The space in question is right behind the building here (wikimedia)

Local residents will often preserve views and other aesthetic principles through legislation and various conditions placed on development. On the surface, this appears to be costless except to “developers” (and there’s certainly no cost-benefit analysis done on the policy when the city creates it), but it’s rare that the true costs emerge so clearly as in a story in Sunday’s Seattle Times ($) about the UW’s planned animal research facility, threatened by escalating costs:

But the cost of the project has skyrocketed by almost 50 percent from its initial projection earlier this year, to $123 million, or about $1,000 per square foot…

The building would be entirely underground, and the area has such a low water table that most of it would be underwater. Eric Smith, director of major capital projects for the university, likened it to “building a bathtub,” and said the building must be heavy enough to counter hydrostatic forces or it would be pushed right out of the ground…

“This is not chump change; it’s $123 million, and we don’t have the metrics to justify the investment,” said UW Regent William Ayer during a subcommittee meeting in September. The item was later pulled from the meeting calendar…

But why does the building have to be built underground, you ask?

He said the building would be underground because the university is running out of space to build aboveground. The grassy lawn between Foege and Hitchcock halls is a good location because it’s near health-sciences buildings, but the university has an agreement with the city of Seattle to preserve the view from Pacific Street to Portage Bay, so the building must be underground.

Although there are multiple reasons for the high cost, we have a situation where a public university is spending significant amounts of money to preserve an unremarkable view of Portage Bay from the street. That’s of course bad for the taxpayer and for whomever ends up covering the high costs (i.e. students). Alternatively, the building may not be built at all, which means less economic activity, less tax revenue, less scientific progress, and less activity in a location within walking distance of two future subway stations.

99 Replies to “The Hidden Cost of Views”

  1. The University of Washington has one of the most beautiful campuses found anywhere in the world. It is a real gem and the pride of the entire state of Washington. At least some consideration has to be made to preserving the beauty of this unique and valuable space. Whether the cost of this particular facility is justified per its functionality and other attributes is a question for detailed analysis, but at least it appears that such an analysis has been performed.

    For those who don’t care about views and beauty there are at least two other options a few hundred miles east.

    1. Many more people would like to be able to *attend* the University of Washington. The need to preserve so many views from campus is trumping the educational mission.

      1. Actually, no. The UW has plenty of space to expand its enrolment within the current footprint of existing campus while still maintaining its beauty and views.

        However, total enrollment at the main campus is effectively capped by the State Legislature which consistently refuses to allow the UW to expand to its full potential. This is done to both restrict the power and prestige of the UW, and to bolster and shore up the status of other educational facilities in the State.

        Want a larger and better UW that better serves the educational needs of the state? Don’t change the laws/regs regarding views, change the State Legislature. If they spent more money on the UW instead of spending it on lesser schools we would all be better off.

      2. Really? We would all be better off if less money were spent on WSU, and all the other college campuses? Why?

      3. Yes. Because the UW offers the better and more varied educational product, and because there would be economic savings to consolidating most of the higher ed services at one site.

      4. And many of the people clamoring to come to UW are out of state, and not interested in attending any other state school in Washington.

      5. Thanks, Lazarus, for explaining why UW should be allowed to grow.

        Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that more in-state attendees will be allowed.

      6. Artificially constraining the size of the UW does not serve the needs of local students trying to get in. Want greater local participation and at lower cost? Allow the UW to grow and stop scattering students all over the state by creating artificial constraints.

        The situation is exactly analogous to the in-city housing discussions we have had so often on this blog. Want more people living in the city and at more reasonable cost? Increase the supply of in-city housing! Do that and not only do you get a better city, but you get a more efficient city too……

        Ditto for the UW.

      7. The UW has plenty of space to expand its enrolment within the current footprint of existing campus while still maintaining its beauty and views.

        The article quotes a UW administrator as saying the exact opposite:

        The building would be underground because the university is running out of space to build aboveground.

        I don’t disagree with you about the State’s artificial restrictions on the size of the UW, though.

    2. What analysis? The regent’s statement suggests precisely the opposite: “This is not chump change; it’s $123 million, and we *don’t* have the metrics to justify the investment [emphasis mine].”

    3. If we’re talking about the view from Rainier Vista (UW’s Rainier Vista, obviously), that’s maybe a worthwhile view to keep. If we’re talking about the view off of the Montlake Bridge, that’s kind of a neat one, too. From Pacific Street? As someone that travels Pacific Street by various modes regularly, there’s no view of Portage Bay worthy of preservation.

