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SEATTLE-A city council decision this week raises slightly the height limit for buildings in certain Downtown areas, and raises substantially the extra fees developers must pay to get there. By not also raising the size of the building, the city is hoping for taller, skinnier buildings that will leave more room for housing.

In the Downtown core, buildings can now be 49 stories instead of 45; in the Denny Triangle area they can now rise up 33 stories instead of 30 and in the south Downtown area they can now reach 26 stories instead of 24. But the real story is in the fees. Buildings can only add the other stories if they are willing to pay a 40% premium.

Under the old ordinance, a developer could essentially erect a building four times the size of his parcel without much extra cost. If a building six-times the size of the lot was wanted, certain public amenities had to be added to the building. And if the developer wanted to go higher, up to 10 times the size of the parcel, $13 for each extra square foot had to be paid.

Now, a developer that walks in the door can build a building five times the size of the lot, but he must now provide certain amenities that heretofore the developer could elect not to provide. And to go higher, the price is now $22 per sf, which means a developer who wants to build a 400,000 sf building on a 50,000-sf parcel would have to pay $4.4 million instead of $2.6 million.

Also changing is the percentage of the fee that will go toward affordable housing. Under the old ordinance, only 25% of the money so allocated; now it will be 75%.

Richard Stevens, COO for developer Clise Properties, who was involved in the process leading up to the new legislation, says the ordinance is mostly about the Denny Triangle area, because the Downtown core is largely built out. He isn’t thrilled about the outcome, but said it’s better than the $26 per sf a consultant told the city it could reasonably charge, and that ultimately the developers should get something in return. “Phase Two of all this is implementation of the Denny Triangle neighborhood plan,” says Stevens, “which should allow for increased height and increased density.”

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