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Originally published December 18, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Page modified December 18, 2012 at 4:51 PM

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Editorial: South Lake Union looks up

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s rezoning plans for South Lake Union speak to economic growth and investment in the city’s future.

Seattle Times Editorial

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REZONING proposals for South Lake Union, which reflect the interest and confidence of investors in Seattle’s future, are drawing criticism.

Imagine accommodating more employers, jobs and families. Such a problem.

Last June, Mayor Mike McGinn recommended that building heights around a fast-growing crescent of South Lake Union be allowed to grow. The heights are tiered from Denny Way downhill to Valley Street.

The changes, which must be approved by the City Council, have drawn complaints from neighbors, with worries about public policy and the loss of urban vistas.

Closest to the waterfront, between Mercer and Valley streets, the tallest buildings could climb from the existing 85-foot limit to 240 feet. Working back uphill, the limit would grow from 160 feet to 240 feet. Abutting Denny Way, between the Interstate 5 freeway to Aurora Avenue, the height could climb from 240 to 400 feet.

That strip includes undeveloped blocks owned by Vulcan Real Estate and The Seattle Times Co., as noted in initial news accounts of the mayor’s proposal.

Any investment, to any height, is predicated on the confidence of investors that Seattle has a healthy economic future. Those sentiments are to be encouraged and nurtured.

The mayor’s plan provides for developers to pay extra fees for the maximum heights proposed in the rezoning and, an additional wrinkle, provides for the fees to be paid upfront. The city would use the money to buy land to develop affordable housing and workforce-training facilities.

Neighbors organized as the South Lake Union Community Coalition produced a map with every square inch of buildable space occupied by soaring office towers and apartments. That is not reality, because the rezone standards place a practical limit on what sites can be developed and to what extent. City Hall estimates there are approximately 89 redevelopable acres out of 340 acres in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Cities grow — at least the lucky ones — and South Lake Union’s ability to attract Amazon and other coveted employers is a boon for the neighborhood, city and region.

Electrical service is being beefed up, and there is talk of an elementary school to accommodate new families moving in and the others that will fill the housing under construction. Open space and the Museum of History & Industry are a plus.

More offices, apartments and condos provide a critical mass for further investments in public transit. All the talk could indeed turn into a people-moving reality.

Dramatic improvements to traffic movement are tempering the Mercer Mess. Fairview Avenue is expected to be fully open to traffic by February.

The city has made substantial investments to improve the attractiveness of South Lake Union to employers and families. The City Council needs to keep track of that civic arithmetic to make sure taxpayers are protected as land swaps, exchanges and credits are calculated with land owners.

South Lake Union is looking up. Rezoning proposals represent an opportunity that would turn other cities emerald green with envy.

Council land-use chair Richard Conlin is looking for a council vote by mid-February At this point, he sees a general consensus building around the mayor’s plans.

If the instinct is to worry about views, then keep the outlook for Seattle’s economic well-being unobstructed as well.


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