Historic Sheridan building in downtown faces demolition; under old housing bonus program the developer was required to replace these 56 low cost units… but not under HALA-MHA

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Sheridan Apartments at 5th and Virginia

The incentive zoning or ‘housing bonus’ system in place for years required developers to replace 1 for 1 any low cost housing they demolished as a condition for increasing the height and density of their buildings. The new HALA-Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Program does not include this requirement.  And wherever incentive zoning still applies in Seattle, city planners intend also to remove the obligation.  Hundreds of existing low cost units in Seattle will be lost if this occurs.  

A 44-story luxury apartment building at 2005 5th Ave (NW corner of 5th & Virginia) is proposed by a Taiwanese developer that would rise above the empty shells of the historic Griffin Building and the Sheridan Apartments, and will remove 56 units of currently occupied and very affordable downtown housing ($990-$1170/mo. rent at time they applied for permits).  Only the facades of these two buildings would remain.

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Griffin Building

Under the housing bonus program in place for years, a developer has been granted slightly less added density, and required to contribute to construction of the 18 units, and replace 1 for 1 the housing they removed.  Now under the HALA-MHA program, they’re on the hook only for the 18 units.

A preliminary recommendation giving the go ahead to the project already has been made by the Design Review Board with only relatively minor modifications suggested by the Board.

The developer however must return to the Board with a response before they’re given final approval.  No date has been set as yet for that to occur but unless there is massive outcry, the project likely will be approved with only relatively minor changes.

Looking more closely at the Sheridan apartments, the developer now gets to build a massive 44 story building but will pay only a fee contributing to creation of less than 18 units under the new HALA-MHA program.  When calculated the developers actual inlieu fee comes to about $5 million probably less that what it will take to build 18 units.   Yet they’re tearing down 56 affordable units. What good does this do for the City?  This will be repeated over and over again without 1 for 1 replacement language built into the plan. How does this help us solve our housing shortage and homeless crisis?  It’s a giant step backward and represents a net loss, not gain, of affordable units for the city.

It may be too late to stop the developer from tearing down the Griffin and Sheridan buildings and without at least guaranteeing 100 percent replacement of the low cost housing they’re removing.  But it’s not too late for the City Council to add new language into their ‘HALA-MHA’ plan including places where it’s already been implemented – Downtown, South Lake Union, Uptown, the ID-Chinatown area, Central Area and the University District – that would ensure 1 for 1 replacement.  Without this provision, we will see case after case like the Sheridan demolition.  The HALA-MHA plan becomes a blueprint for more displacement and offsetting any value the program asserts in producing additional low cost units for the city.

Not in any of their presentations, or forums, or hearings spanning three years, nor in any of their planning documents, have city planners acknowledged the high levels of displacement set off by their MHA-Upzone plan.  They’ve flatly denied these impacts even in cases like the Sheridan – we’ll be seeing many more cases like it – where there is an obvious direct net loss of low cost units – where we lose many more existing units not offset – not even close – by imposition of the developers mandatory housing requirement on those sites.  The planners refuse to factor in how these losses will greatly offset their estimates of new unit affordable housing production.

More information about the status of this project is available online by entering the project number (3028017) at this website: http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/aboutus/news/events/DesignReview/SearchPastReviews/default.aspx

The packet is also available to view in the file, by contacting the Public Resource Center at SDCI: Public Resource Center 700 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000 P.O. Box 34019 Seattle, WA 98124‐4019 Email: PRC@seattle.gov


About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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