Some Rules Are Begging To Be Broken

Shown in the elevation above is the six-story mixed use building that has been proposed for the southwest corner of 23rd and Union in the Central District. The project was approved by the Design Review Board on April 2, but still needs City Council sign off on a contract rezone to raise the height limit from 40 to 65 feet.

Given the apparent popularity of bloviations on density such as this, as well as all the recent hyperventilating over proposed changes to Seattle’s multifamily zoning code, it is perhaps surprising that there hasn’t been more of an uproar over the prospect of tinkering with allowed building heights in a residential neighborhood. The short answer is this: 23rd and Union ain’t Wallingford. That intersection has been a gaping wound for so long that most neighbors are probably willing to cut the developer a whole lot of slack. Furthermore, the location of the building is such that it will impact very few surrounding properties.

But regardless of the context of that specific site, from the perspective of sustainability, the upzone is a no-brainer. Indeed, density in Seattle’s neighborhoods is a lot more controversial than it should be, given the City’s reputation for a green citizenry. It is indisputable that densification is a critical development strategy for achieving long-term sustainability. 23rd and Union is about a mile from the downtown core of one of the biggest cities on the west coast. If we can’t put a six-story building there, we can’t in good conscience utter another word about how green we supposedly are.

So now it’s up to the City Council to do the right thing. Is there anyone out there who’s had experience with a decision like this and could give us some idea of what to expect or how we might be able to make our opinions heard?

P.S. I like the design. It’s unique. It’s light and clean and coherent. For sure it has lost some of the elegance shown in the original rendering — the economic reality crept in. But even Hardie panel won’t stop a good designer. (Strange coincidence how similar the colors are to this just up the street at 14th and Union.)

P.P.S. Full disclosure: I live two blocks from the site, i.e., close enough to enjoy all the neighborhood benefits of the building, but far enough away to not be negatively impacted in any way.