Aug 1, 2023 - News

New laws limit big box stores in Seattle's historic maritime and industrial zones

A ship moves through a waterway with white cranes designed to move containers off of boats.

The Port of Seattle in October 2021. Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A broad rezoning plan approved in July by the Seattle City Council will limit large, non-industrial businesses such as grocery stores and big box retailers in some industrial areas, a move officials said was key to preserving the city's industrial and maritime heritage.

Why it matters: With the cost of land skyrocketing across the region, the interest in using land in industrial zones for housing and commerce has dramatically increased, putting pressure on industrial businesses and pitting them against developers in some cases.

Driving the news: The legislation — signed by the mayor on July 25 — is the first major overhaul of the city's maritime and industrial policies in 35 years.

  • It primarily affects the industrial areas near the Duwamish River and in the Interbay neighborhood between Queen Anne and Magnolia.
  • The city's industrial zones account for 12% of Seattle's geographic footprint and about 15% of its jobs, according to the city.

Details: The recently adopted changes divide industrial lands into three different zones: one reserved for port and rail activity, another that will allow research, design, technology and light industry and a third focused on businesses like breweries and art spaces.

The intrigue: Among the first casualties of the new zoning laws was a proposal to build up to 900 housing units along 1st Avenue South and Occidental, between Edgar Martinez Drive and Massachusetts.

  • Approval of the Makers District would have required the city to allow housing in the industrial area around the city's stadiums which did not happen.

What they're saying: "Our history as a maritime city is priceless," Council President Debora Juarez said following the vote. "We've all worked hard to maintain that structure, that identity and the sensibilities of Seattle being a port city."


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