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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Interbay Infighting

posted by on October 28 at 16:11 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


Of course, the reality is that we need far more rental space for people who make LESS than 80 percent of median income, specifically in the 40 to 80 percent range.

Unless you like all the pollution.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 28, 2008 4:22 PM

why have a height limit?
We don't have a quality limit. We don't have a limit on how many shoes you can own. We don't have a limit on how many cmoputer classes you can take or how much memory your computer can have.
We dont' have a law saying "okay you can have a bigger computer IF you pay into this affordable computer fund....."

Why have a height limit?

Posted by PC | October 28, 2008 4:38 PM

Interbay needs a neighborhood blog.

Posted by jseattle | October 28, 2008 4:54 PM

pc @ 3 - I don't think your examples are analogous to a land use regulation. How many shoes you own does not impact other people who wear shoes. We regulate that which, if not regulated, has potential impact upon others.

The language in the Municpal Code (SMC 23.02)lays it the purpose, I'm sure some on SLOG can do a better job in regularperson-speak:

"The purpose of this Land Use Code is to protect and promote public health, safety and general welfare through a set of regulations and procedures for the use of land which are consistent with and implement the City's Comprehensive Plan. Procedures are established to increase citizen awareness of land use activities and their impacts and to coordinate necessary review processes. The Land Use Code classifies land within the City into various land use zones and overlay districts which regulate the use and bulk of buildings and structures. The provisions are designed to provide adequate light, air, access, and
open space; conserve the natural environment and historic resources; maintain a compatible scale within an area; minimize traffic
congestion and enhance the streetscape and pedestrian environment. They seek to achieve an efficient use of the land without major
disruption of the natural environment and to direct development to sites with adequate services and amenities."

Posted by LH | October 28, 2008 5:01 PM

Change the building height to 7 stories. Anything above can't be reached by fire department ladders and anything below is a waste of space.

Posted by Y.F. | October 28, 2008 5:30 PM

I don't know or even care what the Council should do in this specific situation...

But it touches on something important: that dithering over a modest height increase for THREE F'ing YEARS(!!!) has consequences.

Two more thoughts:

The area around the light rail stations should have been upzoned the day Sound Transit broke ground on the line.

Another sad fact is that setting affordable housing restrictions based on height limits ensures that height limits will be around for a very long time in our zoning code, when any planner/architect/developer worth his salt will tell you that it's floor area ratio that matters. The consequence of building height limits is that we get endless blocks of fat, lot-line "bread loaf" or "shoe box" buildings (see: any wood-frame condo development in the last boom) and near zero creativity in design. By using floor area ratio, you'd get a lot more variety and potentially interesting floor plans specific to each site.

Posted by Hey Wait | October 28, 2008 5:32 PM

Just to be clear on the consequences:

Because this city's process is so goddamn slow, the process itself has become confused.

If the Council spent less time with its tongues up the asses of both short-sited developers* AND the neighborhood groups trying to find an incentive zoning compromise, they could have passed incentive zoning based on best policy within 6 months.

And if the Council hadn't been hemming and hawing over dirt that no one really gives a shit about (Interbay... dirty land in a depression stuck between a railyard and a in-city freeway), they wouldn't be worrying about the need for a long-delayed upzone coming in the middle of the incentive zoning, because it would have been done three years ago.

*Not all developers are short-sited or greedy or assholes.

Posted by Hey Wait | October 28, 2008 5:45 PM

Hey Wait @ 6 - Can we be clear about who was dithering?

In 10/05 the Council passed resolution 30804 directing DPD to prepare the legislation by 7/06.

12/06 the Council asked DPD - where's the bill, it's 5 months late?

A month later (1/07) DPD said they'd get it to Council by 4/07.

Council got the bill August 2008.

Why, you ask, did the Council direct DPD to write the bill when the Council's the legislative body? Legislative bodies (all of 'em, everywhere) aren't well equiped to deal with the technicalites inherent in the drafting of land use code legislation - as distinct from other legislative policy that is myuch more stratightforward to draft. For Land use legislation there are a lot of hoops to jump through with notice requirements, and SEPA review, and appeals to the hearings examiner etc. The unique character of land use legislation makes drafting it better suited to a department like DPD.

Posted by LH | October 28, 2008 7:02 PM

(closes the window so as not to hear all the construction noise as we upzone to 4 stories and then in a few years to 6 stories and then in a few years to 10 stories and ... while still pretending that starting workers make 80 percent of median income when we know they make about 40 to 60 percent ...)


Sorry, couldn't hear you.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 29, 2008 12:17 AM

"and these guys have been waiting three years" for their upzone.

Conlin says this like they are OWED a rezone. You buy land at the current zoning. These guys paid too much for this land and now Council is bailing them out.

Upzoning makes thier land much more valuable.

This place will be a slum in 10 years

Posted by blahblah | October 29, 2008 5:37 PM

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