Seattle 2024 Comprehensive Plan EIS Scoping Report

Last month the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development released its “scoping report” for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) it must prepare in advance of the city’s 2024 update to its Comprehensive Plan. The scoping report lists the potential significant changes in the Plan (from the current version) that require EIS study under state law before they can be codified.

The big issue to be addressed in the 2024 update is zoning for housing. Seattle is predicted to need to add at least 80,000 housing units over the following twenty years; the Comprehensive Plan will largely control where housing units may be added, and what form they may take. This has been a controversial issue for decades, and led to the current “urban center/urban village” strategy that concentrated housing in certain areas of the city while leaving wide swaths of the city zoned primarily for single-family detached homes. There are strong arguments that this strategy has left much of the city’s neighborhoods unaffordable for lower-income residents and people of color and led to persistent racial disparities in who gets to live where. On the flip side, arguments are made for protecting the “unique character” of single-family residential neighborhoods, as well as protecting the significant portion of the city’s tree canopy that exists in those areas of the city by limiting upzoning.

The city’s scoping document presents five scenarios for how the 2024 Comprehensive Plan can take for determining where additional housing will be built. They range from the required “no change” scenario, through doubling down on the “urban village” plan, to moderate upzoning in all residential neighborhoods across the city.

In a City Council committee hearing earlier this week, the Councilmembers expressed some of their thoughts on the proposals, ranging from a desire for more options on the conservative side to a request for a new “Alternative 6,” supportive by progressive advocacy groups in the city, that would more aggressively upzone residential neighborhoods by allowing for up to “sixplexes” and raising the maximum building height above thirty feet.

The EIS scoping document, and the alternatives that are studied, are critical to this process because the city may only adopt changes in the Comprehensive Plan that have been studied in an EIS. In other words, the only options that have any chance of being adopted are those in the EIS scoping document (or scaled-down versions of the options in the document).

The city intends to publish its draft EIS in May 2023.

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