Central Area Neighborhood Design Guidelines

What's Happening Now?

The Central Area Design Guidelines Coalition, working with the City of Seattle, has developed a proposal to guide the future development in the neighborhood. Community advocates are seeking to foster design excellence in new multifamily and commercial buildings that reflects the unique historical character of the Central Area. The guidelines also seek to support the goal of inclusive and equitable growth and development in a neighborhood that was subject to redlining, housing discrimination, and historic public disinvestment.

The City Council continues to consider the proposal. The next meeting of the Council Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee meeting is scheduled for April 4. See news coverage of the most recent committee meeting.

In anticipation of Council approval of the legislation, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections is now accepting applications for volunteer members of the new Central Area Design Review Board.

Seattle's Central Area neighborhood is going through a phase of rapid growth. As new developments spring up around the area, impacts are felt most strongly by smaller businesses and residents who have long called the neighborhood their home. The Central Area Design Guidelines Coalition (CA DGC) is working to mitigate these impacts by teaming up with the City of Seattle and local architects Schemata Workshop and Mimar Studio to outline a set of neighborhood specific guidelines to guide future development in the CA. In addition, CA DGC received award from Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to provide further technical assistance on this work.

The CA DGC is a self-organized coalition of the following groups who is partnering with the City on developing the Central Area Neighborhood Design Guidelines:

  • 23rd Ave Action Community Team (23rd Ave ACT)
  • Central Area Land Use Review Committee (CA LURC)
  • Historical Central Area Arts and Cultural District (HCAACD)
  • Central Area Collaborative
  • African American Veterans Group of Washington

What Are Neighborhood Design Guidelines?

Design guidelines are the backbone of the Design Review Program. They direct designers and project reviewers to look closely at the neighborhood and its character to design new buildings that enhance their surroundings. The guidelines are used by the Design Review Boards and Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections staff to assess the merits of a project.

There are three types of design guidelines:

  • Citywide design guidelines
  • Downtown guidelines
  • Neighborhood-specific guidelines

The neighborhood-specific guidelines are divided into districts, which you can read more about here.

Currently the Central Area does not have neighborhood-specific guidelines. Considering the development activities and cultural displacement concerns in the community, it is important for the community and the city work together to create a set of neighborhood-specific guidelines to help shape new development in the Central Area today and also provide a path and identity for the future.

Key Principles of Urban Design

Respond to Physical Context & Site Features

  • Integrate sustainable systems, materials, operations, species, and features
  • Strengthen desirable form patterns, natural features, and public spaces
  • Emphasize positive design elements, history, and character from the locale

Reinforce the Public Realm & Public Life

  • Implement pedestrian connections, continuity, safety, and amenity
  • Ensure street-level interaction with transparency, doors, and activating uses
  • Create usable, sunny, and generous places for tenants, customers, and public
  • Prioritize pedestrian, bike, and transit access, amenities, and facilities

High Quality Building Concept, Design, Materials, & Execution

  • Arrange uses and access points to reinforce streets and the public realm
  • Minimize impacts from vehicles, services, and utilities, and limit blank walls
  • Compose buildings with multiple scales, depth, material variety, and quality
  • Create positive open spaces with amenities and lush landscaping
  • Integrate weather protection, lighting, signage, and all exterior details

Get Involved

Feedback from the community is needed in order to guide our efforts and create Design Guidelines that will not only help shape new development in the Central Area today, but provide a path and identity for the future. Email Quanlin Hu your feedback or for more information on how to be involved.

State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Determination

We have refined our Central Area Design Guidelines based on public input and are ready to move the legislation forward. The Central Area Design Guidelines will guide future development to reflect the unique historical character of the Central Area community; retain the rich characteristics valued by the community's long term residents as well as its new and future residents; and facilitate inclusive and equitable growth and development. The creation of a Central Area Design Review District and Board will support equitable and inclusive community engagement and process specific for those most impacted by displacement, maximize the effectiveness of the Central Area Design Guidelines, and help guide future development to respond to the unique Central Area historical character and identity.

On October 16, 2017, we published the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Determination of Non-Significance for the draft legislation, draft Central Area Design Guidelines and a Director's Report. We are planning to adopt the legislation mid-2018.

Supplemental Documents

Project Documents

City Council Adopted Plan

September 26, 2017 Community Open House

June 19, 2017 Community Open House

February 25-27, 2017 Community Workshops

January 28, 2017 Community Meeting


Central Area Neighborhood Plan Documents

23rd Avenue Action Plan Documents

The Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District

Central Area Commercial Revitalization Plan


Central Area Design Guidelines Timeline View

Click on image to enlarge.