Code offers trade-offs for new construction

City Council reviewed the proposed changes to the Town Center’s development code for the first time Monday, asking city staff to come back with more information before it reached a decision about how stringent and reaching the city should be with prospective development.

A short list of code amendments has been recommended by the planning commission in an effort to bring more public amenities to downtown with future five-story buildings.

The city is seeking more from future developments in the form of affordable housing, larger public plazas and pedestrian pathways through Town Center’s mega-blocks.

According to City Councilmember Dan Grausz, who was acting as the Council liaison at the planning commission meeting, affordable housing was the first priority of an ad hoc committee formed by Council at the end of 2005 to discern what changes, if any, were needed in the development code to get more the public amenities out of developers.

The ad hoc committee, city staff, and planning commission all recommended that developers provide affordable housing at a ratio of three normal units to one affordable unit or one square foot of affordable housing for every three square feet of living space.

The planning commission agreed something had to be done to preserve some economic diversity on the Island.

“Its sad to live in community where our teachers, police and fire fighters can’t afford to live in the community they serve,” Planning Commissioner Chair Bill Chapman said last Wednesday.

The changes before Council would require developers seeking a fifth story to provide affordable housing in new buildings unless it is the first project in one of the three types of “opportunity sites” designated by the city. Depending on the site, developers may either construct a significant public plaza or a major pedestrian connection instead of the subsidized housing. But the Council wanted more clarification regarding these requirements.

Some Council members feared making the requirements too prescriptive, would limit options for prospective developers.

Council members also mentioned concern with the ambiguity in the language regarding the mid-block pedestrian connection requirement.

“We need to create flexibility,” Jahncke said, “and improving the definitions of the possible locations (for pedestrian connections) that gives us a good deal more of flexiblity.”

The so-called “opportunity sites” for a significant public plaza, which must be a minimum of 4,000 square feet, are at the northwest corner of Town Center near the Old Safeway site and along 77th Avenue near the current Walgreens building and the lot across from QFC.

Other sites in the Town Center are the large blocks near S.E. 28th and 30th Street. Development at these sites, which includes the Rite Aid building or the businesses near Hollywood Video, must include major pedestrian connections if the developers don’t want to provide affordable housing.

Once developers construct the public plazas and pedestrian connections in these designated areas, then all future developments must provide affordable housing if seeking a fifth story. Other developments outside these designated areas are bound to provide affordable housing from now on.

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