Seattle officials gave a real-estate company preferential treatment and violated city law last month when they renewed a land-use permit allowing the company to carry out a massive redevelopment project on vacant property across the street from City Hall, says a petition filed in King County Superior Court.
The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) renewed the permit Dec. 17, giving Triad Civic Center LLC until October 2016 to transform the city-owned block from a hole in the ground into a mixed-use space with a public plaza and a residential, office and retail tower.
That decision was illegal because Triad’s permit for the Civic Square site had expired more than two years earlier, according to the land-use petition filed Tuesday by the group Displaced Tenants for Accountability and Transparency.
The petition, which seeks a court order reversing the permit renewal, includes as an exhibit a signed, Oct. 10, 2011, copy of the permit with the expiration date Nov. 6, 2012.
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“Given the city’s financial and proprietary interest in the development, the city should not have ignored the law and its own rules,” the petition says.
The permit’s renewal was important because Triad is on the clock to make progress at the site in accordance with a timeline set out in the company’s purchase and sale agreement with the city, said Knoll Lowney, lawyer for the petitioners, who are affiliated with the Tenants Union of Washington.
The agreement — reached in 2007 after Triad won a competition to take on the project between Third and Fourth avenues and James and Cherry streets — calls for the city to give part of the block to Triad in exchange for the company designing and building the public plaza at a cost of about $25 million.
The project languished in the years after the pact was signed. Triad blamed the economic downturn. The agreement initially required Triad to close the sale by the end of 2013, a deadline that was subsequently extended by one year.
The petition cites an Aug. 7 letter in which the Seattle Department of Financial and Administrative Services warned Triad that officials were extremely concerned about the permit lapsing “before the end of the current December 31, 2014 term.”
The sale closing deadline has since been extended again, to Dec. 31, 2015.
“Seattle is wearing two hats,” Lowney said. “The city is a business partner because it has this deal where it gets part of the developed property, and it is the permitting authority. It appears that the two hats may have come together here.”
When Triad first requested a renewal, DPD said the permit was expired and told the company to request a new one, according to the petition.
Triad threatened to sue the city, according to the petition. The company said it had allowed the permit to lapse only because it had been relying on an incorrect expiration date listed both on the DPD’s website and on a copy of the permit.
In a July 30 email to city officials, Triad project manager Brett Allen quoted the company’s land-use attorney writing about the firm’s attempt to secure a renewal.
“I’ll think about creative solutions. Unfortunately, I don’t see anything in code that would allow it,” the attorney wrote, as quoted by Allen.
“May have to go to someone more senior,” the attorney added.
Fewer than five months later, the permit was renewed.
The Tenants Union is taking aim at Triad, at least in part, because it is on bad terms with Triad Chairman John Goodman. His Goodman Real Estate has in recent years sought to purchase and overhaul several low-rent Seattle apartment buildings.
Triad’s Allen addressed the petition in an emailed statement.
“We are seriously disappointed to see a new entity … appeal a proposed project for which they’ve never expressed any interest,” he wrote.
“It’s particularly baffling since this development won’t displace any housing and will contribute over $10 million in project fees for the city to use towards creating affordable housing and child care.”
“It appears to be a misplaced retaliatory action against one of our passive minority investors and has nothing to do with the proposed development itself,” Allen added.
Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said the case deals with “how technical code language must be applied to a complex set of specific facts.”
“We look forward to exploring that issue with the court. This suit does not present an opportunity to debate the broader concerns that seem to motivate the petitioners,” she said.
Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org