A multimillion land deal and development at a key First Hill corner hangs in the balance but backers say a proposal that would boost the height of new projects in exchange for protecting the area’s landmark-worthy buildings could be key to shaping the neighborhood’s future.
Wednesday, the Seattle City Council’s land use committee and chair Dan Strauss will begin consideration of legislation that would create a “Transfer of Development Rights” program for First Hill with hopes to vote on the proposal in March.
The plan would create a TDR zone in the neighborhood that would allow the owner of a historic property to sell or trade the land’s development rights to another parcel in exchange for preserving the character structure.
Other similar zones are already active in the city including on Capitol Hill where this development rights swap played out in 2016 allowing the Pike Flats building at Pike and Harvard to rise ten more feet to 75 feet tall in a deal with the owners of the Melrose Market.
While there are several historic structures that could eventually be part of the proposed First Hill zone, only one property currently has official landmarks status and is at the center of the legislation. According to the September 2021 director’s report on the proposed legislation from the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, ownership of the landmarked Sorrento Hotel has a deal under contract to sell its 9th at Madison two-story parking garage as part of a major mixed-use redevelopment plan.
CHS reported here in 2019 on Capitol Hill real estate investor and developer Mike Malone and the unusual $21 million deal he struck to complete his ownership of the 1909-built hotel.
While Malone also owns Capitol Hill real estate development firm Hunters Capital, he won’t be developing the Sorrento’s garage property — TDR zone, or not. Malone told us in 2019 he was looking for partners to develop the potential high rise property.
Under the TDR legislation, the First Hill program would allow heights up to 350 feet for receiving properties in its 200-foot zones. Unique to the First Hill program, the TDR swaps would be limited to only sending and receiving sites on the same block.
Eventually, there could be two big, tall First Hill buildings at the corner. Across the street, plans for this 21-story mixed-use development have been stalled during the pandemic and not yet restarted.
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From what I see, either the 200 or 350 should have a devastating impact on the Sorrento by blocking it’s W view. Unless provisions for Sorrento parking are made to the development, I also see this adding to the hospital campus congestion. But, since it’s a prime vehicle for hiding assets, they’ll likely get what they want.