      1. I completely agree Al.

        One of the dangers of a blog like this (or policy discussions in general) is that people tend to jump to rigid views. There tends to be little enthusiasm for a moderate view; of acknowledging that the other side has a point. So, for the record, let me say that I like that little park, and the little view from there. However, it really isn’t that great, in my opinion. It really isn’t in the same league as Rainier Vista. Plus, it is really easy to get a nice view of the bay by walking a little bit towards the water. There really is no shortage of great public places on the other side to enjoy the waterfront. This would be no great loss. When you consider the money involved, it just isn’t worth it.

      2. The other problem with this blog is that it is populated with poorly-traveled Seattle Exceptionalists who automatically assume that anything in Seattle is

        one of the most beautiful/successful/noteworthy [whatevers] found anywhere in the world.

        Yes. Of course. Preserve the axis view from the central campus to the mountain, which is the last remaining vestige of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition anyway.

        Aside from that, it’s a college campus on a sloping semi-circle with some greenery. It has some pretty buildings and plenty of ugly ones. It’s generally a pain in the ass to walk around or to access from elsewhere. The organization is counterintuitive.

        It’s hardly the “most beautiful” college campus on this coast, much less in this country, much less in the world. Dumb superlatives and prideful pathos-speak do not lead to wise decision-making. (Clearly.)

  2. There are other reasons an animal research facility would be unpopular with a segment of the student body and the general populace, which I don’t care to go into. Suffice it to say, some groups will be cheering if it doesn’t get built, regardless of the architectural issues.

    That said, the building height limitations on campus and in the U-District ought to be revisited. UW needs to be allowed to grow upward, as well as to take over more land in the U-District. The city council should take Peter Steinbrueck’s drubbing as a mandate to lift height lids.

    1. I don’t know about taking over more land in the UD. The UD is an actual functioning urban neighborhood, and given the history of these sorts of things, the burden of proof (that impacts will be positive) has to be on the supporters of big institutional land takings.

      1. Not workable. That parking lot sits on top of portions of the old city dump. Any excavations there, such as for a building’s foundation, would instantly create a superfund site worse than the lower Duwamish. So long as the parking lot is in place and the lakeside retention walls hold, it’s contained and regarded as safe.

    1. That’s a great idea! Would the city allow some kind of variance for putting in a public benefit of this kind?

  3. The population of the UW has not effectively increased in my adult lifetime yet, Billions of dollars in new buildings have been built. Why is this necessary?

    1. If you are in-state, and your high school class valedictorian, that doesn’t guarantee you admission.

      Simply put, by capping in-state admittees, UW is able to make more slots available for out-of-state applicants, limit the need for financial aid, and thereby operate more like a private university. This tactic actually raises the prestige of the university, even as it undercuts the educational mission.

      OTOH, Michio Kaku has a great analysis of how this works to the benefit of the USA in attracting the world’s best and brightest to study here and then live here.

      1. With reduced funding from the state legislature, the UW is forced to accept more full-tuition paying students. It’s not prestige, it is economics. The UW would love to have a larger university with a more financially diverse student body, but that is not possible with the current level of state funding.

    2. Actually, since 1997 enrollment has gone up by 20%—from 35,367 in ’97 [pdf] to 42,570 in ’12 [src]. The majority of the growth is in grad students, which is probably another result of the money situation: just as out-of-staters pay far more than in-staters, grad tuition is far higher than undergrad.

      The increased population might explain the building boom, but I assume it has at least as much to do with technology. Some of the buildings (like Johnson) have been remodeled to allow them to meet modern ADA, sustainability and technology goals, but for things like genomic sciences, computer science, engineering, etc, it probably makes more sense to start from scratch. (BTW the new law, computer science, and business buildings were all or mostly built with private funds, mostly from alumni, if you’re wondering how they can afford to build so much.)

      1. If I recall correctly, there had been a enrollment decrease for a period of time. But during the time I was in college (at another in-state institution) the student population of the UW was in the 40k’s. Yet, there are many many new buildings and only a few have been torn down. And UW Medical is building huge swaths of buildings in SLU. It’s wasteful in my opinion.

      2. See my comment below; all universities are building lots of buildings, whether they need them or not. The building boom is due to a self-funding structure of administrators, fundraisers, and donors, and has *nothing to do with anything educational whatsoever*.

