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Future downtown buildings would grow dramatically taller under a proposal Mayor Greg Nickels will unveil today as part of a plan to create a denser and more vibrant urban core.

Although many support that goal, concerns are being raised about blocked views, loss of affordable housing, and whether developers are being asked to provide enough public benefits, such as open space.

"I think residents definitely want investment in their communities, but at the same time not everyone wants to be crammed in with tall structures," said Laine Ross, chair of the Downtown Seattle Residents Council, a neighborhood advocacy group.

Nickels said yesterday the proposed changes grew from a yearlong and inclusive discussion about what people wanted from their downtown. It borrows tools being used in Vancouver, B.C., and San Diego to create thriving center city neighborhoods, he said.

Nickels has proposed doubling the number of downtown residents over the next two decades to 66,000, in part to lessen growth pressure on single-family neighborhoods and curb suburban sprawl.

"We've got good job density downtown, we have a very healthy retail and cultural life, and we think if we add a significant number of new residences then we will have a downtown that will be the rival of any in the United States," Nickels said.

The proposed zoning changes that will be sent to the City Council this week would allow skyscrapers in the city's commercial core to rise to 700 feet -- slightly shorter than the Washington Mutual Tower.

It would wipe out a cap on downtown building heights that residents -- fed up with a slew of office towers -- voted to impose in 1989.

In parts of the Denny Triangle, where planners envision more office buildings, heights could double to 600 feet. In areas where the city would like to encourage more housing, height limits will be expanded to 400 feet.

The changes don't apply to the retail core, Pioneer Square, the International District and most of Belltown. The mayor dropped plans to raise height limits along the waterfront south of Pike Place Market after residents complained.

Jim Mueller, a principal for Gregory Broderick Smith Real Estate, said the current height restrictions have made some projects economically unfeasible. They've also created shorter, stocky buildings that architects and residents alike have complained are unattractive.

Under the mayor's proposal, the taller buildings would be more slender and spaced farther apart. Proponents say that helps preserve view corridors and allows for more light and air between buildings.

It also tweaks a program requiring developers to provide public benefits if they want to maximize profits.

For the first time, developers who go above a certain height limit would be required to build "green buildings" with environmentally friendly features, such as rainwater collection systems or recycled building materials.

Residential developers would now have to contribute to an expanded program that builds affordable housing, potentially increasing that pool of money by $35 million over the next 15 years.

Heather Trim, who works on urban issues for the environmental group People for Puget Sound, said the public should get the amenities that make dense neighborhoods work: open space, nice pedestrian features, greenery, transit options.

She said the city had made some improvements, such as providing enticement for developers to build showers for bike commuters. The proposal also revamps open space requirements to encourage public areas on the street level rather than rooftop gardens or private balconies.

But she said there are concerns that the incentives still won't provide enough money to buy enough open space downtown and that the city lacks a coherent plan to acquire it.

"We want the whole package -- we don't want half of the package," she said.

John Fox, who heads the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which advocates for low-income residents, panned the proposal as a blueprint that will lead to the destruction of low-income housing in favor of high-priced condo towers. But Sarah Lewontin, executive director for the non-profit housing developer Housing Resources Group, said the changes will provide more affordable housing in the long run.

It will expand the city's housing incentive program that contributed a critical $1.3 million toward the group's Stewart Court project, which provides 65 apartments for lower-income workers. That's one of the few funding sources for housing aimed at workers earning a few dollars more than minimum wage, she said. "Otherwise, the only people who can afford to live downtown will be really rich people and really poor people," she said. "It's a very difficult problem, so ... why turn our backs on an opportunity that will help create affordable housing?"

Nickels said he expects a fair amount of debate on whether the proposal offers the right mix of public benefits. But with an extensive involvement process, he said, it represented a good start toward something that "everybody can buy into."

He also said the proposed zoning changes are just part of a larger effort to create a more livable downtown, which includes sprucing up parks and working on safety issues.

Elle Tracy, who has lived in Pioneer Square for 21 years, complained that the mayor has been responsive to developers' problems while dragging his feet on quality-of-life issues that downtown residents have been complaining about for years.

"We would love to have more neighbors, because it seems like we can't get anyone's attention from the city when it comes to things like a noise ordinance and enforcing the laws we have," she said. "But the only beneficiary that we can see as we look at the fine print are developers."

TO LEARN MORE

For more information on the mayor's proposal to raise downtown height and density limits, visit www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/Downtown_Zoning_Changes/default.asp.
 

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i think they should go with that idea! sounds pretty cool. ive been in seattle's downtown a few times and i think it's alright, but it could be better.
and housing in seattle is already not affordable.
 

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SDfan said:
allow skyscrapers in the city's commercial core to rise to 700 feet -

-spoiled :)
Have you ever been on the ferry from Bainbridge or Bremerton? The scenery is ruined with the likes of the Bank of America building protruding over the Cascade Mountains backdrop.

But that is just an outsider's perspective. I take it you've got more pressing needs than the city's aesthetic appeal to tourists.
 

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^that's what happens in a city and population growth. There are still some good vistas from different vantage points, like crossing the I-90 floating bridge. ;)
 

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Nutterbug said:
Have you ever been on the ferry from Bainbridge or Bremerton? The scenery is ruined with the likes of the Bank of America building protruding over the Cascade Mountains backdrop.

