City Interbay Infighting
posted by October 28 at 16:11 PMon
Yesterday, the city council postponed a proposal to increase building heights in the Interbay neighborhood from 40 feet yo 85, as three proposals competed for council members’ support.
The first two proposals are both versions of the one Dominic wrote about a few weeks ago. Both would allow the Freehold Group, a development company that owns two acres in Interbay, to build taller than is currently allowed in the neighborhood in exchange for building some “workforce” housing (housing affordable to people making 80 percent of the Seattle median)—a proposal that parallels a nascent citywide proposal to allow developers more height in exchange for housing incentives (also known as “incentive zoning”).
The first, sponsored by land-use committee chair Sally Clark, would require that 20 percent of the housing above 65 feet be affordable; the second, sponsored by Nick Licata, would have the same requirement but would start it at 40 feet. Critics of Clark’s proposal call it a giveaway to developers; in a letter to the council, David West, director of Puget Sound Sage, wrote that Clark’s proposal would “erode much of the incentive for developers to provide public benefits.” In another letter, the Housing Development Consortium, which represents nonprofit housing developers, expressed its support for Licata’s proposal, noting that giving the developer a 25-foot height increase with no strings attached represents a nearly $600,000 giveaway.
Since making her initial proposal, Clark’s office says, she developed concerns that the council would be setting a precedent that would allow developers to negotiate how much affordable housing they had to pay for. That’s not exactly true—as council member Richard Conlin (whose own proposal I’ll get to in a minute) points out, the council did the exact same thing for Vulcan’s Amazon headquarters, at the mayor’s behest, a year ago. Nonetheless, both Clark and council member Tim Burgess are reportedly lining up behind Licata’s proposal, which Mayor Greg Nickels also supports.
Council president Conlin, meanwhile, has proposed his own very different version of the legislation. It would give the developer the upzone with no affordable housing requirement attached. Conlin says he’s OK with letting the development move forward with no affordable housing incentive because the council hasn’t come up with a citywide incentive zoning proposal yet, “and these guys have been waiting three years” for their upzone.
“These are small developers and small property owners,” Conlin says. “We let Vulcan and Amazon jump the queue. I think it was fine to do that, but I don’t think we should treat these guys differently” just because they’re smaller, Conlin says.
A theory circulating in other quarters holds that Conlin is trying to make nice with the consultant for the developer, an influential Seattle lobbyist named Joe Quintana who co-founded a local PAC called Forward Seattle last year, in preparation for a possible run for mayor. Conlin scoffs that that theory. “We try not to do those kinds of things,” Conlin says. “If [the mayor’s office] wants to play those kind of games, that’s their problem.” Quintana has given $650 to Conlin’s reelection campaign, and $475 to Mayor Greg Nickels’s. Forward Seattle, which is funded primarily by developers, including Vulcan, and Builders United in Legislative Development (BUILD), a construction-industry PAC. BUILD has given $250 to Conlin, and Vulcan has given $250 to both Conlin and Nickels.
The full council is scheduled to take up some version of the Interbay rezone next Monday, November 3.