Design Review Exemption for Downtown & Center City - What & Why

Several development projects in progress in Seattle.

What's Happening Now

SDCI is proposing to encourage new residential, hotel, and research and development (R&D) laboratory developments by not requiring Design Review for certain new development proposals, as a part of Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan (DAP).

The DAP aims to revitalize Seattle’s downtown core neighborhoods as a safe and vibrant shopping, cultural and entertainment, employment, and residential destination. See the Downtown Activation Plan webpage for more information.

SDCI is proposing a bill that would apply for three years, waiving the Design Review process in permit review of development proposals that contain mostly residential or hotel uses, or R&D laboratories, within the following urban center neighborhoods:

  • Downtown
  • South Lake Union
  • Uptown
  • First Hill (south of Union Street, north of Main Street, west of Broadway and Boren Avenue)

Eligible development proposals would still be reviewed by SDCI and need to obtain land use permits and building permits.

SDCI's proposal does not apply to Chinatown / International District and Pioneer Square, where development projects are already exempt from Design Review. Proposals are still subject to review by the special review boards for those downtown neighborhoods. In other neighborhoods in the affected urban centers, applicants for development could still choose to undergo Design Review if they wish.

On April 18, 2024, SDCI published a SEPA notice and Determination of Non-Significance for our interim Design Review Exemption proposal. You may submit comments on this proposal through May 2, 2024. You may appeal the SEPA determination to the Hearing Examiner through May 9, 2024.

What does the proposal do?

Once adopted, this legislation will allow SDCI to more efficiently and flexibly review development permits to address the urgent need for more activity and vitality in Seattle’s Center City. 

  • Residential and hotel uses add to daily activity levels and provide customers for local businesses.
  • The proposal will promote more housing to be produced at lower permit costs sooner, due to reduced time spent in permit review.

Like the current Design Review process, the proposal includes the ability for applicants to request flexibility in how a development meets code requirements. The SDCI Director would review and decide whether to approve proposed variations from the following kinds of requirements:

  • Upper-level and ground-level setback and building width and modulation (shaping)
  • Facade openings, transparency, and blank façade allowances
  • Floor-to-floor height requirements at street level
  • Rooftop screening and coverage limits
  • Street-level uses’ type, minimum depth, and percent presence along facades
  • Overhead weather protection
  • Landscaping and open space dimensions, area, and type
  • Common recreational and amenity area dimensions, but not required outdoor open space amounts
  • Vehicle access to parking, loading, and utility spaces
  • Parking space size requirements
  • Bicycle parking minimum quantity
  • Certain requirements in the Yesler Terrace master planned community  

If you have any questions, please contact:

Gordon Clowers
Senior Planner, SDCI

Project Benefits

This proposal is part of a coordinated strategy that supports economic recovery in Downtown by making code requirements more flexible and more responsive to today’s needs. It will create new development and business opportunities for Downtown, and enhance Downtown amenities and attractiveness.

The End Result

Supporting new housing, hotel, and R&D laboratory growth will add more residents, visitors, and employment opportunities to our Downtown and Center City neighborhoods. This will help revitalize and add to our strength as the pre-eminent city in the Pacific Northwest.

Construction and Inspections

Nathan Torgelson, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 684-8600
Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
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SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.