Seattleites want progress, not process. That is why the proposal to update the City’s industrial land use policy before Council on Tuesday is a breath of fresh air.

The proposal strengthens protections for existing industrial and maritime lands, supports transit-oriented job growth in innovation centers near future light rail stations, supports smaller-scale industrial businesses and opportunities for maker spaces near residential areas, and creates opportunities for new housing. The proposal represents an opportunity to build on recent economic development momentum in Pioneer Square. 

After years of tough negotiations, the proposal that emerged—while not perfect—represents major improvements over the status quo. But just when we thought the debate was over, one of those zombie ideas rose from the dead to threaten our fragile consensus: rolling back land use protections in the SODO maritime industrial center.  

It is an understandable temptation for wealthy developers. Industrial lands are cheaper than commercial or residential properties because they come with restrictions on what can be built. If you can buy restricted lands and then remove restrictions—voila!—you just magically increased the value of your investment.

So, what’s wrong with that? Well, taken as a whole, our city relies on industrial lands for more than just property tax revenues. Think of the city as a house. Industrial lands are the utility closet, laundry room, and pantry. Sure, it’s not the part of the house you show off to guests, but nobody’s buying a house without them. 

Historically low vacancy rates and new warehouse construction in our industrial areas speak to how important they are. 

Some argue that if you oppose rolling back land use restrictions then you are opposing housing development in the midst of a housing crisis. In fact, the Port has never been more vocal in support of housing. We see the impacts on our workforce of sky-high housing costs and have been advocating for greater density in the city and region with our colleagues on the Council and in the Legislature. But the proposed area is no place for affordable housing. Families deserve better than being surrounded on all sides by freight arterials, a 40-minute walk from the nearest playground, and no grocery stores or schools.  

The proposed strategy is a solid compromise that preserves maritime industrial lands while also creating new industrial zoning to give businesses more flexibility. The proposal even creates opportunities for 3,000 new housing units, prioritizes economic activity that generates jobs and revenue, and balances the demands of a growing city.  

No compromise that emerges from three years of stakeholder input can satisfy on every point. For example, the Port made a major concession on hotels in the development south of the stadiums. Not all our allies agree with that decision. We compromised because limited hotel development is more compatible with industrial activity than residential development.

As port commissioners, we know a lot about the conflicts between industrial activity and residents. We hear from constituents just how disruptive noise pollution can be to a family’s quality of life.

Are we listening to the folks of Allentown, Tukwila, who experience nonstop freight traffic in front of their homes? Or people from West Seattle, who are bothered by the noise of trains sounding through the early hours of the morning? Or neighbors in near-airport neighborhoods, such as Beacon Hill, who experience regular flights overhead? 

Seattle’s District 2 already lives with at-grade trains, arterial roads with insufficient pedestrian protections, and inadequate signage. Do we want to create a new community of residents attempting to walk on roads designed as heavy haul freight corridors?

Bringing these challenges into SODO, explicitly to vulnerable populations seeking affordable housing, is a bad idea. 

Housing is undoubtedly a priority issue that deserves its own, dedicated strategy. It must be implemented intentionally—not haphazardly—in an equitable way. 

This is why the Port of Seattle will continue to advocate for housing density and development in residentially zoned areas, particularly those with access to mass transit. We are committed to helping increase housing density. It is critical for the local workforce, and the City’s comprehensive planning process taking off next year will be the most appropriate forum to thoughtfully address our urgent need for housing.

Next week, Seattle can actually make progress and stop going around in circles. With a ten-year plan to protect maritime industrial zones, businesses will have the certainty they need to plan and build, and we can concentrate on one of the most important issues facing the city: increasing housing supply and affordability in Seattle.

Toshiko Hasegawa is the vice president of the Port of Seattle Commission. 

Ryan Calkins is a Seattle Port Commissioner.