  4. Isn’t the fact that the view restrictions are prohibiting the university from building a massive animal torture facility to be considered at all? That this building really shouldn’t be built in an urban area whatsoever? Or anywhere, but especially on a major walkable campus?

    1. As someone that opposes a good deal of animal testing, I think whatever animal testing is done should be done in society, not hidden away from it.

    2. Are you proposing to move all of UW’s extensive biomedical research infrastructure out of Seattle? Because that’s exactly what would have to happen if this facility couldn’t be located on campus.

      1. You can justify just about anything by saying “it would be worse if we let someone else do it”.

        If UW’s biomedical research department would rather torture sentient beings than stay in Seattle, then good riddance to them.

      2. No, I’m saying that a significant amount of research in all of the buildings around there is dependent on using animals for research. It’s difficult to study how organs work without organs to examine. Similarly, I’d really like to see if a medication works or is toxic in an animal before giving it blindly to people. Any scientist would prefer to avoid using animals for a number of reasons, but sometimes it’s not possible.

        If UW didn’t have an animal facility, it wouldn’t just be a few researchers moving; enough jobs would be lost to render transit along Pacific Street pretty superfluous.

      3. No, I’m saying that a significant amount of research in all of the buildings around there is dependent on using animals for research. It’s difficult to study how organs work without organs to examine. Similarly, I’d really like to see if a medication works or is toxic in an animal before giving it blindly to people. Any scientist would prefer to avoid using animals for a number of reasons, but sometimes it’s not possible.

        Why not just use people as research subjects? It will be more realistic.

        Can’t find enough people to consent to the research? Funny, I don’t remember the animals consenting, either…

        By the way, I spent a summer volunteering at a psych research lab. The study I worked on used one rat at a time, first implanting electrodes into their brain, and then killing them to do a biopsy. There were other studies that used 10 rats at a time, lobotomizing half and using the others as a control group. They were all killed when the study was over. Until then, the rats were treated well, if you count being stored in walls of cages for 23 hours a day as being treated well.

        I don’t think that these researchers are bad people. I think they’re motivated by the good that they can do for humanity, and they see the animal suffering as a necessary evil. And I think they try to treat the animals as well as they can. I certainly never saw any researcher who was intentionally mean to an animal.

        I just think that the rights of all sentient beings not to be tortured and murdered trumps the rights of humans to make scientific discoveries. I don’t buy the “animal welfare” position; no amount of “welfare” could make human slavery morally justifiable, and no amount of “welfare” can make inflicting pain and torture on sentient beings morally justifiable.

        If UW didn’t have an animal facility, it wouldn’t just be a few researchers moving; enough jobs would be lost to render transit along Pacific Street pretty superfluous.

        Which is better: building a human torture facility that has enough employees to fill up a bus route? Or not building the facility and not having the bus route?

      4. >I just think that the rights of all sentient beings not to be tortured and murdered trumps the rights of humans to make scientific discoveries.

        And I disagree. I believe that rights are human rights, applicable to humans only. I think it’s a good thing not to hurt animals needlessly for the same reason we shouldn’t cut down trees needlessly, but in the end, I say it’s worth it to hurt animals to make drugs to help humans because animals don’t have the same rights humans do.

      5. My first thought upon reading the purpose of this proposed subterranean structure was that the UW might actually be looking to hide its animal-research practices from view, symbolically and literally. They may be thinking of their security apparatus as much as they’re thinking of any views.

        My feelings on the subject are closest to Al’s: I think there should be strong checks on animal research, in the form of wholly independent IACUCs that feel empowered to deny approval for (or even to shut down mid-protocol) any study that would involve excessive, unjustified, or redundant harm to its animal subjects. There is simply no need to involve live animals in situations where the effect of a course of action is well-documented. (This is especially true for many control groups.)

        Some quantity of narrower animal-employing research is likely to remain justified for the foreseeable future, but it should be daylighted rather than hidden away. That said, as I read more about this particular site and proposal, I increasingly share Andreas’s skepticism below that a gigantic new purpose-built facility should be needed to achieve this goal.

      6. Honestly, I suspect it’s much easier to get human volunteers than most people think. And for medical research, they’re much more useful.

        If you call it a TV game show, you can get humans to *voluntarily* participate in psychological research which would be considered completely unethical if done by a university. Lots of people are idiots and will agree to anything.

        As far as I am concerned, given what I know about biology, most animal research is really only of use for discovering treatments to help *those species of animals*. Taking predictions from animal trials and applying them to humans has been really unreliable.

