My idiosyncratic habit of scanning the Daily Journal of Commerce headlines paid off this week when I noticed a piece by Brian Miller about plans to replace The Rainier Valley Lowe’s with an Amazon warehouse and shared it on Twitter. It caught my eye as I’ve been a frequent shopper at that Lowe’s since before Central Link opened, and not a visit went by without me lamenting that the former Sick’s Stadium site could be put to better use.
First, it’s interesting to go back and re-read some of the contemporaneous accounts of the debate over the re-zone of that area in 2014. While the city wanted to make the area into a houing-and-jobs hub, many people wanted to preserve their local hardware store, which to its credit had been a long-time presence in the Rainier Valley at a time when many national chains had stayed away. Opponents of the plan wanted “NO REZONE / Jobs NOT Apts.” Mission accomplished I guess?
Second, Bruce Harrell, then about to become a candidate in the new District 2 and now running for mayor, cast the lone vote of dissent. Per Erica Barnett’s reporting at the time, Harrell argued, “The prudent decision would be to do nothing and continue with the dialogue. We don’t have any developers knocking on the door and saying, we need to have the heights lifted.” Mike O’Brien hoped it would become a university campus.
Third, we all need to think harder about the future of retail and what it means for urban spaces. People keep buying stuff from Amazon and so Amazon will need more distribution centers closer to where the people are. This isn’t just a Seattle problem. It’s good to have these distribution sites close to people. It’s bad that Seattle’s zoning means that a relatively small sliver of city land has to do all the work of multifamily housing and industry. How might these distribution centers be made to work better in an urban campus?
Finally, city hall ought to do some soul searching. The fact that no housing developer outbid the warehouse for the land is revealing. How much can we squeeze developers in exchange for affordable housing? Are we confident we’ve set the MHA dials correctly, especially in a world of more remote work? Do we want to encourage housing near transit or are we so confident that it will happen that we can extract concessions from it? And how much should we rely on payments from a few big projects to meet our affordable housing goals? I wish I were as confident as some about the answers to these questions. But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t the best idea to pin all our housing hopes on a few large lots while continuing to outlaw apartment buildings in two thirds of the city.