City wants to eviscerate design review for neighborhood scale projects – Comments due Monday, July 10

Screenshot 2017-07-06 at 5.05.35 PM

Expect fewer public notices if design review “improvements” are approved.

The City is proposing design review “improvements,” but depending on which camp you are in you may not see these changes as improving anything.  The city’s proposed changes would effectively eliminate design review from neighborhood sized projects, basically telling everyday residents of Seattle, we don’t want to hear your voice and telling developers they are free to do whatever they want.  So beware when a candidate or city official tells you they are a fan of “streamlined design review.”  The reality is removing your voice from the conversation.

You know what most the design reviews I’ve been to are about?  Trying to get the developers to just follow the damn rules.  Because there is this lovely thing called a “departure,” which means the developer politely asks the city if they can break the rules and not follow building code.  And now, they want to do this out of the eyes of the public.

For example, if the code says there should be a 10 foot setback from the property line, but the developers have a really good reason why they simply must build to the property line, that would be a “departure.”  Or the code says the upper floors should be set back to allow some light to reach the neighboring home, but the developers much prefer the extra square footage they get with a sheer 50 foot wall, and they aren’t really concerned that its abutting a single family home.  Or how about just a little common neighborly decency?  Like the design review where the developers of a 50 unit apartment building wanted to put their dumpsters right next to the window of a legal backyard cottage.  

These are all real examples of what happens at a design review.  They are not stopping development.  Just look around you, buildings are going up at a dizzying pace.  It just gives neighbors a second to say to the city and the developers, “Hey, would you want to live next to that?”  Which in an ideal world, developers would be doing anyway.  But in the commercial environment we are living in, unfortunately profits are often more of a concern than quality of life for the people around them.

So please take a moment and write a letter.  I will leave you with an excerpt from the Wallingford Community Council’s website, which includes a sample letter at the end.  If you would like to see the full call to action please click here:

Wallingford Community Council "Kite Hill" logo

Proposed changes that impact neighborhoods include:

  • Removing neighborhoods from the process by replacing language such as:
    • “Neighborhood priorities among the design guidelines” with “identify guideline priorities”.
    • “Highest priority to the neighborhood” with “highest priority to the Board”.
  • Exempting projects on properties of less than 10,000 square feet from any design review. In the past 2 years, 29% of projects were in this category. For perspective: most four story apartment buildings are on properties of less than 10,000 square feet.
  • Restricting the scope of the Design Review Process:
    • Administrative – Developments inside Urban Villages get Administrative Design Review, with no public meetings, if less than 20,000 square feet.
    • Hybrid – Developments up to 20,000 square feet (or larger inside an Urban Village) would require only the Design Review Board “Recommendation” meeting and not the “Early Design Guidance” meeting.
    • Full – Only the largest developments, over 20,000 square feet, and only outside Urban Village boundaries, would require the normal Design Review Board “Early Design Guidance” and “Recommendation” meetings.
  • Revising who is a stakeholder by changing straightforward terms such as “Developers” to more generic terms like “Project Proponents”.
  • Shifting responsibility and authority from the Design Review Board to the Director. This has the effect of making Design Review Boards less independent, and will make the Board positions less attractive to the professionals who volunteer their time.
  • Granting departures from design guidelines without public review.

Submit your comments by Monday July 10, 5:00 PM to William Mills, Land Use Planner Supervisor, at or by mail to:
City of Seattle, SDCI
Attn: William Mills
PO Box 94788
Seattle, WA 98124-7088

Please send your comments to the City Council by phone, 206-684-8888, or by email:

Please submit your comments to Mayor Murray:

Your input DOES MATTER!  Last year, due to comments and push-back from all over the city, the proposed changes were tabled until now.

Feel free to send version of these suggested comments:

I oppose the amendments to the Land Use Code (Title 23 SMC) to modify the design review process. 

The Design Review Process is meant to bring three perspectives together, the developer, the designer, and the community. The proposed changes drastically reduce the involvement of the community, creating an imbalance of input. Without the checks and balances of inclusive design review, growth can destroy neighborhoods. With them, they strengthen the character and quality of the neighborhood while adding housing & commercial spaces. 

I oppose the proposal to eliminate design review for developments under 10,000 square feet within Seattle (a four story apartment house is under 10,000 square feet). I live in Seattle, and I believe this, combined with the proposed Grand Bargain HALA MHA upzones and new zoning definitions for almost all of the residential zones and neighborhood commercial zone, will lead to an unchecked and un-reviewed redevelopment frenzy in my neighborhood.

When combined with the Grand Bargain HALA MHA upzone and new zoning definitions, this rule change will allow 40+ foot tall, zero-lot-line developments to appear next to single-family homes without any kind of notice, review, or public hearing. This type of development will negatively impact the livability and quality of the city. The community has a right to participate in the approval process. I ask that you prevent these rule changes from occurring.

Please leave the Design Process as is, and instead, direct the city to start enforcing design guidelines. Too many departures are being granted, too many setback requirements are being ignored, and too many loopholes are being exploited due to poor enforcement.

Learn more about the draft recommendations here:

Design Review Program Improvements, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI).
Draft Ordinance (PDF format).




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