      1. Did you hear to the song? Not that I blame you if you didn’t (the words are sort of hard to distinguish in this recording); UIUC built its undergraduate library underground to avoid throwing shade on the famous Morrow Plots (IIRC the oldest experimental corn field in the western hemisphere). Well, the Wikipedia article says that creating an open plaza in the area was “equally important”, but the plaza (unsurprisingly) is a little-used pile of crap compared to the directly adjacent Main Quad (or even the nearby Business Quad or more distant Engineering Quad), and the Morrow Plots are a significant part of our history and identity, so let’s forget that whole plaza thing.

    1. Thanks David, that view of the lawn and sliver of water in the distance is …
      … truly breathtaking and inspiring.
      The $123 million to bury the lab-rat facility is completely justified.

    2. I was a grad student based in Hitchcock – the brick building to the left of the Google Street View. It was a nice view in the 80s and early 90s, but the ‘new’ Physics and Astronomy and later the Molecular Biology building destroyed my view. Whose view do we save and when?

    3. I’d be able to see more of the water if it weren’t for those trees at the end. Who granted permits for them to grow that tall?!

  5. Portage Bay Vista (as the view corridor is officially known) was established in the Southwest Campus Plan, the formulation of which began in 1993. Could the new animal lab really not been built into any of the dozen buildings constructed on campus in the past 20 years? Like, say, the genomic sciences building—pictured in this post and immediately adjacent to the proposed location—which was completed just 6 years ago? The entire SW campus has been built around this view corridor, and all of a sudden now they’re realizing there’s a problem? Bull.

    Stating that the agreement is to preserve the view from the street (and posting this photo seems like a deliberate attempt by the Times (and the University) to paint the city as obstructionist and petty—”What view?!” we’re all meant to say. But of course that isn’t the view in question. The vista begins at the Physics/Astronomy courtyard, which is about 30-40 feet higher than the street, and from which, as stated in the UW Master Plan, the view does indeed look “to the southwest, toward Portage Bay and the Eastlake/Capitol Hill neighborhood, to downtown beyond.” IIRC, that’s one of the only spots on the west side of campus from which one can see water. It really is quite nice.

    Obviously views shouldn’t trump all. But this is one of *two* designated vistas on campus. Is that really too much to ask for?

    1. Another tidbit, which will actually just further enrage folks here:

      “Northeast Pacific, 15th Ave. NE, and NE Boat Streets have all been relocated to make room for the new buildings and to create new views which will tie the campus to the waterfront. ‘The reorganization of streets was to identify key open spaces and create a Portage Bay vista,’ [Janet Donelson, projects director for South Campus] said. The plan is to allow for a view of Portage Bay from the Physics and Astronomy building.”

      That’s from a 15-year-old article in The Daily.

    2. “The vista begins at the Physics/Astronomy courtyard, which is about 30-40 feet higher than the street”

      Why then can’t a 30 foot building be built there? That’s several stories right there.

      “really not been built into any of the dozen buildings constructed ”

      I’m no expert, but my guess would be that they’re building new buildings because they need more space.

      1. As suggested by the name “Portage Bay Vista”, the view they want to preserve includes the water. It doesn’t take a degree in engineering to figure out that even from the elevation of the courtyard it wouldn’t take a very tall building to block the water.

        And, yeah, I get why they’re building more. The thing is, they’ve known for 20 years that this area is a no-go. They’ve built about a dozen large buildings on campus in those 20 years. A little foresight and they probably could’ve built this lab into any one of them.

        Also, if they want more room, there’s always the Quad. Or Drumheller Fountain. Or Red Square. Or Rainier Vista. Or the Union Bay Natural Area. Or—and, actually not facetious on this one—the E-1 Parking Lot. There’s plenty of room to build. It’s just a matter of priorities. It may well be that this vista isn’t a priority anymore. But if the previous Regents had the sort of myopic view that the current ones seem to have, we wouldn’t have the Quad, Red Square, Rainier Vista, or anything that makes the UW campus one of the most beautiful in the nation.

      2. It is interesting to read that this is a long-masterplanned corridor, and not yet another of the kneejerk “don’t change anything familiar to me!” reactions that are so commonplace in this town. Maybe I dismissed this corridor too quickly in reacting to Lazarus’s (still stupid) overstatement about the perfection and supposed global preeminence of the UW campus.

        As you may have guessed, I think Seattle has a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to finding the appropriate balance between organic urban placemaking and the need to construct a masterplanned framework to help those urban places thrive.

