The City of Seattle has crafted a “loosely based” version of the Living Building Challenge that will delight developers. Lots of extra height, well beyond the zoned height limits for making an attempt to be green. The program will probably be extended after the July 9th meeting of Seattle’s PLUS Committee at Seattle City Hall , 600-4th Ave, 2nd floor. The Committee is hearing public comment on these monster buildings, the extended deadline and amendments that make life easier for the developer. You might want to consider responding because if you don’t, you might never want to use your backyard, patio, deck or vegetable garden, again. You might never have the awesome sight of mountains and water from your neighborhood, again. Letters, calls and emails to Council Members are also encouraged. Contact information is listed below.
Monster buildings cast monster shadows. The one proposed at 1720-12th Avenue is estimated to cast a shadow over 400 feet long in the winter time. That building will be approximately 78 feet high in a 40 foot zone. Wallingford is getting an 82 foot high building in a 45 foot zone. More info: firstname.lastname@example.org. With the extended deadline, these buildings will be sprouting up all over Seattle so you might want to pass this information along to the rest of Seattle. Hope they are listening.
As one neighbor put it, “What they are doing is not human. They are selling sunlight. There isn’t enough sunlight here, already.”
The developer picks the “petals” of the program they think they might reach. They don’t need to reach all of the petals just some of them. Some are easy like “Beauty” since it can’t be measured. Others “petals” are based on percentages of comparable buildings. We all know how wide-ranging comparables can be with utility usage, don’t we? Some petals are just a pledge to buy your materials locally (Materials Petal). Basically, with this law you get extra height for having windows that open (Health Petal). And the proposed amendment makes the program even easier for developers.
The genuine Living Building Challenge won’t let you take solar rights away from others or erect buildings taller than their surroundings. Seattle didn’t adopt that part of the genuine Living Building Challenge, however.
The penalty for not reaching this version of the Challenge? According to the City’s brochure, “Projects failing to meet these standards may be subject to monetary penalties up to 5% of construction value, based on extent of compliance.” Note the word “may” here. Probably no penalty is more likely.
And the building gets to keep its height no matter what-even if it doesn’t meet the Challenge!
If you work all the exceptions, called “departures,” you can almost double the height in your zoned area. Of course, it helps if you can clothe your project with other words to delight the city like “co-housing,” “no parking provided,” etc. Everything is an excuse for getting more height and ignoring the neighborhood’s carefully planned height limit zones.
A tall building in a low-rise neighborhood is the way to destroy a neighborhood in a hurry. Immediately after the Design Review decision for 1720-12th Avenue one family house was put up for sale and others have been whispering about selling since they can’t be sure what is going to happen. People won’t have enough sun for a vegetable garden, their decks and gardens will be in perpetual shade. And the City of Seattle will call these monsters “green?” Experts comment that tall buildings are actually much less energy and water efficient than shorter buildings which also have the added benefit of having less impact on their surroundings. If you have to drive to see the mountains and water because you can’t see them in your neighborhood–is this green?
We know the City needs to allow for more density but why do it like this? Seattle’s deeply flawed version of the Living Building Challenge is a Pilot Program so if they can get away with this, who knows what else they might try.
Please consider contacting Seattle City Council Members and the Mayor. A short email to them on your cell phone right now can do wonders for changing their mind. The Capitol Hill Coalition pulled off an amazing upset in May when the Council decided it wasn’t such a good idea to rezone our residential areas for commercial. Time to do this again!
Sally J. Clark
Bruce A. Harrell