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


Topography just doesn’t cut it…

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. Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 12.40.24 PMRelying 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 Screen Shot 2012-12-03 at 7.48.47 PM(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:

  1. How to reflect the city’s natural setting and features in the shape of new public infrastructure and private development.
  2. How to fit new development into the city’s built form, including the street grid and neighborhood character, that has evolved over 150 years.
  3. 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.






The future is now!

Clair Enlow of the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce wrote a nice article that sheds some much needed light on the Mayor’s proposed upzone of South Lake Union. LUOA has long maintained that any zoning changed should include a “step-down” to the lake — meaning that, as you move to the north  from Denny toward Lake Union, the buildings become progressively smaller. The step-down has been a development model throughout Seattle and has been the model in SLU up to this point but, the current proposal strays from this. As Enlow states, SLU faces becoming “a vast stretch of sameness and mediocrity” and critics say the 240-foot towers on Valley St “would present a formidable barrier between the city and the lake.

Also interesting is the topic of affordable housing and where that might fit into SLU — or not. Nina Shapiro provides some thoughtful perspective in this Seattle Weekly article.

Decisions from the City are coming very quickly on these issues — please make your voice heard!

  • Do you support a step-down to Lake Union?
  • Do you believe South Lake Union should be a place for affordable housing?

Write to the Mayor!
Write to your Counsel Members!

Ask the Mayor about the SLU Rezone

Ask the Mayor live on Seattle Channel, Wednesday, July 25, 7 p.m.
What’s your question for the mayor? Mayor McGinn joins host Brian Callanan for Ask the Mayor on Seattle Channel, Cable 21. Here are the ways you can get in on the conversation:

PLUS Committee Meeting and Hearing Dates

  1. July 24 @5:30 pm City Council PLUS Committee Public Hearing
  2. July 25 @ 9:30 am City Council PLUS Committee meeting
  3. August 8 @ 9:30 am City Council PLUS Committee meeting
  4. August 15 @ 5:30 pm City Council PLUS Committee Public Hearing
  5. September 12 @9:30 am City Council PLUS Committee meeting – could be a decision meeting


SLU Rezone Preliminary Legislation Available

Updates to DPD’s South Lake Union Website

Several new documents have been added to the South Lake Union website.  These documents include:

  • Draft legislation for the South Lake Union rezone.
  • A report by the Office of Economic Development anaylizing the relationship between private and public investment in the South Lake Union Neighborhood.
  • An update to the Office of Housing’s Housing Report for the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Rezoning SLU

South Lake Union Rezone Legislation is coming up SOON! Now is the time (possibly your last chance!) to let City decision makers know what the residents of South Lake Union would like to see.


A Public Open House in scheduled for Monday June 25 from 5:30 to 7:30pm at Kakao Chocolate & Coffee. (415 Westlake Ave N.)

Click here for a PDF File of the Overview for the meeting.

LUOA’s stance is firm:

  1. We expect our elected City Officials plan for the future using reasonable growth targets.
  2. We believe the area surrounding the lake, and especially around South Lake Union Park, is a special place that deserves special treatment. The lakefront is not the place for commercial or residential towers.
  3. We support a “step-down” to Lake Union to preserve visual access to one of Seattle’s iconic landmarks for as much of the surrounding area as possible.
  4. We desire to see the character and historic relevance of the Cascade neighborhood preserved.