The Seattle Times has reported that the City Council has declined Vulcan’s offer of $10 million or so worth of free real-estate in South Lake Union in exchange for allowing Vulcan to build three taller towers in that neighbourhood:
Vulcan would transfer to the city 37,600 square feet of land on a block bounded by Broad and Republican streets and Dexter and Aurora avenues. The city could add that chunk to a smaller piece it owns to create almost a full block available for an array of social services and housing.
The Vulcan land, with an estimated value of $10 million to $12 million, would count as a credit toward fees Vulcan would pay to erect condo or apartment towers up to 240 feet on three lakefront blocks it owns and elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Zoning now allows 65-foot buildings on the three so-called Mercer blocks. Vulcan would pay bonus fees to go from current zoning to 160-feet, or 16 stories. Then it would need to provide extraordinary additional public benefits to reach 24 stories.
Often, we make the abstract argument that requiring shorter or smaller buildings reduces affordability, but rarely do we get something so concrete. It costs the city (and thus the tax payers) nothing to allow Vulcan to build taller buildings. In exchange for that, the city would have received something valuable, free land near Downtown Seattle for use in low-income housing. The literal choice was between 1) taller buildings and free land for low-income housing (along with higher property tax income) and 2) shorter buildings and no land for low-income housing, though possibly some cash down the line.
If as a city, we think we can get a better deal, fine, say that. But please no one say this:
Mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck had blasted the Block 59 proposal for “privatizing the city’s land-use code.”
Yes, we certainly wouldn’t want to set the dangerous precedent of the tax payers getting millions of dollars of land in exchange for something that costs them nothing. The article said the deal may be revived at some later date. I hope so. As a taxpayer, if the city can get materiel for important social functions for free, I think that’s a deal the city should take. And I’m going to make sure the city council knows that when I vote.