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City Council considers bigger hotels along Seattle waterfront

The City Council is thinking about sweetening the pot for hotel developers as part of Seattle's downtown waterfront redevelopment.

Bigger hotels would be allowed along Seattle's central waterfront if the City Council approves a recently proposed set of changes to the city's land use code. Although height limits would not increase, hotel developers would be granted larger allowances for total square footage under the rules the council is considering.

With plans on the horizon for tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and building a vast new waterfront park, the area that the code amendments would target is poised to change dramatically in the coming years. The proposed changes to the land use rules are intended to promote residential and retail growth. They would affect a cluster of properties sandwiched between First Avenue South and Alaskan Way, which stretches about six blocks between Columbia Street and Union Street.

The current 160-foot height limit for buildings in the area, which is known as the Commission District, would not change, but the maximum "floor area ratio" for hotels would increase. A floor area ratio compares the total square footage in a building, to the size of the lot on which it is built. The proposed changes would raise the maximum allowable ratio to 8:1 for hotels.


A diagram showing differently configured 0.5:1, 1:0 and 2:0 floor area ratios. Source: City of Seattle

Hotels and other commercial buildings in the area currently have a maximum allowable ratio of 5:1, unless developers are participating in the city's existing incentive zoning program, in which case that ratio can jump as high as 7:1. Through the incentive zoning program, developers provide public benefits, such as childcare facilities, affordable housing and open space, in exchange for added floor area. In lieu of providing some of the public benefits, they can also make per-foot cash payments to gain additional square footage.

Hotel developers would still need to participate in the incentive zoning program to be eligible for the new 8:1 ratio. At the same time, other types of non-residential structures in the area, like office buildings, would no longer be eligible for incentive zoning and under the newly proposed rules would be limited to the 5:1 ratio.

If the code changes are adopted, a hotel on a 20,000 square foot lot could have up to 160,000 square feet of floor area, rather than the 140,000 square feet allowed under current land use rules.

There are no floor area ratio restrictions for residential structures in the area. But those buildings are subject to the 160-foot cap on height.

"We've seen consistently that housing and hotel uses are great for generating activity," said Marshall Foster, city planning director at the Department of Planning and Development.

"What we're doing is really in response to all the public planning around the waterfront," he added.

Department of Planning and Development officials briefed the City Council's Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee on the proposed amendments last week. A public hearing is scheduled for July 15.

"I think that the hope is that the waterfront would be active with people not 24 hours a day, but maybe 18 hours a day," said committee chair Mike O'Brien.

Both Foster and O'Brien said they were not aware of any specific hotel projects that developers were planning for the area.


The old Federal Office Building on First Avenue South is one of the historic structures in the Commission District. Photo: Bill Lucia 

Once known for warehouses, the Commission District currently consists of a mix of properties, including some of the Harbor Steps apartments, the old Federal Office Building, The Alexis Hotel and the private utility, Seattle Steam Co.

The city is currently reviewing plans for a 16-story building with 168 residential units, retail space and parking, which would be located on the site of a parking lot next to one of Seattle Steam's buildings. Mack Urban, formerly known as Harbor Urban, is spearheading the project.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 1:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Not that the tunnel was all about a corrupt city's alliance with fat-cat real estate developers. Nah, couldn't happen in "progressive" Seattle, could it?

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Exactly. The tunnel was not at all about transportation as it actually reduces throughput and creates a far more dangerous situation than would a retrofitted viaduct. But the city "leaders" -- oppressive and out of touch, certainly not "progressive" -- are all about feathering certain favored business interests' nests while with their minimum wage bill are blatantly discriminating against more than 600 small businesses who are franchisees, treating them as if they are big businesses.

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 5:05 p.m. Inappropriate

In the end, of course, it's the fault of this city's voters, who have a track record of being complete suckers for the rotating criminal class in power here. Will it change? I am not holding my breath.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 9:01 p.m. Inappropriate

No, it's worse than voters being complete suckers. Voters are far too apathetic in choosing their votes (or they simply don't vote at all).

