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Monday, March 20, 2006

Peter’s Big Plan

Posted by on March 20 at 12:33 PM

This morning, after a months-long battle with Mayor Greg Nickels over the details of Nickels’s plan to increase density and building heights downtown, City Council member Peter Steinbrueck rolled out his compromise proposal, which would require more affordable housing downtown, mandate higher green-building standards, and place stricter limits on above-ground parking than the mayor’s initial downtown zoning plan.

Specifically, Steinbrueck’s proposal would:

• Require developers who build housing taller than current height limits to pay an average of $18.94 per square foot into a fund that would pay for affordable housing downtown. (Nickels proposed a $10-per square-foot affordable-housing bonus);
• Require new developments to meet US green building standards (which Nickels’s plan did not require);
• Require eight-foot awnings on all new downtown developments; and
• Restrict above-ground parking on larger lots to three stories and require developers to build an equal amount of parking underground . (Nickels’s proposal placed no limits on the height of parking garages). Although “the single highest construction cost to developers is parking,” Steinbrueck notes, Seattle doesn’t require developers to build any parking at all.

As of Friday, Steinbrueck and the mayor had not yet agreed to a compromise, although Steinbreuck was optimistic that Nickels would sign off on his proposal. If not, Steinbrueck said, he was prepared to move forward without the mayor’s backing, although that could jeopardize his support among more skeptical council members, such as Jan Drago. “Overall, the whole downtown is getting upzoned by about a third,” Steinbreuck says. Even with the affordable-housing requirement, “this it a huge windfall for developers.”

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Why aren't developers required to build parking lots? Is it an attempt to so overload downtown with cars that people will be forced to take the bus? Because, if so, I like it.

Basically, yes: Residential developers downtown don't have to build parking because the city believes the wide availability of parking encourages car ownership, and because if you live and work downtown, you're less likely to need a car. (Flexcar is widely available downtown, as is bus service.) If people want to pay for parking in existing lots, they're more than welcome to do so. (By the way, new residential developments outside downtown, where access to transit and Flexcar is more limited, are required to build parking.) what's the intended purpose of Steinbrueck's you-must-build-parking proposal?

Peter is a latecomer to true urban and higher density concepts.

If he think so much money is being made in developing he needs to quit the council and get in on the boom. It is OK to make a profit.

The billions of new construction $$$ are fueling new jobs, new tax base and NEW people in the urban core.

I like it. A lot. Thanks to the Mayor and Drago - not Peter and Licata. They need to go back to the commune somewhere. Might be hard to find the right palace for it in this day and age.

Peter at one time led the movement to preserve the sklyne for the sake of art, and to CAP downtown building heights.

How very provincail and non - urban. Even more sprawl is OK - that was. Looking back, it cost the urban core dearly.

Huh? Sorry Urba, but that's revisionist balderdash.

The impetus behind CAP was to prevent the complete elimination of downtown density.

In the late 70's the area of 1st thru 3rd from the Market to Pioneer Square was a thriving urban nieghborhood, with thousands of units of low cost housing, bars, and small markets. That area was wiped out by the frenzy of office construction.

Something like 12,000 units of housing were lost a few short years. CAP did not succeed in saving housing, but you can reasonably argue that it did lead to the massive condo boom of the past decade.

Peter isn't saying you have to build parking. He's saying if you do build parking above ground, you have to put some of your parking below ground too (e.g., a two-story garage with two below-ground levels, as opposed to a four-story garage.

Way to go, Peter!

I don't understand. What is the benefit of having parking underground versus above ground?

Above ground parking is ugly.


No body is arguing with developers making a profit - Steinbrueck is simply saying that if they are going to get a comodity from the city (specifically the valuable ability to build higher), then they should pay up to the city. The developers will make a killing off the new zoning, and they should pay a fair price for it.

Above-ground parking is worse than "ugly"; it takes up space that must be filled with human activity in order to make density work. In those glory days of the 70s, more than HALF of the belltown-regrade area was given over to flat pavement -- streets plus surface lots. That's the recipe for a dead zone. Downtown had all those SRO units because no one else wanted them. Downtown in the 70s was a joke, a disaster, a wasteland.

However, when you take away 12,000 cheap SRO units, the accompanying dive bars, and the casual labor that made them possible, you end up with a ton of homeless dudes. Downtown is alive now, but that other problem hasn't gone away. These "low income" units won't solve it, either, because a large portion of the displaced isn't and can't be eligible.

Why doesn't the mayor and the city council grow the balls to change the zoning of some of these single family home dominated neighborhoods like wallingford, magnolia, loyal heights, and wedgewood to allow for more apartment housing, i.e., more affordable rentals in the city for the people that are going to these jobs that are created downtown from the increase in building heights.


Because when the Comprehensive Plan was adopted over considerable citizen protest in 1995 (the West Seattle and Fremont secession movements being some of the more colorful examples, though there were plenty of others), it was very explicity promised that urban villages could accomodate all of the extra growth the City was trying to attract and that single family zoning would be preserved. That was the deal they made, and it should be honored.

They also said all of the growth proposed - even in Urban Centers and Villages - could be accomodated within the existing zoning in those areas.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the City was lying through its teeth. Surprise surprise...

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