Proposed Land Use Code Amendment: Master Plan Process

October 1, 1999



The Department of Design, Construction and Land Use (DCLU) is proposing to amend the Land Use Code to incorporate a master plan process to define the location, size and approximate timing of large-scale commercial, mixed-use or industrial developments. The master plan process provides both the public and the project proponent opportunities to identify and evaluate issues of concern early in development planning and review. The master plan will disclose possible environmental impacts of new development and determine appropriate mitigation, including mitigation of cumulative impacts of associated projects.

The master plan process implements a proposal from the University Community Urban Center Plan (UCUC Plan, November 1998), by designating the University Village shopping center as the first site required to prepare a master plan using the proposed process. The University Community Plan seeks a way to address the impacts associated with the development of this large commercial site that, if developed to its full potential, could substantially influence the character of a neighborhood. In its Plan, the University Community proposed measures to address what they perceive as the incremental redevelopment of the Village. Individual projects for new construction, small additions, or remodels were often below established thresholds for environmental or design review. The master plan process has features to address concerns raised by the community, including sufficient public participation in the planning process and opportunities to address the cumulative impacts of multiple development projects.

These concerns are not exclusive to the University Community or the University Village Shopping Center. Significant land use changes and intensification in established areas generate substantial community interest. It is often the magnitude of change over time associated with large commercial developments or sites with significant capacity for new development or intensification that may impact established neighborhoods. The proposed process provides the necessary tools to enable neighbors, property owners, developers and the City to plan for the development of large sites creatively and innovatively and address issues of mutual concern. This proposal meets public and private goals by creating a land use review process that encourages a comprehensive and long-range view of potential future, large-scale commercial development and its impacts. It provides a process for constructive interaction between development proponents and the surrounding community as well as a process that can provide for a better development through flexible and site specific application of land use and environmental regulations.



University Village would be the first site designated to prepare a master plan consistent with Council direction and the UCUC Neighborhood Plan. DCLU proposes to monitor the master plan process applied to University Village, evaluate what works well, and make any needed improvements. This evaluation could result in recommendations to replace or consolidate existing, similar processes.

In preparing this proposal, DCLU staff researched and evaluated existing City codes and procedures and master plan regulations from other cities. Key features of several existing codes and "lessons learned" from actual development projects provide the basis for this proposal. Exhibit A compares features of this proposal with processes currently in Seattle’s Land Use Code including the Major Institutions Master Plan regulations, Major Phased Development regulations and the Northgate General Development Plan regulations.



Two public workshops were held within the University Community area. The first, in March with about 25 participants, was a group discussion and brainstorming session on four topics including the role of community participation; visions of desired development; carrots and sticks; and transportation issues.

The second workshop, in May with about 20 participants, focused on some preliminary ideas about the process in the form of a simplified flowchart and details about a review process, including how a citizens advisory committee might function. Overall, 30 comment letters were received during the public outreach for this code amendment. Staff also had extensive telephone and e-mail exchanges with interested citizens. Many ideas and suggested approaches were seriously evaluated for inclusion in this process and are discussed in the analysis section of this report.



The main features of the proposal include:

Exhibit B is a flow chart showing estimated processing times for master plans with and without an Environmental Impact Statement.



This section provides a description of the main features of the proposed regulations and, in some cases, what optional approaches were considered.


Purpose of Master Plan Regulations





The purpose is to establish a master plan process that allows public participation and involvement with development proposals or sites that may have the potential to change the character of a neighborhood.

Primary goals of the master plan process are:

  • enhanced public participation in the development and review of master plans and associated projects;
  • an opportunity to anticipate and plan for capital improvements; and
  • consideration and appropriate mitigation of cumulative impacts of development.

Currently, the Seattle Land Use Code does not provide for the proposed manner of review for large, phased commercial or mixed-use projects that have the potential to significantly influence the character of an area. The existing Major Institutions regulations, which includes a master plan process, apply only to a number of pre-determined hospital and academic institutions. The existing Major Phased Development, an optional process, does not provide the desired level of community participation (there is not an advisory committee).