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 11 p.m. Inappropriate

Can't argue with that. Many of the young micro-serfs have no attachment to Seattle, and never will.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

No big deal!
The property between the Viaduct and Western Ave, within the Commission district have major construction issues to contend with. Unless a developer is willing to build a project without parking (not likely), it is extremely difficult, and expensive, to build below grade parking. It would have to be designed like a bathtub to keep groundwater and tidal water from inundating the lower levels.
Parking, as in the Cornerstone Building, has to be above ground. With required retail at the street level, parking would be above that and be most likely 2-4 levels tall. That would get to the current height of the Viaduct. Anything on top of that would be the opportunity space with views. That is where the residential units would be located up to the maximum height of 160 feet.
So, whatever the ratio is, those limitations will exist. If it pencils out, so be it. But, most likely, not.

The argument of the Viaduct blocking views is ridiculous since nothing that could be developed would have residential views below the height of the Viaduct. What is being planned with it's removal, will ELIMINATE the city's ONE AND ONLY WORLD CLASS PANORAMIC VIEWS and deprive everyone of that experience.
The City/County/State are giving away the public's enjoyment and planning to provide views for the few wealthy new residents along Alaskan way. I say that it is A BOGUS DEAL AND ONE THAT IS BANKRUPT OF MORAL AND ETHICAL BEHAVIOR, AND LACKS COMMON SENSE.

Oh well, Seattle continues to screw itself yet again, unless Bertha is a bust and it is decided to retrofit and keep the Viaduct, or an earthquake makes the un-retrofitted Viaduct unusable before the tunnel is useable. Now that's a serious transportation dilemma since there would be no North/South corridor other than I-5. Good luck!

My 2 cents.

Art

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

My old apartment on Western had a view between the levels of the viaduct.

Below-grade garages along Elliott Bay are expensive, but they're certainly done. Like 505 First S, 635 Elliott...

mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

The Alaskan Way Viaduct has the charm of a prison. Good riddance.
The Bore Tunnel however, is definitively vulnerable to underground water channel alterations that will lead to dozens of historic and modern buildings lost over time, or all at once in even a moderate earthquake. You morons at Crosscut can't use your own pot addled heads to see the fricking danger. Give you some candy and $15 dollars and you'll STFU until it's too late. Seattlers. Meh.

Wells

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Completely agree with arties4453, NotFan, and arthurking. The corruption and cynicism of our city council of is simply breathtaking! I'd like the councilmembers to explain to me exactly how approving this sort of development reconnects the city with its waterfront, which was one of the endlessly repeated tropes used to justify tearing down the viaduct. Can't see how this would do anything but create a larger, and solid, wall between us and our waterfront. And we are paying to do this to ourselves thanks to our legislators at all levels valuing their relationships with developers more than their responsibilities to their constituents and to posterity. I knew this kind of action was sure to come, but it's still a gut punch to see it proposed.

mspat

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 5:11 p.m. Inappropriate

There was never once the remotest chance that there wouldn't be a new private wall along the waterfront. Oh, and here's another confident prediction: If the parks referendum is defeated, they'll find a different pot of money to do the same thing that the new park taxes would've paid for -- probably by ending existing parks maintenance throughout the city and then claiming poverty.

Folks, we have the best city government money can buy. The corruption here is not one bit less than in Chicago, Philadelphia, or Boston. The only difference is that, in Seattle, the "progressives" have managed to deem it "impolite" to discuss what is obvious to all.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 7:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Completely agree except as to one thing: I consider myself a "progressive" and yet I don't seem to fit your definition at all--we agree more often than not.

mspat

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 1:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, then we can just say that the exception proves the rule.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Promoting dense growth in a zone of the city that will be among the first to be affected by sea level rise is totally irresponsible, but not surprising given that the vast majority of the Seattle City Councilmembers are brazen shills for developers. Downtown Seattle already has plenty of hotels (not including those that will soon be erected on the Yesler Terrace site), as well as remaining underdeveloped lots within a short walk of the waterfront including the giant hole across the street from City Hall.

