Industrial Lands

Project Outcomes

On December 17, 2007, City Council approved an amendment to the Land Use Code that lowered the maximum size of office and retail uses allowed in industrial zones. These changes:

  • Keep industrially-zoned land primarily in industrial use because industrial activities bring diversity to the City's economy and family-wage jobs to local residents
  • Direct non-industrial uses to the many places outside industrial areas where the City has ample land zoned for office and retail uses

The new rules were effective in January 2008.

Final Ordinance 122601

Key Milestones

  • March – May 2007
    The Future of Seattle's Industrial Lands discussion series
  • March 2007
    Mail survey of industrial business owners
  • March 2007
    Best practices report
  • April 2007
    Phone survey of industrial business owners
  • May 2007
    Background report released

Project Purpose

In 2006, the City Council provided funding for us to prepare an industrial lands strategy that would:

  • Ensure adequate land to accommodate the expected future amount of industrial uses
  • Provide criteria for evaluating future requests to classify or rezone industrial lands

Industrial zones occupy about 12 percent of the City's land area — more than any other zone except single-family. Most of Seattle's industrial land is located in two designated manufacturing / industrial centers — in the Duwamish and Ballard / Interbay. Although industry in some cities declined dramatically, Seattle's industrial areas are active and thriving. Even if some buildings are old and worn, these zones hold over 70,000 jobs and a significant portion of Seattle's economic activity.

Zoning and other factors keep prices for industrial land and buildings low. Some owners and investors speculate that the industrial land could be worth more if zoning were less restrictive. However, non-industrial uses (commercial, office, and residential) push up the cost of land (and rents), making it harder for industrial businesses to be profitable or new businesses to locate there.

Industrial and non-industrial uses often conflict. Office and retail uses increase traffic, making it harder for trucks to bring supplies and deliver finished products for industrial firms. On-street parking or sidewalks needed for retail and office affect the large trucks that need maneuvering room. Housing has even more conflicts. The City introduced zoning to separate dangerous industrial activities from housing. While industry today is less dangerous than a hundred years ago, many processes still produce noise, dust, and odors that can be nuisances, or worse, for residents.

Our Seattle Comprehensive Plan strongly supports the use of industrial lands for industrial purposes. However, previous zoning rules allowed up to 75,000 or 100,000 square feet of commercial uses in industrial areas — a policy inconsistent with the City's goal. A review of Seattle's industrial zones showed that only about 18 percent of the retail and office uses in those zones exceeded 10,000 square feet in area. The revised limit of 10,000 square feet is closer to limits set in other cities that have successfully protected industrial areas. Portland limits office and retail uses to 3,000 square feet, and Vancouver only allows them as an accessory to an industrial use.

Some think that using more industrial land for offices and retail activities is inevitable. However, a survey of Seattle industrial firms found many prefer Seattle locations which are:

  • Near the Port's facilities, the railroad, or the highway connections
  • Close to suppliers and customers

Another healthy sign of Seattle's industrial economy is high demand for industrial space. Building vacancy is low, and industrial land is scarce. Some growing firms do move to the Kent Valley because Seattle lacks space for expansion. And if a firm does leave, a new industrial firm soons takes its place.

Public Involvement

Together with the Seattle Planning Commission, we sponsored "The Future of Seattle's Industrial Lands," a 4-part discussion series that included:

  • "Lessons from Other Cities" — March 29, 2007, 4:30–6:30 p.m.
    A panel discussion with leading industrial lands experts from other cities
  • "Conversations About Industrial Lands" — April 10, 2007, 4:30–6 p.m.
    Discussion of transportation and land conversion issues
  • "Conversations About Industrial Lands Continued" — April 24, 2007, 4:30–6 p.m.
    Discussion of issues identified by stakeholders
  • "Alternatives for Moving Forward" — May 31, 2007, 4:30–6:30 p.m.
    The next steps in developing an Industrial Lands Strategy for Seattle

We also met with stakeholder groups, including the Manufacturing / Industrial Council, the Ballard Interbay North Manufacturing and Industrial Center Action Committee and the SODO Business Association.

In addition, the City Council held several public hearings as it deliberated on the legislation.