Legal Resources

Important Changes Proposed to the Seattle Design Review Program - UPDATED

On June 8, 2017, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) released a draft proposal to make significant changes to the City’s Design Review Program. The legislation includes broad changes to design review threshold criteria and increases the role of administrative review for many projects. It is available for review on the Design Review Program Improvement website, and public comments on the proposal were accepted through Monday, July 10. HCMP submitted a public comment letter to SDCI outlining our concerns and questions regarding the proposed changes. To view the letter, please click here. There will be later opportunities for public comment once the legislation is transmitted to the Mayor.

HCMP’s Real Estate and Land Use Group has extensive experience with the City’s Design Review Program, and has successfully advised many high-rise, commercial, and multifamily projects throughout the existing Design Review process. Please contact Holly Golden if you would like to talk to one of our attorneys about how the proposed changes to the Design Review Program could impact your development plans.

Here are some additional details on the legislation, which proposes three major changes:

  1. It modifies the threshold criteria SDCI uses to determine whether a project is subject to Design Review. Instead of the current thresholds that vary according to zone, use, dwelling units, and square footage, the legislation creates new thresholds primarily based on square footage.
  2. The legislation eliminates the Streamlined Design Review Process (a simplified review process for townhouses and other lowrise multifamily developments), and creates a new Hybrid Design Review Process for certain projects. Under this process, the early stages of Design Review are handled by SDCI staff rather than the Design Review Board.
  3. The legislation requires that all projects prepare and implement community outreach plans at the beginning of the Design Review process.

According to SDCI, these changes are designed to improve the program by increasing predictability, efficiency, and transparency for project stakeholders. However, in our experience, increased administrative review is often less efficient, and can have fewer clear deadlines, than more formal or institutionalized review processes. Developers and project applicants are encouraged to keep this in mind with respect to future projects that may be subject to the new Design Review process.