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Friday, January 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

At Second and Pike, a renewable city

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Developer Greg Smith is proposing a 27-story residential tower a block east of the Pike Place Market at Second and Pike, on a lot now used to park cars. His building would be illegal under the current zoning code, which has sparked a debate on whether the code should be changed.

It should.

Whether new rules would accommodate exactly what he has in mind is another thing, but the city's rules ought to more flexible to accommodate the demand for downtown living, which currently they do not.

There are several reasons to favor downtown residential towers. The first is that Seattle is going to grow, and the people of its single-family neighborhoods don't want the growth to happen there.

Says Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, "This is a way to take development pressure off the neighborhoods."

Several areas in downtown and around it have the beginnings of a walkable, transit-using, central-city neighborhood. Few — the International District excepted — have a good, large grocery store. These areas need more residents, which means more places to live.

Downtown residents will also help reclaim the streets. Smith's site is now an illegal drug market, a blight on the city. A chance to plug one of the saddest corners in downtown Seattle should not be dismissed lightly.

There is also the matter of jobs. High buildings create good-paying jobs for workers who would otherwise be working office buildings. There is little demand for office buildings now, but quite a demand for apartments and condominiums. In the current economy, a demand like that is not to be ignored.

The height limits that restrict downtown real estate were put in place in 1989 to control a boom in office towers. If it would be cautious, the city might raise the height and density controls for residential buildings only, and see what projects come forth.

There is also a matter of urban design. The current controls, which limit Smith's site to 11 stories, mandate buildings that are broad and squat. Certainly, he has an economic interest in a building narrower but higher. But there may be a public interest in higher but narrower buildings as well.

Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, whose favorite downtown neighborhood is around the Pike Place Market, is a fan of downtown living. He helped write the current regulations for a different reason in a different time. "It is time to revisit them," he says.

We agree.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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