Creek found, mall delayed

In a startling development, a judge found Thornton Creek hidden under a parking lot near Northgate Mall.

OK, maybe not so startling. Much public money has gone into restoring sections of the creek on either side of this two-block-long pipe, so the city's argument that there is nothing in between seems more than a little lame. Of course, if city regulators had ruled that the creek was a) there, and b) environmentally significant, it would have forced the owners of Northgate Shopping Center to actually study the environmental effects of their expansion proposal.

Since the mall's owners, the Simon Property Group, want to more than double both the size of the current retail area and the number of parking spaces, some environmental study might be in order, argued a local citizens' group. A Superior Court judge agreed and the Northgate expansion plan has been remanded to the city. The result could be a one-year delay for the project.

Another result could be a rush to the appeal window. The Simon Group, an Indianapolis-based mega-corporation that owns 268 shopping centers including Northgate, can certainly afford to keep litigating, even as it draws up the court-mandated environmental documents. The city could appeal the decision as well, because the ruling seems to indicate that culverted watercourses (and a developed city has plenty of them) should be given the same treatment as above-ground streams.

Knoll Lowney, attorney for the victorious Thornton Creek Legal Defense Fund, says the mall owners could incorporate the stream into their development on Northgate's 12.5-acre south parking lot. "It's just sort of a business strategy for them," he says. "Do they want to make friends in this city or do they just want to keep butting their heads against our environmental values?" Some neighbors would like to see a library and community center in the mix, even if the city has to buy the entire parcel.

Mayor Paul Schell has been a vocal supporter of the mall expansion and opponent of a city purchase. According to Schell, purchasing the Northgate lot could cost $20 million and would keep the mall owners from building up to 450 units of "transit-friendly housing" as part of the project (the developers really proposed just 150 housing units, but that's all water under the parking lot). That chunk of money, Schell continues in his latest e-mail newsletter, "could buy the development rights of 25 percent of the farmland in Skagit County." A good point, but so what? Remember, this is the same guy who wants us to sell our cars, move into studio condominiums, and shop locally. Under this scenario, neighborhood amenities would seem far more important than far-off farmland, no matter how picturesque. Fortunately, the Skagit Valley suggestion was just our mayor slipping into "regional-speak." Returning to reality, last week Schell endorsed an ambitious $223 million parks levy for this November's ballot. The measure is controversial both because of its size (it would displace the $196 million library levy as the biggest city ballot issue ever) and because less than a quarter of the money collected would go toward purchasing land. About half of the money would go to parks development and the rest to continuing maintenance, including $20 million for operations at the Woodland Park Zoo. The price is steep, but the concept of improving property that the city already owns could turn out to be an effective selling point, not a drawback. People would also support improved parks maintenance, if assured that current funding for that purpose would remain intact. Most importantly, this measure would also fund a bunch of projects identified through neighborhood planning, thus giving the city a chance to prove that drawn-out process wasn't just another activist distraction.

The illustrated Rem

Superactivist Linda Jordan is back, this time as a design critic for the proposed downtown library.

Or, more accurately, Jordan's latest critique is aimed at award-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who has been hired to design the library. In lieu of live testimony to the Seattle Library Board, Jordan submitted a binder of annotated copies of pages taken from the Koolhaas book S, M, L, XL. Among the borrowed information from the Koolhaas tome: sexually explicit photographs, bad poetry, and bizarre prose from the master of imaginary architecture. "I urge you to pay this guy off and cut your losses," Jordan advises.

Curiously enough, the library board never saw this exhibit. In a letter to Jordan, Librarian Deborah Jacobs claimed the binder was stolen from an aide's desk before it could be presented to board members. It's a plausible story: This columnist's own copy of the Jordan report was the focus of much jealous attention at a Seattle Weekly news meeting. "We respect the diversity of opinions and let me assure you your manifesto will be included in the body of public testimony," Jacobs continued reassuringly.

Hotel gets shorter

A recent settlement will give Seattle residents more view and less hotel along the waterfront below Victor Steinbrueck Park.

After a protracted court fight, the developers of the proposed Marriott hotel have decided to scale down their building, sacrificing 40 rooms to preserve views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. One result of this battle (led by able activist Irene Wall) has been a new focus on view impacts from development. A Seattle City Council committee intends to join the discussion on how to protect public views next month. In a strange development, the first topic will be the preservation of public views in the Pike/Pine corridor—that is, those that remain after that massive Convention Center finishes building its various view-blocking skybridges and decorative arches over Pike Street.

 
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