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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Letters from the Lorax

posted by on April 19 at 17:04 PM

A downtown resident sent in a letter and some photos, following up on my Vulcan piece from a few weeks ago.

Terry and Lenora 2004


Then this happened:


Dear Stranger,

Poor 2200 Westlake tenants. They fell for Vulcan’s sales pitch and watched their high end urban dreams lie in a heap - much like the pile of trees sacrificed for Paul Allen’s expensive “Motel 6.”

The disgruntled tenants may recoup their losses but no lawsuit can restore irreplaceable downtown canopy. Mr. O’Leary better hope the city protects bilked investors better than its natural resources.

L. Schaack

Because trees just couldn’t afford $600 a square foot.

RSS icon Comments


Twinks never prosper.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 19, 2007 5:24 PM

Thanks for the photos. We need more folks documenting the "new" Seattle. Double concrete-hold the trees.

Posted by DkJ | April 19, 2007 5:42 PM

You you rather lose a couple environmentally meaningless trees in Seattle or 10 acres of them in the cascade foothills?

Posted by Giffy | April 19, 2007 5:50 PM


What an idiotic thing to say. Is there some TDR here preventing those 10 acres from being logged, or are you just offering vague "New Urbanist" environmental platitudes that ignore the legal and practical realities of the GMA?

To put a finer point on it - the suburbanites moving into that new sf home on Snoqualmie Ridge didn't want to live in a highrise condo in Allentown - that's why they moved to the 'burbs.

Posted by Mr. X | April 19, 2007 6:01 PM

You can always party like it's 2004 on Google.

Posted by Brian | April 19, 2007 6:28 PM

I read the article in the Stranger about the 2200 condos. It was heavy handed and skewed against Vulcan and the whole development. The letter to the editor--including the writer's vapid retort--in this week's edition is proof of that.

This Blog posting is further proof that the writer used weak arguments against Vulcan but decided to squeeze out an article despite not having any solid evidence that the development is a bust.

The article read like sour grapes to me.

Posted by Suemi | April 19, 2007 6:49 PM


would you care to elaborate/explain your sour grapes comment?

I certainly don't own a condo there.

Posted by Jonah S | April 19, 2007 7:02 PM

Mr X:
So where would condo dwellers live if their residential tower had not been built in our core urban area? A midcentury detached home in N. Seattle? Ok.

So where would the people who would otherwise have lived in that midcentury detached home in N. Seattle live? A house with a yard in a first ring suburb? Ok.

So where would the people who would have otherwise lived in that house with a yard in a first ring suburb live? A greenfield development in Snohomish? Ok.


Posted by green street | April 19, 2007 7:35 PM

Like it or not, Green Street, they're voting with their feet and moving out there already, and another Vulcan condo tower (and fewer in-city trees) ain't gonna change that fact one iota.

Posted by Mr. X | April 19, 2007 7:42 PM

Who is "voting with their feet and moving out there already?" What are their feet voting against? Please do elaborate. Really, I'm interested in the phenomenon of suburban white flight this year of our lord Zero7.

Posted by otla | April 19, 2007 7:53 PM

Are you being deliberately obtuse? The Sammamish Plateau, South Snohomish County, North Pierce County, etc etc etc are all growing at a faster rate than the City of Seattle is - it's all perfectly legal under the Growth Management Act, and it's going on (and will continue to go on) regardless of how many high-rises Hallivulcan builds because it is a fundamentally different segment of the housing market.

So to say that tearing down a bunch of trees in South Lake Union will save 10 acres of greenbelt in the Cascade foothills is just bullshit - plain and simple.

Actually, though, the flight from the City is now a lot more brown than it is white - and in no small part because of the gentrification that New Urbanists/the Stranger/naive Slog posters/et al mindlessly laud at every turn.

Posted by Mr. X | April 19, 2007 8:17 PM

Mr. X,
Boomers move form the sub/exurbs to the city after the kids are gone. This frees up a house for a young family. Quite common. What you seem to be saying is that condos produce people. There are and have been many people who live elsewhere but want to live downtown. They don't magically disappear just because your arch nemesis Paul Allan doesn't build a condo on some artificial green space. Instead they live outside the city increasing the pressure for more growth.

Posted by Giffy | April 19, 2007 8:59 PM

No, what I'm saying is that tearing down 10 trees in the Denny Triangle has NO effect whatsoever on what occurs on buildable land that's within the Urban Growth Boundary (or in suburban cities, or any of the other areas people like you think you're saving by building housing in downtown).

