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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Maybe This Will Shut Up Those “My View!” NIMBYs

posted by on June 3 at 17:59 PM

Or maybe it will make them scream louder.

The South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors Community Council (SLUFAN) board is meeting right now to ratify recommendations for taller buildings throughout the South Lake Union neighborhood. According a draft letter from SLUFAN to Mayor Greg Nickels dated on the 5th of June—two days from now—the proposal sets forth three zoning proposals. (Lest it go unsaid, SLUFAN is a racket, really, because it’s mostly a symphony of business interests that amplify the mayor’s goals to blanket SLU with new devlopment. For instance, SLUFAN’s Web site is sponsored by Vulcan, and the board’s appointed members include representatives of PEMCO, Sellen Construction, Vulcan, and the Seattle Times Company. But there are only two elected positions on the board from the SLU community.) SLUFAN, naturally, seems to be pushing the tallest upzone on the table.

Some neighbors at a meeting to discuss those proposals last month, which I wrote about over here, were upset they could lose their views from Capitol Hill. The upzone has also ruffled feathers at the Buck Law Group, which organized neighbors afraid of losing their view, and generated an image that ran in the Capitol Hill Times of an unbroken wall of buildings blocking everything west of Capitol Hill. However, the actual designs aren’t quite so imposing.

slu_rezone_proposal.jpg

To provide some context for this diagram, the majority of the buildings in the SLU valley close to I-5 (and Capitol Hill) are 125-165 feet tall. In comparison, the grey-and-black-striped Metropolitan Park towers, the undeniable view-blocking eyesores that they are, stand 279 feet tall. The few locations where the buildings shown above approach that height are few and far between, and the tallest buildings, the handful at 400 feet, are narrow enough to preserve most view corridors.

Like what you see? Hate it? SLUFAN will likely hand off these recommendations to the mayor’s office in two days, but the changes would have to be approved by the city council. They would modify the neighborhood plan. You can find out more and rant at the city over here.

A block-by-block description of the proposed rezone in the diagram above—for the most intrepid land-use enthusiast among you—is after the jump.

• Height limitations of 240 feet for commercial uses and 400 feet for
residential uses between Valley Street and Denny and between 8th
Avenue North and Boren Avenue North.
• Height limitations of 240 feet for commercial uses and 300 feet for
residential uses between Aurora Avenue North and 8th Avenue North and
between Boren Avenue North & Minor Avenue North.
• Height limitations of 85 feet for commercial uses and 160 feet for
residential uses in the Cascade Neighborhood, except along Denny
between Fairview & John, where maximum is 240/300.
• Height limitations of 125 feet for all types of uses in the area around Fred
Hutchison Cancer Research Center.
• And height limitations of 160 feet for commercial uses and 300 feet for
residential uses in the ‘pan handle’ north of the flight path for Kenmore
Airlines and south of Galer Street.

RSS icon Comments

1

I would find this view study a whole lot more convincing if it wasn't apparently shot from about 5000' in the air. Actual views - before and after - from actual locations are how one is supposed to go about representing the ACTUAL impacts of ACTUAL buildings on ACTUAL views.

GIGO - you get the studies you pay for, and this one sure looks like a sham to me.

Posted by Mr. X | June 3, 2008 6:18 PM
2

You're point is totally valid, Mr. X. This perspective makes even huge buildings look like Legos.

However, I think it's worth noting that the buildings closest to Capitol Hill are a fraction of the height that some opponents depicted when they said this rezone would blot out all western light. A number of the buildings currently in SLU, such as the enormous Cancer Care Alliance buildings, don't even reach the freeway overpasses. Capitol Hill will still have gorgeous views of the city and the water, even in this heigh-density scheme.

Posted by Dominic Holden | June 3, 2008 6:32 PM
3

I don't understand how people here think a "view" is a tangible, God given thing.

Everywhere you see a view, I see the absence of things.

Posted by that's a made up thing | June 3, 2008 6:35 PM
4

Why don't we develop Seattle's downtown before spreading it to SLU. There are dozens of parking lots downtown which could use 400' to 900' buildings. SLU may be ugly but let's not make it worse by adding a few sparsely placed skyscrapers. That would be the worse visual effect possible. The 165' to 240' heights seem just about right for the area.

Posted by Catman | June 3, 2008 6:36 PM
5

@3,

You might want to check in with a realtor (not to mention the County property tax Assessor) and get back to us on that.

Posted by Mr. X | June 3, 2008 6:38 PM
6

Last I checked Vulcan and Seattle Times were located in SLU. (PEMCO's by the big REI - not sure that is north enough to count as SLU?)

Yes, I agree there should be reps from residents. But to pretend businesses aren't also located in SLU is a bit, um, silly.

Posted by JenK | June 3, 2008 6:43 PM
7

Seattle is a city of views, but I hope we can be a city of vision as well. In an era of rising gasoline prices and global warming, we need to find a way to share our city with a few more folks, in good walkable neighborhoods.

Posted by Michael McGinn | June 3, 2008 6:45 PM
8

There are not DOZENS of surface parking lots downtown. There used to be some, but they're pretty much all gone; and even if you extend to Belltown, the surface lots that were everywhere 20 years ago are mostly gone. There's some, but not dozens. The last big zone of surface lots is the Regrade, north of 8th and Olive, and the big dead triangle between 5th, Westlake, and Denny. If you're calling that "downtown", then OK, but I wouldn't. But there is an immense amount of wasteland in SLU, too. along 9th, Westlake, and Terry. Filling it in is good news.

