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Seattle approves taller buildings, more density in neighborhoods

Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press

The Seattle City Council has voted to upzone 27 neighborhoods, allowing more density and taller buildings in exchange for developers putting in low-income units or paying into an affordable housing fund.

The major overhaul of the city’s zoning laws was years in the making. To the packed council chambers Monday, Council member Rob Johnson said the changes are all about equity.

“In short, we’re embracing growth by embracing inclusion and today we’re updating inclusion by updating plans that were drafted 25 years ago, largely by single family neighborhoods, and we’re acknowledging what we’ve learned in those last 25 years," Johnson said, "that effectively planning for growth means sharing space to make room for everyone."

The upzone plan passed unanimously, although several council members expressed skepticism that the requirements placed on developers will make much of a dent in the affordable housing crisis. Council member Kshama Sawant said it doesn’t go far enough.

"The affordable housing requirements in this legislation are totally insufficient to even prevent Seattle’s hemorrhaging of affordable housing, never mind actually bringing rents down," Sawant said. "However, it is better than nothing and I support every single affordable home we can win."

The plan will require developers to set aside 5 percent to 11 percent of their buildings for low-income residents or pay $5 to $32.75 per square foot in fees to a housing fund.

Council member Lisa Herbold, who also voted in favor, says the council still needs to address concerns over the displacement of people affected when new buildings go up.