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

Aerial view of homes on beach in Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

The new law will give counties the power to limit number or short-term rentals and convert existing short-term rental units back into long-term residential housing.

May 13, 2024 - USA Today

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Rail tracks on the left, rustic log-built train station painted reddish brown with a green metal roof and concrete platform on the right, evergreen forest and bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds in the background.

More Passenger Rail Coming to Montana

Planning is underway to restore a 45-year-defunct regional passenger rail line connecting southern Montana to Billings and Amtrak’s east-west Empire Builder line from Seattle to Chicago.

May 14, 2024 - 8KPAX

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

49 minutes ago - The Architect's Newspaper

Close-up of back windshield of Waymo autonomous car.

NHTSA Launches Investigations Into Two More Self-Driving Automakers

The federal agency is responding to reports of crashes and erratic behavior from Waymo and Zoox vehicles.

1 hour ago - Smart Cities Dive

Texas Townhomes

Austin Reduces Minimum Lot Size

Smaller lot sizes for single-family homes can make construction more affordable and homeownership available to more households.

2 hours ago - The Texas Tribune

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.