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 (amazon.com’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.