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SEATTLE, WA-Seattle’s city council met on Monday to discuss Mayor Paul Schell’s proposal to raise height restrictions up to 20%in selected owntown areas. If the proposal is approved, current height limits set by voters through the 1989 CAP initiative would be increased overall by about 20%.

The tradeoff for developers having the option to construct taller buildings would be an increase in contributions to a city fund to be spent predominantly on the development of low-income housing, open spaces and the preservation of historic properties. In the past, the fund has been targeted at more cultural amenities such as Benaroya Hall, but Mayor Schell is pushing hard to provide the city with some affordable housing, given the exorbitant residential prices in Seattle.

As the regulations now stand, developers may build their first eight floors with no surcharge for the fund. The present ceiling in the Downtown core is 45 stories. The proposal would raise it to 49 stories. The south edge of Downtown, where construction of 24-floor developments is now permitted, would receive a two-floor increase. And, in the Denny Triangle, the limit would be upped from 30 to 33 flights.

Developers now pay a surcharge of $13 per sf for building up more than eight stories. If all goes according to Schell’s plan, the contributions amount would be bumped significantly to $22.50 per sf—-an increase of 70%. The city estimates that contributions from new projects could raise as much as $17 million over a ten-year period.

Though a study conducted on behalf of Seattle by its San Francisco-based consultant, Keyser Marston Association Inc., advised that an increase to as much as $30 per sf would be reasonable, the proposed increase has not come without opposition. In one camp are developers who are balking loudly at $22.50 per sf. In another, proponents are for an even higher rate. At Monday’s meeting, Councilman Wills put forth an addendum that would have bumped it to $26 per sf. Wills’ proposal, however, was turned down in the council’s straw vote.

Cynthia Parker, director of the city’s Office of Housing tells GlobeSt.com that the council is taking under advisement her recommendation to push off setting a new contribution amount until the city completes its environmental impact study on the proposed density and height increases. “For one,” says Parker, “We are looking at raising the contribution amount by 70% by raising it to $22.50 at a time when the office market has changed significantly.”

Parker is referring to the fairly strong downturn in the commercial office market since Seattle caught the dot-com flu. “The environmental impact statement won’t be completed until sometime next year. At that time we will have an opportunity to reassess the amount.”

Nonetheless, the city council is now slated to vote on Schell’s proposal in its entirety on July 9.

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