City Council Member Peter Steinbrueck is putting the brakes on Mayor Greg Nickels's proposed downtown height and density increases, insisting that the city determine just how much developers will benefit financially before moving forward with sweeping new regulations that could radically alter the face of downtown. The move, which could lead the city to place greater requirements on developers who want to build taller, more profitable buildings downtown, is being opposed by developers, who say any additional requirements would eat into their profits and eliminate the incentive to build in the center city.
The financial analysis, which Steinbrueck says developers "don't want us to do," was one of 20 "outstanding issues" Steinbrueck outlined last Wednesday, August 10, at a council hearing. (The majority of the other issues involved integrating taller buildings into downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and making sure developers contribute to livability and sprawl-reduction programs in exchange for the height increases.) The new analysis, to be performed by Heartland, the city's real estate consultant, will be modeled on a similar program in Vancouver, B.C. Last Monday, August 8, Vancouver's former and current planning directors, Ray Spaxman and Larry Beasley, presented suggested improvements to the mayor's height-boosting proposal.
If the analysis finds that developers would benefit substantially from the mayor's zoning changes, the city might require them to help fund more public amenities—such as parks, community centers and schools—in exchange for greater height and density.
Last week, the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) blasted the Vancouver consultants' suggestions, noting "significant economic and regulatory differences" between the two cities. "If the final package is too expensive, we will not achieve our goal of reducing the pressure for sprawl" by accommodating growth downtown, developer Greg Smith said in a DSA press release. But Steinbrueck said given that the mayor's zoning changes "are going to be the road map for downtown Seattle" for decades, "we just have to get this right."