There was a little kerfuffle at City Hall last week over the South Lake Union rezone, where six Councilmembers (Bagshaw, Burgess, Clark, Conlin, Godden , Licata)* decided to contract for a consultant to see if the various development taxes Vulcan will pay are a good deal for the city.

I’m always concerned that density opponents may use delay to kill good legislation, in particular because dense development in itself a good deal for the city quite aside from whatever external amenities it funds. And Conlin, to his credit, is fired up to do this upzone. Here’s what Burgess said the consultant would be up to:

When selected, the consultant will have the following assignments: (1) to determine the financial feasibility of scenarios to strengthen incentive zoning focused on affordable/workforce housing in South Lake Union in conjunction with the proposed 2013 rezone; (2) to evaluate the proposed Development Agreement between the City and the Vulcan-related entities regarding Lot 59, Lot 74, and other properties owned or controlled by Vulcan; and (3) to evaluate any documents, reports, and/or analyses related to the rezone. We believe the consultant’s work will be finished in late January or February.

He also told me the Council’s work on the SLU rezone should be done by the end of the first quarter of 2013, so this won’t get kicked to the next Council or to the next Mayor, who could be more hostile to density. Although taxing density is a nutty way to fund amenities, this doesn’t appear to be an existential threat to the upzone.

The Mayor’s office did not return a request for comment.

* As reported to me (and other outlets) by Burgess himself.

30 Replies to “Burgess on South Lake Union”

  1. good deal compared to what? The city is giving something that costs them basically nothing in exchange for something obviously valuable.

  2. I care a lot less about the taxes Vulcan will pay than with the quality of the neighborhood that will be created in South Lake Union. There are many ways to create “density”, however you define the term.

    In particular, I really hate the site of the huge rectangular gray building directly east of the northbound Harrison Street streetcar stop. I’d be willing to forego some tax revenue from any developer willing to demolish the damned thing as a condition of their permit.

    I know that early renderings are not to be taken seriously. But there seems to be a calculation among developers that something large, square, and ugly is their best design from a business point of view. I doubt it, but as someone said on the radio the other day, standing evidence shows that developers will always pick what made them their last billion.

    Nothing against anybody in the business community, but an honest balance sheet needs to take into account the value of a beautiful setting in walking distance of our city center, possessed of beauty that nature put there at no cost to anyone human.

    I would advise readers to Google “Sickla Udde”- the district of Stockholm served by either the Route 12 or the Route 22 “Tverbanna”- same caliber as LINK but more beautiful ride aboard cars that let passengers look out the front of the train. There are right ways to do things.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And correction: I’ve got nothing against the site of the building in question. I just can’t stand to look at it. It would make a good model for the Ministry of Truth in a remake of 1984.

      In its defense, however, I’ll admit that at least it’s got some character, albeit a brutal one. It sits on top of an archway with some restaurants and a cafe.

      If I had to make the choice, like if I was Winston Smith getting tortured by the evil bureaucrat in the story, I’d prefer it to some its the squarer flatter, and more standard neighbors.

      Density deserves better advertising.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Oh I was confused. You said “Northbound”. Do you mean the 428 building or the 320 building?

      Both are boring, but I saw nothing there that jumped out to me as awful.

      1. I’ve asked many times why architects and developers can’t come up with something more beautiful than just a block-y building for an apartment or condo. Take a look at some of the buildings in Bellevue or better yet, take a look at some of the thin towers in Vancouver BC for how to make density look good from all around. These blocks of walls that are being built in Seattle are horrible to look at and do nothing for the skyline.

      2. Architects don’t get as much control as they’d like I think, based on what I’ve heard from all my professors (I’m studying architecture) They really are at the mercy of the developer that chooses them, and the building codes/zoning of the land they’re building on, and I imagine they try to do what they can, but when it comes down to it, budget, code, and zoning really tend to design a lot of buildings, not creativity that architects would LOVE to implement.

      3. I thought the rotated blocks proposed for the SODO area were great. I got the impression most people would rather see generic blobs based on how they were hammered on this blog.

      4. @Alex Francis Burchard–

        You are quite right. Even code isn’t always the issue it’s made out to be–the developer’s desire and the pocketbook/bottom line for them drives a great deal of what we see out there. (Let’s not conflate “code”–by which I assume you mean building codes–and “zoning;” code is primarily life-safety and zoning definitely would have more of an impact on overall design on a macro or visible scale.)

        Re Bellevue–I’m looking at it right now and there are an awful lot of ugly buildings out there as well. Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the profit motive drives a big bunch of what we see. “Value Engineering” (i.e. the client deleting things to reduce scope/budget) always seems to get rid of the good stuff!

      5. Thin towers may be pretty, but they’re often not good from a functional perspective. They end up surrounded by unused open space; they’re like Le Corbusier in miniature.

  3. Is it proper that developers must bribe city government in order to produce something beneficial to us all? It seems like terrible policy that Vulcan has to give all of these gifts to the city to be able to build past silly height restrictions. Plus the gifts that we are getting are awful. Open space? We have plenty of that. Gosh, if only I could bribe the city to be able to build higher on my property I would be able to have a tenant or two and make some extra cash for my family. Unfortunately I am not as well connected or in the same financial position that Vulcan is to be able to do this.

    Government regulations only hurt those who cannot afford to get around them. End zoning restrictions, at least in dense transit corridors.

