South Lake Union plan moves forward

SEATTLE -- After months of debate, the Seattle City Council took a key vote Monday to rezone the South Lake Union neighborhood.

It was the last big milestone in the makeover plan for South Lake Union, including 16-story residential towers at the lake that stair-step up to 40-story towers near Denny Way.

Before the vote, City Council members heard from a number of people in the community who wanted to make sure that with all that new height, the neighborhood doesn’t just become a place for the rich.

“Increasing the building heights, zoning in that area, is essentially a windfall profit to landowners,” said Michael Goldman, who recently received his master’s degree in urban planning. “That’s unearned wealth. The public should capture some of that wealth for affordable housing.”

In recent weeks, lawmakers have come to agree on the increased heights, but have disagreed about how much to require of those who want to build to that new level.

“We are asking developers to say, hey, set aside some housing units for workforce people making these entry level wages at some of these jobs here so they can be part of this neighborhood, too,” said City Councilman Mike O’Brien.

O’Brien successfully pushed a plan Monday to mandate that 5 percent of new units be affordable to those making 80 percent of median income or below, which is $45,000 per year.

Developers would also have the choice to pay into an affordable-housing pool at the rate of $22 a square foot for any new height for which they take advantage.

“At $22, we think that price is high enough that they won’t want to pay the city to build;  they will just provide the housing themselves,” O’Brien said.

As the council finalized the details of the overall South Lake Union plan, there was some continued frustration at the scale of what is being proposed.

“On really some key issues we’re disappointed in their performance,” said   John Pehrson, a resident of South Lake Union. “Putting 400-foot towers between Denny and John is just out of scale totally. It’s on a street that’s dead end and that is 40 feet wide. I don’t know how they will get in and out.”

There is a final pro forma vote on the entire South Lake Union plan in a couple weeks.  But for all intents and purposes, the overhaul is now law and development in the neighborhood will soon begin under the new rules.