West Seattle Is Cool
City Council Member Tom Rasmussen has impressively bad timing. Not two seconds after I walk through the depressing zombie zone on the north end of Broadway Avenue-a block ﬂanked by a vacant QFC to the west and a vacant Safeway to the east-Rasmussen, who happens to be passing by, honks his horn, hops out of his car, and asks what I think of Mayor Nickels' proposal to raise building heights on Broadway from 40 to 65 feet [see "Fear of Heights," by Amy Jenniges, May 12]. It's obvious Rasmussen doesn't like the idea.
Little does Rasmussen know that I pass by these sad storefronts every morning, and inevitably (at this exact shoddy corner) begin composing a lecture in my head blaming city council members for the death of Broadway because they've stalled proposed height increases.
The peppy council member tells me he "doesn't want to rush into anything." Rush into anything? Frustrated developers have been clamoring for this plan for more than two years.
But have I seen those ugly condos on California Avenue in West Seattle? Rasmussen wants to know. His objection echoes the handful of loud Capitol Hill neighbors who are balking about raising height limits.
Yes, I have seen California Avenue, and it's a shame Broadway doesn't look more like it. The dense business district is an indie jumble of record shops, coffee houses, bars, bakeries, ice cream parlors, a pool hall, used bookstores, print shops, restaurants, and a playhouse. Sure, California Avenue is a little on the Disney side-you'd never ﬁnd a sex shop like those on Broadway-. But you also don't ﬁnd any vacancies.
As for those ugly condos? Well, the six-story monstrosities anchor the drag on the south. Building heights in West Seattle top out at the taboo 65 feet (even 85 feet in some zones). The condos opened in 2001, and they've been great for the strip.
"I've seen a ﬁve-percent increase in business," says Eduardo Morales, who's owned Puerto Vallarta, a Mexican restaurant on California Avenue, for 13 years. That sentiment is echoed up and down the block, by people like Jack Miller, the owner of Husky Deli, and Virginia Fridriksson, who owns a consignment shop across the street from one of the condos. Fridriksson tells a classic story about the beneﬁts of increased density: When her shop was burglarized in 2003, neighbors in the condos across the street saw the whole thing, ﬁled a description with the police, and the robbers were caught. "The more people, the better," Fridriksson says.
As for rents (critics say condos increase prices), I saw a sign for one- and two-bedroom apartments across the street from the condos going for $625-$700. (The average rent in West Seattle is $730 for a one-bedroom and between $842 and $1049 for a two-bedroom.) Building new housing creates more supply, and obviously prices for older real estate drops.
Husky owner Miller does raise one red ﬂag: Increasing heights might force ground-level businesses to ﬂee if the owners of new high-rises jack rents. Then I tell him the news: The businesses on Broadway have already ﬂed. ■