Safeway Rezone Proposal – Director’s Report and Recommendation

Here is the text of the DPD Director’s Report and Recommendation regarding the proposed ordinance that would allow Safeway to apply for a rezone in order to build a new “green” Pinehurst store.

Amendment to Single Family Rezone Criteria in the Northgate Overlay District
September 2007

I. Introduction

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing to amend the criteria in Seattle’s Land Use Code pertaining to the zoning of single family areas in the Northgate Overlay District. The amendments would allow areas in the Northgate Overlay District that are currently zoned single family and are located on a block, defined as the area bounded by street lot lines, that is more than 80% zoned for neighborhood commercial development to be rezoned to neighborhood commercial.

The proposed amendment would also update an existing cross-reference to the single family rezone criteria to ensure the cross-reference does not inadvertently interfere with the intended meaning of the existing code or this amendment.

II. Background

Single family zones are the single, most widely prevalent zone in Seattle. Single family zoned neighborhoods constitute approximately 65% of Seattle’s land area. Because Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan policies direct the City to protect and preserve single family neighborhoods, single family zones are subject to the most stringent rezone criteria intended to discourage the erosion of single family zones particularly where they transition to other more intensively zoned areas, such as multifamily or commercial.

Except in limited circumstances, single family zoned areas may not be rezoned if 70% or more of the existing structures along two facing block fronts are in single family residential use. In the Land Use Code, outside of downtown, blocks are generally defined as two facing block fronts abutting the same street. Only downtown is a block defined as an area bounded by street lots lines. While the code acknowledges that circumstances exist in which single family residences may not be the dominant land use on a block, it does not anticipate every possible circumstance. Such a circumstance has come to the City’s attention in the Pinehurst neighborhood in the Northgate area. In Pinehurst the community has identified a situation in which the majority of a block is zoned and used commercially, but due to the rules of how structures are to be counted and how blocks are defined, the remainder of the block must remain in single family zoning, precluding redevelopment of the site. DPD believes that there is ample and compelling evidence that allowing consideration of a rezone is warranted in such circumstances.

The proposed amendment was prompted by a proposal in the area bordered by 15th Avenue NE, 16th Avenue NE, NE 123rd Street, and NE 125th Street. A map of this area is attached as Appendix A. This block, as defined by the area bounded by street lot lines, currently is occupied by a supermarket, two smaller commercial buildings, and three single family homes. The entire block is in one ownership. More than 80% of the block is zoned NC3-40’, however the three lots containing the three remaining single family structures in the southeast corner of the block are zoned single family. The supermarket has explored the possibility of expanding the existing store to better serve the surrounding neighborhood. As envisioned, the expansion would be permitted consistent with the Neighborhood Commercial 3 (NC3) zone that exists in the substantial majority of the block; however, because a portion of the lot is zoned single family and presently does not qualify for a rezone under the existing code criteria, the expansion of the store as envisioned by the owner and the neighborhood is not permitted. As a result, a continuation of existing conditions would mean the maintenance of a business that is inadequate to meet community needs, and the remaining single family structures would continue to be negatively impacted by surrounding commercial activity.

Given the demonstration of significant community support for the proposed expansion of the supermarket, the applicant and community recommended measures by which the rezone criteria could be applied to a block that was zoned for commercial use, but retained a small area zoned single family that precluded desirable development of the remainder of the block. Because of the unique circumstances of the block in question, the amendment was limited in scope to the Northgate Overlay District. Consideration of extending the proposal to other similarly situated circumstances elsewhere in the city would require additional analysis and communication with affected neighborhoods.

III. Analysis

DPD finds that the proposed amendment achieves flexibility in accommodating commercial uses where commercial use is already the dominant characteristic of the block (defined as an area bounded by street lot lines). Commercial or mixed-use developments can benefit significantly from a full block configuration allowing site plans to accommodate open space and other features, in addition to parking and structures, that can better integrate a development with a surrounding neighborhood. These land uses often require multiple entrances for deliveries, parking, and pedestrian entrances that may be difficult to accommodate on split-zoned blocks that limit potential configurations. The proposed amendment would allow a rezone in such circumstances only by contract, where a property use and development agreement that would accompany a contract rezone approval would allow the City and applicant to agree upon mitigation of any potential impacts on surrounding properties.

As the rezone criteria are limited to blocks that are already commercial in character, the potential rezone would not result in significant erosion of single family areas. Small islands of single family homes surrounded by commercial property generally do not present an ideal buffer between single family and commercial areas. These areas are likely to be significantly devalued and community interest may be better served by consistent zoning throughout a block.

The proposed amendment would also have very limited applicability. In assessing the impact of this amendment, it was determined that under existing conditions the property bounded by 15th Avenue NE, 16th Avenue NE, NE 123rd Street, and NE 125th Street is the only property that could potentially qualify for a rezone under this criteria within the Northgate Overlay District. The limited applicability of this amendment demonstrates that the circumstances considered address very particular conditions that warrant consideration under the City’s Single Family rezone criteria, for which there is ample community support.

IV. Recommendation

The proposed amendments will promote the public interest by allowing the City to consider rezones in limited circumstances that may benefit the community by accommodating commercial or mixed uses that benefit from full block configurations when commercial use is already the dominant land use on the block. DPD recommends approval of the proposed amendments.

The SEPA checklist is available here.

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