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Take the bribe

[ 42 ] February 13, 2013 |

I’m perhaps a bit less sanguine than Andrew Smith about the issues underlying Vulcan’s offer to Seattle described here:

The Seattle City Council has quietly shelved a proposal that would let Vulcan, Paul Allen’s real-estate firm, build a trio of 24-story towers near Lake Union if it gave the city a chunk of land to use for affordable housing and social services.

Richard Conlin, who chairs the council’s South Lake Union Committee, said the proposal known as Block 59 is not a priority for other council members and none of them wanted to advance the specific proposal made by Mayor Mike McGinn late last year.

That pitch was separate from the mayor’s less-controversial zoning plan, which would allow taller buildings, some up to 40 stories, in the fast-growing South Lake Union area.

As a general rule, corporations offering bribes in exchange for exemptions from the law is pretty problematic. In this case, though, not only is the bribe of substantial public value, the exception of the corporation is asking for is also clearly in the public interest. SLU is a neighborhood close to the urban core with considerable and growing demand for commercial and residential space (’s main campus is nearby), and 65 feet is an absurdly low limit. What makes this decision even more absurd is that Seattle recently built an expensive, underused streetcar connecting SLU to (almost) the downtown core. Seattle’s failure to embrace transit-oriented development, even when bribed to do so by a corporate entity to whom they pretty much never say “no,” continues to be maddeningly counterproductive.


Comments (42)

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  1. shah8 says:

    Given the kind of warfare that has gone on in Marin county with the likes of George Lucas and David Lee Hoffman…

    It’s just not surprising at all. People benefit from the artificial limits and they’re tighter with their local politicians than Paul Allen is…

  2. JoyfulA says:

    Vulcan? Isn’t that a labor union in the iron and steel industry?

  3. Steve S. says:

    underused streetcar connecting SLU to (almost) the downtown core

    Will I be the first to note that the acronym for this is SLUT?

  4. I’m not gonna lie: I’m pretty disappointed this post isn’t about Vulcan, Paul Allen.

  5. Colin Day says:

    But if Vulcan wants an exception, as opposed to a repeal on the height limitation, will it try to prevent others from building tall buildings there?

  6. Warren Terra says:

    Seattle already had great buses, and was already building a promising regional light-rail system. No-one has ever been able to figure out the purpose of the the streetcar, known as the SLUT (yes, that actually was South Lake Union Transit streetcar’s original official acronym), which manages to combine the high startup costs and low flexibility of rail with most of the traffic vulnerability of buses (it is a street-level streetcar, iirc without physically separated lanes), and which did not at least when created serve a traffic corridor identified as already constituting a heavy transit demand. No-one in the neighborhood seemed to want it, and about the only people who found any use for the SLUT were the local coffee shop selling the T-shirts.

    • expatchad says:

      Never experienced the Mercer Mess, have we?

    • djw says:

      Absolutely agreed on the utterly pointless waste that is the SLUT. But

      great buses

      is far too generous, I’m afraid. If you catch me in the right mood, I might go as high as “pretty good.” Between political meddling and “don’t change things if anyone is upset” status quo bias, the bus system is pretty far from being as good as it should be. Between the epic fail of the recent rapid ride launch to more quotidian, everyday failures like the baffling, counterproductive insistence sending the 16 through the Mercer mess, Metro misses too many opportunities to be better, even given current traffic and resource constraints, to be great.

      • Linnaeus says:

        Was just about to say something similar. Good buses, yes. Not great.

      • bobbyp says:

        Seattle, an urbanscape with incredible views (stand on the Jose P Rizal bridge on a clear spring night and watch the sun set). Zoning hgts. issues are guaranteed to spill blood. And if the exemption was granted what would all the developers with their shiny new, but much shorter buildings say? Shelving the idea was a wise move.

        But agree, the zoning should change, and most likely will. See this report.

  7. Warren Terra says:

    By the way, any post about South Lake Union (and Paul Allen) should probably at least link to some history of the proposed Seattle Commons.

  8. West of the Cascades says:

    Portland: great buses, transit-oriented development, lots of bikes, better than Seattle. Any questions?

    • AR says:

      Good, not great buses at this point. Like a lot of government services it was good during the tech boom but is now showing the wear of a decade of slashed government support, rising costs, and increased demand. Fairless square (a fair free zone in downtown Portland) is long gone, off hour travel to the suburban hubs is not particularly easy, and much of the political attention focuses on street car expansion or expansion of light rail into the southern suburbs (which has produced the most potent issue for Republicans in the area in a decade).

      • JL says:

        The fare-free zone is gone? Jeez, I was there in 11/2011 and the fare-free zone was still there. I didn’t know it was in danger of going away, though I guess I am not surprised.

    • shabadoo says:

      One question: if Portland’s transit is so great, why is Seattle’s public transit mode share almost twice that of Portland’s?

  9. burnspbesq says:

    As a semi-regular visitor to Seattle (kid goes to Cornish College), I’m inclined to think that high-density commercial construction in SLU is A Bad Idea. Eventually, the Mercer construction project will be completed and access from the I-5 corridor will be OK, but access to SLU from every other direction will still suck

    Do Seattleotes really want to turn Denny Way into Michigan Avenue?

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