Yesterday, city council members signaled a likely opposition to one of the more controversial aspects of the South Lake Union upzone: three 240-foot towers on Mercer Street. As Bob Young reports in the Seattle Times, "a majority of council members said in informal voting that 160-foot, or 16-story, towers would better fit the neighborhood, protect views and cast fewer shadows over Lake Union Park than the 240-foot, or 24-story, towers McGinn and Vulcan Real Estate had pitched."
Which reminded me of these South Lake Union neighborhood activists I interviewed in late January/early February:
[John] Pehrson, a retired engineer, shows me slide after slide of a PowerPoint presentation explaining their specific concerns. For example, the proposal currently under consideration would allow three 24-story towers on Mercer Street. He argues they would cut off the neighborhood from the water, shade Lake Union Park, and loom over the shorter buildings. SLUCC recommends keeping the current zoning (now only 40 feet) or, as a compromise, shrinking the towers in scale.
That compromise his neighborhood coalition wanted to shrink the towers to? It was 160 feet, just what the council looks likely to allow. Here's the slide he showed me of his mockup of what 160-foot towers vs. 240-foot towers would look like:
That extra 80 feet, the difference between 160 and 240 feet, was supposed to come with "extraordinary public benefit," initially proposed by the mayor as a city block full of affordable housing and social services that the city council shied away from. In the plans, though, that benefit was "flexible," says city planning director Marshall Foster, so that "the council had to agree to a set of benefits" before a developer could use that extra height. Now, the council is leaving that extra height and its related benefits on the table.
Council Member Mike O'Brien offers this statement:
I was comfortable with 240-foot towers on the waterfront blocks because I want greater density in SLU and I think the towers could have been designed to maximize view and light corridors. Also, that height could have brought in significantly more money in affordable housing benefits that I was interested in. I am going to continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen affordable housing provisions in the rezone to create more opportunities for people to live in the neighborhood they work.
It seems like council members are hearing a whole lot from people who care about views and shadows and neighborhood character, and not a lot from people concerned about density and affordable housing. So fellow citizens, a tip: If you give a shit about density and affordable housing, and you think you can live without looking at the Space Needle every goddamn second of the day, it might be time for you to e-mail your council members, huh?