Arena or no arena, there's no need to rush a decision on more hotels and apartments in Sodo.
Press pause on development plans
FOR more than a decade, hotels and apartments have been prohibited on several key blocks between investor Chris Hansen’s proposed NBA arena in Sodo and the football and baseball stadiums to the north.
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That’s because those blocks are just inside the boundary of Seattle’s sprawling Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center, supposedly a sanctuary for industry in this fast-gentrifying city.
Last month, before he left office, Mayor Mike McGinn asked the City Council to remove the blocks from the industrial center, opening the door to lodging and — in one key location — residential development.
It’s a significant policy change, too significant to decide in a hurry.
The council is scheduled to act on the proposed amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan by March 31. Instead, it should press the pause button until the impact of the changes on freight movement, Port of Seattle operations and the stadiums’ industrial neighbors is better understood.
There’s no rush here, especially with new Mayor Ed Murray yet to weigh in, plenty of other new development under way north of the stadiums, and Hansen’s bid for an NBA franchise stymied for now.
The amendments were recommended in a study the Department of Planning and Development completed in November. The city agreed to do that study in the Memorandum of Understanding it negotiated in 2012 with Hansen, who wants to develop a much smaller version of Los Angeles’ sports-driven L.A. Live entertainment district near his proposed arena.
However, even before Hansen surfaced and ignited hopes of bringing the Sonics back, the quasi-public agencies that run Safeco and CenturyLink fields were looking at ways to make the blocks around their venues livelier, more inviting and more economically successful.
Among their suggestions: apartments and hotels.
Injecting more 24/7 vitality into the stadium district is a worthy goal. The rub comes in finding the right balance between optimizing the stadiums’ value and protecting the Port and other industrial neighbors from incompatible development that eventually could force them out.
Not much actual industry remains on the blocks slated to lose their industrial designation under the proposals. Those blocksaccount for less than 2 percent of the land inside the Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center.
But the wrong kind of development on them could have far-reaching consequences, undermining industry elsewhere in the Duwamish zone and the 50,000 jobs it supports.
For instance, the amendments would allow apartments on the north end of a long, narrow block west of First Avenue South and north of Royal Brougham Way, now a construction staging site for the Highway 99 tunnel.
The WOSCA block — that’s the acronym of a trucking company that once occupied the property — is just across the street from the Port’s busy Terminal 46 and its ships, trucks, cranes and containers. Residents of a future apartment tower could make life miserable for the Port and its customers.
But, with the tunnel still years from completion, the state Department of Transportation won’t be ready to turn the WOSCA block over to developers until 2018 at the earliest. That’s just one reason why changing the ground rules for development on the stadium blocks now would be premature.
A delay would allow the city to better assess what impact hotels and apartments might have on transportation and freight mobility. The city and Port just began work on a study of freight access problems and potential solutions in industrial areas.
The study is supposed to be finished in September. Any stadium-area land-use changes should await its completion — indeed, the city’s agreement with Hansen calls for coordination between the two efforts.
The Seattle Planning Commission, in recommending delay, also called for an economic analysis. That’s wise. The City Council should have some sense before it acts of whether the amendments would create more jobs than they might kill, or generate more tax revenue than they might wipe out.
It’s possible the impact of apartments and hotels on industry, the Port and the city wouldn’t be much different from the office and retail development that’s already allowed on the stadium blocks. City planners contend apartment development on the WOSCA block could actually generate less peak-hour traffic than offices.
But there’s plenty of time to sort those issues out: The Department of Planning and Development completed its study and offered its recommendations a year earlier than was required by the city’s agreement with Hansen.
There’s no need for the council to rush ahead as well. Getting this done right is more important than getting it done quickly.
Industry deserves better protection
SEATTLE’S major industrial areas need better protection from ever-encroaching incompatible development if they are to survive and thrive. Proposed amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan, offered late last year by the Department of Planning and Development, should help.
Unfortunately, the department coupled them with a proposal to trim the boundary of the 5,000-acre Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center to eliminate several blocks around the Sodo stadiums, opening them to potential hotel and residential development.
That’s premature. But the agency’s recommendations for the remainder of the Duwamish and the Ballard/Interbay industrial areas should be adopted by the City Council.
One change would allow lands to be removed from the two designated industrial centers only if there’s no land elsewhere in the city for the proposed nonindustrial use, and if that use would not displace or harm industry.
Another would bar any more rezones from heavy-industry classifications to “industrial commercial,” a hybrid designation that’s been a vehicle for developers to build big office and retail projects on once-industrial lands.
The two industrial centers support one-sixth of Seattle’s jobs. That’s reason enough for these amendments to be approved.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).