Boom Rezoning South Downtown
posted by June 3 at 15:45 PMon
Under a plan from Mayor Greg Nickels’s office called Liveable South Downtown, an advisory group has drafted recommendations to increase density—residential and commercial—in areas around Pioneer Square, the International District, and the stadiums. Tonight the city will hold an open house to exhibit the proposals and answer questions. Here’s a sneak peek at the presentation.
Existing zoning in the area:
This how it could affect Little Saigon (I always feel weird calling it Little Saigon for some reason):
“The problem is that this administration is treating everything the same: high rises everywhere,” says Art Skolnik, an architecture preservationist in Washington for the past 40 years. “It destroys the character of micro-neighborhoods by encroaching on them,” he says. “You have to have a buffer zone.” Skolnik argues that the developers will give “sweetheart deals to incubator businesses” in new buildings. For example, “There are women-owned businesses that just started,” he says. “It sucks them out of the historic district, with no compensation [for older buildings], no guarantee that they will find other tenants and they will have to drop rents,” he says. “We are creating sprawl by pushing low income folks to suburbs because that’s what they can afford.”
“We’re not increasing heights across the board,” counters Susan McLain, the project’s senior planner for the Department of Planning and Development. She says the goal is to preserve the historic districts but add residents around those neighborhoods to “create more of a 24-hour presence of people who live and work in neighborhoods, and put more eyes on the street.”
Despite Skolnik’s desire to preserve historic neighborhoods—which I think everyone wants—increasing the number of available units won’t drive people out of town. That would defy laws of supply and demand. New spaces will cost more, not less, than offices in old buildings. And if additional vacancy does force renters to compete, that will drive rents down and create more affordable spaces in the city. Excellent. However, do share Skolnik’s concern about the potential impact of rezoning areas that don’t have historic status, such as South Jackson Street in Little Saigon, where a number of small one-story businesses could be displaced by incentive to build large developments. There should be a provision to protect the mom-and pop, one-story retail that provides basic neighborhood amenities while allowing infill density in the parking lots that surround those blocks.
The open house tonight runs from 5 p.m. to 7p.m. in the Bertha Landes Room of City Hall. A short presentation will be given at 6 p.m. The city will accept written comments until June 30th, and the City Council will likely vote to modify or codify the proposal later this year.