2013 (10:29 pm)

    We need more density and light rail or we are all going to die.


  • pahhhrk the cahhhr December 23, 2013 (10:56 pm)

    I think Seattle’s urban planners should spend some time on the east coast and see how it’s done… correctly. Stop trying to reinvent (aka butcher) the wheel.

  • JoAnne December 24, 2013 (12:31 am)

    What would be the point of going to a meeting like this? The city doesn’t care.
    As far as they’re concerned, we can all have monstrous apartment houses with views right into our back yards.

  • cj December 24, 2013 (2:39 am)

    5 stories is too high to be called low rise IMHO. W Seattle is on its way to becoming a wasteland of human sardine packing if we don’t start applying some break pressure very soon.

  • G December 24, 2013 (8:05 am)


    You’re right, unfortunately, about MAX.

    You can’t just build something like light rail without the supporting infrastructure and/or incentives to encourage people to give a single trip they would make in a car into several or more segments via public transportation.

  • CW December 24, 2013 (8:40 am)

    @Genessee Hill, what if I drive a Tesla? If it takes me 45 minutes to get from 35th & Fauntleroy to I-5 in my Tesla do you approve? Can I still live in West Seattle if I drive a Tesla oh great lord Genessee Hill? What sayeth thou oh wise one?

  • Dan December 24, 2013 (10:58 am)

    I’ll be attending and speaking out in support of raising the density limits. As the map shows, the vast bulk of WS is zoned for single family housing and always will be. Why isn’t the Whole Foods site or “the pit” zoned for 20 story towers? WS needs to develop a real “downtown” core to be a viable candidate for rail.

  • JoAnne December 24, 2013 (1:10 pm)

    Decisions about people’s lives (and life savings) should not be left in the hands of 20-something busybodies with degrees in social engineering but no life experience whatsoever.

  • Question December 24, 2013 (3:21 pm)

    Does anyone know the options for a development that can’t meet its occupancy targets? Is there a path for these developments to become subsidized housing rather than sit vacant?

  • Morgan_Joe December 24, 2013 (4:42 pm)

    Where there is density there will be added incentive to provide feasible/reliable mass transit. TOD is here and Alaska Junction is the perfect for taller buildings –larger than typical 5 stories of wood on concrete podium decks. If there is market demand, Admiral and Morgan Junctions could be developed similarly. Required green space, setbacks, parking are all good discussion topics.

    How to improve mass transit is the real question not ranting about setting unrealistic height limits.

  • Rita December 26, 2013 (8:54 am)

    We need more density. Please build higher – only then will West Seattle become a more vibrant and walkable community

  • Cowpie December 26, 2013 (10:08 am)

    I’ll add my two bits….

    4 stories max for ‘low rise’ structures.

    Learn to ride a bike. Great for your health and better for the environment. I ride year round to work using a mixture of bike/bus….since 1988. And I work on the east side of the lake.

    Stop complaining about development especially if you have children. You added to the problem and the City is simply trying to find a home for them. Or…do you want them in your home forever? Think about it…did you really need them?

    A light rail would be nice when I turn 80, but for now my bike works fine.

  • Lack Thereof January 2, 2014 (10:32 am)

    Lowrise height limit is only 30 feet, people, same as the single-family height limit. I don’t know where you’re all getting these ideas that lowrise is 5-10 stories tall.

    There are a couple exceptions and bonuses that apply ONLY within designated “urban village” zones, that basically allow 1 extra story if the developer crosses all their T’s and dots all their I’s.

Sorry, comment time is over.