Office of Planning & Community Development Diane Sugimura, Interim Director

U District Urban Design

People dance in the street at the University District street fair.
A four-year strategic partnership between the community, city, and the University of Washington to plan for a vibrant transit-oriented University District neighborhood.

What's Happening Now?

We are preparing to release our draft proposed zoning recommendations for public review. The draft proposal will be available on this website on May 27, and we will hold an open house meeting on Tuesday, May 31, from 6-8 p.m. at the Neptune Theater. We will also hold "office hours" on several different dates (visit the Get involved page for more details). After a public comment period on the draft zoning, we will submit our zoning recommendations to Council for consideration later in 2016.

Following an extensive, four-year public process to discuss the future of the U District, we've drafted policies to address many of the priorities people have raised in the neighborhood. The zoning proposal will have three main parts:

  1. It allows for increased height and density (including highrise buildings) around the light rail station. Heights would taper down to surrounding areas, and stay relatively low on the Ave.
  2. It includes design standards to fit the U District's neighborhood context. Examples include: maximum building width limits; upper-level setbacks; tree and landscape requirements; and requirements for active street-level uses on key streets.
  3. It implements new affordable housing and open space requirements, as well as incentive programs for childcare, historic preservation, and street improvements.

Zoning is one of several policy changes aimed at shaping new growth in the U District. We completed streetscape concept plans for Brooklyn Ave NE, NE 43rd St, and NE 42nd St in the spring of 2015. In September 2015 City Council approved our recommended amendments to the U District goals and policies in the Comprehensive Plan.

Planning for Change

The U District is a thriving neighborhood with 14,000 residents, hundreds of independent businesses, and its own unique flavor. It’s also a cultural and economic hub, as home to UW, Seattle’s largest employer, and a magnet for the youth and talent of the Pacific Northwest.

Big changes are underway:

  • Light rail is coming in 2021, with a new station at Brooklyn and NE 43rd St
  • The business community, neighborhood groups, and non-profits have formed an important new partnership
  • UW is investing in the West Campus area with more than a dozen new developments
  • Private development in the U District is surging, with thousands of residential units in the pipeline and more to follow in the coming decades

Proactive planning can help make sure that these changes have a positive impact on the neighborhood, and help us protect the features that people value the most. Our U District Urban Design Framework is a document that is guiding the City’s work on a variety of efforts, including Neighborhood Plan updates, zoning changes, streetscape design work, and design guidelines.

Project Benefits

Working with the neighborhood, we’ve identified the following guiding principles to inform all of our projects in the U District:

  • Recognize light rail as a catalyst for change
  • Balance the regional influences with the eclectic local character
  • Provide a network of great streets and public spaces
  • Grow and diversify jobs
  • Welcome a diversity of residents
  • Improve public safety
  • Encourage quality and variety in the built environment
  • Build an environmentally sustainable neighborhood
  • Improve integration between UW and the U District
  • Support walking, biking, and transit

The End Result

  • The U District Strategic Plan: short- and long-term actions to promote a unique and vital commercial district
  • The U District Urban Design Framework: a clear, cohesive vision to guide development and public investments to create a lively, safe, and walkable neighborhood
  • New working relationships between community stakeholders: between public / private partners in order to plan for change now and to work together for a better U District in the future
  • Policy changes: including Comprehensive Plan updates, zoning changes, new design concepts for several key streets, and updated design guidelines

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