There were several articles written in November that talk about Vulcan’s position that the proposed zoning ordinances in South Lake Union do incorporate a step-down in building heights from Denny Way to Lake Union. One, for example, is this one from November 15th in the Puget Sound Business Journal. Marc Stiles writes:
“Mason Curran said that her company’s [Vulcan’s] plans essentially do result in a stepping down of high-rises that Steinbrueck and others want. This is due to having 400-foot-tall towers along Denny and the topography sloping down to the lake.”
While this statement is not necessarily false, it’s just not enough to create any real step down at all. As the Google Earth model created by LUOA to represent the Mayor’s current rezoning proposal illustrates quite well, the topography just doesn’t cut it. Relying on a gradual slope and throwing up super-tall buildings on the southernmost edge of SLU is not what Steinbrueck or others want — we want a real step down! Implementing zoning heights that step down toward our landmark water bodies is a long standing Seattle practice. It’s been implemented downtown as well as throughout SLU to this point. It makes sense and it should be preserved.
What we have in this proposal is 400′ buildings along Denny Way — essentially bringing Downtown to SLU — followed by a virtually flat sea of rooftops at 240-feet, all the way to the shore of the lake. What’s more, is that, due to several existing buildings that were built under the current (lower) zoning limitations, we actually experience a step UP as we get closer to the lake with the 65-foot buildings on the south side of Mercer and the 85-foot podiums on the north.
Contrary to what Vulcan and other developers like to imply, the principle of the step down is not about preserving private views. As prescribed well in the city’s draft Urban Design Element, as well as the State’s Shoreline Management Polices and Goals:
“The urban design policies provide direction in three aspects of design:
- How to reflect the city’s natural setting and features in the shape of new public infrastructure and private development.
- How to fit new development into the city’s built form, including the street grid and neighborhood character, that has evolved over 150 years.
- How to enhance the visual and functional qualities of public open spaces and streets.
For LUOA and other proponents of the step down, it’s not about views. It’s about good city planning and doing things right. For Vulcan and other developers who insist the step down is about preserving views — well, Vulcan wants to build 24 story towers on the shore of Lake Union to capture EXCLUSIVE 360 views while depriving everyone else of the same vantages.