Subtitle III: Division 1: 23.30 Zone Designations Established

Zoning has become a high stakes game. On one side you have a local government that controls what can be built, how, and when. They set the rules of the game and their goal is to maximize benefits to the community, limit negative social outcomes, and solve problems like unemployment and lack of affordable housing.

On the other side you have developers who have to figure out the rules, and try to create projects that at least pay for themselves and possibly create a profit. Developers are in a tough spot because along with the written rules of the game they have to deal with an array of interests who influence the outcome of permitting projects. This is where the Heightbulkenscale monster can most often rear its head.  “Sure it’s legal,” a NIMBY might say, “but its ugly and too big. It shouldn’t be legal.”

So the Council tends to write code the way a computer programmer would. There’s some kind of outcome they want, they plug in the code, then run the code. There’s no guarantee the code is actually going to work. Often, in fact, there’s a big error message. So the Council goes back and tweaks the code they wrote and run it again and again. Has the program ever worked? Perhaps in some cases.

Mixed metaphors notwithstanding, generally speaking the part of the code we’re about to cover has become the main battle ground of growth in Seattle, with developers trying to turn a profit in the face of the growing influence and sometimes opposition of neighborhood and affordable housing interests. Division 1:23.30 sets up the designations most people are used to hearing about, NC 65, IB, or Commercial.

There are 33 designations. I am not going to necessarily spend a bunch of time on each one. But here they are, and I’ve grouped them a little differently than they are in the code.

Single-family 9,600 SF 9600
Single-family 7,200 SF 7200
Single-family 5,000 SF 5000
Small Lot RSL
Multifamily, Lowrise Duplex/Triplex LDT
Multifamily, Lowrise 1 L1
Multifamily, Lowrise 2 L2
Multifamily, Lowrise 3 L3
Multifamily, Lowrise 4 L4
Multifamily, Midrise MR
Multifamily, Highrise HR
Residential-Commercial RC

Neighborhood Commercial
Neighborhood Commercial 1 NC1
Neighborhood Commercial 2 NC2
Neighborhood Commercial 3 NC3
Seattle Mixed SM

Commercial 1 C1
Commercial 2 C2

Downtown Office Core 1 DOC1
Downtown Office Core 2 DOC2
Downtown Retail Core DRC
Downtown Mixed Commercial DMC
Downtown Mixed Residential DMR
Downtown Harborfront 1 DH1
Downtown Harborfront 2 DH2
Pioneer Square Mixed PSM
Pike Market Mixed PMM

International District
International District Mixed IDM
International District Residential IDR

General Industrial 1 IG1
General Industrial 2 IG2
Industrial Buffer IB
Industrial Commercial IC

Suffixes are important. Most of these designations carry additional letters or numbers after them. The numbers indicate height or a range of height limits, or one or more letter suffixes, or both. Letters usually indicated an additional shade of gray to the designation, making a slightly different version of the parent code like MRCH, which, I think, is Midrise Capitol Hill.

Lastly, you can’t play the game without an understanding of FAR, Floor Area Ratio. I am going to dedicate a post just to FAR. Going back to the game metaphor, I would suggest that when we’re looking at scoreboard for density and growth, most often the way to measure progress is FAR.

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