City Hall

Ex-Council Member Steinbrueck Lobbying Against South Lake Union Rezone

By Erica C. Barnett November 13, 2012

Former city council member Peter Steinbrueck has taken to Facebook to decry a proposal to dramatically increase allowed building heights in South Lake Union, largely to the benefit of the area's biggest landowner, Vulcan.

The proposal would allow buildings as tall as 400 feet high in some parts of South Lake Union, though buildings closer to the lake itself would have to be shorter, and the tallest buildings would be subject to incentive zoning rules—requirements that developers provide public benefits, such as affordable housing, child care, or transportation improvements, in exchange for additional height and density.


One thing Steinbrueck didn't mention on his Facebook page, however, is that he's being paid to lobby against the upzone.Above a computer-generated image showing huge towers on bulky bases looming over South Lake Union Park, Steinbrueck continues: 

"Welcome to the future of Lake Union Park! If you are concerned about the heavy shadowing of sunlight from September through June, of the Park, scale, loss of public territorial views of the Lake, Space Needle and from neighborhoods extending from Capitol Hill, Cascade, SLU to East Queen Anne, then COME TO CITY COUNCIL"S PUBLIC HEARING, WEDNESDAY, 5:30pm and say a loud "NO" to 240 foot TALL BULKY TOWERS on the shores of Lake Union!"

One thing Steinbrueck didn't mention on his Facebook page, however, is that he is a lobbyist for the Mirabella Retirement Community, a 12-story retirement community that has long opposed taller buildings in South Lake Union on the grounds that they would block sunlight and views. 

According to the city's lobbying disclosure reports, Steinbrueck charges the Mirabella $160 an hour for his services, although he says he's been working for them "partly pro bono" because "I'm really worked up" about the South Lake Union proposal. 

"It’s a rezone on steroids as far as I’m concerned," Steinbrueck says. 

Steinbrueck says the rezone would allow "bread boxes"—towers perched on large boxes that take up huge stretches of entire blocks. "These are quite a bit larget than the Vancouver model. They’re bulkier and in the wrong place. There are multiple negative impacts as a result of planning, or lack of it, that is driven more by property interests and development goals than a form of growth that respects the established neighborhood, respects the existing residents, and respect the neighborhood's wider territorial views."  

Steinbrueck says the public hasn't gotten a chance to look at the details of the proposal, aspects of which have just been released; the city is holding a public hearing on the proposal tomorrow at 5:30 pm at City Hall. 

And he argues that the incentives the rezone would guarantee are lacking. "The housing incentives are weaker than downtown’s, and they’re sorely inadequate at meeting the comprehensive plan's goals around diversity of housing," he says.

Proponents of the upzone, responding to Steinbrueck on his Facebook page, argued that his 3-D models inaccurately represent the level of density that the rezone would allow, and include shadows where no shadows would be. Vulcan's Dan McGrady, for example, wrote, "How were these [images] created? They don't look at all like [what] the code would allow." 

Steinbrueck says, "I would challenge anyone to disprove that" the images accurately represent the development that could happen under the proposed zoning rules. 

Over the years, Steinbrueck has been both a champion and opponent of various height and density proposals. He pushed for the CAP initiative, which limited building heights, in 1989, but voted to repeal the same initiative 17 years later. He fought for density in Northgate, but argued against a proposal to build new transit-oriented development at Sound Transit's University District light rail station, arguing instead for a public plaza.

Steinbrueck, who just got back from speaking at a conference on sustainable cities in New Orleans, has long been known as an urbanist, but his client list may be pushing him in a different direction. 

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