        I find the UW campus neither as lovely nor as functional as its partisans seem to, but that doesn’t mean all long-term planning must be scuttled. Again, the key is balance. Plunging ahead with a $123 million subterranean facility without thinking through other possible locations or mitigations is, as Martin says, an extreme(ly destructive) course of action. But submitting to the development whims and pressures of any given moment without regard to their effect on the whole, as the Development Libertarians on this blog love to advocate, would be equally insane.

      3. (Though I’m largely agreeing with you above, I just noticed that you echoed the other commenter’s “most beautiful campus” exaggeration. Really, this subjective generalization does not help your more specific situational argument. 95% of the UW campus is neither all that nice or all that special.)

      4. “They’ve built about a dozen large buildings on campus in those 20 years. A little foresight and they probably could’ve built this lab into any one of them.”

        Yeah, but that wouldn’t have created a monumentally expensive structure to slap another donor’s name on.

        Remember, university construction these days has *nothing* to do with perceived educational or research needs. It’s a system where the administrators ask donors for money to build buildings, the administrators take some of the money, and then put the donor’s name on the building. If the building is completely useless and will be a drain on the endowment — all the better! The important thing is to keep building more and more buildings so that there is something to slap the next donor’s name on, so that the fundraising mill can keep going.

        I believe strongly in higher education. That’s why I never donate to universities.

  6. This isn’t just a problem for UW, is a problem for areas all over the state. Covenants put in generations ago essentially give ownership of the airspace over your property to the guy up the hill, whose view is more important than your property usage. Sometimes they can even force you to cut down or trim the tops of your own trees because they are getting too tall.

    Its not like I hate people having good views, but to me it feels and smells like another way that the wealthy (unintentionally) can impose restrictions on development that force those with less money to move out of the city into the suburbs, where they are doomed to multiple hour commutes just to get to work.

    I know that new high rise buildings are not likely to be affordable, but they do take stress off the market and slow down the rate of increase of rent for older buildings as more rooms remain vacant.

    I do know that this also has significant effects on property value (its not just the view, money does matter here) but should the property rights of certain land owners permanently outweigh the rights of many other land owners to develop their land to the highest and best use for the community?

    1. So by your logic, if you are situated downstream on a river that provides water for irrigation or consumption and the people upstream dam it or pollute it to your detriment, you would say tough beans?

      1. False analogy.

        Views have little to no effect on the health of the property owner. If we were talking about air quality, water quality or maybe even noise pollution, we might have something to discuss. These can usually be mitigated with reasonable measures and responsible use. Both parties benefit from a cleaner environment.

        With views though? That is not nearly as defensible. The only mitigation is not building taller and the only one who benefits is the one who has the view.

      2. Also, from the views perspective, the ones who have the view are upstream. In order to preserve their water supply they have placed a permanent limit on what those downstream are allowed to have.

        Frequently those down the hill from those who benefit from the view covenant have little or no view at all. The benefits are all at the top.

        The ones on the hill could ask to build taller too, so its not like they have no recourse. I know that is slightly less realistic, but view rights are also significantly less important than water rights.

      3. It’s still a matter of property rights. As long as we have the concept of private property, intangibles have to be respected.

      4. So Charles – who has the rights to the airspace above YOUR house and property? If it the person who has the view who lives up the hill from you, I would hope you’re getting some type of payment from them. What happens when you want to remodel your home and add a second floor for a growing family? Oops, sorry, blocking a view of ‘dem ‘der mountains.

        People regularly forget here that they live in a very rapidly growing city. Many of which are so fixated on the price of their home and how much money that they may be able to milk out of it because of a view is putting all of their eggs in one basket. I would much rather a home in a walkable neighborhood that has easy access to transportation than to worry about my view of the mountains three months of the year.

      5. Funny you should mention that. In my high school years, our family lived in BroadVIEW… A neighborhood priding itself on its protection of views by “covenants that run with the land.” And yes, we did trim an evergreen in our front yard that was impinging not just on our own view but the neighbors up the hill from us.

      6. It remains baffling to me that so many people west of the Adirondacks seem to pride themselves on belonging to a system of “covenant communities” originally installed to keep out the blacks and Jews (and which today remains shorthand for “I am an insipid conformist surrounded by sameness”).

      7. Charles, you never answered my question. I asked about you building up and who owns the air space above your own property and house. I could not care less about you chopping down a tree that enabled better views.