Several things downtown Seattle lacks that would make it truly liveable are parks (other than Westlake, which is, lets face, a minuscule paved outdoor fragment of a mall), Steinbruick and Courthouse Parks, which are tiny compare to parks in actual world class cities, schools, grocery stores, etc. This will be our last chance to reconfigure the waterfront into a set of public, parklike spaces, which will be easier to retreat from when sea level arrives in the latter half of this century, and with a vengeance in the next century. Parks are easier to retreat from than 16 floor buildings and the formidable array of public infrastructure along and at low elevations near the waterfront waterfront including WSDOT's ferry terminal, the Port of Seattle's terminals, two half $billion sports stadiums etc., that will have be redone or abandoned when the Puget Sound rises as little as 10 or 15 feet. Why make it worse by building expensive new buildings down there?

If the City of Seattle took the threat of sea level rise seriously, it would not permit ANY additional massive buildings on or near the waterfront in a way that walls off view corridors to Elliott Bay. On the other hand, if the city is all in with a throwaway development culture, I can easily see them going for it. If they do, they should STFU about downtown livability and being green.

Mud Baby

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 12:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Assuming we're talking about a couple meters, a berm system ought to be plenty, maybe done up like a park in the existing right of way. It might cost in the hundreds of millions for Downtown, but that would be cheap compared to the land value.

I'm all for more parks Downtown, but the waterfront will already have a lot of new open space. My biggest worry is there won't be enough people on the average November day....hotels are perfect for addressing that.

As for having plenty of hotels...we reportedly had something like 80% occupancy last year, and fast-rising prices, which means we had a room shortage.

mhays

Posted Tue, Jul 15, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Berms don't extend down to the water table

talisker

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 5:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Steinbrueck and Courthouse parks? You mean the Meth Market and the Vomitorium?

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Given that there is no high ground along the waterfront from Pier 91 to Harbor Island and points upstream, I'm not sure what your proposed berm would be tied off to. It would also be great to know more details about the "lot of new open space. Once again, the new hotels at Yesler Terrace and elsewhere where dozens of cranes are beavering away will supply plenty of new hotel rooms, as would other lodging options such as Airbnb. Whoops--whoops! Forgot that Airbnb doesn't benefit giant development corporations and hotel chains.

Mud Baby

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Where did you hear about hotels at Yesler Terrace? That's not a major part of the plan.

Berms don't need to tie to high ground. In fact, they're common in areas with zero high ground, like the Netherlands.

mhays

Posted Mon, Jul 14, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

SHA's game plan was to let Yesler Terrace fall into disrepair to justify knocking it down so that Vulcan can build a $400 million project that includes construction of 12 towers including a luxury hotel, two office buildings and nine apartment and/or condo buildings containing 3,000 residential units to be rented or sold at market rates. A set of seven-story buildings containing 561 apartment allocated for poor folk will be in the shadow of these enormous towers, and, unlike the towers, will not have killer views. The project will look lot like SLU, and it is quite conceivable that if the units don't fill right up--for example, because of another economic crash that exposes Seattle's folly of building a massive glut of high end apartments and condos--more than one of them will be reprogrammed as hotels.

Mud Baby

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

One especially delicious aspect of all this is that the city council doesn't even bother to publish committee meeting agendas in advance any more. And no one in the local "media" even notices, let along comments on this.

Not that it really matters, because by the time there are public comments the "progressive" hivemind has long since collected the bribes and made the decisions, but still, even many dictatorships have at least pro-forma public comment. Not here.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 6:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course they do. I get them by email.

