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Early Community Outreach for Design Review

City Of Seattle   
Urban | Suburban | Rural
In October 2017, the City of Seattle enacted a new set of regulations related to Design Review, an official city process that has allowed community members as well as professional planners and designers to weigh in on new development projects in Seattle since 1994. Among the updates, is a measure that allows the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to make rules for community outreach and early design guidance for projects going through Design Review. Pursuant to this measure, SDCI created a new rule for Early Community Outreach for Design Review, effective July 1, 2018. The new rule ensures that applicants provide early notification to the local community that a project is being planned as well as opportunity for the local community to engage in a dialogue with the applicant about the project. (Under the old Design Review process, outreach from developers to communities happened informally.) With the new requirement, it will be part of the first stage of the development application process, where the applicant is submitting their initial paperwork.

SDCI’s rule requires developers to submit Community Outreach Plans to the City at an early stage, before the later Design Review meetings. Each outreach plan must contain three types of outreach methods: printed, digital, and in-person (as further detailed by the rule). For each of the three types of outreach, an applicant must choose a minimum of one highimpact method or two different multi- pronged methods. (For example, for printed outreach, a high-impact method could be door-to-door distribution of a fact sheet or flyer to residences and businesses within an approximately 500-foot radius of the proposed site, while multi-pronged methods could be placing an ad or article in a local print newsletter or placing signs on site that are visible from the sidewalk.) Developers must follow standards specified in the rule for each of the three types of outreach methods.

The City’s Department of Neighborhoods (DON) will post details about new applications on its Early Outreach for Design Review Projects Blog (available at, which helps residents find projects in their neighborhood, along with contact information for each project.

The rule also establishes “Equity Areas,” historically underrepresented census tracts that meet two out of three criteria, including having more people of color, low-income residents, or households with limited English proficiency than the city as a whole. Applicants for Design Review projects located in Equity Areas must work with DON to customize their Community Outreach Plan to the needs of the specific community. The plan must include outreach practices that are culturally sensitive, are responsive, and acknowledge and address barriers to participation. The aim is to connect developers to a wider cross-section of those communities, rather than just the usual self-selected participants.

DON created a webpage (available at engagement/design-review-for-early-outreach) with information on the new Early Community Outreach rule, guidance on the process, and resources to implement it (such as a review process comparative flow chart and sample outreach plans).