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How the Seattle design review process works

It’s been around for nearly 30 years.

The skyline of downtown Seattle with clouds hovering above

Downtown Seattle has its own set of design review guidelines separate from the other districts.

Show of hands — who loves a good rendering? How ‘bout a landscaping proposal? Design reviews could be right up your alley.

Our city’s design review program was created in 1994 as a means to try to improve local site plans by expanding communication among city officials, developers, and residents. As new construction boomed, design reviews became a direct way for locals to weigh in on how their neighborhood grew.

Review overview

Most mid- and large-sized commercial and residential building projects in Seattle must have construction plans reviewed before the developers can secure crucial permits. For this part of the process, architects prep a design proposal with visuals and other details, then meet with a local district design review board.

At reviews for most districts, the board looks at 11 citywide design categories that include specifications on pedestrian access, architectural character, and open space concepts that help neighborhoods keep their distinct character. Each district also has additional guidelines, including downtown.

Designs of the times

For larger projects (like a U Village), the board goes over plans at least twice at public meetings — once for early guidance, then more specific recs later (like tweaking retail space or adding greenery).

Public comments provide valuable feedback for the review and regularly influence recommendations. “We look to see what are the significant community concerns brought up over and over again,” said Seattle Senior Land Use Planner Crystal Torres.

The full timeline to groundbreaking can take on average 18+ months. But Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections has been looking at ways to streamline the process by reviewing other cities’ reviews. Affordable housing projects are also temporarily exempt.

Get involved

You can attend a design review meeting coming up, see projects under review via the Shaping Seattle map, or submit a comment online.

If you really want to get in the mix, fill out an application for one of the review boards. They’re due at the end of the year.