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Originally published April 1, 2013 at 8:50 PM | Page modified April 1, 2013 at 9:02 PM

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Seattle council signals 24-story towers by South Lake Union won’t fly

In a rebuff to Mayor Mike McGinn and Vulcan Real Estate, the majority of council members said they support a 16-story height limit.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Towers near the south shore of Lake Union should be limited to 160 feet, the Seattle City Council signaled Monday, spurning a proposal by Mayor Mike McGinn and Paul Allen’s real-estate firm to allow taller buildings there.

A majority of council members said in informal voting that 160-foot, or 16-story, towers would better fit the neighborhood, protect views and cast fewer shadows over Lake Union Park than the 240-foot, or 24-story, towers McGinn and Vulcan Real Estate had pitched.

“One hundred and sixty feet gives additional density and makes a wonderful place for all, not just those who can afford to live in the towers,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.

Joining Bagshaw in supporting 160-foot limits were Sally Clark, Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell, Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen. Richard Conlin said “240 feet makes a whole lot of sense” but added he was prepared to support 160 feet.

McGinn’s proposal called for 160-foot buildings on the three so-called Mercer blocks owned by Vulcan, across Valley Street from Lake Union Park.

But towers on the three blocks could go to 240 feet under the mayor’s plan if Vulcan provided extraordinary public benefits in return for the added 80 feet.

Current zoning allows 40-foot heights on those three blocks.

As an extraordinary public benefit, McGinn and Vulcan recommended a complex deal in which the city would buy most of a nearby block from Vulcan, in order to create a hub of affordable housing and social services.

Council members rejected that plan, saying it was flawed.

Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien said Monday they favored the concept of 24-story towers in exchange for extraordinary public benefits. Although they had balked at the mayor’s proposal for so-called Block 59, they said other options might have made added height more appealing.

The council is still debating tweaking its incentive-zoning policy, under which developers can get additional height by paying a prescribed amount of money for public benefits such as affordable housing.

“I’m fearful we’re going to miss a huge opportunity,” Burgess said.

Vulcan spokeswoman Lori Mason Curran said she was perplexed by the council’s decision, especially because a neighborhood planning process recommended even taller buildings, up to 300 feet, for the Mercer blocks.

“It puzzles me that the council would give up the opportunity for more jobs, residents and tax revenue in the neighborhood when there’s already been so much public and private investment in infrastructure,” Mason Curran said.

She said Vulcan would evaluate options and whether it wanted to build 16-story towers near the lake.

The council is expected to formally vote April 22 on rezoning South Lake Union, which would allow 240-foot residential towers through much of the neighborhood.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

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