The LUOA Public Meeting of Members was held at Cascade Peoples Center in the SLU Cascade neighborhood on Monday, Sept 21, 2009 at 7 P.M. All Board members were present except Tim Soerens. In total, there were some 49 attendees at the meeting.
John Pehrson opened the meeting and introduced the agenda.
Diane invited everyone to attend two events at Mirabella: The Candidate Forum on 9/29, 7:00 PM, and the SLU Neighborhood Update on 10/7 featuring speakers from the Hutchison Cancer Center, UW and City Light
The proposed Seattle City Light Substation
Michael Clark, Project Engineer for the City Light Substation provided an excellent update on the status of the $200 million project. He addressed the questions of Why, Where and When. After establishing several strict, comprehensive criteria for the location, an advantageous site had been purchased in the SE corner of Cascade Neighborhood on Blocks 13 and 19 between Denny and John south to north and between Minor and Yale west to east. The intervening “dog-leg” of Pontius would be closed between the two blocks, providing ample room for the construction, staging and shielding from the neighborhood during construction. Since these two blocks exceed the space requirements for the substation, part of the space after the completion of the project may become available to the public and/or may allow a reconstitution of Pontius directly south of John. The needs, advantageous and outcomes of the project were delineated. The wires and cable will be underground several blocks from the building. The building will be an anticipated 2-2/1/2 stories high and will be compact and designed to optimize the visual appearance. Citing the station in this dense and rapidly developing area posed many challenges, especially with respect to the north portal of the viaduct tunnel. He found it difficult to predict a starting date but suggested 2-3 years.
Q&A followed the presentation.
South Lake Union Urban Design Framework Group (UDFG)
Marshall Foster, city planner in the Mayor’s Office of Policy Management, discussed the goals and accomplishments of UDFG to date. He has led the effort to establish a professional, conceptual and visual framework for development of SLU along with extensive pro bono consultation from Dan Foltz and associates with the Weber Thompson architectural firm. Other architects have also participated along with representatives of several city departments and community interest groups. This framework, which will provide an overall, general scheme for a balanced, livable and affordable (both from standpoint of city and residents) neighborhood, will be used to inform the subsequent EIS process, city design boards and city council.
He offered some history behind the emergence of SLU to its present status as one of the 7 Urban Villages to increase density in order to accommodate the anticipated in-city growth as mandated by the state. 50% of future urban growth is to occur in these areas. SLU in its 380 acres is projected to provide for 16,000 new jobs and 8,000 new households over the next 20 years, and this goal may be doubled by the city. The basis for the UDFG, as ostensibly for any city planning for the area, is based upon the SLU Neighborhood Plan, devised by stakeholders of the area that was accepted by the City Council in 2004 and updated in 2007. UDFG is trying to distill the best and most coherent features of this and other plans that have been developed over the years
He gave examples of the direction SLUDGE was moving.
- Any zoning changes should require definite incentive benefits in line with the UDFG . According to current codes, heights above 85 ft give stakeholders the prerogative of determining a mix of housing and non-housing benefits in a 60:40 ratio. The challenge is to secure family and affordable housing. Low rise should be in the mix.
- Focus on land use relationships, transportation, housing and infra-structure.
- Entry to the neighborhood from Mercer, Stewart, Denny and Dexter would be made easier and more obvious for cars and pedestrians. East-west connections are becoming possible with the north portal design of the proposed viaduct replacement tunnel. View corridor protection of Lake Union for Fairview, Boren, Westlake and possibly John. Green street designation for Thomas and others. Moving parking garages away from street fronts and behind buildings.
- Cascade Neighborhood would remain residential. A residential emphasis would also be directed to the Denny Park/8th Avenue area with encouragement of stoops, front yards and court yards. Commercial development would be emphasized to the east of Westlake to Fairview. The current Seattle Parks Dept. office could be a future community center for SLU as well as Belltown, Uptown, Denny Triangle and Queen Anne. Become pro-active in identifying and securing disposable city properties for community uses.
- SLU Park will become a regional draw. A “tear-drop” parcel of city land between Dexter and Valley could be the site for a school or library.
In the Q&A, concern was registered that current development in SLU already threatened to nullify many aspects of design framework. Marshall saw the framework coming online in early 2010. One speaker applauded separating commercial from retail development. Marshall deferred answers to questions about height contending this was a separate track from the UDFG mandate per se and would have to be seen in the entire context of urban form and incentive zoning opportunities and requirements. He did state that incentivized height would be expected to pay for much of the amenities and infrastructure. He also added that the city currently lacked funding for an EIS, but that heights would be viewed in the light of the mitigations contained in the UDFG proposals.
UW/Vulcan Phase III Development
On hand to present the case for the UW phase III expansion of their biotech campus in SLU were Phil Fuji, Vulcan architect and consultant to UW, and Victoria Buckley, a Vulcan Project Manager for UW. On the original block (site of the “Blue Flame” building), Phase I was completed in 2004 and Phase II in 2008 with two buildings 85 ft and 5-6 stories high providing 420,000sq ft. of research and infrastructure space. These buildings remained within the established FM 65 code due to exceptions for height given to research laboratories. The block for Phase III, also owned by Vulcan and leased to UW, is immediately to the west, bounded by Mercer, 8th Ave, Republican and Dexter Ave. Phil presented the case for the UW to increase the height of three buildings to be built in stages on this block from the current FM 65 to 125 ft. through a text amendment to the city zoning code. He contended that since the proposed block for Phase III unexpectedly proved to be 20% smaller than the block for Phase I-II, the three buildings would have to be7-8 stories high to provide the same research space and amenities. An alternative would be a lower but bulky building that would not support sequential development or open spaces between the buildings.
He reminded the audience that the present UW facility engages in a wide array of research from stem cells to obesity, and is regarded by the city as a key element in the envisioned biotech center in SLU, employing 1200 people.
The UW will present its request for zoning change in a text amendment to the city code in imminent hearings before the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee of the City Council. A fast track is deemed necessary to meet a UW time framework to obtain approval from the UW Board of Regents in March 2010. Waiting for new zoning for the area was not considered a viable option.
John presented the majority position of the LUOA Board on this UW proposal which was detailed in a handout provided for all attendees. The conclusion was that : “Without compelling reasons for a rezone, and none has been provided to date, we see no reason to break the current code, rules and regulations that have already been relaxed for biotech and that are being observed by other projects in the vicinity. We object to the rezone as currently proposed. If there were a compelling need, then adequate compensating true public benefits would be required as mitigation for the clear environmental impact of the rezone.” The benefits of the ground level courtyard were seen as entirely private and not public as currently presented.
Points raised in the Q&A were: Why does UW need to replicate Phase I and II in terms of space? Why wouldn’t 3 buildings at 85 ft. be sufficient? Why not get more land elsewhere? Why not wait for anticipated rezoning in SLU? Why not build the entire structure in one stage and then fill it out sequentially as the need arose? Where are the public benefits for spot rezoning? In response, Victoria seemed open to exploring what public benefits could accrue from the project such as meeting and classrooms. On the other hand, retail space on the ground floor was not feasible.
John encouraged everyone to attend the City Council Hearings on this issue on 9/23, 11/18 and 12/9 at 9 AM on the 2nd floor of the City Hall, and that public comment would be permitted.
David O’Hara, Secretary