Seattle’s proposed Waterfront Park is a different kind of park, a once-in-a-hundred-years kind of different. Let’s not let this opportunity pass us by.
WHEN the Nisqually earthquake rattled the Puget Sound in 2001, the TV news was full of dramatic images of damaged buildings and piles of brick. The damage that was harder to see, but just as momentous, was that done to the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the seawall.
Our city quickly recognized that the necessity of replacement was an opportunity to build a jewel of a waterfront. The Viaduct replacement project became Waterfront Seattle — an essential transportation investment and an extraordinary transformation of public space, water quality and the economy.
As the bill for this investment comes due, some downtown property owners who will be paying an additional property assessment known as a local improvement district (LID), are worried that too much of the cost of the project is falling on their shoulders.
The other side
“Creating a local improvement district to tax downtown Seattle property owners to help pay for the waterfront park is inherently unfair and will be unaffordable for many homeowners,” writes Karen Gielen, in an April 2 Op-Ed: HTTPS://st.news/Waterfront-LID
As downtown residents (and one of us retired), we know the anxiety that comes with rising expenses and property taxes. But the fact is that while LIDs aren’t new, they are fairly rare, and this one is, by any measure, reasonable and appropriate.
The LID recognizes the increased value to our properties that will come from the improved waterfront. With the waterfront under construction, it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re building there. This is not a small pocket park. It’s a re-creation of 26 city blocks that brings together open space, nature, history and urban functionality, and will give downtown residents (like us) one of the most extraordinary backyards in the country.
Because the new waterfront will be a regional asset, the bulk of the funding is coming from the state, a voter-approved citywide-funded bond, the city, the county, the Port of Seattle and private philanthropy. The LID, which has been part of the proposal for years, will provide about $200 million of the $4.3 billion cost of the overall Waterfront Seattle project. The park accounts for $688 million of that total.
It is fair for those who benefit the most financially to contribute a small portion of that benefit to the cost of the park. It’s a modest assessment, based on only half the expected increased property value. Owners closer to the waterfront would pay more than those further away. The median assessment for condo owners would be $2,400; if they opt to pay over 20 years, it would be $188 a year. The city has also reduced the number of affected residents as the city evaluated each parcel for value and reduced the proposed LID assessment area. The bulk of the LID assessment would actually fall on large commercial building owners, and low-income housing would not be impacted.
Now that the preliminary assessments are completed, the City Council is expected to adopt a “notice of intent” to form the LID in May. That will be followed by public hearings and formal action by council in the fall.
As downtown residents, our properties will benefit more from the new Waterfront Park than a property located miles away. Every day, we will wake up just a few blocks away from a pedestrian promenade and a dedicated bike path, gardens and play areas, public performances, food, drinks (and public restrooms). The Overlook Walk will connect the Pike Place Market to a waterfront more beautiful and active than ever. The scale of the project is hard to imagine but there is no doubt that the value of property close to the waterfront will increase.
The Waterfront Park is a different kind of park, a once-in-a-hundred-years kind of different. And we’re paying for it in a different, diversified way so that we don’t have to compromise other Seattle priorities like affordable housing, social services, and public health and safety. The combination of funding from the state, the city, philanthropy and the LID will create a benefit no single entity would be able to create alone. Instead of decrying it, we should be celebrating it. Let’s not let this opportunity pass us by.