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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering if Plans to Rezone South Lake Union Are Being Driven By Developers

posted by on September 10 at 14:58 PM

At last night’s meeting of the South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors Community Council (SLUFAN), the group assigned to draft a new neighborhood plan for taller buildings, the city’s Jim Holmes gave an update. Under three incremental proposals, developers could construct taller buildings (the tallest plan would allow 400-foot towers), allowing them to build more sellable square feet.

But before the council enacts such a proposal, the city must study the effects of increasing density—estimating traffic impacts, demands on utilities, blocked views, need for public facilities, etc.—in the South Lake Union neighborhood. That impact study will cost $350,000. So who will pay for the city’s study?

“We are going to be asking property owners,” says Holmes, a planner for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, which reports to the mayor’s office. He told the group, “There are some property owners who want to see the work done and would benefit from it.”

The SLUFAN board seemed taken aback. Vice-chair Dawn Oliver expressed her concern about “private funds going into a city function.”

“I was surprised to hear it,” said board member Noel Franklin when contacted after the meeting. “As a nonprofit professional, it concerns me to have the city in the fundraising mix.”

Normally, if property owners want the city council to allow building above current height limits, they must independently pay for an impact study. So this proposal essentially allows them to pay for the research up front (Holmes says a similar practice was applied downtown). But the private funding of a public planning appears to create a conflict of interest.

I asked Holmes after the meeting which land owners, exactly, would be asked for dough. He wasn’t sure. “We will look to the logical ones to be contributors—major and small,” he said. Paul Allen’s development firm Vulcan has amassed approximately 60 acres of land in South Lake Union.

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"Private funds going into a city function"? In South Lake Union? Never! Who could have forseen such a thing?

But then, the redevelopment of SLU isn't a "city function." It's a "private function" that the city is subsidizing. Just like Vulcan's fundraisers for the Mayor serve a public function, or is it private, or is it public... Let's just call it a "partnership"!

Posted by Trevor | September 10, 2008 4:15 PM

Interesting, in a Seattle kind of way. Last year during the industrial zoning legislation debate, there was an offer for private funds to pay for an impact study and the Council (Sally Clark, specifically) said it was a conflict.

I guess it's only in South Seattle and not in special earmarked neighborhoods like SLU and South Downtown.

Posted by SP | September 10, 2008 4:18 PM

I like this option. If the property owners pay for the city to conduct the study it's more likely to be honest than the old system where the city just reviews the Impact Statement created by those property owners and their contractors.... AND I'm not on the $ hook for researching someone else's moneymaking scheme.

Posted by Just a thought | September 10, 2008 6:42 PM

It's a shame nobody is willing to use the State Constitution to sue to stop this.

But you're all wusses.

Long on talk. Short on action.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 10, 2008 11:12 PM

I hope they remove all height limits on that SLU zone, Seattle needs to build big, build high, and grow up as a city! We won't get anywhere by trying to half-ass our way to getting a real downtown. Continuous half-measures are Seattle's specialty but higher density is good all around.

Remind me again why so many SLOG readers claim to like density and all its benefits, but claim to hate people who are trying to densify downtown?

Posted by Erik | September 11, 2008 6:42 AM

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