Fairness in Design Review

Open letter to Nathan Torgelson, Director SDCI:

When you read the Mission Statement of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), “As stewards and regulators of land and buildings, we preserve and enhance the equity, livability, safety, and health in our communities”, it is easy to see how far from your mission you have strayed:

1.   Clearly favoring the Developer community, which SDCI calls “their customers”, is not fair nor equitable to the taxpaying residents of our City. [For example, at a recent Design Review Meeting, twice during Board deliberations the developer's attorney interrupted to provide information on the developer's discussions with SDOT and ARC in a way that could easily be mistaken for an attempt to guide the board's decisions. Often it would be nice to clarify or correct information during Board discussion, but the public is instructed to remain silent. If developer’s attorneys are allowed to interject during decision making, everyone should have the right.] 

 2.   Ignoring serious loading, delivery, and waste issues in virtually all new Downtown high-rise projects is totally at odds with a livable community. There are at least a dozen downtown projects at various stages of application to completion with non-functional alley-side design. [To the best of my knowledge, only two have had any meaningful comment/correction notice from SDOT or SDCI Transportation Reviewers; yet they all have the same issues.]

 3.   Forcing all resident parking traffic into alleys in addition to the already overcrowded conditions of our 100 yr. old downtown alley system is a recipe for multiple safety issues, including but not limited to “alley rage”; pedestrian danger within alleys and at alley/street intersections which, of course, have no traffic signals; and, of course,  transportation gridlock.

 4.   Approving designs for high-rises too close together reduces natural daylight, and can contribute to multiple health risks, including but not limited to vitamin D deficiency, near-sightedness, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and even some forms of cancer.

Public participation in Design Review is merely symbolic and that has eroded public trust. Public comments are addressed inconsistently or not at all.  Meanwhile the developer and its team maintain a running dialog.

Despite obvious and probably illegal discrimination against the downtown residents’ community, we will never give up the fight until justice is served. There is too much at stake that, if abuses are not checked, will cause irreparable harm to our downtown for generations.

Fairness in Design Review will require:

 1.   Public representation on the Design Review Board (DRB), as well as an independent transportation expert. SDOT, SPU, DON and any other government department involved in tower approval need to be present at Design Review. These departments should represent the public’s interests.

 2.   Public participation in post-design review meetings, not just the current “just sue us if you don’t like the result” attitude. Today, towers worth hundreds of millions of dollars are being approved without considering whether their designs will cripple the transportation grid, surrounding buildings, and/or public safety and health. 

 3.   Requiring a daylighting/health effects study of the proposed tower spacing for each new high-rise project.

 4.   Equal public access to Accela web portal, and a public “heads-up” when changes made to the system.

There should be no favored citizens here.  Both the public and developers are stakeholders in this process. 

We request a meeting with you and any other decision maker with the authority to require the Design Review process be structured to represent and protect all parties’ interests.