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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rezoning South Downtown

posted by on June 3 at 15:45 PM

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:


Proposed zoning:


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.

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Dominic, those units actually have to fulfill a demand. 20,000 100 sqft units will drive people away from the area if there isn't a demand for 100 sqft units.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 3, 2008 4:08 PM

Right on the money. Established 1-story buildings with sidewalk frontage and a variety of uses are part of density. Parking lots and strip malls are not. Until we figure out a solution to the practice of single developers doing massive projects that take up whole city blocks (hi, old broadway QFC), the smaller buildings are going to provide that essential mixture of building sizes, ages, and uses going on in the buildings. Even in NYC you find little one story buildings squished in with the nearby taller buildings. Way to call it.

Posted by kentankerous | June 3, 2008 4:10 PM

How would you protect the "mom and pop" operations? Rent controls? Direct subsidies? Who decides who qualifies for support? And why should the property owner not be able to develop their lot as they see fit within the zoning laws--this is the very definition of a "taking". And while were at it, what about property taxes? Should the city forgo an increase in the tax base, which benefits us all, so that the neighborhood dry cleaner or bodega can continue to operate in their old building? Nobody seemed too bummed out when the city used eminent domain to condemn small business on the monorail route--that is until we got no monorail and the SMB sold the property at a profit.

Posted by Westside forever | June 3, 2008 4:20 PM

All you have to do is limit the number of new mega-developments. No development over X sq. ft. within Y yards of any other development for a period of Z years. Something like X=100,000, Y=1000, Z=10. First come, first served.

Posted by Fnarf | June 3, 2008 4:30 PM

yeah, I'll be racing to live in mid level high rises built on earthquake prone land...

Posted by michael strangeways | June 3, 2008 4:32 PM

Westside stole my line!

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 3, 2008 4:40 PM

Buildings! In MY Seattle. Say it ain't so.

Posted by Giffy | June 3, 2008 5:23 PM

Manhattan by 2050!

Posted by Gitai | June 3, 2008 7:26 PM

Interesting. This proposal looks much more thought out and comprehensive than the SLU proposal.

Posted by Cale | June 3, 2008 7:42 PM

just about anything would be an improvement for the development mess that is Little Saigon. It is sooo underparked, and so much arterial traffic flows through there. I think the small scale mom-and-pop development there needs some serious traffic-calming measures

Posted by jackseattle | June 3, 2008 9:10 PM

Correction: It's ART SKOLNIK not SAM Skolnik, the journalist!

And, your quotes of my statements are disjointed and somewhat out of context. Please do a better job next time.

Posted by Art Skolnik | June 4, 2008 7:15 AM

I'm sorry, Art. I fixed your name. My most humble apologies.

Posted by Dominic Holden | June 4, 2008 8:54 AM

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