    2. In a system of property rights, “air rights” (as well as things like water rights, mineral rights, etc.) are a discrete intangible that can be codified, and commercialized. So, it stands to reason that the air above me may in fact not necessarily belong to me. Just as the shoreline in front of someone’s home may not belong to them. As long as we believe in the notion of private property, you have to acknowledge these aspects.

      And for those that haven’t met me in person, the irony that I was conveying is that the home our family occupied would have been denied to us based on the covenants just 15 years prior.

  7. Lake Union in general is gradually becoming walled-off from viewing by the public at large. Meanwhile, the ability to “have a view” is not vanishing, it’s being pushed to the shore of the lake, available to whomever is privileged to have an office on the “right” side of buildings.

    Meanwhile, the value of the view moves with the view. Conjecture a leasing agent who does not refer to view possibilities in prime office space immediately adjacent to Lake Union. Likely? Probable? No.

    Leaving aside public facilities, walling-off Lake Union is a form of wealth transfer, if we accept that aesthetically pleasing features have any value at all. If the Mona Lisa were removed from public view and moved to a private space, an expectation of compensation to the public would not be surprising.

    1. I should add, the view of Lake Union is arguably as beautiful and is certainly more dynamic than the Mona Lisa. Is our expectation that the public should ascribe no value to it whatsoever?

      This is a thorny problem, if it’s acknowledged and handled conscientiously.

    2. Lake union has public parks. These are the access points that should be protected fiercely, not the views of those who happen to be lucky enough to have a house on the ridge around the lake.

      If you have a view from your house, how often do you actually spend time looking at it? I spend a lot more time looking at Mt Rainier from I-5 or from a park than I ever would from an apartment.

      1. How much time do I spend looking at my view? Is that a serious question, or are you trolling?

        In case you actually wanted an answer, the answer is all the damn time, every single day. The view is what makes my little house what it is. Given that I paid a fair bit of money to have a view, I’m not going to give it up without a fight.

      2. How much time do I spend looking at my view? Is that a serious question, or are you trolling?

        If you are arguing for public policies that massively restrict the value of other people’s property while increasing rents and contributing to sprawl, all on behalf of your view, then yeah, I think it’s fair game to try to have some frank consideration of what this extremely expensive view you’re asking the rest of us to pay for on your behalf is actually worth.

    3. Most of the shore is accessible. You can walk most of it. You can eat at public restaurants, or better yet, sit at picnic tables and eat your lunch there. Sorry, but your argument might make sense in some places, but not here. Here is a link:
      You can see some of the benches and picnic tables from there. If you still aren’t convinced, try scrolling around with the Google Street View. Better yet (since Google doesn’t map sidewalks all that well) try walking around the area.

      One last thing — we are talking about publicly owned buildings. Many (if not most) of the buildings are accessible by the public. There is no “wealth transfer” in this case, except maybe from one part of state owned land (a yard) to another (a building).

  8. Even more to the point: Here’s a Times story from January 1994 about how the UW fought to get the street vacations and realignments that it wanted so it could create Portage Bay Vista.

    Ryan Durkan, a land-use attorney representing the UW, argued for the university’s Southwest Campus plan, saying construction of a cluster of life-sciences buildings not split by a public street would enhance the interaction among individuals and groups of scientists in developing interdisciplinary projects.

    The university plan also would align the buildings to frame a view of Portage Bay, something that wouldn’t be possible if 15th Avenue Northeast were to remain where it is, Durkan said.

    This isn’t an instance of the City imposing restrictions on developers or private entities. The UW imposed these very restrictions on itself. They made their own bed. Boo-freaking-hoo.

    1. All the more reason why the city should work with them on changing it. The Portage Bay Vista might have made sense many years ago (when there were very few buildings in the area) but it doesn’t now. Times change. The UW now wants to do something different with the land (and thus save themselves over one hundred million dollars) and I think they should be able to.

      Furthermore, the alignment of the cluster of buildings (and the new one) mean that you really wouldn’t lose too much of the view. You can still see the lake between the buildings. Of course, if you want a really good view of the lake, you can walk a few feet and stand next to the shore (or sit on one of the benches).

      1. “Many years ago”? It’s been less than two decades! If the vista made sense before the buildings were built, how on earth can it make less sense now, when every building and road that exists today was constructed as part of the plan which created the vista?

