Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order Tuesday paving the way for the creation of a new cabinet office to manage Seattle’s ongoing construction and population boom. He wants the city to ensure that quality-of-life issues are addressed as Seattle grows.
Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order Tuesday paving the way for the creation of a new cabinet office to manage Seattle’s ongoing construction and population boom.
Seattle is currently the country’s third-fastest-growing city and is on track, Murray said, to permit 9,000 new housing units this year, 30 percent more than in 2014.
The city should adopt a more integrated approach to planning, the mayor said, citing Ballard and 12th Avenue near Seattle University, where transportation and parks investments haven’t kept pace with residential and commercial development.
The new Office of Planning and Community Development, pending approval by the City Council, will bring together planners from various city departments, Murray said.
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“Families look at our city’s boom, they look at the cranes and they wonder how it will affect their quality of life,” the mayor said. “They wonder: Will traffic keep getting worse? Will schools be too crowded? Will there be enough access to open space?”
Murray said the city must ensure that those priorities are addressed, along with access to jobs, social services and other amenities, as neighborhoods undergo development. “How we grow and how we invest will go hand in hand,” he said.
The new office will be mostly staffed by planners currently working in the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the mayor said. They’ll be joined by select planners from other departments, such as transportation, parks and housing.
The DPD, as it exists now, will be dismantled and its various regulatory functions — including construction and land-use permitting, code enforcement and inspections — will be housed in a separate agency. That agency doesn’t yet have a new name.
The mayor announced Tuesday that DPD Director Diane Sugimura will retire later this year. Sugimura served under Mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn, too. Murray is looking for someone to lead the Office of Planning and Community Development.
He pointed to West Seattle as a neighborhood where planners can do better by collaborating with Seattle Public Schools. “There’s been a total disconnect,” he said.
The realignment might improve conditions on the ground, but politics also are at play.
Murray knows that many voters are anxious about growth. The new office will act as “a single entry point to address community concerns” and will work closely with the Department of Neighborhoods to gather input and ideas from neighbors, he said.
The mayor cited findings from a recent report by former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck. The report said the city has succeeded in its goal of directing growth to designated urban villages but hasn’t invested in those neighborhoods evenly.
The budget that the mayor will submit to the council in September will include more details about how he believes the new setup should look and how much it will cost.
Council President Tim Burgess said Tuesday he generally supports the realignment.
“The rapid growth that we’re experiencing requires a different approach,” he said.
Burgess said the change makes sense as voters prepare to elect seven council members by geographic district for the first time in the city’s modern history. More attention than ever will be paid to how the city is handling development in specific neighborhoods.
Information in this article, originally published June 23, 2015, was corrected June 24, 2015. A previous version of this story misspelled Diane Sugimura’s name.