A group of downtown luxury condo owners has dropped its hostage-taking appeal of a city housing affordability program, citing housing affordability and homelessness in Seattle—problems they apparently suddenly give a fuck about.

You may remember the Downtown Residents Alliance, a group of condo owners in the Escala building (yes, that one) who filed an appeal challenging the city's Mandatory Housing Affordability program this summer. That program will require developers to set aside affordable units in new apartment buildings or pay a fee toward affordable housing. In exchange for the fee or affordable units, developers will be able to build taller buildings in some neighborhoods.

Specifically, the DRA was appealing the city's "determination of non-significance," or the decision that the affordability law wouldn't have a significant environmental impact. But their appeal wasn't really about the housing affordability program or its environmental effects. The Escala residents want something else. The group has been fighting a new hotel/apartment tower being constructed near their building, saying it will reduce their light and privacy. They complain about the "girth" of the building, not just its height. So, they've demanded new rules about spacing between downtown towers.

After they found little support in city hall for those kinds of rules, they filed the appeal. In a blog post about their appeal this summer, they promised to "DROP OUR APPEAL IMMEDIATELY IF THE DRAFT LEGISLATION IS AMENDED TO INCLUDE NEW TOWER SPACING STANDARDS AND ALLEY SETBACKS." (All caps theirs.) The DRA's appeal threatened to delay the new affordability program, the cornerstone of city hall's housing affordability plans, unless the city addressed tower spacing—effectively holding the affordability program hostage to their demands for tower spacing. Their case was expected to go before the city hearing examiner this week.

Now, the DRA says they're dropping their appeal "after long and careful consideration."

"If it weren’t for our strong support of the homeless and affordable housing," the group writes in a press release, "we would fight this ludicrous [determination of non-significance] all the way to Superior Court if necessary."

Of course, affordable housing and homelessness were also crises when the DRA filed their appeal just a few months ago. But, OK. What has changed? That's not clear.

In a press release, the DRA claims, "Clearly our efforts have been successful in getting the mayor to abandon his push for even fatter new residential construction in parts of downtown under [the mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda], and opt for taller instead." When I asked for more specifics, the DRA's Nicole Walters rephrased the same claim in an email, saying "the mayor has finally accepted the idea that more height rather than girth in new residential construction is a better way" to fund affordable housing. But Walters did not respond to more followup questions asking what, exactly, the mayor had "abandoned" or "accepted."

One possibility: Although the city has created the mechanism for the affordability plan, it hasn't actually set the specifics. So, we know that eventually developers in certain neighborhoods will get to build bigger buildings in exchange for affordable units or fees, but we don't know exactly how big those buildings will be or how much they'll have to set aside or pay. Those decisions won't be made until the city upzones the neighborhoods where the program will take effect, including downtown. Perhaps, Mayor Ed Murray has indicated to the DRA that he'll propose upzones allowing more height but not more "girth."

Another possibility: The DRA just didn't want to fund its case. Another group fighting a similar battle—the Queen Anne Community Council, which is challenging a proposal to allow more backyard cottages in single family neighborhoods—claims it raised $25,000 for its case. (That hearing—which has been excruciatingly boring but also very important—began last week and will continue later this month.) Did the DRA have that kind of money for their own case? When I asked about fundraising, the group said it received "a generous response to our fundraising appeal," but did not respond to a followup question asking how much.

So, did the DRA really get some sort of commitment from the mayor about downtown zoning rules? Or are they just faking a victory as they bow out of a costly legal fight? Murray's office did not answer the question Tuesday. Neither Council Member Mike O'Brien nor an aide to Rob Johnson (the two council offices who've led the work on the affordability legislation) knew what the group was referring to. And, again, the representative for the group itself did not respond. I'll update this post if I learn more.