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Thursday, December 13, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Compromise reached on South Lake Union plan

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle City Council cleared the way for Vulcan, Paul Allen's development firm, to build three 160-foot-high office buildings in South Lake Union for Amazon.com, which would bring 4,000 employees to the area.

A majority of the council voted Wednesday to allow taller buildings on two blocks to accommodate Amazon's expected move. In return, Vulcan will pay roughly $6.3 million to build affordable housing in South Lake Union.

Mayor Greg Nickels and Vulcan had agreed to a $5 million payment for housing. But Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck balked, saying the mayor's proposal was too easy on Vulcan's plan to more than double its development capacity on the two blocks.

Steinbrueck had said Vulcan should pay $7.5 million to be consistent with requirements for developers downtown. He said Seattle faces an affordable-housing crisis.

Steinbrueck, who chairs the council's development and planning committee, agreed Wednesday to a compromise that split the difference between his and the mayor's positions.

"It's a balancing act here," he said. "This is the single largest development plan, short of the [professional football and baseball] stadiums, that we've seen in recent times. This compromise represents consensus for moving forward."

A Vulcan official said nothing is certain until the full council ratifies the deal Monday and the company signs a lease with its prospective tenant.

But Lyn Tangen, Vulcan's director of government and community affairs, said it "looks very likely" the company will proceed with plans to build 1.5 million square feet of office space for a single tenant.

Vulcan, Amazon and Nickels have not confirmed that Amazon is the tenant. But Steinbrueck said "there's no question" it's Amazon.

The council voted 5-1 in Steinbrueck's committee for the compromise. Council President Nick Licata dissented, saying Vulcan's payment was not enough to meet the housing needs of janitors, secretaries and service workers who would toil in Vulcan's new buildings.

The $6.3 million would provide roughly 125 apartments, according to the Mayor's Office. They would be affordable to residents earning less than $43,000 a year.

"Today was a good day for jobs and housing for working people in Seattle," Nickels said Wednesday, referring to both the Vulcan matter and the council's 6-3 vote to curtail office and retail development on 5,000 acres of industrial land around the city.

The mayor's industrial-land proposal has been hotly debated, with labor unions and their allies squaring off against property owners at packed City Hall hearings.

Blue-collar workers argued that rising property values would drive developers to displace industry with office and retail uses, which often pay higher rents than warehouses and manufacturing firms.

To quell speculation on industrial land, Nickels proposed new rules that would reduce maximum office space from 100,000 to 10,000 square feet, except for offices related to industry. Nickels would roll back retail space from 75,000 to 10,000 square feet.

Steinbrueck, who is leaving the council at the end of the year and has often battled Nickels, tweaked the mayor's plan to allow more office space in some industrial areas.

Property owners say the restrictions would reduce the value of their land in a misguided effort to protect jobs.

The threat to industrial jobs isn't as great as perceived, they contend, and the city also lacked accurate information about the number, type and location of blue-collar jobs in different parts of the city.

Councilmembers Richard Conlin, Jan Drago and Tom Rasmussen agreed with property owners, and said the Nickels-Steinbrueck plan to help protect industrial land was a rush to judgment.

Dave Gering, executive director of Seattle's Manufacturing Industrial Council, called the council vote "huge" and "thrilling."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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