I understand that the developers of 4755 Fauntleroy Way South located in West Seattle have made a request to vacate the alley as part of their development proposal. Pursuant to the City of Seattle’s Street Vacation Policies, last amended in 2009, it is up to the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation to transmit a recommendation to the City Council regarding the alley vacation request…
In this instance it is difficult to see how the alley vacation proposal meets our public benefit standards when it does not support equitable economic development as stated in our Comprehensive Plan, does not support community vibrancy and walkability, and does not support our local urban design plans. It is the position of the executive that because this project is not in the public interest, we will not forward a recommendation to approve this alley vacation request to the City Council at this time.
West Seattle Blog has an excellent review of the proposal’s context. The issue here is that the developer requires use of the publicly owned alley in the project, giving the city leverage. The mayor’s office notes that the anchor tenant, Whole Foods, pays “significantly lower than other similar businesses.” It also believes that the “large footprint,” orientation of the project, and use of the proposed “midblock connector” by trucks degrade the pedestrian environment.
Mayoral spokesman Robert Cruickshank says that “we are not saying this development can never happen” and “we continue to support new density,” but that the project did not meet the standard “when it comes to ceding City-owned property.” I asked him what it would take to change the recommendation. “We’re not going to dictate terms,” he said, but “we would support a Community Benefit Agreement, similar to what exists at the proposed Sonics Arena… We hope [the walkability issues] are addressed, but doing so alone won’t be sufficient.”
From this it seems clear to me that the mayor’s office is looking for assurances on the relative wage and/or benefit levels of employees at this site. That’s certainly consistent with McGinn’s progressive record, it seems this isn’t a underhanded way to kill the project, and getting a good price for city property is absolutely appropriate.
That said, I’m personally quite hesitant to tax density — thus deterring something with widespread public goods — to achieve unrelated societal objectives. In South Lake Union the Council did this to meet its affordable housing goals, and in both cases this is something that reasonable people of good intent can disagree on. I confess to having no idea what the socially optimal minimum wages and benefits are, but in any case barring new marketplace entrants is a costly and ineffective way to enforce them. If there’s a minimum standard in this city, enshrine it in law; to apply it inconsistently via planning tools is bad for competition, does nothing for the unemployed or those currently making minimum wage, and if it kills the project will do untold environmental, fiscal, and economic damage.