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Proposed Upzoning Of Seattle’s University District Causes Concern Among Neighborhood Groups

City of Seattle plans to change zoning in the University District would allow more high-rise buildings, some as high as 320 feet tall.

Hundreds of low-cost housing units and small businesses are threatened if proposed changes to zoning go through in Seattle’s University District. That’s according to neighborhood groups who are hosting a community forum with city officials Monday evening to voice their concerns.

Seattle’s University District is one of the city’s six main urban centers zoned for high density. It’s already growing rapidly, with change propelled by a new light rail station at the heart of the neighborhood.

But John Fox, with the Seattle Displacement Coalition, says the city’s plans to allow towers up to 320 feet high will irrevocably alter the unique character and affordability of the U District.

“It’s a wholesale remake, of the university -- turning this rich, socially, economically diverse community into a feeder for high-tech development," he said. "Is that really what we want for the U-District?”

Fox says there’s still time for the community to challenge these plans.  He’s organized Monday’s forum with seven neighborhood groups in hopes of building momentum.

The city says with or without zoning changes, it’s expecting the U-District to absorb as many as 5,000 new residential housing units and 4,800 jobs over the next 20 years. Upzoning would allow it to channel some of that growth into areas closer to light rail. It could also include required development standards to encourage things like more affordable housing and open space.

Dave LaClergue  is with Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development. He says they’ve been working on the U-District plan for the past four years.

“Many people in the neighborhood feel that it makes more sense to focus some of that growth in the areas where there already are several high-rise buildings and where there are large redevelopment sites and where it will be within a 5-minute walk of the light rail station,” LaClergue said.

He says the city’s proposal is not quite ready yet, but will be released by the end of the month, with a formal comment event a week later. Updates can be found on the city’s web site. He will field questions at the community forum along with the seven neighborhood groups. The event takes place from 7-8:30 pm at the University Heights Center. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to