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Seattle Tower-Spacing Rules Cause Controversy

To preserve views, zoning rules from 2006 require adequate distance between residential towers of a certain height. As developers chafe against the restriction, residents still worry they'll be left facing a wall.
July 27, 2015, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Another symptom of Seattle's success: limited access to a decent view. Condos boasting picture-window vistas a decade ago lose their allure when an even taller residential tower goes up 20 feet away. 

Seattle has taken steps to prevent that from happening. "The city's tower-spacing rule, which governs a large swath of downtown, was adopted nearly a decade ago to preserve views and daylight in an increasingly dense downtown [...] When the city overhauled the zoning code in 2006, it allowed developers to build denser, higher towers in downtown's mixed-use areas."

"To prevent streets from becoming walled corridors that block out light and views, and make pedestrians feel like they're in a wind tunnel, the city required that new towers over 160 feet high be 60 to 200 feet away, depending on the part of downtown, from other existing or permitted ones." Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this rule puts adjacent developers into competition for the permit to build higher. "Even small delays by either side can lead to being second in line for a tower permit and huge lost opportunities [...]"

Still, the tower-spacing rule enjoys public support. "Some residents of other downtown areas where the tower-spacing rules don't apply wish they had such restrictions. They say they live in fear of having a tower built a stone's throw from their window." To address those fears, some developers are experimenting with the podium-style developments (wide base, often with retail, and a thin, glassy tower on top) that have seen success in Vancouver.

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Published on Thursday, July 2, 2015 in The Seattle Times
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