Rendering of South Lake Union rezone

On Monday, April 1, the Special Committee on South Lake Union made key land use decisions in this major rezone, giving direction to staff on amendments to land use maps and development standards. The Council’s final work session will be held on Monday, April 15, to be followed by a formal Committee vote on amendment language on Monday, April 22 and final Council action on Monday, May 6.

Strong majorities of the Council indicated preferences on most of the thirteen issues discussed and those preferences will define the options for formal amendment language. Here are the outcomes of the April 1 meeting:

‘Mercer Blocks’. On the blocks between Mercer and Valley Streets, the Council decided to reduce the proposed tower height from 240 feet to 160 feet, and to limit the east-west dimensions of the towers to 105 feet. A strong majority of the Council also agreed to retain the proposed 12500 square foot floor plates for towers, and to retain the 85 foot podium height on the north side of Mercer, although some Councilmembers wanted to further reduce these. This outcome will match the heights on the north and south sides of Mercer, one of the widest rights-of-way in the City, and will result in slimmer towers that will still be economically viable and provide significant numbers of new housing units.

Cascade Neighborhood. In response to requests from property owners, the Council agreed to increase heights in the six core blocks from 75 feet to 85 feet for residential projects. This will allow a modest amount of new housing units and give more design flexibility, making redevelopment more likely. Some Councilmembers were interested in the property owners’ proposal to increase heights to 125 feet for residential, but the Committee agreed that there had not been enough community or technical review of this proposal to advance it in this legislation. The Council will direct the Department of Planning and Development to conduct a formal process with community involvement and make a recommendation on this proposal in the future.

Fairview Boundary. The Council kept the boundary of Cascade neighborhood zoning on the alley between Fairview and Thomas, rather than moving it west to Fairview Avenue. There was general agreement that having similar zoning on both sides of Fairview made sense from an urban design perspective.

Westlake Panhandle. There was no Council consensus on whether to rezone this area. A strong majority favored of retaining the proposed 85 foot zoning south of Highland Drive, which is in the flight path of Kenmore Air. The major remaining land use decision is whether to rezone the two blocks between Highland, Dexter, Galer, and Westlake to permit two residential towers. Some Councilmembers agreed that two 160 foot towers would add residential units and strengthen the community on this transit corridor, while others preferred to retain the 85 foot height because of concerns expressed by Kenmore Air that these towers could cause wind shear problems for their planes. A third proposal, to allow 125 foot towers, was marginally acceptable to Kenmore, but may not add enough residential capacity to be worth pursuing. A decision on this area will be held over until the April 15 meeting.

8th Avenue Residential Corridor. The Committee reviewed proposals from the University of Washington to allow the UW to extend its development to the northernmost block of this residential corridor if UW complies with the streetscape standards to be compatible with the residential character. There was no agreement on whether there is a workable way to do this, and further discussion will likely be required at the April 15 meeting.

Other Issues.

  • The Committee agreed to require buildings in South Lake Union to meet the more stringent LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold standard for environmental attributes, with a provision that buildings could meet the Silver standard if they were connected to a District Energy system, which would provide additional environmental benefits.
  • The Committee accepted amendments to strengthen incentives for incorporating an elementary school into a project, and to restore a provision that allows design review to permit a 5% variation in floor plate size if that would provide for more open space or better design.
  • At a previous meeting, Council agreed to provide a 0.5 FAR bonus for all projects that incorporate the preservation of a designated landmark structure. On April 1, the Committee also agreed to extend that 0.5 FAR bonus to potential landmark buildings in the community as an incentive for preservation of portions of those structures.
  • There was interest in a late-breaking proposal to add a Transfer of Development Rights mechanism to further protect landmark structures, but there was agreement that this required more analysis and should be explored in future legislation.

The meeting on April 15 will include resolving the remaining issues from this agenda, as well as considering options relating to the affordable housing incentive program. The decisions made on April 1 built on amendments agreed to at previous meetings and included in a substitute version of the legislation approved on March 18. A description of amendments made through the substitute and a track changes version of the substitute moved by the Committee are linked to the online agenda for the March 18th meeting. There are also other issues that will be moved forward in separate legislation, such as providing budgetary authority to the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) to nominate potentially eligible landmark structures or defining view protection from Lake Union Park.

I look forward to passage of this legislation, which has been before Council since June of 2012. It implements the recommendations of the South Lake Union Community Council and completes the eight year-long process of the South Lake Union Neighborhood Plan update. More information on the history and development of the South Lake Union legislation can be found at my earlier blog post at