UM Medical Phase III – LUOA Opinion


LUOA is not in favor of the proposed text amendment for UM Medical Phase III.
Find out why:

Why a text amendment?

  • Should it be a Contract Rezone?
  • One property owner, one client. Should it be quasi-judicial not legislative?
  • Is it legal?
  • Is criteria valid or just reverse engineered?

What’s the Land involved and Why?

  • Initially one block, one property owner, one client and Client was even at the PLUNC table
  • Now criteria that does not seem to relate to requested change, is it reverse engineered?
  • How many blocks are really involved or potentially involved?

This is the WRONG way to do neighborhood planning

  • Whole community currently involved in Urban Design Framework and this violates results to date
  • EIS planned for 2010
  • This makes a mockery of that process and assumes an answer to that multi-year process

Impact on Community

  • Current Context 1 – 2 floor buildings plus Veer Lofts  + Amazon + Lake Union + Lake Union Park
  • Potential build out to 65’ and 85’
  • Need DPD to provide 3D view of potential build out
  • Impact on Veer Lofts residents who did due diligence

Why not build out Phase III within the rules?

  • Don’t try to put on smaller block what fit on a larger block
  • Build out to current rules and regulations per Phase II
  • Client can’t afford more than 144,000 sq ft now not 430,000 sq ft
  • Noblesse Obliege

This proposal contains no significant public benefits commensurate with a height increase of 47% (or compared to non R & D buildings 92 to 115%)

  • This is a 50% increase in height
  • This is a 50% increase in bulk
  • Open space is primarily a light well and tenant improvement and not of value to public
  • What is the community getting?

Why a text amendment? Should it be a Contract Rezone? Should it be quasi-judicial not legislative?  Is it legal?

Is this Spot Rezoning that is considered illegal in Washington?

We are not lawyers or big companies that can hire land use attorneys to argue our case or interpret the law for you, but let us raise a couple of issues.

This is a huge height change that was initiated for one block, for one property owner, and for one client.  For the initial PLUNC Committee meeting that client (UW) was even at the ‘table’.  It has great value to the property owner as it puts on their lot the same square feet of space that is now on a lot 24% larger.  One can only assume that part of that increase in value is reflected in the land value.  Has the City asked that question and if it is so, why hasn’t the City asked for an incentive bonus.

Why was the definition of the applicability of this text amendment changed?  It started out as defined for a single block, bounded by Mercer, Dexter, Republican and 8th Avenue.  That is at least understandable and unambiguous.  Now it is defined as:

Location.  Structures may be developed above a height of 65 feet as

provided for in subsection A provided, the structure is located on a block

that is: designated SM-65 in the zoning code,  bounded by arterial-

designated streets on at least two sides, is greater than 60,000 square

feet in size and does not exceed 100,000 square feet in size, and is not

bisected by alleys or other public rights of way.

Can you really believe that was the basic criteria for selection of these blocks or is it a way to mask asking for a zoning change for one property owner? That some planner in DPD was sitting at his desk and said now if these conditions are met we should change the allowable building height to 140’ in the middle of an area zoned 65’ for all the blocks in SLU where they are applicable?   No, the only explanation I can come up with was there was a legal concern about identifying this huge economic benefit for one property owner and one user.  Maybe I’m wrong, but you should ask for an explanation.

Maybe this should be a Contract Rezone?  Maybe it should be a rezone that goes through the whole process.

The City has said “The text amendment, contrary to a rezone, does not permit any new uses that are not currently permitted, does not allow for more intensive use of the property than current zoning allows (it limits FAR to that currently allowed by existing zoning), and advances Comprehensive Plan and Neighborhood Plan goals.

This is a more intensive use of the property than the current zoning.  Can anyone with a straight face say a building that is 125’(maybe 140’) in height is no more intensive (to the public) than a building 85’ in height with the same external profile?

We understand that Local legislative bodies acting on private applications for rezoning are judicial rather than legislative actions.  Although in form this is an action that was initiated by DPD, in fact is it not a private application relating to one property owner and one client.  Wasn’t in fact the one client at the table with the planning committee at the first hearing.   Why isn’t this a JUDICAL action and not a LEGISLATIVE action?

You should at least question the use of the Text Amendment.

As far as the Neighborhood Plan, this change violates more strategies in the SLU Neighborhood Plan than it supports.

