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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Losing that Space Needle View?

posted by on September 16 at 14:53 PM

UPDATE: Here is the tallest of three proposals to increase building heights in South Lake Union. The larger of the two numbers in each area refers to the proposed height limit for residential buildings; the smaller number refers to commercial buildings.


The city will unveil three proposals for taller buildings in South Lake Union at a public meeting tonight. Flip charts will be out for attendees to write their comments, says Alan Justad, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Surely, many of those comments will be, “Too tall!”

The most ambitious proposal would allow towers up to 400-feet on many of the blocks between Denny Way and the lake’s southern shores; on the other end of the spectrum, a proposal would leave height limits at current levels. You can read more on this over here, here, here and here.

Realistically, SLU—part of downtown—is the logical place for tall buildings. But folks with views of the Space Needle shouldn’t worry about 400-foot buildings. That proposal is a bookend, I think; it was proposed so the development interests and neighbors can come to an apparent compromise somewhere in the middle. What we should worry about is packing the area with chunky, institutional buildings devoid of character. Vulcan has already proposed several for Amazon—reminiscent of those already built by the Cancer Care Alliance—that look like hospital wings. They fall pathetically short of the city’s stated goal of making the area “a livable, walkable and sustainable neighborhood where people choose to live, work and play.” We can build density that still has character.

The city will take comments at a yet-to-be-scheduled forum this fall, forward its recommendations to the mayor, who will forward it to the council, which will hold more meetings, and South Lake Union will be upzoned moments before we invent flying cars. Tonight’s meeting runs from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., with presentation at 6:00 p.m., at the South Lake Union Armory (Naval Reserve Building at Lake Union Park), 860 Terry Ave North.

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The rights of way in Seattle are narrow and many of the new developments crowd the street right of way. There need to be more setbacks at street level. And this may require that the developers be allowed to combine different parcels more easily, or that the higher zoning zone be expanded -- often you have a high zoned parcel but it just isn't big enough to build on with a setback.

By setback I also mean attractive shallow u shaped driveways to a portico, places of green with flowers or fountains, something that makes the street a bit more interesting and says "this is the entrance."

The older apt. buildings around town are built like this.

And stop requiring parking. People can park their cars, if they have one, in a garage 1 or 2 blocks away. How will we transition to relatively more car-free living if our very housing and building codes mandate 1 or 2 parking spaces with every unit? And those spaces cost $45K each? So that everyone who buys has to buy one? so that we are requiring a 45-90K buy into the car - CO2 system in our very zoning or housing code?

Lots and lots of premier buildings and more affordable buildings around the world do not have parking, eg no. 10 downing.

Posted by PC | September 16, 2008 3:02 PM

But think of the great view of these buildings that the visitors to the Space Needle will have!

Posted by I could see my house from here | September 16, 2008 3:25 PM

Sheesh, expect to get your cake and eat it too? The increase in density is a huge benefit to the city and its surroundings. To also expect such development to meet subjective aesthetic criteria is a bit much. It's reasonable to require generous setbacks, pedestrian access, and environmentally friendly construction, but it's going to take several decades of "aging in" for the south lake union neighborhood to develop a patina of charm.

Posted by Westside forever | September 16, 2008 3:35 PM

you can have density, walkable streets and a sense of community and still enforce height limitations on buildings.

Posted by infrequent | September 16, 2008 3:41 PM

these are office buildings. who cares what they look like except the people who work there? nobody's going to be walking along these streets, it's a glorified office park. the only thing we can do is encourage taller height limits so they will take up less of our city.

Posted by jrrrl | September 16, 2008 3:49 PM

I honestly hope the folks on the west side of Cap Hill don't lose their needle views, as most of those buildings are so unspeakably ugly that said view is their only redeeming factor.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | September 16, 2008 4:21 PM

how will the people living on the 400' level get to their units when there is no more power?

Posted by max solomon | September 16, 2008 5:12 PM

I'd rather attend the Mass Transit meeting at Northgate tomorrow night.

That has a much greater chance of doing something than fighting the inevitable growth of taller buildings around Lake Union.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 16, 2008 7:01 PM

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