UW wants 6 million square feet of new space up for its 10-year growth plan

SEATTLE -- The University of Washington is growing and to meet the demand the university is hoping the city of Seattle will approve 6 million square feet of new space.

The trajectory of growth is not out but up. The proposed plan shows altered height restrictions so taller buildings can go up.

“They will be bringing 20% increase in everything, density, people, traffic all that’s going through our neighborhood,” U-District Advocates President Cory Crocker said.

The proposed plan on campus will have a direct impact on people like Crocker, who owns a condo in the University District.

“Right now there is a deficit of open space of two city blocks in the U-District and we have to make it up somewhere,” Crocker said.

Parts of the University District was up-zoned last year and construction is going up on the heels of those changes.

The University of Washington says the proposed changes on campus would match the growth they are seeing in nearby communities.

"We think the development is inevitable if you look at the permitting map. It's happening right now and so we would look a little bit more like everybody's neighborhood," Sally Clark with UW said.

Residents concerned about traffic, parking and affordable housing packed a Seattle City Council committee meeting on Tuesday.

“Rents, child care and transit costs have gone through the roof,” said one speaker.

Many who attended are members of various unions asking the University of Washington to mitigate the cost of living and reduce congestion.

The proposal says over the next 10 years, UW could grow by 13,000 students and staff, although members of the administration on Friday said they don’t expect it to grow that fast.

“They need to step up and fully fund U-Pass,” said a UW employee.

U-Pass, or a bus pass, is subsidized to a point for employees already, but Elizabeth Bauerly says it should be free. Bauerly works on campus and she is a member of SEIU.

“People would notice $80 if you hand them $80, they would say sweet extra money,” Bauerly said.

The University of Washington says the goal is to get the majority of students and staff using public transit but the question is how are they going to afford free bus passes for thousands of employees every month.

“It’s a state institution, it’s the deep pockets of the taxpayer and we are going to have the conversation with the state,” Clark  said.

Clark answered questions from city leaders, specifically addressing concerns that some of the proposed buildings are too tall. A building under the new proposal cannot be higher than 24 stories.

“We feel what we put forward is reasonable,” Clark said.

Half of the 6 million square feet of new space would happen on the west side of campus; it’s also a place where the University hopes to partner with tech companies. The vision could be something similar to the interdependency between Silicon Valley and Stanford. But Clark says they could partner with other types of tech companies as well.

“Tech companies that are about health care solutions, tech companies that’s about student learning,” Clark said.

Clark says the west side of campus will get a lot of green space. A rendering shows two big parks with one of them half the size of Gas Works Park.

“It’s going to be significant open space open to everybody,” Clark said.

But critics say the university needs to do even more to keep the area livable as they deal with growing pains.

The university says the goal is to have only 15% of students and staff in single occupancy cars by 2028.

Right now it’s at 17%.

Members of the Sierra Club on Friday said they would like the goal to be more in the 12% range.

The Seattle City Council could make a final decision in December.

The University of Washington says there is no timeline of when the proposed changes would happen because even if the city approves their master plan they would still have to secure funding.