MissRuby

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9 p.m. Inappropriate

I get them also. But NotFan, you do have to let them have your email address, unless you'd rather simply complain on blogs.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9 p.m. Inappropriate

I get them also. But NotFan, you do have to let them have your email address, unless you'd rather simply complain on blogs.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 5:56 p.m. Inappropriate

I think a park on the viaduct is the right thing to do so that no matter what gets built on the east side of Alaskan Way, the people get 5 acres of show-stopping open space with a spectacular view. If we removed the lower deck and retrofitted it, we could build housing, schools, community centers and more under the viaduct. It would pay for itself.
-Kate Martin

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 8:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Stop it Kate, that is not an option. What? We can afford to park out all of downtown Seattle?

Naive spending plans never pay for themselves.

The viaduct moves the necessary vehicles for commerce to succeed, the new bore tunnel will not. It is a mistake from inception to stuck. I hope it stays stuck forever.

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 6:35 a.m. Inappropriate

It is an option and we're currently working on it at parkmyviaduct.org. Feasibility Study is in motion as we speak. Nothing naive about it.

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 6:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Crazy talk can happen on a website, too.

MissRuby

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen!

mspat

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 7:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen to common1sense, not Ms. Martin

mspat

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9:39 p.m. Inappropriate

:)

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Resurrect the viaduct. Redesign the corridor to incorporate the housing, schools, people spaces, community centers and other amenities. Retain all of the current capacity and access for commuters. It is absolutely feasible and everyone wins.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree.

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 12:43 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree also. We could also do something like Portland's Saturday market down there. It would be great for locals and tourists alike.

mspat

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

It's not going to happen. Seattle's city government is desperately and thoroughly corrupt. The developers have spoken. The bribes have been paid. That's the end of it, and the "progressives" will keep re-electing them.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 4:14 p.m. Inappropriate

" we could build housing, schools, community centers and more under the viaduct. It would pay for itself. "
When has a school, community center "and more" ever paid for itself? Housing is increasingly subsidized even in far less expensive terrain so the payoff from "retrofitting" the viaduct sounds to me like wishful thinking. The hotels at least pay taxes.

kieth

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I could give a rip what you put under the viaduct. All I care about is losing the best north/south arterial in the city and the ONLY bypass for downtown. If regional commuters have to continue to be taxed for amenities and tunnels and parks for one affluent downtown neighborhood, at least give us a way to drive through it without having to stop.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Kieth, not retrofitting the viaduct, at this point, it's better to be building a new one.

Not every aspect of what should be under the viaduct needs to pencil out. The unimpeded north/south vehicle corridor is vastly important to this city; the viaduct vehicle capacity far exceeds that of the poorly designed, hugely expensive bore tunnel.

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 5:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I didn't introduce the term "retrofitting". KateMartin did and I was replying to her post (I admit it does get confusing).

kieth

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 7:31 p.m. Inappropriate

not fan-what is your problem? you got an attitude, this town has never been "progressive" until Kshama Sawant showed up. Maybe some "progressive" activity under Mayor Norm Rice. you as a not fan wouldn't know that this state, lock stock and barrel, is owned by Boeing. Not the workers at Boeing, but the corporation and shareholders driving it to destroy beautiful Seattle and Puget Sound.
Hey NotFan-here is my suggestion-let us abandon "Big Bertha" and the ill fated doomed tunnel, tear down the Viaduct and continue Hwy 99 thru Seattle as a surface street. Invest the money savings in the restoration of Seattle Parks and drug rehab for those lost souls living from Pioneer Square to Belltown. We all make mistakes and the tunnel and not dealing with the homeless issue are two of Seattle's biggest failings.
NotFan-if you can't contribute than shut the hell up or crawl back into that hole you came from.

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 11:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh please, GMAFB. Seattle's "progressives" are hypocrites and suckers, starting with idiots like you, who think a 1%-er like Kshama Sawant is a "progressive." I don't know whether to laugh at you or yell at you, so I go for the happy medium and emit a blast of methane in your general direction.

And no, you hateful jerk, I will NOT "shut up." I know how much you despise hearing from anyone who doesn't give you the ol' stiff armed salute with their left hand, but: Too bad.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 8:45 p.m. Inappropriate

willard206, "this state lock, stock and barrel, is owned by Boeing."

You are living in the past. The 40 years ago past, Mr. W.