Designation of sites for which a master plan is required





A master plan is required for sites designated by Council. The criteria for designating new sites are:

    1. The site is identified in a neighborhood plan as having potential to change the character of the neighborhood and is a minimum of five (5) acres in size, which may be composed of contiguous parcels or be bisected by rights-of-way; or

    2. The site is not identified in a neighborhood plan, however the site is characterized by the following:

      a. The site is a minimum of five (5) acres in size, which may be composed of contiguous parcels or be bisected by rights-of-way; and

      b. The site is located within a Commercial (C), Neighborhood Commercial (NC) or Seattle Cascade Mixed (SCM) zone or within a Industrial Buffer (IB), General Industrial (IG), or Industrial Commercial (IC) zone outside of Manufacturing/Industrial Centers; and

      c. The site is adjacent to or within one thousand (1,000) feet of a residential zone and is connected by or relies on the same streets used for primary access. Neighborhoods separated from the site by physical features that help to minimize development impacts, such as greenbelts, ravines, open space, or limited access roadways like portions of SR- 99 or I- 5 may be excluded; and

      d. The site has substantial zoned development capacity that, if developed up to or near this capacity, would result in significant changes to current traffic and/or parking patterns.

University Village is designated as the first site meeting these criteria, for which a master plan would be required.

Designation of Sites, continued

If the DCLU Director determines that a site may meet the criteria for designation, the Director shall not issue any permit that would result in an increase in developed area until the Council makes a master plan designation.

The proposal also provides for voluntary preparation of a master plan for sites and projects meeting certain thresholds.


These criteria will allow the City Council to identify, up front, the sites for which a master plan will be required. The Council could designate additional sites that meet or exceed the criteria.

DCLU may also become aware of sites or proposals meeting these criteria through the pre-application review process or at the time of permit application. The proposal provides that the Director could delay the issuance of a permit on these sites until a master plan designation is made by the City Council, unless the applicant voluntarily prepares a master plan. This will allow unforeseen large-scale developments to be permitted in a manner that allows constructive interaction between the proponent and the community. The applicant may appeal the Director’s determination that a master plan designation is required.

University Village is proposed to be the first site to be designated by Council. The site was identified in the University Community Urban Center Plan as needing a master plan, prepared with community involvement and meets the proposed criteria.





Development thresholds - proposals that trigger a master plan





On designated sites, a master plan will be required when a Master Use Permit application that meets or exceeds the following thresholds is submitted to DCLU:

  1. A Master Use Permit application is submitted to DCLU for development on the designated site that is not categorically exempt from SEPA under SMC 25.05.800;
  2. A Master Use Permit application is submitted to DCLU for development and/or change of use that is categorically exempt from SEPA, but which would not be exempt if it were considered as part of other past or proposed exempt applications approved within a period of 18 months.



The preparation of a master plan for designated sites is triggered by a development project of a size consistent with SEPA thresholds for an individual project. For example, in C1 or C2 zones, such as University Village, development of a structure with 12,000 square feet or more would initiate the master plan process.

An additional trigger (the sum of smaller, categorically exempt developments) was included to address projects that individually, fall below thresholds, but when taken together may have the impacts of a non-exempt project.

Other threshold options considered include:

  1. Requiring preparation of a master plan for all new development at the master plan site. This approach would require a permit process that is not warranted for projects already determined (by SEPA) to cause little or no impact.
  2. Using thresholds that describe a large, "lump sum" amount of development, such as that used for Major Institutions and Major Phased Developments. This approach would not capture the smaller, incremental developments and associated cumulative impacts that are the primary concern of the University and other communities.



Master Plan Application and Review Procedures





The proposal provides that master plans would be processed as Type II Master Use Permit applications, a discretionary review and decision by the DCLU Director, and appealable to the Hearing Examiner.

The Type II review process includes: public notice of the application, public comment period, environmental review, design review, optional public meetings, a notice of the Director’s decision, and ability to appeal the decision, all of which must be completed within review time frames stipulated in the Land Use Code.

The proposed master plan process follows the standard procedures for a Type II review with these key differences:

  • Exempt from the state-mandated 120 day time limit for application review (similar to other types of master use permits with a longer term focus, such as rezones and major institution master plans);
  • A citizen’s advisory committee reviews the application and provides a recommendation to the Director.
  • Design review is conducted by the advisory committee, not the Design Review Board.



A Type II Director’s decision was determined by DCLU to be the appropriate review process rather than a Type IV quasi-judicial decision by the City Council as in the case of Major Institution master plans.

