The “reality” of 7 Realities

There is a Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee meeting tomorrow and members of LUOA, the Cascade Neighborhood Council, and Mirabella will be presenting some alternatives to the PLUS Committee. This is, by the way, a public meeting and public comments will be taken at 9:30am. (Here is a link to the agenda.)

Interestingly, City Councilmember, Richard Conlin (also Chair of the PLUS Committee) released what he calls “Seven Realities” of the the proposed rezone of South Lake Union. At first glance, these “realities” might appear to be well thought out but, in actual reality, they are highly rationalized claims that belie the facts:

  1. South Lake Union is an Urban Center and the proposed density implements Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan.
    Yes, SLU is one of the 6 Urban Centers of Seattle — and likely one with the most room for growth currently. What Councilmember Conlin fails to mention is (1) current zoning in SLU is sufficient to meet the required 125% of the growth target through the 2024 Comprehensive Plan and (2) the growth targets for 2031 have not yet been approved by City Council and are not yet published. Conlin’s indication that “this rezone will shape the neighborhood for the next hundred years” implies to us that the scope of this rezoning proposal is largely overkill which, in today’s market, might just be perpetuating boom and bust cycles long into Seattle’s future.
  2. This zoning proposal is endorsed by the South Lake Union Community Council, the designated stewards of the South Lake Union Neighborhood Plan.
    While LUOA supports and respects the work of SLUCC, they are not the only voice for South Lake Union. It should also be noted that the SLUCC Board is very heavily weighted with real estate developers, architects, members of the Associated General Contractors of Washington, etc, whose interests often slant in one direction.
  3. The proposed zoning embodies the principles of good urban form.
    It’s difficult to decide where to begin here! Conlin says the building height “tapers” from 400′ to 240′ but this is not so. Tapering (a gradual step-down) is actually what we want but, what happens is, after one block (along Denny) the 400′ height limit instantly drops to 240′ and remains there all the way to the lake. (We covered all that in our previous post.) The “100 foot drop in elevation between Denny and Mercer” is not necessarily “false” but it’s kind of a stretch. It’s only the furthest SE corner of SLU (after you go up the steep hill on Denny toward the freeway) that creates this 100′ difference. The bulk of the neighborhood is actually very gradual, lying between an elevation of about 35′ to 85′ — or, about half of what Conlin points out.  Most importantly however, “good urban form” in Seattle has always included a step-down in building height as you approach our landmark bodies of water. The proposed heights along the lake front in SLU (240′) offer NO step-down and are even higher than what is allowed at the waterfront downtown. West of Western is zoned for 160′ through the downtown core, dropping off to 85′ north (roughly) of University and south of Columbia. Why, then, the extra 50% in South Lake Union? (This question may be answered in #4 below.)
  4. Public views are protected; the City does not – and should not – decide who gets private views.
    The people with current criticisms of the rezoning proposal have, indeed, mentioned views throughout their conversations over the years. However, it has always been the idea of preserving public views in the form of designing a built environment that augments Seattle’s natural environment, preserving the beauty of Seattle for all to see.  The only people mentioning ideas like “the preservation of private views” are the actual proponents of the proposed rezone (developers, who misunderstand or contort the criticism they receive. That said, Conlin’s defensive statement that “Protecting private views would require the City to make choices elevating the rights of one property owner over another” seems, actually, to be what is happening — Conlin appears to be choosing to grant exclusive rights to permanent, private views to those with the most money in the front row!Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 7.08.26 PM
  5. The residential towers on the Mercer blocks will have positive impacts on Lake Union Park.
    The basis of his argument here only holds if the options are limited to either (a) current zoning or (b) the current rezoning proposal. This is not the case. There is plenty of middle ground on the table.
  6. The South Lake Union proposal includes a comprehensive transportation package that will improve travel in the neighborhood.
    These comments are the same thing residents of SLU have been hearing for years. Actual experience tells a dramatically different story. Exactly when is it that we’re supposed to start believing this?
  7. There are significant benefits for affordable housing.
    Yes, there are benefits, and those benefits can exist equally with moderation to the proposed rezone.

Conlin’s Conclusion:
The City Council should consider modest adjustments that would strengthen the proposed rezone, but should endorse the major elements of the proposal.
At face value, that sounds like a statement that LUOA could get behind. We are all in favor of changes to zoning and we like the major elements of the proposal. We do, however, question the motivation behind certain aspects of the current proposal. Most notably the lack of a step-down in height toward Lake Union and the dramatic increase in bulk of the buildings at the waterfront.

The changes we have to propose tomorrow are modest and, we believe, would add substantial value to the overall outcome.

We’d love to see you at the Special Meeting tomorrow, if you can attend:
Thursday, December 13, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
Council Chambers — Seattle City Hall, Floor 2
600 Fourth Avenue


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Miss Ruby on December 13, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Growth targets for 2031 HAVE been established, WILL be approved by the Council early next year.


  2. Posted by Bill Bradburd on December 13, 2012 at 6:34 am


    this is not the first time Councilmember Conlin has promoted his own “truths” about legislation passing through the land use committee (c.f. Roosevelt, Regulatory Reform).

    at the Capitol Hill Community Council the other night we heard more “truthiness” on the apodment issue.

    general dissembling from Conlin is par for the course.


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