shadowsAs we reported two weeks ago, the principal stated reason for the Seattle Council’s rejection of 240′ heights right along Lake Union were the shadows they would cast on Lake Union Park.

The images above are from Via Architecture director Matt Roewe’s presentation to the City Council prior to the vote. There are lots of interesting renderings in this presentation of various visual impacts of these buildings, but you can see the estimated shadows of 240′ towers throughout the year, and judge for yourself if this was worth forgoing more residents in the city, and more revenue through both developer height bonuses and additional economic activity.

51 Replies to “Shadows Over Lake Union Park”

  1. Answer for me depends a lot on the design quality of the buildings that throw the shadows.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Answer on shadows depends for me on the design quality of the buildings that throw them.

    Mark Dublin

  3. The answer for me is what choices the council will make on this revenue; I support Nick Licata’s plan which will bring us in line with other cities in this regard.

    1. Licata’s plan simply prevents any development from happening. No money, no housing.

      1. Other cities are wrong on this policy. They react to rising prices with exactly the wrong prescription, which compounds the problem it purports to solve

  4. Heck, on Dec 21, it’s usually cloudy and rainy all days anyways, there would be any shadows in the first place

  5. Of course the shadows will affect the special soils we have and throw in the topography and the fact we’re all snowflakes, time to put on the Emmett Watson hat

    I demand a march!

  6. I like how they imagine a luminous sun, and perhaps people strolling through SLU park enjoying it… on December 21st.

    1. I don’t think they’re “imagining” anything. They’re presenting the absolute limits of shadows given the simple geometry of the sun. Whether you think potential shadows in the winter and late fall is of any importance whatsoever is a different value judgment.

      1. I didn’t intend to impugn their geometry.

        But the total lack of sunshine of shadow-throwing intensity six out of every seven December days isn’t a value judgment. It’s a meteorological fact.

      2. Obviously, I agree with you. The vast majority of park users will not be affected by these shadows.

        But to play devil’s advocate, if I’m only going to get sunshine one day a week, I’d like to have an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine.

      3. “But the total lack of sunshine of shadow-throwing intensity six out of every seven December days isn’t a value judgment. It’s a meteorological fact.”

        Citation please.

      4. Do you really need a citation that it’s cloudy most of the time in Seattle in the December?

      5. Not really, but the precision of d.p.’s so-called fact made me wonder where found that statistic.

      6. [This on the same blog where people needed “proof” that rear-door exit would work better than pushing to the front.]

      7. [This on the same blog where people needed “proof” that rear-door exit would work better than pushing to the front.]

        Citation please.

      8. A certain STB author (let’s just call him “M. the Applied Scientist”) spent months on end trying to argue that two-door usage would not be measurably faster than one-door usage, and would not compensate for the loss of the ride-free area. Despite the worldwide acceptance of good interior circulation to reduce dwell times as a mass-transit best practice.

        The RFA went away, two-door usage became standardized, and the result was the only observable increase in Metro average speed and functionality I’ve in my entire time in Seattle.

        Just as those of us with advanced degrees in The Obvious predicted.

    2. If I remember correctly, there actually was pretty good weather around then last winter. So, it does happen.

      1. Well then one could always take a short walk to another location to avoid the shadows.

    1. No kidding. What’s everyone so worried about, when the sun doesn’t shine on the days where the angle is harshest?

  7. I think the city is throwing away a huge opportunity here and I hope it is not too late to continue exploring the potential public benefits that could come with 240′ towers. I would like to point out that Vulcan also owns the waterfront parcels next to Lake Union Park and has zero interest in diminishing the waterfront in anyway. These shadow studies place the towers at the furthest location north allowed under the proposed rezone to show true worst case scenarios, which are still not bad. The city could easily request the towers to be set back further which would cast even less shadow.

    Personally, I would really love to see a grand bargain that allows Vulcan to build up to 240′ and provides extraordinary public benefit such as expanding Lake Union Park and improving the transition between the park and the commercial areas to the east (Vulcan owns everything from Daniel’s Broiler to Joey’s). Currently, Lake Union park ends abruptly at Daniel’s Broiler’s large parking lot and views of the lake are obstructed by the back of the restaurant. An agreement to allow 240′ towers in exchange for committing a portion of that site for natural habitat, a community center, a playground, multi-use pathways buffered by landscaping or whatever the public would like to see would be a real win-win. Ultimately, making a better lakefront for everyone will benefit far more people than the preservation of the view of the Space Needle for a few buildings (which is what has really been driving the opposition to the rezone) and Vulcan will capture the value of public amenities on the lake through the increase in value with the Mercer Blocks. Let’s not waste this opportunity to pursue a better neighborhood for everyone. City Council, Paul Allen, make it happen!

    1. The extraordinary public benefit will come with Mr. Licata’s proposal; unfortunately this isn’t supported by any “pro-density” councilmembers.

      1. There’s no benefit. He would be asking for concessions significantly higher than the profit margin possible – no one would build.

        We need more affordable housing. Let’s use a levy, and get money from everyone, rather than disincentivizing new housing. Disincenvitizing new housing makes all the housing in the city more expensive!

