Until last week, everything appeared to be going as planned for the South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors Community Council (SLUFAN), the group that submitted a neighborhood plan to the city in June that would increase density and allow towers as tall as 400 feet. But on August 28, a group of about 50 mostly white-haired residents who sternly objected to skyscrapers in their neighborhood held the first public meeting of a new rival group, Lake Union Opportunity Alliance (LUOA), which is drafting an alternative plan that would dramatically lower maximum building heights in the neighborhood.
"I would lose my view of the Space Needle, and I believe that is a very strong part of the culture here," Eastlake resident Brian Ramey said.
According to the city's comprehensive plan, South Lake Union needs to absorb 8,000 new households in the next 16 years.
Although SLUFAN's highest-density proposal would increase the population more than three times that amount, one of the group's four proposals, for moderate height increases, matches the wishes of the new group. So the emergence of this new rival organization isn't so much about the content of SLUFAN's density proposals, but about SLUFAN failing to incorporate neighborhood residents from the outset. Currently, of the 13 board members, only one is a neighborhood resident. Diane Masson, a South Lake Union resident, was kicked off the board after she opposed the 400-foot tower plan. The rest of the board consists of business interests, including South Lake Union developer Vulcan, PEMCO Insurance, Sellen Construction, and the Seattle Times.
SLUFAN president Steven Paget says he "would like to have greater residential representation on the board." He adds, "There was plenty of opportunity for residents to get involved in the process." The organization's bylaws, however, call for just one neighborhood representative.
Diane Sugimura, director of the city's Department of Planning and Development, responded to the new group at last week's meeting, telling them she would "see what we can do to work with the community." That could require the city to spend more money providing staff and materials to LUOA, as it did for SLUFAN, to help draft a fifth neighborhood plan.