        Heck, why not just build this thing on Rainier Vista? It’s much larger—plenty of room for future expansion. And we can leave a couple feet between the buildings, you know, so that when you sit at that one bench you can see a sliver of the mountain. “Ah! So that’s why they call it Rainier Vista!”, people will say.

        Personally I’d like to see slightly longer planning from institutions like the UW. How on earth do we expect to come up with a city worth living in if we can’t even plan more than 20 years out?

      2. It makes sense now because property is hard to find now. This is why it they are even considering building it underground. When this little park was built it was only thing around. Sorry to burst your bubble, but trying to design a framework for a city twenty years from now means that you will fail, and fail miserably. It is much better to let a city grow organically. In the case of the UW, the demand for building was pretty easy to predict, but you could have just as easily gotten it wrong. By now South Lake Union was supposed to be a huge biotech hub (at best). In reality, biotech is dwindling, while a software company that was left to dead in the early parts of the century is buying up (and building) on every spare spec of land.

        Do you really think Rainier Vista looks like this? Really? As has been mentioned several times — this ain’t the Rainier Vista. That is the point. Rainier Vista is worth protecting (as several people have mentioned). This isn’t. If you really can’t tell the difference, I’ll try and explain it to you sometime.* The best part of this little park is that it is a park and that it has a view of the lake. As I mentioned, you can get a better view of the lake by walking towards the lake. The park will be missed, but it isn’t worth spending a huge amount of money to preserve it.

        * Here is a fun way to compare them: Go to Google Maps and zoom in on each spot. Now see how many pictures are taken from one versus the other. See how many pictures are taken from the Rainier Vista area towards Rainier (hundreds if not thousands). See how many are taken from the Portage Bay area towards the bay. I count one, although the bay isn’t the main subject, (a building is) so I’m not sure it counts. The point is that the photographers in the area seem inclined to take pictures of the building, not the view of the bay. Adding another building might give them something else to photograph. Meanwhile, someone took a picture from the bay, of the bay. All of this suggests that if you want to see the bay, maybe you should walk to it. Also, probably the nicest part of the entire area is the sculpture (which is mentioned in the article). It would be a shame to lose that, but I’m sure we can find somewhere to put that.

      3. South Lake Union actually has a bunch of biotech in the area; we just don’t hear about it as much. As an example, in the past several years Novo Nordisk opened their Seattle branch on Fairview, the Institute for Systems Biology moved from the north side of the lake, and UW Medicine has built a few more buildings for their mini-campus at 9th and Mercer.

        UW has been taking this particular view seriously for a while now. If you look on Google Maps you’ll see a small raised park that looks like a giant tree stump sculpture surrounded by bushes. When the Foege building was built in 2007 this was originally about 50 feet closer to Pacific, but was moved to its current location (I heard) because it was blocking this exact view.

  9. Plenty of room in the Rainier Valley – right next to the Mt Baker station – and uh, UW owns it… So much for social equity.

  10. “You can still see the lake between the buildings.”

    That’s a truly choice remark.

    “…views of those who happen to be lucky enough…”

    We can make our own luck. One form is called “urban planning.”

    “Most of the shore is accessible. You can walk most of it. ”

    Care to quantify that?

    “If you have a view from your house, how often do you actually spend time looking at it?”

    Poor luck with that question. I work at home. I have a view of Thornton Creek. I spend hours gazing at it and the various activities of animals in and around the creek, while talking on the phone, etc. Looking at a wall would be wretched, by comparison.

    One approach might be tall—>short heading to the lake. The number of people with exposure to a view could be multiplied geometrically. It’s not complicated arithmetic; work it out.

    1. I had the same reaction. My wife’s office is in the corner of our house that looks over Lake Union. Luckily, it would take the actual vacation of Burke Avenue for anything to be built to block it. But it’s pretty damn arrogant to suggest that someone who has a view from their house doesn’t use it much and therefore it’s up for grabs by anyone who wants it. I assure you that my property tax assessment takes the view into account, too.

      1. I am not saying that “your view is up for grabs because you aren’t really using it”.

        What I am saying is “your view should not trump all future land use in the city”.

        Tall buildings should be allowed where density makes sense (i.e. as near as possible to high capacity transit lines), and protecting the views isn’t something that shouldn’t be considered, but it should not be the end of the conversation.

  11. Come to think of it, I’m surprised the U doesn’t take one of their parcels up the hill and build something akin to a twin of the Safeco (now UW Tower) building. The U has a couple of large garages adjacent to the Tower.

    Cheap space, lots of it, directly next to major transit resources.