Posted by Mr. X | April 19, 2007 9:08 PM

...this post on Crosscut describes the fallacy of trickle-down density economics better than most I've seen.

"Housing supply/demand myths: More doesn't always equal affordable
Report a violationPosted by: Geof Logan on Apr 19, 2007 1:31 PM
Contrary to Sightlines and others mistaken beliefs, more housing doesn't necessarily equal lower prices. Nor do lower prices bring affordability, for anyone other than rich retirees and DINKS with dual, six figure incomes.

The housing supply/demand equation is far more sophisticated and complex than most understand (But the developer lobby sure does).

Increasing housing stock can and does increase overall housing costs in a given n'hood and even city wide, and on a generational time scale. It’s happening here, and is not news to anyone who’s actually paid attention rather than mindlessly mouthing mis-used economic platitudes.

When, in a favorable demand market - fueled by easy money, low interest rates and sub prime loans - the City upzones n'hoods to mulitfamily, the result is often a dramatic increase in the value of land occupied by single family homes and small apt. buildings.

The land no longer offers suitable return for development limited to one unit per lot. The ensuing increase in density results in multi family housing built at "market rates", at the highest price the market will bear.

I.E., 600K townhomes and condos. Developers build at the highest return on investment: They're in business to make money, not altruism. That means building what they can sell at the highest price possible.

Consequently, not only is the "new" housing among the most expensive, but it escalates the value of surrounding housing, and the land on which said housing is situated, promoting tear downs of affordable homes and condo conversions, creating even more, higher priced and less affordable housing.

Repeat a few hundred or thousand times and watch housing prices escalate and your city lose affordability. That’s how you make a house in my Fremont ‘hood worth 300K three years ago into 4 600K townhomes on the same lot today.

Along with a whole lot more cars, often two per townhome, usually SUV’s.

(So who’s causing the car choking pollution?)

Sure, eventually, when the economy cools and overbuilding occurs, prices level off or decline, perhaps by 10 or even 20 per cent. Too late: By now the entire floor of housing prices has been raised to a level excluding more people.

Please explain to me how a 6 or 700,000 dollar townhome knocked down 10 or 20 per cent constitutes "affordable".

You think they're all going to suddenly revert to 300K again in the next recession?

While you’re at it, please show me any housing in Seattle that’s been made more affordable due to densification, without government housing assistance.

Another myth: Market forces are destiny (and density?).

Markets can and are mitigated by public policy, and work with intelligent application. Not a Seattle trait, unfortunately. Certainly not among many of Seattle’s so called “greens”.

Example: Instead of rezoning the whole city to one big MF zone - as density cultists seem to crave – impose measured, conservative and well thought out MF zoning in increments, and in appropriate areas, that allows gradual increases in density without creating a "land rush" profit opportunity for developers. This actually helps preserve affordable housing by mitigating economic pressures that otherwise rapidly drive up prices.

Pressures that benefit developers operating under a phony "green" patina. The only thing "green" about Seattle style densification is the color of money, in the industry's bank accounts and electeds' campaign treasuries.

Seattle density and land use policy is nothing more that a developer’s welfare and relief act, aided and abetted by clueless, self styled and appointed “environmentalists” and cynical electeds.

A shame, it could be done much better."

Posted by Mr. X | April 19, 2007 9:15 PM

Yup. Does increased density downtown actually increase suburban growth by exerting some downward pressure on prices in the suburbs, making them more attractive to people migrating into the region?

Posted by Dan | April 19, 2007 11:58 PM


In my view, the bigger factor influencing suburban residential growth is somewhat different. Take South Lake Union - where a bunch of zoning variances were handed out to encourage biotech businesses. NickelsCo basically chose to assume that all of these new biotech jobs would be filled by people who would live within an easy walk or bike commute at a downtown condo at 2200 Westlake, Harbor Steps, et al, and that choosing this kind of property-intensive high-value use wouldn't generate a lot of residential demand outside the City limits or vehicle traffic.

Of course, the reality is somewhat different - biotech is the kind of industry that recruits nationally, so to the extent they do employ folks, a disproportionate number (particularly at the top of the salary food chain) were actually recruited from other parts of the county for the gig.

So they come here to scout it out, and lo and behold, well over half of them wind up going to Bothell, Bellevue, or Edmonds because that's where they feel like their kids can ride a bike and go to a pretty good public school, and they can have their study/recroom/hobby space/yard and all of those other amenities that now cost three-quarters of a million to have in Seattle.

