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Guest Blogger: Incentive Zoning Update by Brennon Staley

We have released an initial proposal to update Incentive Zoning. This effort began in 2014 but was put on hold due to the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). Using input received in 2014 and recent analysis, we have created an initial proposal for public discussion. We are looking for feedback on this initial proposal through September of 2018, to be used to create an updated proposal and draft legislation that would be available for additional comments early next year. The goal is to submit final legislation to Council for adoption in mid-2019.

Incentive Zoning allows developers to build larger buildings in exchange for providing specific public benefits. Prior to the implementation of Seattle’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements, incentive zoning was the primary way that new development contributed to affordable housing. MHA requirements are now replacing incentive zoning for affordable housing; however, incentives to provide other benefits will remain. After MHA is implemented, Incentive Zoning will generally be limited to Downtown, South Lake Union, and portions of the University District, Uptown, and North Rainier.

Incentive Zoning has been implemented piecemeal in different areas of Seattle over the last 20 years with significant expansions in the last 5 years. The program varies substantially depending on the neighborhood and, as a result, has become difficult for developers to understand and for the City to administer. It also means that some provisions may not be achieving their stated goals.

The goal of this update is to create a program that is more clear and consistent and achieves greater public benefits. We are not proposing to expand Incentive Zoning to more areas or increase development capacity where Incentive Zoning currently exists.

Key elements of the proposed Incentive Zoning update include:

  • Merging multiple TDR programs to make them easier to understand and to allow buyer and sellers to find each other more easily
  • Improving open space and amenity benefits by updating standards and removing lower-value, indoor options like public atriums and shopping corridors
  • Evaluating the addition of an option to provide indoor space for Cultural Uses such as arts organizations
  • Extending minimum green building requirements to all of downtown and updating requirements to prohibit fossil fuel use for space heating in buildings that use incentive zoning


Brennon Staley is a Strategic Advisor at the Office of Planning and Community Development.