Boom If Not South Lake Union, Then Where?
posted by May 6 at 12:03 PMon
[A] South Lake Union group is considering new proposals that would… seek zoning changes to allow 300- or 400-foot buildings in response to business interest in the growing area.
That has some residents, business owners and concerned citizens crying foul. They fear that if the new heights are ultimately approved, views from every neighborhood around Lake Union would be blocked, beloved parks and P-patches would lose sunlight to shade, and any vision for a walkable, “livable” South Lake Union would be destroyed.
“Any way you look at this, 400-foot height limits is very scary,” said [Diane] Masson, regional marketing director for Mirabella, a continuing retirement community run by Pacific Retirement Services.
“I favor a few, tall narrow towers. … It’s not true that 400-tall buildings will block views,” said [Queen Anne Community Council member John] Coney, who favors concentrating jobs, buildings and residential density in South Lake Union. “The principle behind urban centers is … that you provide people the opportunity to live near where they work.”
“Building 400 feet and out to the lot line could create a concrete jungle and blot out the sun,” [Masson] said.
Concerns about darkened sidewalks and unwalkable cities are understandable—nobody wants a dark, desolate city—but they’re unfounded.
Under this proposed zoning change, the rules that would apply to SLU would undoubtedly reflect the zoning regulations that apply the parts of Seattle where 400-foot construction is already permitted. Towers are restricted to around 11,000 square feet per floor, preserving view corridors and letting in light. The rest of the building that abuts the curb would be mostly limited to six-to-eight stories; that’s the same height as most buildings in Paris, where streets are walkable and bright. (Filling out lot lines with mixed-use buildings creates walkable, livable cities—not dark, unwalkable cities.) Even in the business district of downtown Seattle, where the towers are 500-900 feet tall, streets are still walkable and bright. Perhaps not bright enough for a vegetable garden, but it is downtown, and, really, SLU is destined to be part of downtown, too.
But even where the zoning allows it, not every block supports a skyscraper—some squat old buildings remain and developers choose not to fill out the zoning envelope for economic reasons at other sites. The market creates a mix of different heights.
And I’ve tried, but I cannot muster sympathy for the “I’m losing my sacred view” crowd. Views of skyscrapers are awesome. In fact, that’s what you should see when you look out the window in the middle of the fucking city. If you want to see the water or mountains, Seattle will always have plenty of those views—just not from the middle of downtown. Suck it up.
Here’s where I totally agree with the anti-density folks: 400-foot buildings shouldn’t be built right up to the shore of Lake Union. 85-foot zoning in the block-and-a-half back from the water’s edge (like what’s already being built around West Lake Union), provides density while leaving bright spaces and pedestrian-friendly boulevards. That’s an easy compromise.
In the next 32 years, 1.7 million people are expected to move to the Puget Sound region. Those people have to go somewhere. Sprawl is bad land use. Neighbors in single-family housing neighborhoods would have kittens if development one-third this density were proposed near their homes. If not South Lake Union, then where?