Seattle City Council Changes Single-Family Zoning Name, But Not Substance

The name change to "neighborhood residential zoning" is meant to more accurately reflect the city's diverse neighborhoods, but the new legislation does not change permitted uses.

2 minute read

October 12, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

High Point, Seattle

Brett VA / Flickr

Last week, Seattle's city council voted to change the name of the city's single-family neighborhoods from "single-family zoning" to "neighborhood residential zoning." The council says they made the name change "so that our planning documents reflect the true character of Seattle neighborhoods, diverse housing, small businesses, and many different types of households."

The change reflects "a recommendation laid out in a 2018 report from the Seattle Planning Commission called 'Neighborhoods for All,'" but the legislation makes no changes to land use in these neighborhoods. According to the text of the law, the legislation is explicitly "not intended to have a substantive effect on the uses permitted" but simply to reflect the "vibrant neighborhoods" that already exist. Bill co-sponsor Councilmember Dan Strauss said the bill "does not change the uses, the height, bulk or scale of buildings in these areas."

Advocates of zoning reform are disappointed with the symbolic step. "A name change would not address harmful zoning or bring forth the mixed-zoning plans many housing justice advocates swear by. But [Councilmember and bill sponsor Teresa] Mosqueda’s office said that updating to more accurate language is an important step in grounding future, more meaningful changes to zoning laws in anticipation of the Comprehensive Plan update." The commission's report "calls for more than just the name change: it also recommends that more housing types be allowed within single-family zones" to relieve the housing crunch and provide more opportunities for affordable housing.

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