Council moves UW campus plan forward, with some changes

This morning, a Council committee put its fingerprints on the proposed University of Washington “Major Institution Master Plan,” and moved it forward in its approval.

The master plan for the UW Seattle campus adjusts the zoning for university-owned property within the boundaries of the campus, and would cover the next ten years, through 2028. The process for updating and approving the MIMP is determined by a 1998 agreement between the city and UW (most recently amended in 2004), under which:

  1. UW submits a proposed plan;
  2. An Environmental Impact Statement is prepared; (draft and final versions posted here)
  3. the public provides comments through the City-University Community Advisory Committee;
  4. the Director of SDCI reviews the plan, the EIS, and the public comments, and makes recommendations;
  5. the Hearing Examiner reviews the Director’s report and recommends changes and conditions;
  6. the City Council passes a resolution with its initial findings and proposed changes and conditions;
  7. UW reviews the Council’s resolution and provides feedback to the Council, while the public comments on the resolution’s fine points;
  8. the Council passes an ordinance codifying its desired changes and conditions.

The process is currently in step #6, which will likely be complete on September 24th when the full Council votes to approve the resolution.

The Hearing Examiner made a lengthy finding on the proposed MIMP,  with 59 recommendations.

A “statement of findings” prepared for the Council documents some of the simmering legal issues that underlie this effort. Among the issues:

  • whether the Master Plan is a development regulation subject to the state’s Growth Management Act;
  • whether the master plan is subject to existing City of Seattle development and land use regulations, or may modify or supersede them;
  • whether the city’s right to expand its right-of-way (including streets) allows it to widen streets within the campus boundaries;

The Council’s starting point was the Hearing Examiner’s findings. This morning, they considered fifteen additional amendments, all but one of which were adopted. They include:

  • increasing the number of affordable housing units that UW must build;
  • reducing the plan’s mode-share goal for single-occupancy trips to campus from 15% to 12% by 2028, with interim steps tied to the actual opening dates of light rail stations;
  • reducing the cap on the number of parking spaces that UW may maintain from 12,300 to 9,000, and including parking associated with residence halls (about 1,100) in that numbers. Currently the university has about 10,700 spaces, of which under 7,000 are used at peak. This change doesn’t require UW to get rid of existing spaces, but limits its ability to replace spaces as they get removed for ongoing development.
  • Requiring UW to include showers and other facilities as part of bicycle parking facilities;
  • Requiring UW to widen the sections of the Burke-Gilman Trail on campus and separate pedestrians and bicyclists when doing development adjacent to the trail;
  • exempting childcare spaces and spaces for small businesses from floor area limits for new building construction.

Two additional amendments were more controversial, both related to zoning changes for specific sites. UW’s proposed plan increases height limits for the two sites, both at the far west edge of campus. Council member Herbold proposed lowering the heights, one to maintain a long-promised “gateway” to the neighboring community, and the other to maintain the view from the University Bridge. Council member Johnson disagreed, arguing that the city needs to maximize the height of buildings near light-rail stations. Council member O’Brien found himself in the awkward position of being in the middle between his colleagues, and he split his vote on the two sites.

The resolution will come up for final approval in front of the full Council on Monday, September 24th.