Boom City Fast-Tracking Plan for Taller Buildings in Rainier Valley
posted by October 7 at 17:20 PMon
Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis delivered a bitter pill last night to a South Seattle community group: The city plans to increase height limits for buildings in the Rainier Valley around the light–rail station. Along with other city employees and a local developer, he called it the “informal kick-off” of a program to rezone the area by next November. The light-rail link between downtown and the airport will open in July 2009.
To warm up the Mt. Baker Community Club, a Sound Transit spokeswoman described the East Link, which will connect Seattle to the eastern burbs if Prop 1 passes next month. She patiently answered the audience’s questions: “Yes, 55 miles per hour is as fast as it goes,” and, “Light rail does not refer to how light it is; it is actually quite heavy.”
Then to taller buildings. Ceis, along with new city planner Ray Gastil, told the group that the city aimed to increase density near the transit station. “The bad way to do it is to do nothing—leave zoning the way it is,” he said. Instead, he said the city would ask the residents to give their feedback and complete the plan in a year. Many neighborhood plans are drafted semi-autonomously by neighborhoods over several years.
Pat Murakami, president of the Mt. Baker Community Council, asked how many new apartment or condos the city planned for the neighborhood. She had heard the city was considering 3,000 new housing units near the station. Some at the meeting were concerned about the construction noise, increased property taxes, and towers in the neighborhood.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you it will be all low-rise density,” said Ceis, waving his hands by his waist, without committing to a specific plan. “I would be lying to you.”
Indeed, under current rules, most of the properties on Rainier Avenue South around the Mount Baker Station already allow for 65-foot mixed-use buildings. Considering the pitch, I’d estimate heights will be set between 85 to 125 feet.
There is no valid argument against upzoning around this or any other light-rail station. The only argument is that it be done right. The city should involve the neighborhood. Developers must avoid building a dozen homogeneous slabs of housing. Good street life will require deep retail spaces of varying sizes affordable to small businesses—not giant retail that wraps around parking garages (those are expensive to rent, awkwardly arranged, and minimize the retail potential for a building). The bottom floor needs big glass storefronts, using warehouse style fronts like in Portland’s Pearl District. And the city should require a copious amount of affordable housing. Neighbors may moan, but it must be done.