After three months of relative silence at City Hall on a proposed overhaul of downtown's height and density codes, Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck on Dec. 8 introduced sweeping revisions to the rules Mayor Greg Nickels proposed in June. Steinbrueck chairs the Urban Development and Planning Committee, which scrutinizes proposed code changes before a vote of the full council.
Steinbrueck proposes that developers pay $20 per square foot to a fund for affordable housing—double the amount of the mayor's plan. Steinbreuck's revision could raise as much as $200 million for affordable housing. "It's entirely justified," he says, citing the council's economic analysis of development plans, an unreleased economic study prepared for the city, and Steinbrueck's own recent trip, with three other council members, to San Francisco. There, he says, "the city extracts a lot more out of developers" than Seattle does.
His revisions also call for unlimited building heights in the downtown core, lower building heights in the south end of Belltown, and a new park in Belltown. In addition, Steinbrueck is pushing for underground parking in new buildings, which are expected to be mostly residential condo towers.
City Planning Director John Rahaim had no comment on plan specifics but added that some of Steinbrueck's proposals would be subject to "give and take." Nickels spokesperson Marty McOmber says "it's encouraging that the proposal is consistent with the mayor's goals," but the $20 housing fee is a significant change from the mayor's "carefully crafted" $10 proposal.
When Nickels unleashed his plans earlier this year, he stated that he expected the council to complete its work by year-end. Developers also lobbied for running the code revisions through the council's hopper by Jan. 1. Key developers say they want to break ground on 30-plus-story condo towers by May.
Steinbrueck maintains that it will be at least March before his work is done. Incoming council President Richard Conlin says it will be April before the council as a whole can take up downtown development planning.
The plans are in response to an expectation that Seattle will witness an influx of as many as 100,000 new residents by 2025. The present population is estimated to be about 570,000. The city says it wants to steer as many as 44,000 of those people to areas between Lower Queen Anne and the International District. (See "Time to Grow Up," Aug. 10.)