U District Urban Design

Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)

When zoning changes in the U-District were made in 2017 and 2019, land along University Way NE ("The Ave") and certain other commercial and multi-family blocks were not rezoned, and the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program was not put in place there. We prepared a Supplemental EIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of zoning changes and MHA in these areas. We issued a scoping notice on July 11, 2019 for members of the public to comment on the issues and topics to be addressed in the SEIS. For more information please read our scoping handout.

Design Guidelines Update

We worked with the University District Community to prepare an update to the University District Neighborhood Design Guidelines. The City Council approved the updated neighborhood design guidelines in February of 2019 and they became effective on March 24, 2019.

The design guidelines were updated to provide design guidance that:

  • Reflects changes in the neighborhood since 2000 when the design guidelines were originally developed
  • Includes direction recommended by neighborhood stakeholders through the U District Urban Design Framework process
  • Provides guidance in the application of new development standards adopted as part of the 2017 University District rezone legislation.

The design guidelines are used by the Design Review Board in reviewing proposed projects in the University Community Urban Center along with Citywide Design Guidelines. The overarching goal of the Design Review Program is to foster design excellence in new multifamily and commercial projects.

Council Adopts U District Rezone

City Council and the Mayor approved new zoning for the U District in February 2017. The legislation allows greater height and density in the core of the neighborhood, applies development standards to help new buildings fit into the U District neighborhood context, implements affordable housing and open space requirements, and creates incentives for childcare, historic preservation, and street improvements.

We worked with the U District community beginning 2012 to plan for growth and change in the neighborhood. The U District Urban Design Framework discussed neighborhood concerns and goals in detail, laying out many of the ideas that would be implemented by the subsequent rezone. Zoning is one of several policy changes aimed at shaping new growth in the U District. We also completed streetscape concept plans for Brooklyn Ave NE, NE 43rd St, and NE 42nd St. In September 2015, City Council amended the U District goals and policies in the Comprehensive Plan, located on our Project Documents page.

Watch our "A Shared Vision for the U District" video here.

Project Benefits

Working with the neighborhood, we’ve identified the following guiding principles to inform all of our projects in the U District:

  • Recognize light rail as a catalyst for change
  • Balance the regional influences with the eclectic local character
  • Provide a network of great streets and public spaces
  • Grow and diversify jobs
  • Welcome a diversity of residents
  • Improve public safety
  • Encourage quality and variety in the built environment
  • Build an environmentally sustainable neighborhood
  • Improve integration between UW and the U District
  • Support walking, biking, and transit

The End Result

  • The U District Strategic Plan: short- and long-term actions to promote a unique and vital commercial district
  • The U District Urban Design Framework: a clear, cohesive vision to guide development and public investments to create a lively, safe, and walkable neighborhood
  • New working relationships between community stakeholders: between public / private partners in order to plan for change now and to work together for a better U District in the future
  • Policy changes: including Comprehensive Plan updates, zoning changes, new design concepts for several key streets, and updated design guidelines

Get Involved

The U District Partnership’s Urban Design Committee worked with us as an advisory group on the University District Neighborhood Design Guidelines update. We scheduled a series of workshops, each focusing on different components of design in the University District. The meeting notes and presentation materials can be found on our Project Documents Page.

Learn more about the U District Partnership
Learn more about the Design Review Program
View the draft updated University District Neighborhood Guidelines

Project Documents

The U District Urban Design Framework discusses neighborhood concerns and goals in detail and lays out many of the ideas that would be implemented by the proposed rezone. Zoning is one of several policy changes aimed at shaping new growth in the U District. We completed streetscape concept plans for Brooklyn Ave NE, NE 43rd St, and NE 42nd St in the spring of 2015. In September 2015 City Council approved our recommended amendments to the U District goals and policies in the Comprehensive Plan. In February 2017 City Council approved the proposed zoning. See "Approved U District rezone ordinance" and links to zoning maps below.

Neighborhood Design Guidelines Update

In February 2019, the Mayor and City Council approved updates to the U District neighborhood design guidelines.

We worked with the U District Partnership Urban Design Committee during 2017 to develop draft updated Neighborhood Guidelines. Three Workshop and two Open House meetings were held in the U District Community. Below are meeting materials and notes for these meetings.

March 2017 Community Open House - Kickoff Meeting

April 2017 - Core + Building Design Workshop

May 2017 U-District Street Fair

June 2017 Public Realm Workshop

June 2017 Community Open House

July 2017 Subareas Workshop

November 2017 Community Open House on Draft Design Guidelines

Adopted Legislation

U District Rezone Draft Recommendations

Following an extensive public process in the U District, we sent zoning recommendations to Council. Council reviewed the proposal and made amendments between September 2016 and February 2017. The draft documents below were the basis of that process – adopted legislation is in the “Adopted Legislation” section above.

  • Draft Director’s Report. A detailed description of the zoning changes. The proposal would allow greater height and density in the core of the neighborhood, apply new affordable housing requirements, and new design standards for buildings.
  • Draft Rezone ordinance. Draft bill to amend the Seattle Municipal Code and zoning map, consistent with the report above.
    • Rezone Exhibit A. Map of the zoning changes.
    • Rezone Exhibit B. Map of the station area overlay district, which will be removed to avoid redundancy with the new zoning.
  • Summary and fiscal note. A summary of the bill, and analysis of impacts to the City budget.

Slides and videos of presentations to Council

U District Comprehensive Plan Amendments

The University Community Urban Center Plan was adopted in 1998. It established Comprehensive Plan goals and policies for the U District, as one of Seattle's six urban centers. Most of those goals and policies are still relevant, but some updates were needed to better align with recent community conversations. We recommended some amendments to the plan and included new, consolidated goals and policies as well as changes to the Future Land Use Map. City Council considered these recommendations in a public process and adopted them in October.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

The U District Urban Design Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluates impacts of several possible Comp Plan and Land Use Code amendments, including changes that would allow increased height and density in the core of the U District.

