Councilmember Godden left office on January 1, 2016.
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Going International in South Downtown

Last Thursday afternoon, four councilmembers, led by Councilmember Sally Clark,  slipped into their most comfortable walking shoes and toured South Downtown  neighborhoods.  After an overcast morning, it was a gloriously sunny afternoon, warm but not hot.

The tour, arranged by Clark’s Committee on the Built Environment (aka COBE), explored the area North of the two sports stadiums and South of the central government core. It’s a swath that stretches from the Rainier corridor to the waterfront and encompasses Pioneer Square, Japantown, Chinatown and Little Saigon. It’s a bustling international area that also boasts the busiest transit hub in the region, a nexus of heavy rail, light rail and the soon-underway First Hill street car.

For several years, city planners have been working with neighborhood advocates and property owners to evaluate zoning and land-use rules in the area. Their goal is to increase residential density and to enhance business success in this area of town, while, at the same time, protecting historic and culturally important buildings.

The councilmembers were accompanied by city planners who explained what was under consideration at each of five different vantage points. Along the way, community representatives joined the tour and commented on the proposed changes. Councilmembers took that opportunity to quiz them about community views on the package of proposals.

Most of the community representatives seemed to agree with the desirability of upzones that could provide more density and yield public benefits such as wider sidewalks, more greenery and new open space. In some cases, the proposed rezones would allow more height above an existing building that could be transferred and sold as a way to generate money to invest in the historic building.

While generally enthusiastic about the proposals, there were a number of cautionary notes. For example, if the proposed rezones allow for greatly increased heights, there will need to be upper story setbacks to provide light and view corridors. Also there were worries that expensive new construction could make rents less affordable for working families.  Another concern came from those who fear that upzones might lead to a great deal more traffic on the area’s narrow streets.

These are all factors the COBE committee will be considering in coming weeks.