Seattle Downtown Plan Expands Permitted Uses

The Downtown Activation Plan shifts from Euclidean to form-based zoning to encourage more commercial development.

1 minute read

April 21, 2024, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of downtown Seattle, Washington at dusk.

pabrady63 / Adobe Stock

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s recently unveiled Downtown Activation Plan significantly expands the types of businesses permitted in the city’s central core as part of an effort to revitalize the district.

Current rules, based in Euclidean zoning, prohibit businesses such as arts studios, medical offices, and printing shops from downtown Seattle. Harrell wants to fill vacant storefronts and transform downtown Seattle into a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood.

As Alan Ehrenhalt explains in Governing, “The idea was to keep downtown streets free of noxious enterprises such as factories and sweatshops that would be a nuisance to nearby residences. As the decades went by, however, the list of proscribed businesses grew in many places beyond the bounds of logic.” 

Now, a shift toward form-based codes promotes a new way of thinking about zoning: “Instead of regulating commercial spaces according to what goes on within them, we should largely forget about uses and regulate design — how well a structure relates to its surroundings and how it works aesthetically.” Another planning concept, the ‘Gehl door average,’ uses the number of doors in a given commercial block as a proxy for vibrancy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Governing

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