The Mayor's HALA Program Without the "L" is HA_A!

The success of the funding of the Mayor’s Housing and Affordability Agenda [HALA] is based on the premise that downtown Seattle will continue to grow and prosper indefinitely without interruption. That scenario is not likely for two reasons: a. there have been and always will be real estate cycles; and b. downtown has to be a community where people want to live, work, and play.

Downtown Seattle won’t be a place that people want to live if the City continues to erode livability by allowing taller and fatter residential high-rises closer together without adequate light, air, and privacy. Encouraging downtown residential development without downtown residential development standards such as tower spacing, alley setbacks, max lot coverage, etc. is a recipe for disaster for the future of downtown Seattle.

We cannot support “killing the goose that lays the golden egg”, i.e. that provides the funding for affordable housing. That’s why claiming that this action merits a Determination of Non-Significance [DNS] is so abhorrent to us*. Without the “L” in HALA, we’re not buying…NO SALE!

To give you a little background, basically the City sells land use rights to developers through bonuses and incentives. This system allows developers to build larger and taller buildings than the standard zoning privileges allow. For example, the Douglaston proposal at 5th & Virginia could only be a maximum of 14 stories tall if it were strictly a commercial building, and a max of only 300’ as a residential building without the bonuses/incentives, instead of the 500’ as currently proposed. It’s not likely that this project would pencil out for the developer at only 300’.

Last October [2015], Seattle attorney Jack McCullough, on behalf of his developer clients, several affordable housing advocates, and the Mayor reached an agreement that Mayor Murray called the “Grand Bargain” As Bob Young reported in The Seattle Times, “the city would pull back some of its mandatory fees on development while still moving toward its goal; McCullough would holster his lawsuit challenging the city’s system of collecting fees from developers for affordable housing and another one in the works.” Notably absent from any involvement in this deal were representatives from the downtown residents community; the group potentially most adversely affected by the agreement.

Among other things, the“Grand Bargain” would have given developers an extra 1000 sq. ft. per floor of development capacity in every new high-rise residential structure. Through our efforts and others, it appears that the HALA team is now advocating an alternative to add equivalent development capacity through additional height rather than the additional 1000 sq. ft. per floor through additional girth in new residential development downtown. While this is a step in the right direction, this alone is not enough to ensure future livability for downtown residents.

We want to reiterate our request to include new residential development standards to provide adequate light, air, and privacy in all future projects in the “unprotected” zones of downtown, such as DOC1 and DOC2. If you can change the height limits for HALA, which you can, why not also include allowances for equivalent square footage in additional height in certain zones to solve alley congestion issues and tower separation issues affecting light, air, and privacy at the same time [with tower spacing, alley setback, minimum lot size, max lot coverage, etc.].

With the legislation we are recommending, Seattle can have a win-win-win situation...PUT THE "L" BACK IN HALA by protecting downtown livability, without reducing development capacity, and provide the funding for Affordable Housing.

* See the June 23 post “Why we had to appeal the SEPA Determination of DNS on MHA/HALA”.