The Port of Seattle faces a delay of perhaps half a year or more in efforts to foster development at North Bay, a big swath of largely vacant...

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The Port of Seattle faces a delay of perhaps half a year or more in efforts to foster development at North Bay, a big swath of largely vacant land near Magnolia and Queen Anne.

The Port is seeking changes in city regulations to permit buildings of eight or nine stories — taller than current rules allow — to be clustered on the 57-acre site. Those changes were supposed to be considered in October as part of the city’s annual amendment to its comprehensive development plan.

But Mayor Greg Nickels last week excluded the Port’s request from his recommended plan amendments.

The decision is a disappointment for the Port, which hopes to generate income from the site.

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“Rather than discussing zoning changes this year, it’s going to be forced back into next year,” said Mark Griffin, the Port’s North Bay project manager. “We’re hoping for the first or second quarter of next year.”

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the Port’s earlier timetable was unrealistic.

“We told them from the beginning that was an impossible schedule” to have both zoning and comprehensive plan changes approved together, Ceis said.

The Port also has received two appeals to its environmental-impact statement for the project. Hearings on those are set for next Friday, the Port said.

The Port has spent more than $5 million studying how to revitalize North Bay to foster an urban campus that it hopes would attract developers to build research facilities, high-tech offices, retail shops and light-industrial buildings on what is now a vast, little-used parking lot.

North Bay opponents say the changes would gobble up scarce industrial land in the city.

Griffin said the delay won’t derail the project. But, he added, “we don’t want to have the site continuing to languish in its existing state. Right now it’s not returning any economic benefits.”

The city said amending the comprehensive plan is not necessary and could have unwanted consequences.

“By putting that kind of change in the comprehensive plan, we could be setting a precedent for how we would treat other industrial zones in the city,” said Tom Hauger, manager of comprehensive and regional planning for the city. “That’s a fundamental policy choice that the city’s not ready to make yet.”

Alwyn Scott: 206-464-3329 or ascott@seattletimes.com