Open Letter To Mayor Murray

We are downtown Seattle residents with a big problem, and we don’t know where else to go for help. We love downtown Seattle and we wanted to retire peacefully and enjoy the close proximity of all of the activities, entertainment venues, and dining opportunities. The Escala Condominiums where we bought is in Belltown, and we logically expected, as did many other of our residents, that we would have Belltown zoning and 80’ tower separation.

Only when NY developer Douglaston announced a 500’ tower, as tall as the Space Needle, right across our 16’ alley a year ago did we realize that we were part of only 2-1/2 blocks in Belltown zoned DOC2 with no tower separation requirement. Right across Virginia St. from us there is 80’ tower spacing. This is neither fair nor just.

There is also a 2nd residential tower proposal on the opposite end of the same ½ block.  These buildings, as presently proposed, will severely degrade our livability by depriving us of air, light, privacy and safety.  There are no open spaces in these proposals and the transportation plan for our 19th Century alley simply will not work.

There are no residential development standards to protect our 270 unit building from these new buildings that will destroy our livability. This problem is not just ours but other areas of Downtown are unprotected and adversely impacted as well.

If you look down at our alley from our building, you can see how it will be overloaded with traffic with the 21st century demands of two additional massive residential/mixed-use buildings. The Applicant said we did not need any extra alley setback since they would be just replacing the Icon grill traffic demands on the alley. How can anyone with a straight face say that two huge buildings, each with a hotel, restaurants, hundreds of apartments, residents and guest vehicles in and out from the alley, and two levels of retail will only place the same demands on alley traffic as the single restaurant-Icon grill does today? That’s ridiculous!

Remember, once these towers are built, you won’t get a “do-over” when you realize that this should not have been allowed.

1. This is a huge problem, not just affecting us, but potentially affecting all downtown residents (global, not local issue), because there are virtually No Residential Development Standards For The Downtown Core. It was assumed that it would only have commercial development, but that’s not the case anymore. Most new downtown development is residential, but there are not the standards in place to protect Downtown Residents’ Livability.

The area affected is extensive, consisting of 80 full city blocks including 4 “Danger zones” of unprotected residents (including DOC1, DOC2, DRC and DMC Waterfront zone). Even Residential buildings in protected zones that border these four unprotected zones can be negatively impacted.

These “Danger zones” suffer from the lack of the residential standards that other protected zones enjoy, such as tower spacing.

Other downtown residents have these livability standards; some in SLU and some right across Virginia St. from us, so why don’t the rest of us have them too?  

We believe that everyone, no matter where they reside, is entitled to a livable environment that includes access to daylight, open space and privacy.

2. Upon learning these problems, we conducted substantial research with our advisors, primarily Peter Steinbrueck and David Bricklin’s firm, and have made our findings known at many Early Design Guidance meetings with hundreds of supporters attending. but The DRB did Not exercise their legal authority and “Passed The Buck” Upstairs

They said they could only provide guidance within the standards that exist now in DOC2. But the problem is that the City does not have real Residential development standards for DOC2, and the DRB has been unwilling to exercise their legal authority under Seattle Municipal Code 25.05.675.G to mitigate the adverse effects of height, bulk, and scale, as they should for situations like ours.

3. The Push For Growth In Downtown Compounds The Problem And Underlines The Urgent Need For Residential Development Standards For All Downtown Zones Now

According to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan, two thirds of total residential growth can occur in areas without the mitigating regulations of height, bulk, spacing, etc. currently protecting most residents of Belltown and South Lake Union.

***This results in a mismatch between intended land use (mostly residential) and development standards (mostly commercial) creating adverse consequences for Downtown residents. That’s why Douglaston can build a residential tower right across the alley from Escala twice as big as they could build a commercial building on the same site.

Mr. Mayor, we enthusiastically support the affordable housing goals of HALA but an unintended consequence of the program is that the granting of an extra 1000 sq. ft. /floor to participating developers for even fatter towers rather than skinny pencil towers like in Vancouver would further compound the problems of light, air, and privacy for residents in unprotected zones. We need residential development standards to ensure an implementation of HALA that fulfills the promise of the “L” for ‘Livability’ in HALA.

4. Moreover, when you build all of these mega-towers, you are placing 21st Century Demands On Downtown’s 19th Century Alleys, designed For The Horse And Buggy era, resulting  In overcrowded and Unsafe Alleys And Streets, negatively impacting Livability.

The Downtown alley grid was developed over a hundred years ago in the time of the horse of buggy. They are too narrow to handle modern traffic demands or the 24/7 building service and the resident demands of 21st century residential buildings.

SDOT trys to funnel all of the traffic off of the streets and into the alleys, but existing alleys can’t handle it. Alleys become overloaded with hotel and residential parking, taxis, sanitation, 24 hr. deliveries, repairs, moving, and emergency services; and major streets can become blocked with vehicles waiting for access to or from the alleys. This is a safety and quality of life issue.

In addition, the lack of alley setbacks permits construction of multiple buildings right up to the alley edge degrading privacy, air and light and safety for residents. This a severe livability issue, but there is a solution. As you allow permits to build new towers, require more setbacks off of the alley to really handle 21st Century demands.


We now realize that our problem is endemic in the downtown core. As a result of the publicity surrounding the potential loss of our Escala livability, other Downtown residents with similar livability concerns have reached out to us, and we are working with them to find a solution.

In a nutshell, there are four downtown “DANGER ZONES” which are slated for substantial residential construction but do not have the protections that other Downtown residents enjoy. Even the borders of protected zones adjacent to unprotected zones are under threat.

The loss of livability due to development right up to the edge of 19th century alleys has been a growing problem for over a decade (Cosmopolitan and Olive 8 are examples) and encroaches even upon the voiceless such as Plymouth Housing just last year. Is this fair?

Residential construction is booming and incentivized even more now resulting in thousands of existing and future Downtown residents at risk for the loss of their livability.

We need your intervention and the City’s help to ensure justice and fairness for all downtown residents by:

1.    Developing Residential Development Standards for all downtown zones where residential growth is encouraged thereby protecting all Downtown residents equally and fairly.

2.    Ensuring “Livability Standards” for air, light, privacy and safety (such as tower spacing, alley and street setbacks, floor area ratios, maximum lot coverage) are included in the residential development standards thus mitigating adverse impacts on residents from the mismatch between intended land use and the standards applied.

3.    Supporting Escala residents in the SEPA process for the two 5th Ave projects by requiring a cumulative impact analysis and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study on the entire block across the alley from Escala.

4.    Directing your DCI staff to exercise their authority and responsibility under Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 25.05.675.G to recommend modifications to the mass, bulk, and scale of the Douglaston Development across our alley to mitigate the adverse impacts on their neighbors in order to be compatible with the residential character of Belltown.

What is the responsibility of elected officials if not to correct past mistakes, such as in the Land-Use Code, resolve problems like this and make sure they don’t happen again in the future?