Topic: South Lake Union
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March 5, 2013 at 10:14 AM
The Seattle City Council signaled their intention Monday to allow new buildings up to 240 feet tall through most of South Lake Union, and towers up to 400 feet tall, or roughly 40 stories, near Denny Way.
While no formal votes were taken by the council Monday, its nine members identified issues for coming debate as they try to wrap-up a sweeping zoning proposal by Mayor Mike McGinn for the fast-growing neighborhood.
Several items were flagged for future debate, including fees for affordable housing, 240-foot towers near Lake Union on the so-called Mercer Blocks, and preserving public views of the Space Needle.
But the council didn’t see some other issues as warranting change. Forty-story towers near Denny Way, the southern edge of the South Lake Union neighborhood, and 24-story towers through much of the neighborhood, were not controversial enough to debate, council members indicated Monday.
The zoning package is “just about ready to move forward,” said Richard Conlin, chair of the council’s South Lake Union Committee. “The substantive issues that remain are heights on the Mercer blocks and affordable housing.”
City officials hope a more vertical community will attract thousands of additional workers and residents over the next 20 years than would materialize under current zoning,
But developers and property owners, including the Seattle Times Company, contend that plan could be undone by council proposals to extract higher fees for public benefits in return for allowing taller buildings, which create wealth for their owners.
Councilmembers Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Tom Rasmussen have said they want to increase fees as part of the zoning changes the council hopes to vote on this month. Other council members are leaning that way.
But Conlin and McGinn want a more thorough process on fee-setting after the vote on building heights. Developers and property owners are pushing that position as well.
February 28, 2013 at 10:29 AM
The City Council and Mayor Mike McGinn agree, Seattle needs to get more benefits when it creates wealth for property owners through upzones allowing taller buildings.
The questions now are “how much” and “when”?
The consensus for increased benefits emerged after a council consultant’s report said the city could seek more benefits, such as affordable housing, and developers would still make healthy profits from taller buildings — and more than they’d make if building heights remained at their current limits.
Council member Richard Conlin, who chairs the South Lake Union Committee, says the city should put off a decision on the appropriate level of public benefits and move ahead with a sweeping zoning proposal by McGinn and Vulcan, South Lake Union’s largest property owner. That proposal would allow buildings as tall as 400 feet, or 40 stories in parts of the neighborhood. Conlin has supported that proposal.
In an email to his colleagues, Conlin argues that there’s too much risk in changing the city’s so-called incentive system — which allows developers to pay for extra height — now. That’s especially so, he says, if the city’s changes are based on a single consultant’s report. Conlin says developers could sue the city, claiming increased incentive payments are unjustified and possibly “a taking” of property. Such a court challenge might invalidate the city’s incentive program, Conlin said.
A better course, Conlin said, would be a “transparent and thorough process” involving stakeholders and chaired by recently retired Seattle Housing Authority chief Tom Tierney. Conlin said the mayor’s office has agreed to such a process.
Council member Nick Licata, who chairs the Housing Committee, disagreed in an email response to Conlin Wednesday evening.
Licata says that Conlin’s delayed approach would amount to a lost opportunity as some developers would build under existing rules, costing the city incentive fees that could provide affordable housing in South Lake Union for restaurant workers, researchers and administrative staff in the area. The city has a goal of creating some 4,000 affordable apartments in South Lake Union in the next 20 years. The city’s current incentive fees would fund an estimated 450 affordable apartments in that time.
Lastly, Licata said “council conversations about whether we do this now or later should happen in public open session” not in private talks with the mayor.
Council member Tim Burgess, who is running for mayor, said “I’m leery of kicking the can down the road. I think the public benefit should be achieved at the same time the private benefit is granted.”
The council may carry on the debate at its Monday meeting.
The Seattle Times Corp. owns property that would likely benefit from the mayor’s proposal. The company has supported that proposal.
Jill Mackie, the Times’ vice president for public affairs, said she sent council members an email supporting Conlin’s approach. Mackie argues that incentive fees should be revised citywide so that South Lake Union developers aren’t put at a competitive disadvantage. “We understand the commitment to affordable housing and believe it merits a more thoughtful, less rushed conversation,” Mackie said.