One of the rationales for the height is their use of FAR.  They justify the FAR of 5 by saying there is no FAR limit for S/M 65 and with 10’ floor to floor dimensions that would support an FAR of about 5 or 6.  Then they jump to say but we need 15’ floor to floor dimensions so with an FAR of 5 we should be able to enclose 50% more volume and a 50% increase in the ‘form’ of the building and that will take 7 or 8 floors with our smaller floor plate sizing to meet our requirements.  In my experience FAR is used to limit bulk, with flexibility, but never to increase height.  These creative people are breaking new ground. Question them on where FAR has been used to increase height, and considering ‘form based zoning’ isn’t a building 125’ (or 140’) in height more intensive that one that is 65’ or 85’ or even 105’?


What’s the Land involved and Why?

The text amendment defines the property where this up zone is applicable as follows:
Location.  Structures  may be developed above a height of 65 feet as

provided for in subsection A provided, the structure is located on a block

that is: designated SM-65 in the zoning code,  bounded by arterial-

designated streets on at least two sides, is greater than 60,000 square

feet in size and does not exceed 100,000 square feet in size, and is not

bisected by alleys or other public rights of way.

We were assured this only covered this one block.  However, we looked at the zoning map and the streets that were ‘arterials’ and the blocks sizes and saw the potential for up to six other blocks.

  1. The City has mentioned the block between 9th Avenue and Westlake Avenue and between Republican and Mercer Streets that only needs an alley vacation.
  2. The block bounded by Mercer, Westlake, Broad and ninth seems to meet this criteria and is across the street from Lake Union and Lake Union Park!!!
  3. The block bounded by Mercer, Broad, Ninth Avenue, and Westlake appears to meet those criteria now.
  4. The block bounded by Dexter, 8th, Valley and Roy seem to meet those criteria now.
  5. The ‘tear drop site’ is too small now, but when Broad Street is vacated, the resultant block would qualify and increase its land value.
  6. In a similar way the block bounded by Dexter, Republican, Aurora, and Mercer might qualify after Board Street is vacated and that land sold for private development.

You should ask what really is covered now and could potentially be covered in the future?  Do you want 125’ buildings across the street from Lake Union and Lake Union Park?  Do you want this zoning to 125’ (really 140’) that is at least 3 blocks away from similar zoning to the south along Denny Way?

But be that as it may, how can you connect the criteria with relaxing the height limits from 65’ in height (85’ for R & D) to 125’ in height with 65% roof coverage to 15’ or 140’ and that right at the property line.  The criteria states 2 sides have arterial streets, but the other two sides could have narrow, quiet, pedestrian streets like 8th Avenue, and this text amendment allows 125’ walls on that kind of street.  Similar issues arise with the other blocks in question.  It appears to us the criteria was ‘reverse engineered’ to cover the block in interest and as an unintended consequence covers 6 more blocks!  Ask DPD about this.


This is the WRONG way to do neighborhood planning

It throws water in the face of the currently ongoing South Lake Union Urban Design Framework, which is being led by the City of Seattle itself. The neighborhood groups involved with this effort include the South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce, South Lake Union Friends & Neighbors (SLUFAN), Lake Union Opportunity Alliance (LUOA), the Cascade Neighborhood Council (CNC), Vulcan and other landowners, and other civic interests.  This group is attempting to form a consensus around changes to neighborhood zoning, and if the city council and landowners are going to develop a neighborhood plan block-by-block as they see fit, then we’re all wasting our time.

The South Lake Union Urban Design Framework process will culminate in an EIS process with extended environmental impact studies, multiple public hearings and opportunity for public input, mitigation studies to ease those impacts, hearings before the City Council and then a City Council vote with Mayoral approval.  This text amendment is a mockery of that process.
Impact on Community

Current Context

For the present, with three exceptions, the building form in the area is one or two floor of light industrial or retail or commercial.  The three exceptions are:

  1. UW  Phase I and II, which is 65’ high or 85’( with an addition 15’ over 65% of the roof) but at the property line the height is 65 or 85’
  2. Veer Lofts a new Vulcan Condo that is ½ block SE and is 65’ high.
  3. The Amazon project buildings that are 2 blocks to the east and are 65’ high.

Also, interestingly, only 2 blocks to the NE is Lake Union and the Lake Union Park.

This text amendment (as it is being used by the applicant) has buildings 140’ high at the property line, essentially encircling a open space/light well, without set backs or green space at the periphery, without transitions in Height, Bulk and Scale to the current surrounding buildings of 1 or 2 floors.

It can only be considered out of scale with the existing Context (buildings) and should have some transition requirements to the less intensive existing neighborhood.