The thing people who advocate density for its own sake tend to miss is the effect it has on the number and kind of jobs there are. Making it easier to build big downtown has historically given Seattle the worst of both worlds - many of the skilled people who are recruited to come to Seattle have chosen to live outside of the City (let alone downtown).

Conversely, many of the blue collar waterfront and SLU workers who were displaced can't afford to live here anymore, and the same is true of the service employees that our new upscale economy relies on who used to get by in the Rainier Valley, the CD, or Lake City, and who now live in Lynnwood, Renton, Auburn, et al.

And, on the other other hand, a lot of the job growth in the region has been on the Eastside, in the Kent Valley, South Snohomish and North Pierce (and even Thurston) Counties. This also drives suburban housing demand and, ironically enough, many of the traffic issues on I-90, SR 520, SR 522, SR 167, SR 9, etc are actually the result of new commuting patterns in which Seattle residents have to go far and wide for their jobs.

We have met the enemy, and they is us.

Posted by Mr. X | April 20, 2007 1:04 AM

Seattle is lost. I would encourage poor creative folk to check out Tacoma and try to save it. It's an interesting affordable place with a lot of charm but there are lots of growth types already pushing condos and townhouses despite the abundance of affordable single family housing. For a range of views on Tacoma development check these blogs out and

Posted by DKJ | April 20, 2007 7:03 AM

From what I can gather from the rather meandering crosscut (god I hate that site) article that you posted there seems to be a rather infinite number of people who can afford just about anything. Apparently unlike every other commodity in existence housing supply can increase without any corresponding decrease in price. Thats quite amazing.

The reason why our current growth is focused on the higher end is that for many years stupid anti growth policies by the city have created a huge pent up demand for housing in Downtown Seattle. Because of natural limitations on the speed of growth we can't satisfy this demand instantaneously. Since we can only satisfy part of it in any given time frame developers of course start with the units that have the best margins, upscale condos/townhouses. Constructing a building of x height is a relatively static cost and the addition of luxury amenities does not coast that much more. It is also easier to make one 1000sf unit then 2 500sf units.

This trend has been exacerbated in our region by the availability of cheap money (low interest rates) and the fact that the Seattle area is reasonable built out with very little vacant land. A perfect storm if you will.

However unlike some tend to believe the number of people in our region or who would move here is not unlimited. As the number of people willing to buy luxury units declines and interest rates inevitably rise, developers will begin to build for lower and lower priced units in an attempt to continue to make money even if the margins are lower.

Think about cars. If Toyota could dedicate its entire production capacity to the Lexus LS430 and sell them all they would in a heartbeat. It does not cost that much more to make a Lexus then a Camry, but it sells for 3 times as much. However they can't so they also make lower priced cars.

And honestly to the people who live in Seattle but yet can't stand any change, fuck you. You live in a god damn city not some Podunk Eastern Washington shit hole. Please do us all a favor and just move to Vashon Island.

Posted by Giffy | April 20, 2007 7:30 AM

@6, I meant the tone of the article sounded like sour grapes and it fell in line with the Strange's overall negative attitude towards expensive development and condo building in Seattle.

Posted by Suemi | April 20, 2007 8:20 AM

The Stranger doesn't have a negative attitude about expensive development. In fact, we're all for density. That means people who can afford to live downtown will move out of "in-town suburbs" like Ballard and Wedgewood and open up an affordable housing market for the rest of us. The problem is, when no one wants to move in to those expensive downtown condos, they just become a waste of space.

Posted by Jonah S | April 20, 2007 8:37 AM


You almost single handedly caused me not to read the Stranger. Your poor journalism was evident in your story about the 2200 building.

All of my life in Seattle I have always seen that part of town as a pit, a hell hole. When the Commons was placed on the ballot, I voted for it, again and again. It failed because Seattle is so narrow sighted that it can't see past the .10 cents it will cost per $1000 on their property taxes. That money could have created a monorail that linked Ballard to downtown to West Seattle. It could have created an underground tunnel at Seattle's beautiful, yet ever shrinking waterfront. It could have created mass transit from Bellevue to Seattle. But no... we are so short sighted that we can't see the future.

If we took a step back and thought about the 10, 20 and 30 year plan of Seattle, we would find ourselves pushing Urban development like they have in Vancouver BC. We would find that we would build a BART like system that would connect Bellevue to Seattle, from Seattle to Renton and from Seattle to Lynnwood/Everett. We would stop worrying about what things cost today, as they are going to be 200 times more expensive tomorrow. Case in Point: If we had built the monorail the first time around, how much less expensive would it have been than the final bid?