      1. I would like to see the height limits raised in the U-district. How great would it be for another tower to be build over the Brooklyn Station?

  12. I like the Seattle the way it is. Lot’s of open space, parks, views, etc. If you like seeing buildings every direction you turn, move to Manhattan, but don’t try to change Seattle into that. I’m so sick of people moving here, then thinking they have to fix or improve Seattle, or try to change it into the type of city they wish they were living in. Views and access to the water makes Seattle special. Don’t let these transplants change our beautiful city into a viewless hell.

    1. 1) Quite a large percentage of the population of Seattle was not born here. If you don’t want people who were not born in a place to have say there, then perhaps you would prefer to go back to feudal times were people were not allowed to move at all. I thought this was a “free” country?

      2) More people than you would suspect were born here but want to change the city anyway.

      3) No one said we should get rid of all views in the city, but the views of a few landowners should not trump any future density in the city.

      1. Sorry any -> all

        That is to say, a few land owners should not be able to categorically ban all density in the airspace in front of them to protect their views. Where density should go is something that the city still should plan.

      2. I’m arguing just the opposite. People should move to where they want to be, and to the area that’s appropriate for them. I’m not going to move to Heidelberg, Germany, then propose that massive Soviet-style apartment buildings be built in the old city, because they would be more utilitarian than the old, low density baroque buildings currently there. That wouldn’t fit with the character of Heidelberg.

    2. I’m not being a troll. I’m just disagreeing that cost savings or density should trump everything, like views or open space, for example.

      1. Are you volunteering to pay for the building? What about the people whose views are being preserved? Otherwise this is just a case of spending other people’s money.

      2. While I agree with the goals of density, I also think that aesthetics are as important. Seattle is a special place because it still has significant greenspace and trees and natural vistas.

        There has to be a happy medium someplace. First, there is so much density to be built into our existing downtown and urban centers that we should not be looking to disrupt the character of long established neighborhoods. Neighborhoods will evolve on their own. Work on the low hanging fruit. There is so much unclaimed development potential in our downtown core that that should keep us busy for decades. There is huge potential in Ballard and Northgate and in places like Aurora ave n and even in places like West Seattle/Alaska Junction. Just filling up those areas alone could easily add 1/2 million people to this city.

      3. @Charles

        So basically, density is fine as long as its in someone else’s neighborhood….

  13. HSB isn’t confusing enough and definitely needs another wing.

    Too bad it can’t be stuck between some existing wings; like F and D or D and B.

    1. As of several years ago, the animal facility was on the 6th floor of the HSB above the B/D/F/H wings, and even then was in dire need of renovation. As for the new location, there’s already an underground loading dock between Hitchcock and Foege; it sounds like this will just be built behind (or replacing?) that.

  14. Instead of spending $120m+ to build 2-3 floors underground they can spend it to build 20+ floors overground somewhere else on campus and will have office/lab space to spare for future uses to come. So, let me rephrase this – tall, high density buildings actually *preserve* views rather blocking them, because the higher density allows for more open space where you want it (e.g. this lawn).

    You think that’s not possible and we’ll end up with Manhattan? No, we will not end-up with Manhattan. Vancouver, BC very successfully applies this – look at their downtown where 100% of the waterfront is accessible and often times separated by a whole block of park space from the buildings. Can you imagine if Seattle’s waterfront included one block of space between Alaskan Way and the promenade? It would be awesome.

  15. Has anybody asked if the UW is building this facility like an underground bunker for security reasons? Sounds to me like their primary concern is making it bomb-proof, which makes sense, given recent history of “eco-terrorism.”

  16. One only has to look as the horrible architectural and planning mess that is the UW medical center to see the wisdom and foresight of the SW campus plan. It is a plan that provides for building and open space and one lousy view corridor. The main campus has many lovely features and one of them is a balance between open space and building. The UW medical center and research building on the other hand is fit neither for man nor beast in the way it was designed. The Portage Bay corridor is a open space wall against its encroachment to the SW campus. At some point, the UW is going to have to look to reorganizing the space it has allotted or moving some facilities off campus. Animal research would be an ideal candidate to move off of campus.

  17. Given that it’s a university building, I immediately suspect the building is completely unnecessary and should not be built.

    Universities, nationwide, have excelled in building pyramid-style monuments to donors and administration — generally with little or no educational value. Such buildings have no economic value whatsoever.

    I cannot say for sure that this facility is in that category, but most proposed university buildings *are*.

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