Unlike Major Institutions’ plans, this proposal relies on the existing zoning (unless a rezone is proposed, in which case the City Council is involved). This important distinction supports the approach to process the application as a Type II discretionary review and decision.

This proposal provides Council involvement in the proposed master plan process at these key stages:

  • Legislative approval of the master plan process;
  • Designation of sites required to prepare a master plan; and
  • Confirmation of master plan advisory committee members.

In addition, timely review of the master plan is a major goal of this proposal. By using the existing, established administrative procedures, it is anticipated that the review process will take 12 months (no EIS) to 18 months (with EIS). If the Council was the decision-maker, as in Type IV review, there was be considerable time added to the review process (an additional 6 to 9 months).


Advisory Committee Formation and Responsibilities





A master plan advisory committee is formed as soon as it is evident that a master plan will be prepared. The responsibilities of the committee are to:

    1. Review and provide comments on the following components of new master plan applications:

  • Preliminary master plan concept and revisions, as necessary;
  • Environmental checklist;
  • Draft master plan and supporting environmental documents, or the master plan/EIS, if an Environmental Impact Statement is required;

    2. Propose recommendations and conditions for master plan approval;

    3. Review and provide comments on project Master Use Permits prior to and after a master plan decision; and

    4. Review and provide comments on major amendments to approved master plans.


Throughout the public outreach for this amendment, the idea to establish an advisory committee was suggested as the preferable means of having "meaningful community participation" in the planning process.

The role of the master plan advisory committee is to review and provide comment on the master plan at several key stages. Most importantly, the advisory committee will review preliminary master plan concepts and alternatives, which occurs before costly design and plan development. This approach is most similar to the Major Institutions’ Master Plans, in that the advisory committee provides early and continuous guidance as the master plan is developed.

However, unlike Major Institutions’ committees, which continue to meet after master plan approval, the master plan advisory committee’s work is finished when the master plan is approved. However, the committee would be reconvened for review of major amendments to the master plan.


Committee Membership and Administration





A committee with a maximum of 11 voting members with representation as follows:

  • Six (6) persons representing residential interests
  • Two (2) persons representing business interests
  • One (1) person representing development interests
  • Two (2) design professionals
  • The applicant participates on the committee as a non-voting member.

Key features of the committee formation and administration are:

  • Residential and business organizations in the neighborhood of the master plan site may nominate members for appointment. All positions are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council.
  • DCLU provides administrative and technical support to the committee.
  • The Director will make a decision that complies with the recommendation of the master plan advisory committee when two-thirds (2/3) or more of the members are in agreement, unless the Director concludes the committee’s recommendation exceeds its authority or conflicts with applicable requirements.

The master plan advisory committee resembles a Design Review Board in that committee members are drawn from the geographic area around the proposed project; have a range of interests and disciplines represented; and are selected and confirmed by the Mayor and Council.

An optional approach considered was to form a committee more like a Major Institutions’ citizens advisory committee. That model has up to a 16 member committee with representatives from surrounding neighborhood organizations, major institutions and key staff (non-voting). The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) provides administrative support for these committees.

The primary reason for using the DRB model rather than the Major Institutions’ model is because of the committee’s responsibilities. Design review is proposed to be conducted by the master plan advisory committee, and therefore it is essential to have the design professions represented. In addition, the committee is configured to be a manageable size representing a variety of interests.

DCLU, rather than DON, providing administrative support is believed to be a more efficient use of resources in this instance. DCLU is already heavily involved in the project and process. Fewer departments involved may help keep review timelines shorter. This also puts the committee in direct contact with the staff most knowledgeable with development review standards and processes.


Relationship to Design Review and Development Standard Departures





Design review of master plans and design review of project Master Use Permits submitted prior a master plan decision are processed as follows:

    1. The master plan advisory committee acts as the Design Review Board to provide design guidance using the adopted citywide review guidelines.

    2. The master plan advisory committee provides early design guidance and identifies guideline priorities.

    3. The master plan advisory committee may recommend and the Director may authorize development standard departures (as provided in SMC 23.41). An additional departure for increased building height is available if there is a corresponding lower height elsewhere on the site. The maximum increase in height allowed by this departure is twenty (20’) feet over the maximum structure height for the zone.

