Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

The North Rainier rezone

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City Council is currently considering a rezone of the North Rainier area surrounding the Mt. Baker Transit Center. Development of the North Rainier area is an issue that the City and community have been working on for over 15 years. The North Rainier Neighborhood Plan was adopted in 1999, and formally updated in 2010. In 2011, the Mt. Baker Town Center Urban Design Framework was adopted, which provided a vision for design of the Rainier blocks near the light rail station in order to try to create a more vibrant business- and pedestrian-friendly environment there. You can learn more background at the DPD’s North Rainier project website.

In the Fall of 2013, the Department of Planning and Development transmitted rezone legislation implementing the changes envisioned in the urban design framework. The Council held an initial discussion on that legislation in November 2013.

This spring, the Council resumed deliberation on the proposal by hosting a public hearing on May 1, 2014, to hear feedback specifically in regards to the rezone proposal put forward by the Department of Planning and Development (links to the ordinance and DPD Director’s analysis and recommendation). In the original neighborhood plan and throughout the plan update processes, the community has consistently called for a plan that yields a true “town center” feel by bringing economic revitalization and a more walkable environment to North Rainier.

I support the North Rainier rezone and think it has the potential to realize transit-oriented development in Seattle. The rezone will set the table for future development that brings jobs, housing and various commercial uses that everyone wants to the North Rainier area. Critically, the plan promotes a more walkable and bike-friendly neighborhood that is better connected to the investments we have made in bus and light rail there.

The rezone itself includes many components, including changes to the height limits of buildings near the light rail station.

  • Expansion of the station-area overlay district to support activation around the transit station.
  • Application of the “Seattle Mixed” zone along Rainier to provide a better pedestrian-oriented environment. These changes also increase heights from 65’ to 85’ on several parcels.
  • Upper-level set-backs and street-level development standards that bring more light onto the street and require transparent street-facing facades along Rainier and parking to be behind retail rather than in front.
  • Increase heights up to 125’ on two blocks where the current Lowe’s store is, to create the potential for a future campus-style hub for a major employer. Lowe’s has a long-term lease on this site, so is not planning to leave anytime soon and has been engaged as part of this rezone effort.
  • Implementation of the incentive zoning program on blocks that are increasing in height to provide workforce housing in new construction.
North Rainier Rezone map

The map of the area to be rezoned (click to enlarge).

At the public hearing, people who spoke for the rezone and against the rezone all expressed a desire for a healthy retail businesses, more good jobs, less traffic through their neighborhood and a place where kids and families feel safe walking.

There are divergent views however on how to achieve this vision. Many folks who want to see this expressed opposition to 125’ building heights along Rainier or MLK. We heard fears that the jobs at Lowes and Pepsi could be lost in part because redevelopment could bring more housing rather than commercial uses.

I support 125’ buildings because I believe they are the key to bringing in a large employer or employers in the Rainier Valley who will bring new jobs to fill up those 10 to 12 stories of offices. I don’t believe we will see high-rise residential develop in this area because of the economics—it is not likely that the rents will support high-rise steel residential construction. We also don’t see low-income housing developed at this scale, as the economics of buildings at four to six stories work better for our non-profit housing partners in the city.

This site is unique because it is two large parcels that have the opportunity to create a campus-style development. Few of these plots of land are left in the city and the rezone proposal has provisions for pedestrian-oriented crossings and open space as part of the development in order to attract this type of development.

I have also heard many concerns that there has been insufficient community outreach to people in the North Rainier area. My staff has counted 44 community meetings in the past five years related to the update of the neighborhood plan, the development of the urban design framework and this rezone. This has been a long and thoughtful planning process and one that does not stop here. After the land-use decisions, SDOT will be working with the community to design and implement the transportation improvements associated with the neighborhood plan (see this slide and memo from SDOT on TOD at Mt. Baker).

I believe this rezone is the culmination of years a planning and a good step towards creating a healthier North Rainier neighborhood where it is safe to walk and bike, where retail succeeds and where new jobs for the Rainier Valley could be located.

We will continue our discussion on the proposal in committee today – May 20 at 2:00pm in Council Chambers and again on Tuesday June 3 at 2:00pm.


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Comment from patricia DesRoches
Time May 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm

1. As I understand it, the revised rezoning/and change to a 125th foot building was not part of the previous plan for the Mt Baker station plan. The zoning change on the table was made known to the Mt. Baker/Seward Park community leaders in November of 2013. (Just as we are entering holiday season!) Giving the community less than 6 months to rally support/opposition/give thoughtful input to redevelopment.

2. While the multi-use, good paying union level jobs have huge support, the addition of store fronts does NOT have wide community support – the height aspect of the rezoning proposal on the table did not share the same level of support. Why the sudden rush to rezone and why it is a all or nothing proposal. Several people who identified themselves as being in favor of rezoning had doubts about height/density and the absence of a traffic study and impact on infra structure in surrounding neighborhoods.

3. Developers, land owners , design/construction companies who will profit financially but do not live in the neighborhood should NOT have an equal voice in deciding what is best for our neighborhood.
Affected residents were not sent mailings, emails or information about the proposed rezoning /height change in other public mailings as has happened in the past about our rapid transit and significant neighborhood changes.

What was reported in the South Seattle news letter regarding your laughing at people who voice concerns is very disturbing.

Comment from Mary Williams
Time June 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

WHY is 125 feet considered acceptable in the Mt. Baker neighborhood but not in Queen Anne, West Seattle or Roosevelt communities? Who are the potential business expressing a deep desire to rent 10 to 12 stories of office space? Why is the City Council using a plan that was created by developers long before the recession of 2008? Why the rush to rezone? Why is this an all or nothing proposal? Where is the traffic study and impact on infrastructure in surrounding neighborhoods.

Affected residents were not sent mailings, emails or information about the proposed rezoning /height change in other public mailings as has happened in the past about our rapid transit and significant neighborhood changes.

It is troubling that the South Seattle newsletter and The Lakewood Seward Park Community Newsletter both reported your laughing at people who voiced concerns after the meeting adjourned. It does makes one believe that your goal is to push your plan through regardless of what the community is telling you.

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