Downtown Seattle at the Tipping Point for Livability

Strike One was the office tower that went up right across the alley from The Cosmopolitan Condominiums.

 Cosmopolitan on the left, right across the alley from the office tower at 1918 8th Ave.

Cosmopolitan on the left, right across the alley from the office tower at 1918 8th Ave.

Strike Two was the Century Link building right next to the Olive 8 Condominiums.

 Olive 8 on the left, right across the alley from the Century Link office tower.

Olive 8 on the left, right across the alley from the Century Link office tower.

Strike Three is the 500’ 5th & Virginia tower being proposed right across the alley from the Escala Condominiums.

 Escala on the right, only 22 feet across the alley from the proposed 5th & Virginia project.

Escala on the right, only 22 feet across the alley from the proposed 5th & Virginia project.

Light and air impacts are extremely negative for all three…and serious research* has concluded that access to natural light is crucial in terms of its effects on learning performance, productivity, psychological well being, and physiological well being.

For Escala, a third adverse impact has been added, privacy, because it will be immediately adjacent to another residential building, creating 24/7 issues; where in the first two cases the condos are adjacent to office towers. If this 5th & Virginia tower is allowed to be built as proposed, only 22’ away from Escala, we believe that this will be the “tipping point” toward a downward spiral for livability and an ultimate exodus from downtown Seattle.

Since the big question in downtown Seattle is how to solve these serious and real livability issues and still accommodate the need for adequate housing, we believe the solution to bringing us back from the brink is:

1.    Don’t make things worse by allowing additional girth (less spacing) between new residential towers as part of HALA. Accomplish the funding goals of HALA with additional allowable height instead.

2.    Prevent future Escala/5th & Virginia livability issues by incorporating residential development standards such as tower spacing requirements and alley setbacks as a part of the HALA legislation…and use additional allowable height as an offset to maintain current development capacity.

Right now, the City is proposing no new residential development standards as a part of the HALA legislation, citing that they can only identify nine more potential sites where this problem might occur. While we believe their statistics are flawed, even if they are accurate it could still mean 5.5 million square feet of new mixed use/residential development, or the equivalent of as many as 3,600 new residential units, thus affecting at least 10,000 persons in total. And, quite frankly, one parcel is too many when the physical and emotional health of individuals is affected by the lack of light, air, and privacy.

The deadline for commenting on the MHA/HALA proposal is Thursday, June 16. If you agree with our solution to protecting and advancing a livable downtown, and providing the funds for affordable housing, please write brennon.staley@seattle.gov and tell him so today. Otherwise, it's Strike Three and you're out for downtown Seattle...and we'll look more like the Hong Kong urban jungle [pictured] on the title page of this post!

 * "Natural Light in Buildings: NIMBY Rhetoric or Livability Staple?" The Urbanist, May 2016