Incentive Zoning Update

What's Happening Now

OPCD is proposing to update the existing Incentive Zoning program. Incentive zoning is a tool that allows new development in certain areas to voluntarily achieve extra floor area in exchange for providing certain public benefits. Incentive Zoning is one way that the City ensures that new development contributes to infrastructure investments in growing neighborhoods.

OPCD released an initial draft proposal for updating the program in May 2018. We are currently seeking feedback on this proposal through September 2018.

Once this first round of public engagement is complete, we will update the proposal and draft legislation which we anticipate will be available for public comment in early 2019. After a second round of engagement, we will finalize the legislation and send it to City Council for their consideration in mid-2019.

Project Goals

Incentive zoning has been implemented piecemeal in different zones and geographic areas over the last 20 years with significant expansions in the last 5 years. Consequently, specific standards and processes vary substantially by zone and location. As a result, incentive zoning is confusing for potential users and difficult to administer. It also means that some provisions may not be achieving their stated goals.

The goal of this update is to:

  • create a clear and consistent program;
  • achieve better outcomes in the public benefits provided; and
  • improve the City's permitting, tracking, and enforcement processes.

The City is not proposing to implement incentive zoning in any additional geographic areas or change the amount of extra floor area that can be achieved in any zone as part of this update.

The End Result

OPCD anticipates submitting legislation to City Council for consideration in mid-2019. This legislation would change the standards that would apply to new development proposing to achieve extra floor area through incentive zoning.

Get Involved

We are currently seeking feedback on an initial draft proposal for updating Incentive Zoning through September 2018. To support this effort, we will doing presentations to community groups and hosting small group meetings. If you have questions or comments, please contact Brennon Staley at brennon.staley@seattle.gov or (206) 684-4625.

For updates on the project, please subscribe to our mailing list using the form on the right of this website.

Project Documents

Background

Incentive zoning is a tool that allows new development in certain areas to voluntarily achieve extra floor area in exchange for providing certain public benefits. Incentive Zoning has been implemented in various areas of Seattle as part of planning efforts that have resulted in increases in development capacity. In each of these cases, the new capacity allowed through the rezones must be earned through incentive zoning. These changes came after extensive discussions about zoning as well as transportation, design, infrastructure, and other issues. These discussions also informed the range of public benefits options that could be provided to achieve extra floor area. By implementing Incentive Zoning as part of new rezones, the City ensures that new development contributes to infrastructure investments in growing neighborhoods.

Prior to the implementation of Seattle's new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, incentive zoning was the primary way that new development contributed to affordable housing. As MHA is implemented, mandatory MHA requirements will replace the contribution developers made through Incentive Zoning. After citywide implementation of MHA, incentive zoning will remain in most of Downtown and South Lake Union as well as portions of University District, Uptown, and North Rainier.

Development proposing to acheive extra floor area through incentive zoning is typically offered a menu of options for achieving extra floor area. Public benefits options can include:

  • Providing privately-owned public open space on-site.
  • Making improvements to a designated Green Street to allow more public space in the right of way.
  • Purchasing Transferrable Development Rights (TDR) or Transferrable Development Potential (TDP) from a designated historic Landmark, Vulnerable Masonry Structure, or open space.
  • Providing other on-site amenities such as hill climb assist escalators, light rail station access, shopping corridors, atriums, bathrooms, or human service uses.

Commercial development must also contribute to child care facilities by providing them on-site or paying into a fund to building child care facilities off-site. New buildings using Incentive Zoning in all areas except the core of Downtown must also meet a green building requirement. These buildings must use 15% less energy than the minimum building code requirement and meet one of the following green building certification: LEED Gold, Built Green 4-star, Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard, or Passive House.

In South Lake Union, developers must earn extra floor area by purchasing TDR from regional farms and forests to ensure their preservation. In exchange for implementing this program, King County has agreed to give the City of Seattle a portion of future King County property tax revenue to fund identified local priorities, including Green Street improvements and a North Downtown community center.