As to Bertha, shut her down, I agree. But build a new viaduct. Surface streets are deficient and cannot carry the necessary traffic.

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 12:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Wsdot 'rigged' surface street options study in 2008.
Lower Belltown, Wsdot 'studied' options with '5' or '8' intersections.
The option with '2' intersections was NOT studied.
Wsdot studied '5' intersections for both Aurora and Sodo.
The option of NO stoplights Aurora, '2' stoplights in Sodo were NOT studied.
Wsdot studied '13' stoplights for Central Waterfront, but NOT the '9' stoplight option.
Wsdot surface street study stoplight options: 27 to 30.
Possible surface street option stoplights: 9 to 13.
Wsdot and Sdot rigged studies before/during/after the 2007 voter referendum.
Douglas B MacDonald, Paula Hammond and Grace Crunican are criminals.

Wells

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh please don't encourage Wells to do more rants on the viaduct.

sarah90

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 2:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I believe that is not a rant but song lyrics, to the tune of Like a Rolling Stone (or alternately California Love, singer's choice).

spock

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 9:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Your city is in peril, as I try to explain, often in detail,
regarding bore tunnel insuitability in soil conditions, building foundation weaknesses, earthquake predictions, seawall permeability, traffic redirection worse outcomes. MercerEast is fine as expected. MercerWest ruins Queen Anne and worsens MercerEast.

These issues any sensible resident should consider but casually dismiss. Call me a ranter, that's fine. Just don't pretend you have any understanding of the issues.
I did 15 years fine carpentry after a year of VW mechanics with Steve Spinette, arch-conservative Oregon city mayor. Quit the job refusing to act more subservient. He's now on a mission to end light rail and build import cars for the racing circuit. Go figure.
My heart actually fears for the safety of your city.
Sdot, wsdot, Metro, Sound Transit incompetence is unacceptable
to those who know better. Your opinion is tainted with
insufferable Seattle wannabe-ism.

Wells

Posted Sun, Jul 13, 2:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, if it all goes to hell, we'll be saying, "Wow, that nutcase online was right after all. What was his name again?"

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Just take a look at that WSDOT drawing of the proposed waterfront tunnel. That tunnel does not even have half the capacity of the current viaduct. And, who wants to travel in such a claustrophobic environment?

What did Seattle voters give up when they voted to let the big-spending, corporate pro-tunnel forces win? The Alaskan Way viaduct is a jewel in Seattle's crown. An existing world-class scenic throughway with a view few cities in the world may boast of. It should have been touted as such in every tourist guide: "Ride the Alaskan Way Viaduct!" Retrofitted to withstand an earthquake - possibly with graceful cable supports, ala Golden Gate bridge - it would still be much less expensive than our west coast version of The Big Dig, and we're already bogged down with cost-overruns and broken equipment in need of multi-million dollar repairs.

Despite the comments about how "ugly" it is underneath, the viaduct is one of the most beautiful drives
in the world - and it is affordable to average working people, unlike so much of Seattle which is becoming more and more the playground of the wealthy. The viaduct is functional. It helps move large masses of commuters efficiently, and it has knock-out views - the best views in Seattle.

I know. I know. All the urban elitists with their million-dollar downtown condos say "get rid of your cars and walk or bicycle," but for the vast majority of working folks, automobiles will continue to be the major form of transportation into the forseeable future. Repairing the viaduct, and repairing it well, is much cheaper than tearing it down and all the other more-costly alternatives (which would all snarl up traffic
for years). Let's get real folks.

Instead of pushing for "pie-in-the-sky" utopian visions that the average person will not benefit from
and which will place a tax burden on yet unborn generations, let's discuss how to make the most of
what we have: repair/reinforce/retrofit the viaduct - and pave it with rubberized asphalt to bring down
the obnoxious noise level of the current roadway and make the waterfront a more pleasant experience
for everyone.

Mayor Murray, here is your chance to shine as a world-class leader and leave a lasting legacy.
It is not yet too late.

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