Now, onto your article you so damningly portrayed. I know friends that live at 2200 and they love it. They are big picture people. To boot, they have a nice theater room with an ice machine that is used regularly, a business center, a foosball and Pool table, a better than 24 hour fitness center and a courtyard containting Starbucks, Whole Foods, Koots Green Tea, a Dry Cleaner (bastards) all within an elevator ride. They have a beautiful place in which to reside... the finishes are beautiful and the spaces seem well thought out.

Sure, they could have asked for Marble and Christensen cabinets, but who wants to worry about where they put their knife so it won't scratch a surface? Which brings me to the Motel 6 comment... If you could show me a Motel 6 that has such quality, I will eat YOUR shoe.

Yet, you hear the voice of what... 4 people in the building and you proceed to write an article about how horrible the conditions are there. I didn't see a single OBJECTIVE opinion in your piece... but maybe as a journalist (and I use that term loosely with you) you are in the business of editorial pieces only.

How many homes are in 2200? What development downtown is better than 2200? What development downtown has better amenities? I have visited a few condominiums in my day of dating, and out of all the places I have visited, I am most impressed with 2200.

But, you don't really want to bring out the truth... you are too busy knocking down the man, the visionary, the company.

Hell, while you are at it, why don't you pack up your things, move to Montana and cry to those that listen "Those coasties are idiots!"

Posted by Andrea F. | April 20, 2007 9:12 AM

That means people who can afford to live downtown will move out of "in-town suburbs" like Ballard and Wedgewood and open up an affordable housing market for the rest of us.

Really? Why aren't the people in Ballard and Wedgewood just requesting upzones of their neighborhoods to urban centers with 85' height limits? Could it be that they prefer to have a retreat with trees and relative peace and quiet? When you score your $150K 1000 sq ft townhouse in Ballard, have us all over for the housewarming.

Climate change will likely keep a steady flow of people coming to the PNW.

Posted by Dan | April 20, 2007 9:21 AM

Calling someplace "a waste of space" that has been around for a year seems a little overreactive. Let's give it some time before we start labeling things failures. That building will most likely be around when we're not.

Posted by Jason | April 20, 2007 9:49 AM

Andrea @21: You were going to stop reading the paper over a one-page article about a condo building? Are you really that fickle? I'm interested to know what other local publication consistently lives up to your standards. Jonah never said that NO ONE in the building was pleased with their purchase, he just pointed out some who weren't and named some of their (entirely reasonable) complaints.

Posted by Aislinn | April 20, 2007 12:20 PM

I'm not going to defend 2200, but take a walk around that block. How many new trees have been planted there? 60? 70? Too many for me to count.

Posted by DOUG. | April 20, 2007 2:20 PM

@ 4: I'm not sure about 2200, but I do know that their 2201 project across the street (AKA Enso) did purchase some TDR.
And girl scouts have their camp near Carnation.

@ all the tree-huggers (I self identify as one myself):
Having unused pocket parks with a few trees doesn't always have the environmental nor social impact you'd hope for. The Commons isn't happening, true. So what is happening? LEED certified buildings are being built. The parks in South Lake Union are being improved. Streets are being greened. Sidewalks are being widened and made more pedestrian friendly. There are very positive things happening in South Lake Union, and the Stranger's discerning readers realize this.

Posted by Sarah M. | April 20, 2007 6:54 PM

This issue isnt't about density or affordability. To me, it's more about the City caving to developers' demands.

Could the city have pressured Vulcan to modify their design to incorporate the 28 mature trees (not 10) into their plans?
Could the city have pressured Vulcan to put Whole Foods on another property in the area to mitigate Denny's traffic snarl?

Apparently not. Instead of condo owners viewing mature greenery outside their windows and the neighborhood having a shady refuge, Vulcan planted spindly new trees and placed park benches on exposed corners. So much for the "accessible neighborhood greenspace" mentioned at the Land Use meetings.
And the traffic? Denny after 3 pm is a disaster.

My point? The City recently produced their report on Urban Forest that cited about the loss of canopy ("to deveopment")and Seattle's traffic ranks as one of the worst. Yet, when the City had the opportunity to extend its stewardship at Westlake and Denny, it caved.

Posted by Lud | April 21, 2007 8:58 AM

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