Objectives of the proposal include:

  • Better integration of land uses with the neighborhood’s future light rail station
  • Development standards to accommodate a greater variety of building types
  • Support for equitable communities with a diversity of housing choices

The public comment period for the Draft EIS began on April 24 and closed on June 23, 2014. The Final EIS was published on January 8, 2015. The Hearing Examiner upheld the adequacy of the EIS document on June 19, 2015.

Final EIS Documents

EIS Addendum: Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA)
This document updates the U District EIS to include consideration of MHA requirements.

Draft EIS Documents

EIS Scoping process (2013)

In September-October 2013, we held a public scoping process to get initial feedback and direction on our Draft EIS alternatives:

Hard copies of the Final EIS are available for public review at the Central Branch and the University Branch of the Seattle Public Library, University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library and Built Environments Library, and the University Neighborhood Service Center. You may get copies of our Draft EIS free of charge (while supplies last) at OPCD which is on the 20th floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 Fifth Avenue. For more information, contact Dave LaClergue at (206) 733-9668 or dave.laclergue@seattle.gov.

Open Space Forum

In Fall 2014, we cosponsored a series of community events with Seattle Parks and the U District Partnership (UDP). The series provided a forum to continue the discussion about public open space in the U District:

  • What kinds of parks, open spaces, and activities are most needed?
  • What are some strategies for making these improvements happen?
  • How to address various obstacles to getting more and livelier parks?

The U District Partnership Board adopted the final report in Fall 2015. The final report, presentations, and meeting materials, prepared by consultants and the U District Open Space Forum steering committee, are available below:

Meeting #1

Meeting #2

Meeting #3

Final Report

Green Streets

In the 1998 University District Neighborhood Plan, the community designated three “green streets”: Brooklyn Ave NE, NE 43rd St., and NE 42nd St. This means that these streets should emphasize open space, landscaping, and a high-quality pedestrian experience. Green streets are improved piece by piece over time with concept plans establishing a vision to improve quality and consistency.

The U District Green Streets plan includes recommendations for sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes, and landscaping on three important streets in the U District. It’s based on a year of community input through the U District Partnership and broader public meetings.

U District Partnership

The U District Partnership is a separate but related planning effort, led by a wide range of groups and individuals within the U District. City planners are coordinating closely with this group to make sure our work aligns with the work going on in the broader community.

Meeting #10 Nov. 30, 2012

Meetings #11-13: review and discuss draft versions of the Urban Design Framework

Meeting #14 July 25, 2013

Studies and Guiding Documents

U District Urban Design Framework: Summarizes a year of public outreach, including the planning process to date, guiding principles for future changes in the neighborhood, and specific recommendations for our work going forward. Key topics include public spaces, street improvements, zoning and building height, and how to expand housing choices in the U District.

U District Retail Study & Strategy: Summarizes existing conditions, assets, and challenges of the Ave, presents recommendations for revitalizing the business district. Developed by the U District Partnership and the Seattle Office of Economic Development.

University District Existing Conditions Report: Provides historical data, demographics, and urban form analysis of today’s U District.

U District Strategic Plan: This plan is produced by U District Partnership. It establishes goals and strategies for neighborhood organization and leadership, economic revitalization, marketing, making the neighborhood clean and safe, and broad urban design principles.

U District Residential Market Analysis: Real estate economists Heartland prepared this report to analyze trends for market-rate housing in the U District. They focused on the question of whether highrise residential buildings will be feasible in the future. We’ll study other important housing issues through the Environmental Impact Statement and our policy development, including: affordable housing, amenities and services, and the balance between preservation of existing housing vs. creation of new housing.

The U District Urban Design Framework discusses neighborhood concerns and goals in detail and lays out many of the ideas that would be implemented by the proposed rezone. Zoning is one of several policy changes aimed at shaping new growth in the U District. We completed streetscape concept plans for Brooklyn Ave NE, NE 43rd St, and NE 42nd St in the spring of 2015. In September 2015 City Council approved our recommended amendments to the U District goals and policies in the Comprehensive Plan. In May 2016, we released a draft zoning proposal for public comment - see "Draft Rezone Proposal" below. 

Planning Background

Transportation Plans

Historic Resources

Research Publications

    Project Timeline


    • Community outreach and public engagement
    • Work with the University District Livability Partnership
    • Begin Urban Design Framework planning


    • Public review of Urban Design Framework
    • Continued community outreach and public engagement
    • Finalize U District Strategic Plan with the University District Livability Partnership (1st quarter)
    • Finalize Urban Design Framework (2nd quarter)
    • Environmental analysis (beginning 3rd quarter)
    • Begin detailed street and public spaces design work
    • Comprehensive Plan updates


    • Public review of draft environmental analysis and draft land use recommendations
    • Public review streetscape concept plan



    • Public review of draft zoning recommendations
    • City Council review of proposed zoning


    • Final decision by City Council and Mayor on proposed zoning
    • Develop proposed updates to neighborhood design guidelines


    • Refine proposed updates to neighborhood design guidelines
    • City council review of proposed neighborhood design guidelines


    • City Council and Mayor approve updates to U District Neighborhood Design Guidelines

    Planning and Community Development

    Rico Quirindongo, Director
    Mailing Address: P.O. Box 94788, Seattle, WA, 98124-7088
    Phone: (206) 386-1010

    The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) develops policies and plans for an equitable and sustainable future. We partner with neighborhoods, businesses, agencies and others to bring about positive change and coordinate investments for our Seattle communities.