  4. In the photo with this piece, how much of the water and the new park will be in shade most of the afternoon, if very tall buildings are built very close to the water? Particularly in the spring and fall when the sun is not as high in the sky as it was when this picture was taken?

    Would anyone put up a wall hundreds of feet high around a lake?

    Who will those very tall buildings benefit, except for the developers and the people rich enough to be able to live in them?

    And, what would that do to traffic in the area, particularly on Mercer Street, but also Dexter, Westlake, Valley, etc.?

    1. Gold Coast Chicago, hundreds of feet tall wall along lake Michigan, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t love it. All through streeterville is the same thing. I live in part of that wall. People love living next to the lake, and 45th floor views of it are amazing. I think Seattle would to well to offer more of that kind of thing!

      1. Nobody said the rich people who will live in those buildings in SLU would not like it. It is just everyone else in Seattle, or who visits Seattle, who will not like it.

        Most of the shoreline of Lake Michigan in the chicago area has wide swaths of parks between the water and the nearest buildings. And on the stretches where there are buildings near the water, it is difficult to tell how tall they are from this satellite view, but they are obviously on the west side of the lake — not the south side as in SOUTH Lake Union in Seattle — so they would not cast shadows on the shoreline until late afternoon, rather than most of the day as they would in SLU.

      2. Next time you’re on the ferry approaching Coleman Dock, notice how the tall CBD buildings step down in height and bulk as they are nearer the water. Looks great and allows views from lots of buildings, not just the last row closest to the water.

        Seems like a great model for South Lake Union.

      3. By that I meant I don’t know a single resident of any neighborhood who has a beef with the beauty of the Gold Coast, and for the record, the most popular beach in Chicago (Oak St. Beach) has hundreds of feet tall skyscrapers (Magnificent Mile) immediately south of it (just across the drive) And relatively speaking living along the lake in Chicago cost about the same as renting an apartment in like ballard or fremont, from what I understand, because Chicago has allowed supply to mostly keep up with demand. Condos go for substantially below what I remember similar type units on lower floors going for in Seattle.

      4. Not surprising rents in Chicago would be cheaper than Seattle since the city is shrinking. Outside of the strip along LSD the place is becoming a wasteland.

      5. The south and west sides are shrinking faster, than downtown, and for the most part the whole of the Northside are growing, so the city on the whole is shrinking, but, the Northside is crowded and vacancy is very low. The prosperous growing parts of Chicago extend well past Lake Shore Drive.

      6. OMG Bernie sounds like Bailo lol. And both names start with “B”. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.

      7. Chicago, like most rust belt cities has“>been in decline for a decade. While Washington gained a seat in congress Illinios lost one.

        The 2010 census, which showed statewide population growth for the decade of just 3.3 percent, also led to political fallout in Illinois. The state lost a congressional seat, and the declining city population meant that some Chicago districts were stretched out to the suburbs and beyond to make up the difference.

        The area inside the Loop has seen seen a lot of growth which means the city is becoming even more polarized than it already was.

  5. Height doesn’t equal density. Luxury view highrises are usually much bigger than the average unit, and many are second or third homes for the rich.

    Even the city is talking about building a 160-foot tower with market-rate condos or apartments on Block 59. It could then help finance several seven-story buildings for affordable housing. They don’t say where the affordable housing would be built or how many units could be financed this way.

    All in all, it’s a just a crap shoot that the city and it’s residents will see real benefits for giving up their views and sunlight.

    1. “All in all, it’s a just a crap shoot that the city and it’s residents will see real benefits for giving up their views and sunlight.” Giving up views and sunlight in exchange for a real city, for walkable convience, cost-efficient transit and busy sidewalks. If views and sunlight are more important to you, I suggest the plentiful rural areas on the east side of the state. Yes, its a trade-off, but one that I’m willing to make in the largest city in the northwest.

      1. I live in one of the densest parts of the city. 5 stories is pretty much the max for residential, most are 3 stories.

    2. You’re so right. This push for taller and taller buildings is not necessary for an increase in density. Washington, DC is one of the densest cities in the country and yet, not one bldg exceeds 12 stories. There is enough room for skyscrapers DT……..we don’t need more in S. Lake Union.

  6. “All in all, it’s a just a crap shoot that the city and it’s residents will see real benefits for giving up their views and sunlight.” Exactly. And who in their right mind would give up views and sunlight for real (estate developer’s) benefits? “Thanks very much, and here’s your shot of crap.”

    1. What views? Of a polluted car hell no different than any other polluted car hell, lungfuls of cancerous waste and abused eardrums a reward for the trouble of walking? No, thanks. Build up.

  7. Are the proposed taller buildings really higher density, or is the density just re-arranged? Take a typical 6-story breadbox that runs the length of a block and tip it up on end — the bulk or mass is the same.

    The only accurate way to measure density is to calculate the maximum FAR — Floor Area Ratio — allowed under current and proposed revised codes. Taller but narrower buildings could easily be designed to have the same or even smaller FAR than a short squat building.

    It’s frustrating to hear people on both sides of the issue talking about the virtues of more or less density, all the while never mentioning what FARs are permitted under the various scenarios. Almost like they prefer rhetoric over real numbers.

      1. Good. Thank you. Now if we could just make those numbers a regular part of the density discussion, then we’d be getting somewhere.

  8. Oh SLU development… I really don’t think density is a solution to this part of town’s woes. I think there really should be more green space.

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