The Seattle Planning Commission recently completed its review of the Mayor’s proposal to reduce size limits of non-industrial uses in industrial zones. This proposal seeks to reduce land speculation in industrial zones, thereby protecting the thriving industrial sector in Seattle and providing opportunity for existing industrial businesses to grow. The Seattle Planning Commission strongly supports the Mayor’s proposed ordinance based on the following;
- It was the Planning Commission’s finding that Industry in Seattle is thriving and vibrant but is at immediate risk if land speculation and encroachment are allowed to continue. Decisive action is needed if Seattle expects to maintain this important civic asset. This is a first important step in putting into place a strategy for Seattle’s industrial lands.
- The recommended changes to industrial zoning will better protect this important base of our city’s economy. Seattle’s industrial sector provides more than 120,000 jobs, or 25% of the city’s employment (including jobs in related fields). On average, industrial jobs in Seattle pay $55,500 annually – 18% higher than the city average. These high-paying, family-wage jobs are especially valuable to those without a college education. These jobs increase the diversity of the city. Family wage jobs, essential tax revenue, and financial diversity are all vital assets that come with a strong and healthy industrial sector.
- Speculative real estate investment, responding to generous existing allowances for office and retail uses, has nearly tripled land prices in industrial lands in recent years, which in turn is forcing out many industrial tenants in favor of developing office and retail buildings. Unless we take action, real estate speculation will continue to drive up land prices and fuel the displacement of industrial activities. In the last 4 years we have seen land prices leap by 270%. Once land prices are inflated, it is common for new owners to dramatically increase rents for industrial businesses, which is increasingly forcing them and the family-wage jobs that they bring out of Seattle. By clarifying that industrially-zoned land is for industrial users, we will stop this cycle of speculation and displacement before it undermines our base of industrial businesses.
- As it stands, the current generous allowances for office and retail in our core industrial zones does not reflect the city’s established policy to preserve and enhance industrial activities there. This ordinance makes our zoning consistent with this policy. The proposed limitations on office and retail uses are consistent with controls used by many other municipalities to not only protect existing industrial businesses, but to set the stage for long-term growth in the industrial sector. These changes would make it clear that this land is intended for industrial use in the long-term, encouraging industrial business to invest in their properties and expand their employment.
- Industrial businesses cannot function well with commercial and retail uses around them. Industrial businesses are often 24-hour, noisy operations that need areas where they can operate without people complaining and with proper infrastructure.
- By clarifying that industrial land is for industrial uses, we will encourage re-investment by existing businesses and encourage a broader diversity of industrial users to set up shop. Our goal with industrial zoning should be to encourage a diversity of industrial uses. Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, Seattle has four unique zoning designations (IG1, IG2, IB, and IC) and designates some areas as special Manufacturing Industrial Centers (MICs). These zones combined with a MIC designation outline policies and development standards that take into account the unique and diversified range of “industry” Seattle wants. The Mayor’s proposal actually goes a step further to distinguish and acknowledge the unique and diversified range of industrial uses that currently thrive in Seattle, while creating opportunities for new clean technology and other 21st Century industries. This proposal preserves and enhances that flexibility.
In June of 2007, the commission released a report entitled, The Future of Seattle’s Industrial Lands. The report represents the culmination of a multi-year effort by the commission that includes technical research, a public outreach event series, and an extensive review of the City’s current policies regarding industrial lands. The report outlines a series of recommendations for how to best protect and foster a thriving industrial sector. This proposed legislation represents a good first step to achieving that goal. The commission report outlines a variety of additional steps the City can pursue to help achieve this goal. For instance, we recommend that the City create an Industrial Investment Strategy to accompany the Industrial Lands Strategy that will build on the industrial needs and focus of the industrial areas. Our industrial sector is a civic asset that deserves additional public investment.