February 27, 2013 at 2:36 PM
CORRECTED VERSION: This post was corrected Feb. 28, 2013. A previous version said Peter Steinbrueck currently worked a a lobbyist for two groups opposing 40-story buildings in South Lake Union.
Two new sets of campaign robo calls are lighting up home answering machines in Seattle. One seems to be gauging public familiarity with current city council members who are up for reelection, and the other tests the public response to higher buildings in South Lake Union. Neither indicates a specific candidate for whom the calls are being made.
The first call asks respondents to say whether someone is a Seattle City Council member, then continues with a list of all the council members who are running for reelection this year — Sally Bagshaw, Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Richard Conlin. Apparently to throw off those who don’t closely follow city politics, Judy Nicastro’s name is thrown into the mix. She was a one-term council member voted out after the Strippergate campaign contribution scandal.
After saying whether or not you recognize the council member, you are asked to rate them from strongly favorable to strongly unfavorable. The automated voice doesn’t ask for the respondents’ ages, political affiliations or whether or not they are registered Seattle voters.
The second robo call deals with the proposed upzone in South Lake Union and asks detailed questions about whether the proposed 40-story buildings are too tall and whether or not corridors to protect views of the Space Needle, the Olympic Mountains or Puget Sound from neighborhood parks should be enacted. Changing the rules to protect views, the caller says, would mean shorter buildings or larger setbacks from the street. Respondents are then asked if they strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the proposal for taller buildings.
The final question says that “supporters say protecting crucial view corridors is not anti-development it’s smart development that recognizes and protects things that are part of the fabric of the city while still allowing for growth and change. Knowing this, do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the proposal for taller buildings?”
The arguments sound like something mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck might make. He was a lobbyist for two groups opposing the 40-story buildings near Lake Union. But when contacted, Steinbrueck, a former city councilmember, said he hates robo calls and wouldn’t spend his campaign money to commission them. His suspicion fell on Council member Tim Burgess, better funded, who recently released a study saying Mayor Mike McGinn’s proposal for much taller buildings in South Lake Union doesn’t return a great enough public benefit in exchange for the upzone. The Burgess campaign, though, said they have not done any polling relating to South Lake Union.
February 14, 2013 at 5:18 PM
Vulcan towers near Lake Union should be shorter and slimmer than proposed, said three Seattle City Council members in a joint statement today.
Nick Licata, Tom Rasmussen and Sally Bagshaw said they want Vulcan’s three proposed towers limited to 160 feet, or roughly 16 stories, not the 240 feet, or 24 stories, proposed by Mayor Mike McGinn.
Licata said a majority of the nine-member council will probably support the proposal. “I don’t have solid numbers now because council members are saying they’re supportive” but it’s not certain until they vote, Licata said.
Three 160-foot towers would provide better public views of Lake Union and less shadowing on Lake Union Park, Licata said.
“My goal is to minimize the effect of the towers on Lake Union Park,” Rasmussen said. Bagshaw said 160-foot towers would advance goals for more dense development “without sacrificing space and openness.”
Vulcan executive Lori Mason Curran said nixing 240-foot towers seems counter to investments and policies the council has supported to make South Lake Union a more dense and vibrant neighborhood.
Mason Curran, Vulcan’s director of investment strategy, also said the council shouldn’t be focused on height per se, but what will create the best streetscape in the area.
Under the mayor’s proposal, Vulcan could go from the current 65-foot limit near the lake to 160 feet by paying so-called bonus fees for public benefits such as affordable housing. To reach 240-feet, Vulcan would have to provide extraordinary public benefit in the council’s eyes.
Council members shelved a proposed land deal, called Block 59, that would have allowed Vulcan to build 240-foot towers near the lake. But that still leaves the option of 240-towers open, if Vulcan provided special public benefits.
Mason Curran wonders if a majority of council members are willing to forgo an extraordinary benefit and limit the towers to 16 stories.
“In order to go to 160 you still have to provide public benefits,” Rasmussen said. “There will be fewer potentially but they will still be required.”
Rasmussen said he’s still supportive of tall buildings and increased density in the city and South Lake Union. “But there is a place for them and this is not the place,” he said.
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