SEATTLE’S rezone of South Lake Union, which has been in the works for eight years, should not be subject to a last-minute money grab by the city. The area is booming. Investors are ready to roll. The rezone should move forward.
The measure would impose a fee already used downtown. New space in excess of the old zoning’s height limit would be charged $22 a square foot. This is not a problem. Investors know about it and are planning to pay it.
The problem is that some on the City Council, led by Tim Burgess, have a sudden urge to raise it. They would impose a fee higher than downtown’s on South Lake Union. One idea is to push it above $29, because they speculate investors will pay it.
Maybe they won’t. The University of Washington will soon have 400,000 square feet of modern laboratory space in South Lake Union. The UW would like to double that over the next few years, says Mark Green, associate dean for business at its School of Medicine. But an increase in a city fee could sink those plans.
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“The funding model is very precarious,” he says.
Amazon could afford a higher fee, but might decide it didn’t want to, and invest elsewhere.
“A stare-down of Jeff Bezos is not a game I’d be interested in playing,” says Seattle land-use attorney Jack McCullough, referring to Amazon’s founder and CEO.
The Seattle Times also has an interest. Over the years, The Times has sold property in South Lake Union and invested the money in this newspaper. The Times has property on the market and would be hurt by a sudden increase in the city’s fee.
Any change in the fee should be supported by analysis and data, which the city does not now have. To provide it, Mayor Mike McGinn has appointed a committee headed by Tom Tierney, former executive director of the Seattle Housing Authority.
The committee is having its first meeting Friday and is unlikely to have a recommendation before year-end.
The prudent course for the council is to approve the rezone now, because the plan has been analyzed and the market is ready for it.
But the council should postpone any change in the $22 fee until that figure is analyzed and the council can be sure the market will bear it.
The excitement in South Lake Union is a good thing for Seattle. It merits encouragement.