But that is just an outsider's perspective. I take it you've got more pressing needs than the city's aesthetic appeal to tourists.
Actually, I've never been to Seattle. Its just here in San Diego 700ft is immposible so to have that height makes me jealous, but in a nice way.
:)

As for that scenery I think Seattle looks fine, and I don't have any care about "the city's aesthetic appeal" Im just commenting. Sorry if I came off as something Im not.
 

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This is a great start but still too regressive & extortive. The mayor needs to stop listening & attempting to please the loonies out there. Also the media, print & broadcast, need to stop printing/broadcasting John Fox & his lies & misinformation that in turn give some people the wrong idea which in turn leeds to regresive regulation or thivery which helps make Seattle more unaffordable while also contributing to sprawl.

If Seattle was less regressive & extortive, we would have less sprawl in the Puget Sound area & more populated central Seattle. This is a good start but goes way to far in appease groups that create sprawl & unaffordable housing under the guise of fighting for affordable housing & less sprawl. We need to better educate people in this state in economics.
 

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pwright1 said:
This is great news. Plus more affordable housing downtown would be great which is part of the plan.
The "affordable housing" extortion part of the plan should be killed in the name of affordable housing. More supply leads to more affordable housing. Increasing the costs to develop dense residential makes housing less affordable & increases sprawl.

If Seattle wants to take steps to curb srawl & increase affordable housing, it will stop making housing more unaffordable with taxes for "affordable housing." Like I said above, people in this state need to be better educated in economics.
 

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Sounder said:
The "affordable housing" extortion part of the plan should be killed in the name of affordable housing. More supply leads to more affordable housing. Increasing the costs to develop dense residential makes housing less affordable & increases sprawl.

If Seattle wants to take steps to curb srawl & increase affordable housing, it will stop making housing more unaffordable with taxes for "affordable housing." Like I said above, people in this state need to be better educated in economics.
Sorry, this kind of caught my attention. More supply does not equate to Affordable housing for the poor, especially for low income earners who live on minimum wage. For example, Toronto is now gutted with a new supply of condos. Rents are going down, the vacancy rate is going up, but for the people at the bottom of the income ladder, rents are still unaffordable.

To my knowledge, Seattle's average home price is at least 20% higher than Vancouver, and that's Canada's most expensive market. No way will rent ever be affordable to everyone in Seattle if it purely relies on market forces.
 

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Sounder said:
If Seattle wants to take steps to curb srawl & increase affordable housing, it will stop making housing more unaffordable with taxes for "affordable housing." Like I said above, people in this state need to be better educated in economics.
It should also consider demolishing the freeways running through the downtown core and tolling the bridges.
 

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rt_0891 said:
Sorry, this kind of caught my attention. More supply does not equate to Affordable housing for the poor, especially for low income earners who live on minimum wage.
More supply does equate more affordable housing for all income ranges. Making housing more expensive by extorting developers to pay for pet charities, which in turn only helps a tiny minority of the poor, makes housing more unaffordable for a big chunk of the population. Making housing less affordable to pay for charity housing is a regressive idea as it prices more & more people out of the housing market. People who earn a minimum wage should be doing everything in the power to improve their jobs skills or find another job. Minimum wage jobs are not intended to be jobs to support a family on & the low wage is incentive to improve one's job skills which in turn not only improves that individual but society as a whole.


No way will rent ever be affordable to everyone in Seattle if it purely relies on market forces.
Rent will never be affordable for everyone. Private charity, church, & family should take care of those folks. It will be way more affordable for a vast majority of people under a fair & free system than under the current supply limiting extortion & thivery by greedy politicians & special interest groups that has artificially raised the price of housing & has chased growth out of Seattle which has lead to mega suburban sprawl.
 

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Nutterbug said:
It should also consider demolishing the freeways running through the downtown core and tolling the bridges.

Do you want to totally kill Seattle & have the Puget Sound area forever sprawling with suburban campuses? Or do you want one healthy mega core city center?
 

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Sounder said:
Do you want to totally kill Seattle & have the Puget Sound area forever sprawling with suburban campuses? Or do you want one healthy mega core city center?
Discouraging vehicle traffic and sprawl is exactly the idea behind getting rid of the freeways. Building them right into the downtown core in the first place was poor urban planning.
 

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Nutterbug said:
Discouraging vehicle traffic and sprawl is exactly the idea behind getting rid of the freeways.
That would make sprawl worse by making Seattle even more inaccesable. Do you want Seattle to become a private country club or an urban center?

Building them right into the downtown core in the first place was poor urban planning.
Building them poorly & not correcting it after all of these years is poor planning. Still to this day I-5 only has two lanes passing through the heart of downtown & has many exits/unramps that exit/enter on the left side.

If freeways downtown are such a bad idea, why did Seattle push so hard for the viaduct? If your logic is correct, eliminating it altogether is a good idea.
 

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Sounder said:
That would make sprawl worse by making Seattle even more inaccesable. Do you want Seattle to become a private country club or an urban center?
I figured if it weren't for the freeways giving people the incentive to commute to work from long distances, there would be more condos and other high density housing sprouting around the downtown area.

Sounder said:
If freeways downtown are such a bad idea, why did Seattle push so hard for the viaduct? If your logic is correct, eliminating it altogether is a good idea.
Perhaps it's because there are still too many selfish motorists lobbying for it?
 
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