Lloyd Douglas, Christine Lea, and John Pehrson of the South Lake Union Community Coalition.
  • Lloyd Douglas, Christine Lea, and John Pehrson of the South Lake Union Community Coalition.
I'm sitting in the cafeteria of the Mirabella, a 12-story retirement home in South Lake Union that occupies a full city block, with residents and neighbors who fear the area will change for the worse if the city rezones the neighborhood to allow skyscrapers. They're trying to convince me that they're not anti-density. "If that attitude was here, this building wouldn't be here," says neighborhood activist Lloyd Douglas, pointing out that the Mirabella is one of the tallest buildings in the area. Douglas is a member of the Lake Union Opportunity Alliance, a community group fighting against city proposals for taller towers in the neighborhood but whose website dismisses the "NIMBY" label (short for the derisive term "not in my backyard").

"People say, 'You people just want private views.' That's a lie," says John Pehrson, a Mirabella resident. He points out that both Douglas and Christine Lea of the Cascade Neighborhood Council, who is also fighting the rezoning proposal, both have views only of the freeway and thus no great view to lose.

Over the next few months, the Seattle City Council will consider new rules for construction in South Lake Union—a former light-industrial swath north of downtown that is now sprinkled with squat new office buildings—that would add 200 feet or more to some height limits, making the tallest buildings up to 40 stories tall. This would effectively extend the reach of downtown nearly a mile north of Denny Way, helping the city accommodate more residents, more businesses, and ultimately a larger tax base. But the organizations headed by Pehrson, Douglas, and Lea have banded together to oppose this plan, forming the South Lake Union Community Coalition (SLUCC). They are concerned that a thicket of skyscrapers will erode the neighborhood's "character" and erase its history.

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