Design review of project Master Use Permits within an approved master plan are processed as follows:

    1. Design review, if required, is processed in accordance with the existing requirements and procedures.

    2. The Design Review Board (or City staff, if design review is administrative), will use the design guidance or guideline priorities, if any, that were identified by the master plan advisory committee that are part of the master plan decision.

    3. The Director may waive the early design guidance public meeting for Master Use Permits submitted within 18 months of master plan approval when such projects are in conformance with the approved master plan.


The master plan advisory committee conducts design review in place of the Design Review Board.

An option considered was to have a parallel review process with the Design Review Board. This approach was not selected because of the complexity associated with having two separate review bodies (advisory committee and DRB). This can result in duplication of effort and potential conflicts. For example, site design is an important master plan component and would be within the purview of both groups.

In addition, having a single review body, as proposed, will help keep review timeframes down and should make clearer the role and responsibility of the committee in the master plan and design review processes.

Currently, design review provides for development standard departures. This feature of the Land Use Code offers flexibility and is known to encourage creative approaches to design. The additional departure for building height will provide even more options to respond to site constraints and opportunities.



Relationship to SEPA Environmental Review





The existing Environmental Policies and Procedures (SMC 25.05.07) address the full range of environmental issues anticipated in the development of a master plan. Policies and procedures of particular interest in the preparation of a master plan include:

  • Submission and review of an environmental checklist and issuance of a threshold determination to determine whether or not an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared;
  • Use of environmental analysis and authority to mitigate any impacts whether using the DNS or DS levels of environmental review;
  • The range of impacts to be analyzed during environmental review includes direct, indirect and cumulative impacts;
  • The content and format of environmental documents; including a provision to combine environmental and planning documents to reduce duplication;
  • Use of existing environmental documents; such as those prepared for comprehensive plans, neighborhood plans, or previous projects.

There are no special provisions, or amendments to existing SEPA regulations. However, the proposed process will allow better application of SEPA to address incremental change that cumulatively may lead to impacts. Cumulative impacts can be eliminated or reduced by mitigation consistent with the existing, strong body of SEPA environmental policies.

A combined EIS/master plan allows shorter review timeframes for project Master Use Permits submitted after master plan approval. In some cases, an addendum to a master plan/EIS may be prepared for projects conforming to an approved master plan.





Expiration of Master Plans and Master Plan Horizon





The proposal provides that a master plan shall expire 10 years from the date of issuance of the master plan. Projects in conformance with an approved master plan are vested to regulations in place at the time of master plan approval.


This extended vesting timeframe would mean that projects in the approved master plan are protected from zoning or other regulatory changes that may occur after master plan approval, but prior to actual subsequent application and approval of a Master Use Permit (MUP) or building permit.

The master plan represents a substantial investment on behalf of the property owner and involved community. Extended "vesting" protects this investment and provides an incentive to develop in accordance with the agreed-upon plan.

Review of Master Use Permit applications submitted prior to a master plan decision.





A project Master Use Permit application may be submitted and approved prior to a master plan decision. The application is processed as follows:

    1. For applications, requiring design review, the master plan advisory committee conducts design review of the application.

    2. The application may be approved if:

      a. The notice of the availability of the draft master plan or draft master plan/EIS has been published; and

      b. The master plan advisory committee recommends approval by two-thirds (2/3) or more members; and

      c. For Type I or II applications, the Director approves the development as an Administrative Conditional Use; or

      d. For Type III or IV applications, the Director makes a recommendation to the appropriate decision-maker (Hearing Examiner or Council).


The proposal allows for individual project to move forward with development review and approval while the master plan is under review. This approach is similar to provisions in the Major Institutions master plan process.


Review of Master Use Permit applications and amendments after a master plan decision.





Applications for project Master Use Permits within an approved master plan area and proposals to amend the master plan are evaluated to determine whether the proposal is in compliance with the approved plan or whether a minor or major amendment is required.

Project Master Use Permit applications are considered to be in compliance with the approved master plan when:

  1. The project conforms entirely to the approved master plan; and
  2. The environmental conditions at the time of the project-level permit are as anticipated in the master plan approval and supporting environmental documents.