      2. Licata’s proposal taxes the very thing we need more of…in the name of providing money to provide some of the same.

      3. I do think something along the lines of what Nick is proposing ought to happen (but certainly not the current plan), but in a format where building new housing gets at least a partial exemption. In other words, tax new buildings that don’t have housing to pay for the fact that the available land on which to build new housing in Seattle just got diminished.

        Of course, the developers might point out that the zoning doesn’t allow them to build housing on that plot, and the neighbors will probably resist such a zoning change that would allow new residents to move in and disturb the demographic character of their neighborhood.

    1. And look at how low in the sky that sun is. Funny thing about living in our high latitude: even when the sun’s out, most everything casts a shadow. This should not even be a design consideration.

      1. That just explains why we shouldn’t be building tall buildings at all, because we’re special snowflakes that need to preserve our NATURAL BEAUTY~! Don’t want to become like Manhattan, don’t you know!

  8. I just ate lunch in that park, and it was freezing on a sunny late-April day. I can’t imagine spending a bunch of time outdoors there in late December.

  9. There’s really only one place that would concern me about the shadows – the new MOHAI building in the old navy barracks. Doesn’t look to be much of a problem, even in December.

  10. Those shadows aren’t even that bad in December. It doesn’t engulf the whole park. They seem to be the worst at 9am, when it probably isn’t packed w/ sun bathers anyways….esp in Dec. My guess is that in December most people would be strolling through on their lunch break (around noon) and it has the least shadows then. Build the tall towers!

  11. I was just at the beginning of the council commission meeting on the SLU rezone— a lot of public comments from local housing groups and coalitions in favor of the current tax on developers to build in affordable housing. Too bad I had to leave! Parking meter expiring…

    I think the idea that increasing supply will make housing across the city more affordable is pretty much lost on the council and any local advocate groups.

  12. There’s not even going to be anyone in the park on December 21st! Rain or shine, the appeal of parks like this in the dead of winter is extremely low. The three people who do go are going to be buttoning up their coats and turning away from the wind, and wanting to leave within a minute or two. For them we have to cut the whole city off at the knees? This is dumb.

  13. For those of you complaining about a lack of density in the neighborhood, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, even if you reduce the size of the towers close to Lake Union. I think most people are afraid, like me, that the towers would be filling the whole block and be rather ugly and foreboding. If there was a way to ensure that the towers would be more slim, maybe like a full block for the first two or three stories, then slim above that, then the shadows would be slimmer as well. Also, I wish there was a way to ‘encourage’ the developers to make more two-and-three bedroom condos/apartments. That’s one of the strongest ways to get more families in the area. Right now, there’s a preponderance of one-bedroom units, or high-priced units, that discourage families from moving into the area. I’m not talking about low-income housing, I’m talking about middle-income housing for the majority of us…

    1. From the visualization, they are slim towers. However, depending upon their proportions, they might cast wider or narrower shadows. It looks to me like the towers are broader north-south than they are east-west. That means they will cast an smaller shadow at noon than they will in morning and afternoon. If they were oriented the other way (for example to provide more view (of Lake Union) apartments), they would cast a broader shadow. So the ‘worst case’ shadows as illustrated on Dec. 21 aren’t really the actual worst case.

    2. I agree with you on the two- and three-bedroom units. The city needs more large condos and apartments, in general. Unfortunately they do not represent the most profitable use of space at the moment. This is one place where city incentives could make a difference.

  14. Shadows or not, Seattle does not need 240′ towers hugging the lake. Lucky they got 160′, I believe.

    1. Lucky that housing will be more expensive, in perpetuity, so that large towers can be shorter by an amount that really won’t make any difference?

      That’s a strange definition of “lucky.”

  15. I don’t know. The shadows are a very very silly thing to worry about. This town is in perpetual overcast mode. If you READ the upzone, instead of reading comments on the upzone you find out that the towers are mandated to be slim and unimposing. A wall they are not.
    On the other hand, I kinda like the idea of raising the price per foot. I know this might get me some flack, but I dont really think its a bad thing that devolpers wont want to pay it. It was never really meant to be a “charge”. It was meant to be a “fine” for building a big tower and not including any affordable housing in that tower. If they dont want to pay it, all they have to do is charge the guy with the alley facing windows less in rent, and boom, youre compliant.
    I think the fees have been so low that developers have looked at them as a permit, rather than a reason to put affordable housing in the building.

    1. Jon, that is not the way affordable housing works in this town. Affordable housing is defined according to the income level of the lessee. The rent itself is allowed to be sky high.

      1. ?? Could you explain that further? I was under the impression that it worked like this…
        *) You can build higher, but in order to do so you must do one of these..
        1) Set aside a proportion of the building for those earning 60% Area average income, a proportion for those earning 80% and the rest at market.
        2) Pay the one time square footage fee in lieu of lowering any rates.
        I don’t remember the proportions offhand so Im not sure, but I think its something along the lines of 4%-60%I, 7%-80%, 89%-Market.
        Totally agree that the Area Average Income needs to be spread out over the REGION, cause right now that statistic says the average joe makes 100k. 60% of that is still well to do. But thats a separate problem.
        How do they build taller without doing either of those? Elaborate please.

  16. It’s clear even from the trajectory of this thread that weighing the merits of Licata’s plan is a far more interesting discussion than the one about looming shadows blocking the December midday sun.

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