Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Seattle Department Of Planning & Development’s Permit “Activity Locator”

by Matt Rosenberg April 15th, 2010

At any one time in Seattle there are many requests pending with the City’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) by property owners for permits to do things such as build a second home in their back yard, expand existing homes with possible impacts on the views of neighbors or the environment; build new town home developments, commercial or mixed-use projects; gain special zoning changes for new construction; and move around thousands or tens of thousands of cubic yards of dirt before some jobs start. The DPD 2008 annual report shows that overall, the department issued 35,476 land use and construction permits that year, including 6,556 building permits for property improvements valued at $2.59 billion. These graphs presented by DPD to the City Council’s Built Environment committee earlier this month show that building permits issued in Seattle in 2009 dropped to around 6,000, valued at about $2 billion.

Construction and land use decisions are closely regulated, to balance economic and personal interests with concerns about environment, aesthetics and traffic congestion. It’s true that building permit application notices are typically posted at the designated properties, so passers-by and neighbors can be tipped off that way. But that’s on a one-off basis. Community journalists including bloggers, as well as researchers, advocates and engaged citizens may be interested in bigger parts of the picture which can be viewed through a citywide database and online mapping.

At the Seattle DPD’s Online Tools page, under “Mapping Tools,” click on “DPD Activity Locator” and then under “Select Activity” on the left, pick for review the permits for either construction or land use, the two key options.

New Seattle town homes

There are several criteria you must choose. Make sure to select a time frame, and one type of permit status (“application,” “issued” or “finaled”).

For instance, select:

  • land use permits;
  • ones requiring “council action”;
  • the permit status of “application;”
  • and a time frame of 1/1/05 to 4/15/10.
  • The DPD Activity Locator returns a screenful of results viewable in mapped form. By double-clicking on a section of the city-wide map, you can zoom in on a neighborhood. Then click on individual icons for more information. Or click on “show results” to get a table which also displays all returns for your search, by address. (You click on the address of an entry for more data). Using either method you’re linked to the individual permit application summary for each entry, which describes what the permit is being sought for, and details the project’s previous permitting history if any (additional links are included), plus the name of the property owner or their representative, and that person’s address. As highlighted in the example above, one database classification of pending land use permit applications are those currently requiring City Council approval, or “council action.”

    There’s one at 160 20th Ave. (just north of Yesler Way) which seeks council permission to rezone a 12,800 square foot portion of property for a new multi-family development. Another at 711 Bellevue Ave., at Roy St., requires council approval for rezoning 55,870 square feet of property for two new buildings with 58 residential units (plus retention of 51 more units in an adjoining building). The project entails 11,000 cubic yards of grading, 72 new parking spaces, 980 square feet of space for commercial use, and demolition of five single-family homes. Another at 7125 Fauntleroy Way S.W. seeks council approval for the re-zone of 228,000 square feet of land to expand an assisted living complex, with three new four- to six-story apartment buildings containing 314 living units, plus 57,681 cubic yards of land grading, 279 new parking spaces, the vacation of a street and demolition of 10 multi-family structures.

    Other categories of land use permit applications to scrutinize include “design review” permits, “shoreline” permits, “variance” permits, “conditional use” permits and “SEPA” permits – for projects proposed in environmentally sensitive areas subject to the State Environmental Protection Act. (Some projects require permits in more than one category.)

    Another important permit type is construction. You can choose to view construction permits for commercial/mixed use construction projects, multi-family residential construction, or single-family/duplex residential construction. You also choose whether to view new construction, or additions/alterations, or temporary construction. Permits in (not yet approved) “application” status are numerous and spread across the city. Pending multi-family construction permits include one for a 12-unit apartment building at 1966 Thorndyke in southeast Magnolia; and another, west of Bitter Lake at 13439 Greenwood Ave. for replacing a single-family home with an eight-unit town home complex and attached garages. There are many dozens more, which – again – can be picked out by location.

    Why bother? Land use and construction permit decisions by city officials will affect daily life for generations to come. Different individuals and organizations have different perspectives and bring different “value-add” data and different values to the conversation about urban development, redevelopment, design, increased density, and the environment. A good starting point for all stakeholders is convenient online access to core information from – and mapping of – land use and construction permits; ones that have already been decided, and particularly those which are still under review, in “application” status.

    If you already have a permit number and simply want to get basic information or a status update, use this page. Learn more about how to effectively comment to Seattle DPD on permit applications here. Guidelines for comments to the city council on all topics are here.

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