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UW master plan doesn’t have enough for transit, child care, affordable housing, group says

Published on July 5, 2017 by Katherine Long

A group of Seattle residents says the University of Washington’s master plan for growth should include a bigger subsidy for transit passes, more child-care slots, more open space outside of campus and affordable housing for those who work at the university.

A Seattle group is raising alarms about a master growth plan for the University of Washington campus, which proposes an additional 6 million square feet of academic, office and research space for the campus over the next decade.

Members of the Campaign for a Responsible UW say the university should be increasing child-care slots on campus, subsidizing a larger share of transit costs for employees, providing some affordable housing for people who work at the university and helping neighbors to press the city to create more open space in the U District.

“We’re not opposed to growth, but unless the UW balances growth with protections for the communities and the employees, many of the Seattle neighborhoods will be less livable, and many families will be pushed further outside of Seattle, and employees will be faced with cost burdens that are unsustainable,” said Tasha West-Baker, a member of the group.

About 15 people held a news conference outside UW Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon, timed to the release of the final master plan.

The plan — which is a framework, rather than a blueprint, for growth — envisions the university growing a third larger than it is today, square-footage-wise, in just a decade. The plan is focused solely on 639 acres that comprise the UW campus; in February, commercial and residential sections of the University District bordering campus were upzoned by the Seattle City Council, paving the way for buildings as high as 320 feet on some blocks.

The UW expects its enrollment and its faculty and staff to grow by 20 percent between 2014 and 2028, with the equivalent of 52,399 full-time students studying on the campus by the end of a decade.

The plan identifies 86 new building sites, and over the next 10 years, about half of those would become new buildings, said UW senior planner Theresa Doherty. The lion’s share of the growth — about 3 million square feet — would happen on West Campus, which the UW is turning into an “innovation district,” where high-tech companies would work with university researchers to develop innovations for the future.

Doherty said the final plan includes additional details on how new buildings should be designed, many of which mirror those in the U-District upzone. As well, maximum heights on some buildings in the west campus area were reduced, and the plan calls for additional building setbacks to make sure view corridors aren’t blocked, and the buildings let in more light.

The plan now allows only 15 percent of those who work or study at the UW to get there by driving alone; the rest must take transit, carpool, bike or walk. If the university does not achieve that goal, the city of Seattle can deny it building permits, Doherty said. About 18 percent now get to the UW by driving alone.

Tim Gould, who is on the executive committee of the Washington chapter of the Sierra Club, called for the university to offer a higher subsidy to faculty and staff for an Orca card for transit use. With the growth outlined in the master plan, he said, he fears the number of people driving to the UW will increase dramatically, which would gridlock the district.

The group also highlighted a shortage of child care on campus. UW President Ana Mari Cauce has pledged to double the number of child-care slots available on campus in the next five to eight years, Doherty said.

Cory Crocker, a member of U District Square — a group of neighbors advocating for a public square in the neighborhood — said the state’s Growth Management Act establishes a goal for open space for the area, and the U District doesn’t meet it. He wants the university to help neighbors push the city to provide for more open space.

The master plan will be reviewed this summer by the City University Community Advisory Committee (CUCAC) and the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection. It will go before the Seattle Hearing Examiner in the fall, and the Seattle City Council and the UW Board of Regents will vote on it this winter or next spring.

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Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter @katherinelong.