Also remember we do not operate in a vacuum.  What do you think is the impact of this action on adjacent property owners?  If Vulcan and UW can get a rezone to 140’ on S/M 65, in the eyes of the law I’m as good as them and I should get a similar rezone.   For example, what do you think the property owners that are trying to sell their property next to the 160’ high Amazon buildings are saying about what’s possible on their land?   They are saying it’s  zoned for 85’ but across the street Vulcan and Amazon got the zoning to 160’. If you have questions you might ask?  This is a precedent.  Is that what how you want to do land Use planning?

Future Context

This block and surrounding blocks are zoned S/M 65 (N, W, E) and S/M 85 (S). S/M 65 zoning (other than R & D) can have roof coverage of 15% so max height is really 65’.  For S/M 85 (other than R  & D) the effective max height is 85’.   Also, only 2 blocks to the ENE the zoning is S/ 40 between Valley and Mercer, much less intensive zoning.

Also, interestingly, only 2 blocks to the NE is Lake Union and the Lake Union Park.

Again, this text amendment (as being applied by this applicant) has buildings 140’ high at the property line, essentially encircling a open space/light well, without set backs or green space at the periphery, without transitions in Height, Bulk and Scale.  Compared to the surrounding zoning this text amendment allows on this one block buildings essentially twice what can be built around it in the future.

DPD has 3D projections of what this neighbor might look like to you with the current zoning and built out to that, so you could see graphically the impact of putting this building in the middle of these building potentials.  Delay your vote until DPD shows these to you and the public.  That is only appropriate.  What area they hiding?  Then and only then can you make an informed decision.

How do you think this looks to a responsible buyer of a condo in Veer Lofts that did ‘due diligence’ and found out the zoning in the neighborhood was consistent with his or her buy.   Now, powerful people and interests are building outside those rules about twice that high and with noisy ventilation on the roof aimed at them?


Why not build out Phase III within the rules?

First there is an example of that across 8th Avenue in the Phase I and II UW facility.   It includes about 430,000 square feet on a block of 105,000 square feet.  To the best of our knowledge it is a functioning facility and nothing that Vulcan or UW has said is to the contrary.  Why not duplicate that in this smaller lot, albeit reduced in size commensurate with the size and value of the property.  The lot proposed for rezone is 89,000 square feet, a reduction of about 15%, so we would expect that it could accommodate about 365,000 square feet.

However, Vulcan and UW say they need 430,000 square feet, but in no way justify that number.  Actually their proposal undercuts the validity of that number.  They say they do not now have the need or the money for that 430,000 square feet, but can only afford and can only use about 144,000 square feet.  Some time in the undefined future they might have the need for that extra space, but that time is not defined or justified.  I understand a requirement to be a need that someone has with enough money to consummate that need.

Ask them to show the City what they can do living within the rules, regulations and code to at least meet their documented needs (144,000 square feet).  That is what we are asking others to do and why that cannot be accommodated with the current rules, regulations and codes that everybody else is required to follow.

I was taught “Noblesse Oblige”, the responsibility of the those in power, those who are powerful, to follow the rules. Well, the UW,  Vulcan and City Government are certainly powerful.  Are they setting a good example or one of arrogance, while the rest of us follow the rules?  There are those, who bow to those in power and say yes.  We choose to try to represent the public good as we see in spite of that power.

This proposal contains no significant public benefits commensurate with a height increase of 47% (or compared to non R & D buildings 92 to 115%)

    • This project does not include incentive zoning bonuses, which is a loss of revenue to the neighborhood for Low Income Housing or Public Amenities).   Why is that, while allowing height and bulk increases of about 50% or more.
    • The only proposed green space is available through a 30 foot wide corridor through the center of three 125 foot tall buildings to an open space that has nothing to draw the public and is primarily a light well for the interior offices and labs. Although it might be landscaped beautifully, it will look and feel like a canyon devoid of people.  It will be much narrower and with higher walls than the open space for Phase I and II.
    • There are no setback requirements, and no podium height requirements.  The developer will do what they want with this space, up to a full block building of 125 feet and with the 65% coverage to an additional 15’ tor140’ (in the case of UW Phase III design with 140’ walls directly on the property line).  This is a terrible streetscape environment.  It is particularly negative on narrower and quieter streets like Republican and 8th Avenue.
    • At the end of the day, what are the City of Seattle and her residents getting for this change? Why are we doing this? Continuing to make changes to existing zoning for a single landowner reeks of favoritism.
Advertisements

One response to this post.

  1. Wow, that’s a long post! By the way there is a small typo in the title: should be “UW Medicine” not “Medical”.

    Has anyone said whose idea the upzone was? UW Medicine CEO, Dean of SoM, someone at Vulcan, architect, etc.?

    Also on the context: up Dexter you have apts like Neptune and Dexter Lake Union and office buildings that I believe are pretty much all 65 feet.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: