Cleverly slipping it in before I was fully caught up from vacation, the City Council voted unanimously yesterday to restrict heights in Pioneer Square to 120 feet, rather than 150. Councilmembers Burgess and Bagshaw initially voted for higher limits, but PubliCola speculates they switched out of some sense of Council solidarity.
Previously, Councilmember Nick Licata and waterfront activist Cary Moon wrote separate pieces in opposition to the loosest possible height limits in Pioneer Square. On the other side, rebuttals from near and far; in particular I’d recommend Roger Valdez’s well-informed arguments.
I’m glad the debate is about how much to increase, rather than whether to increase. Furthermore, the provisions in question are part of a much larger package of upzones (map here) that is, thankfully, uncontroversial. However, Pioneer Square sits on the largest transportation hub in the Northwest. As such, there’s a strong case that as many people and jobs should be sited there as the market can bear.
The centrality of density to a whole series of issues is well documented. More human activity in a given patch of urban space reduces sprawl, energy consumption per capita, car dependence, and housing prices. It puts more bicycles and pedestrians on the ground, increasing their safety, and reduces the economic distortions caused by regulation. Against all that we have an essentially subjective argument about towers “looming” over historic buildings, an aesthetic that works fine in other cities, and the usual Seattle emphasis on public process and broad consensus.
Maximizing density is either a priority or it isn’t. I’m disappointed that vague aesthetic considerations won out over absolutely critical imperatives.