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Zoning is an inexpensive yet powerful tool King County has to affect the coming growth. A zoning variance is worth big money to a developer and New York developers have built schools, parks, and affordable housing in exchange for variances.  Zoning also affects transportation. Walking to work is the greenest form of commuting and if King County promotes it, everyone in the county benefits from less congestion on the road.

Thousands work at Southcenter and  surrounding industrial parks, almost all of them drive to work. If a parking lot (So many to choose from!) was rezoned allowing a residential tower atop a parking garage, with tenants limited to nearby workers, hundreds of commuters can be eliminated from the roads.  A simple requirement of working within one mile for at least one year, with lease renewals contingent on continued  employment, would guarantee less workers on the freeways.

Developers in association with area landlords could present proposals to the city or county and the best deal selected for the community. Since most of the potential renters are working class, developers would probably have to build affordable housing to attract tenants.  If the first building was successful, others could follow.  If developers cannot make it work financially, they will not be interested. If they can make it work,  it would be a unique opportunity to direct growth into green commuting and create affordable housing.

Often, peoples’ coworkers are often more racially diverse than their neighbors. This is also a chance to create a more diverse community as well. Communities often oppose lower income housing, but this proposal specifically requires a steady job to be eligible. These renters already work in the community, I hope the citizens of Tukwilla would accept them as neighbors as well.

Thanks for reading

15 Replies to “Mall Living”

  1. 1. It’s true that almost everyone arrives in the Southcenter area by motor vehicles, but a decent number arrive on the 150 and F Line.

    2. Housing contingent on having a particular employer is rarely an attractive proposition for anyone involved. The mall and surrounding areas have a lot of retail work, and it’s particularly unattractive there. A lot of retail jobs are part-time or seasonal. Turnover tends to be high, both because workers have little job security and because many of them are looking for better-paying jobs.

    3. This blog covered Tukwila’s long-term vision for Southcenter a couple years ago, here and here. I haven’t been there in a while so I don’t know whether much progress has been made on the ground, either on public infrastructure or private development. It will certainly take some time, but it should improve incrementally at least.

    1. Thank you Al for the links, I hadn’t heard of the project. The plan does a great job of public transport planning but expects people to commute. Wouldn’t it be better if the housing was for local workers. Obviously developers would prefer to cater to the upscale market but if housing is left to the free market no one is going to build low cost housing. Thanks again.

      1. Every one of the catastrophes that troll John Niles’ predicted would befall Central Link failed to materialize. The project was completed on time and under budget. University Link is ahead of schedule and way under budget. The first section of North Link is also well ahead of schedule and was bid 15% below original estimates. So far there has been no report of the need for contingencies, but admittedly, the most sensitive tunneling across the University campus has not yet begun.

        Don’t do this again. John Niles is a notorious, lying SOB of an anti-transit troll. You will be tarred with his excrescences if you do.

    1. The original plan would have been surface from essentially Mt Baker to SeaTac, so it would have had a Southcenter Station on Southcenter Blvd. But Tukwila threw a fit about putting surface rail on Intl Blvd which it had just spruced up (for cars?). That led to the elevated alignment, and what with the angles to clear the highway overpasses, it was no longer practical to get closer to Southcenter, and anyway there was the Burien-Renton line brewing which would include Southcenter. I think there was also a dispute about crossing a corner of Tukwila land near Southcenter but I’m not sure about that.

    2. As I recall back in the late 90s, Southcenter didn’t want it due to construction impacts. Now of course they wish they had it…

  2. David, thanks for the interesting post. Mixed-use zoning is an important tool, and has been adopted by most municipalities. For example, downtown Bellevue, 2 decades ago, was largely a shopping district, with 1 big mall and a large surrounding area of strip malls. Now much of it is mixed-use with parking underground, then retail, and then apartments / condos / hotel. This has occurred as land values increased and large development projects converted small parcels of land from strip-mall use

    Retrofitting a large existing and apparently thriving mall seems like a challenge, but certainly worth some thought.

    Expanding on Al Dimond’s response – placing conditions on residency has many significant problems, and some I would say are unsolvable. What happens when someone gets a better job – or is transferred to a different location? Or loses a job? If 2 employed tenants share an apartment, must both work locally? Who would police the conditions?

    Western European countries have achieved density and compactness by a combination of land-use control and making transportation more expensive. Cars and gas are taxed heavily – and for that matter, transit is generally more expensive there than here.

    1. and thank you Jim.
      Imagine how much worse traffic on the east sixe would we if Bellevue didn’t create housing downtown.
      As for the logistic problems you citied, I feel they could be overcome by the building management who would be responsible for implementing and maintaining resdiency requirements. Screening applicants would be easy: last years w2 and a recent paystub, verified by a phone call iwould be sufficent. A current pay stub and phone call for lease renewals. If a tenant no longer works in the area, they could have a year to find other housing or face an escalating rent to encourage them to find cheaper housing closer to their new job. A laid off employee who can still pay the rent does pose more of a challenge, but one not paying rent would be same situation as any tenant not paying. If a couple, or a couple of roommates, were sahring an apartment, only one would have to work in the area. If they both work nearby, they benefit even more and two less cars are on the roads.In all cases, tenants would be signing leases and knowing conditions for occupancy..

  3. Most malls in Canada are surrounded by high density (often highrise) housing. There is no reason malls in Washington State cannot be the same.

    1. thank you Chris. I’ve always appreciated how Canadians seem to have less aversion to high rises than Americans and conversely Vancouver isn’t surrounded by twenty miles of Federal Ways.

  4. The first residential hi-rise in the Southcenter area is now under construction.

    This is a great idea. I don’t know why Westfield hasn’t replaced all the mall’s surface parking lots with underground parking and mid-rise housing yet. Renton Landing has shown that there is demand to pay new construction rents for apartments on the Southside, and walking-distance to Southcenter sounds like a better deal to me than Renton Landing’s location.

  5. I like this idea even without the work-proximity and affordability aspects. You can live near work or live near fun — sometimes not both, and malls are pretty fun: they’re good for exercise walking when the weather is foul, built for the comfort of humans-on-foot, and often serve as community centers already. For example, Crossroads mall has weekly public dance classes and cultural events.

    In fact, I wonder if in addition to general affordability, if accommodating new nuclear families (i.e. 2 and 3BR units) and new extended families (i.e. just had baby, grandparents are here to watch the child) should be prioritized as well. The opportunity for community at a mall-centric development is so beneficial to extended / new families that we shouldn’t leave it out of consideration.

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