DEVELOPMENT: City proposes Design Review process changes, including fewer public meetings

If a proposed development project is going to have any public meeting at all, Design Review is the only city process that allows for one – and not all projects qualify.

Now the city is proposing big changes to the process, and they’re out today. First, the official announcement from the Department of Construction and Inspections, followed by some highlights from our review of a key summary:

Our proposed amendments to the Land Use Code are intended to improve the overall function of the program to enhance the efficiency and predictability of the project review process, improve dialogue amongst applicants, and make the program more transparent and accessible to the community.

Draft legislation to modify the design review program is available for public review and comment on our Design Review Program Improvements webpage and in the Land Use Information Bulletin.

The Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommended changes to the Design Review program to streamline process and reduce the cost of building housing. In addition, program changes focus on development projects most likely to influence the character of a neighborhood and incorporate many of the recommendations from the report we released in March 2016.

Key proposals in the legislation include:

*Simplify and raise the thresholds for projects subject to design review, switching from a variety of thresholds based on use, residential units, and zoning to simple square footage thresholds that respond to the complexity of a site and type of project.

*Create a new “hybrid” process that allows one phase of design review to be handled administratively and the remainder by the design review board.

*Affordable housing proposals have the option of an entirely administrative review process.

*Require that all applicants for projects going through design review conduct outreach to the communities near their projects before they begin design review.

The legislation would also modify the composition of design review boards, modify the review process for exceptional trees in Title 25, and update and clarify other provisions related to design review.

We anticipate making final recommendations to the Mayor later in 2017. An environmental decision (SEPA) on the draft legislation is also available. This decision is subject to a comment and appeal period that runs until June 29. Please submit comments on the proposal and the environmental decision to:

City of Seattle, Seattle DCI
Attn: William Mills
P.O. Box 94788
Seattle, WA 98124-7088

The documents specific to the proposed changes are linked here.

If you just want to get right to the changes – go to this document and start on page 5.

Most notably, this means many projects that do qualify for Design Review would get fewer public meetings – in a new “hybrid” process, the Early Design Guidance phase would be handled by city staff, and then the board would have a public meeting for the Recommendations phase, at least one, no more than two.

A new requirement for early community outreach – something some developers have engaged in voluntarily – is detailed starting on page 10.

Starting on page 15, the report describes how the changes would affect the volume of projects going through Design Review. Fewer than half the projects that go through full Design Review today would do so under the new proposals.

The full proposed ordinance – City Council approval is required – is here.

5 Replies to "DEVELOPMENT: City proposes Design Review process changes, including fewer public meetings"

  • bystander June 8, 2017 (1:37 pm)

    There is still another avenue for requesting a public meeting for those projects that qualify, per SMC 23.76.015, as follows: 

    23.76.015 – Public meetings for Type II and Type III Master Use Permits


    The Director may hold a public meeting on Master Use Permit applications requiring Type II or III decisions if:


    The meeting is otherwise provided for in this Title 23, including meetings for projects subject to design review;


    The proposed development is of broad public significance;


    Fifty or more persons file a written request for a meeting not later than the 14 th day after notice of the application is provided; or


    The proposed development will require a shoreline conditional use or a shoreline variance.


    • WSB June 8, 2017 (1:52 pm)

      This is true – and we have reported on that process. What I meant is, projects that automatically get meetings without someone having to ask.

  • mr.T June 8, 2017 (6:25 pm)

    I wonder if this has anything to do with the appalling 12th & Jackson review last month?

    • WSB June 8, 2017 (6:41 pm)

      Don’t know anything about that but this has been in the works for a looooooong time (follow the links), way before last month.

  • bystander June 8, 2017 (11:03 pm)

    Thanks for all that you do, WSB.   Solid, detailed  coverage of this stuff, year after year.   A true public service.  Thank you.

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