Project Master Use Permits applications require a Minor Amendment when the proposal involves the following:

  1. A change of use from one land use category to another, or an increase in floor area up to 15% over the total floor area anticipated in the approved master plan that, as demonstrated by the applicant, does not result in environmental impacts not addressed or anticipated in the environmental documentation that accompanied the original master plan, or cannot be mitigated by satisfying the conditions imposed by the original master plan approval, and/or
  2. The conditions at the time of the project Master Use Permit application are not as anticipated in the master plan approval and supporting environmental documents.




    Amendments, continued

Proposed projects that exceed the criteria for Minor Amendment are considered Major Amendments except that a new master plan shall be required in the following cases:

    1. The applicant elects to prepare a new master plan; or

    2. The original master plan approval has expired; or

    3. New, future phases propose a fifty (50%) percent increase in floor area over the approved master plan; and/or

    4. The proposal presents unusual circumstances such as substantially different size or shape, topography, or infrastructure that would result in adverse environmental impacts substantially exceeding those anticipated by the original master plan approval.



Given the long-term planning horizon of a master plan, it is anticipated that project Master Use Permits may trigger an amendment to an approved plan. The proposal allows for two types of amendments (depending on the scope of the amendment).

  • Minor Amendments are Type I decisions
  • Major Amendments are Type II decisions

The master plan advisory committee is reconvened (or new members are appointed, as necessary) for Major Amendments and when a new master plan is prepared. The expiration date of the master plan can not be extended with a minor or major amendment (only by a new master plan)






The Department of Design, Construction and Land Use recommends approval of the proposed master plan process and related amendments as described in this report and as provided in the attached Ordinance.

The proposal implements the UCUC Plan by requiring the preparation of a master plan for University Village. In addition, this proposal benefits both the public and the project proponents by ensuring a process that allows an opportunity to raise issues of concern to either or both so that these may be aired early and addressed in development planning and review.

Overall, the neighborhoods surrounding a site designated to prepare a master plan would enjoy the following benefits of the master plan process:


Project proponent benefits of master plan process:

Benefits to all:



For more information contact Laura Yeats, DCLU, Land Use Planner at or call 206/233-7802.

Comments may be submitted until October 22, 1999. Please send comments to:


Attention: Laura Yeats

710 — 2nd Avenue, Suite 200

Seattle, WA 98104-1703



Exhibit A

Comparison of Existing And Proposed Regulations


Proposed Master Plan Process

Major Institutions

Major Phased Development

Northgate Overlay General Development Plan


Required for certain designated sites, such as University Village.

A master plan required for major institutions within defined major institutions overlay districts.

Optional for major, phased developments in commercial and industrial zones that exceed established development thresholds.

A general development plan required for development exceeding thresholds in defined Northgate Overlay District.

Review Procedure


(All may be appealed to court)

Type II

  • Advisory Committee recommendation.
  • DCLU Director Decision.
  • Appeal to Hearing Examiner.

Type IV

  • Advisory Committee and DCLU staff recommendation.
  • Hearing Examiner Public Hearing and recommendation.
  • City Council Decision.

Type II

  • DCLU Director Decision.
  • Appeal to Hearing Examiner.

Type II

  • Advisory Committee recommendation.
  • DCLU Director Decision.
  • Appeal to Hearing Examiner

Estimated Review Time

12 to 18 months

24 months

6 to 12 months

12 months

Community Involvement

Master Plan Advisory Committee (MPAC) formed early in the process. MPAC comments on conceptual plan, environmental documents, draft plan and makes recommendation.

MPAC disbanded after decision on master plan. Other public notification same as Type II procedures.

Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) formed early, prior to application. CAC provides continuous review and input in the development of the master plan.

No advisory committee. Public notification procedures for Type II application, (mailed, posted and published notices).

Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) formed after application for General Development Permit submitted. Comments on proposed plan and prepared recommendation to DCLU Director.

Design Review

MPAC, not DRB, provides design guidance of master plan and concurrent MUPs. Future MUPs use regular design review process.

Exempt from Design Review.

If required, design review conducted by DRB.

Design Review conducted by DRB. Review is parallel with review by CAC.

Relationship to Zoning

Underlying zoning applies.

Institutions proposes own development standards.

Underlying zoning applies.

Underlying zoning applies, except as modified by the overlay regulations.

Planning Horizon and vesting.

Maximum 10 years.

No provisions. New plans generally required after 10 years.

2 years for first phase, maximum 15 years for future phases.

No provisions.