As someone said in another thread, "buildings, in my Seattle?" That's what cities are for.

Posted by Fnarf | June 3, 2008 7:18 PM
9

Mr. X,

A view is only real to the people that care about them. Which does happen to be a lot of people. Regardless though, i'd like to see a few legal cases where a "view" is clearly protected as a right, an economic asset, an asset that creates greater economic value than the building that obscures it...you're simply better at digging up legal precedent than i am.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 3, 2008 7:21 PM
10

If I put a couple of those red ones on Park Place, I'll own all your asses.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 3, 2008 8:26 PM
11

McGinn, run for office! (Someday...? It's OK if I have to wait for Great City to get off the ground.)

Posted by Hey wait | June 3, 2008 9:21 PM
12

The last ones, at 400 feet, might work, but need some green space around them.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 3, 2008 10:54 PM
13

@9,

Well, if you want full legal protection of private views, I suppose you'll just have to go to a couple of nothing little cities like Boston and San Francisco to see that it can be enforced without the sky falling.

But even in Seattle, the value of a view is quite clearly quantified for many people - specifically in the form of their annual property tax bill, which reflects the FACT that every level of our local government acknowledges that views have a tangible and taxable value, even if that value is not protected (oh, and in the real-world those small property owners have to go through the tortures of hell to get their view-based assessment/property tax bill lowered when someone comes along and builds a larger structure that blocks it).

So you shouldn't be surprised or even offended that longer-established property owners show up at public forums to complain about losing equity in their investment because a bunch of newbies show up with cash in their hands and want to change the zoning rules. Last I checked, this was called democracy.

It will be interesting to see how the Mariners PFD does in their view dispute with Greg Smith (who bought the massive WOSCA property with open eyes and the current zoning, and who probably ought to retire if he couldn't make a shit-load of cash without increasing height limits as he initially proposed the very height of the now-waning downtown building boom)

And to go back to refuting the oft-made point from wishful thinkers like Bellevue and Will's, since Washington State does have unusually strong private property protections, we can't even do as much as freaking Los Angeles does - let alone Vancouver BC - to ensure adequate open space is provided (indeed, the new Multifamily Code Revisions the Mayor proposed and the Council is unfortunately taking up will likely reduce the already inadequate open space requirements imposed on new projects) or that these new developments set aside a significant number of units that working people can actually afford .

In my case, I'm not so much a "not my view" NIMBY as I am a "don't use my effing tax dollars to subsidize developments that I and everyone I know can't afford" one.

For the most glaring current SLU example, the $200+ million proposed to prettify Mercer could and should actually go a long way toward funding the much more pressing work of fixing the Magnolia and South Park Bridges, and is just the first (albeit - obscenely large) of even larger direct and opportunity costs we as citizens of Seattle will incur should this go forward.

So just wait till they raise your utility bills to pay to put SLU utility poles underground (because they want to protect THEIR new views, ironically enough) or until they shift more hours off of other Metro routes to subsidize a premature streetcar, or defer longstanding $500+ million deferred maintenance backlogs (EACH!) in road, drainage, parks, and library maintenance.

And if you think SLU can be upzoned to 400' for DPD's new buzzword "pin towers" without these new height limits being expanded down the road to permit commercial buildings of at least equal height and significantly more mass, you're either incredibly naive or incredibly dishonest. Seattle is already far exceeding its regional growth targets under the existing zoning in most all of our neighborhoods without any of this, and it's tragic that so many resources are being expended just pushing (on the part of Hallivulcan and their apologists/tenants) or rationalizing (on the part of both branches of what ought to be our City Government) it.

Just call me a NIABY on this - Not In Anyone's Back Yard, and most definitely not on my dime.



Posted by Mr. X | June 4, 2008 2:14 AM
14

Dominic,

Some reporting on who SLUFAN is would be helpful here.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/365567_sluside03.html

Note that this is NOT a traditional "neighborhood group", and many get their paychecks from Paul Allen in one way or another. The Cascade Community Council proved too difficult for Vulcan to take over back in the day, so they retreated to SLUFAN to rubber stamp their proposals. It's mainly a front group.

Posted by Trevor | June 4, 2008 7:48 AM
15

Mr. X, I understand that there are tangible equity losses by blocking views but you haven't cited a case where that took priority over building heights.

and to be fair, Seattle is no S.F. or Boston any way you slice it.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 4, 2008 8:42 AM
16

@15,

OK - here's one - Irene Wall forced the Port of Seattle's Marriott Hotel project to knock a couple of floors off because it did block one of the few public views that are legally protected in Seattle (and she kicked DPD's ass doing so - as they weren't inclined to actually uphold the law until she sued).

Posted by Mr. X | June 4, 2008 9:41 AM
17

Mr. X, are privately owned views legally protected though? Home values are not a public good nor are they explicitly protected. In the case you mentioned it was a public view that already had legal protection.

I want to see legal precedent where privately owned property, and by extension owners, have won cases where another private owners making modifications to the parcels of land they have.

externalities are a bitch.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 5, 2008 1:00 PM

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