Two massive downtown towers threaten traffic, frustrate residents

By: Linzi Sheldon

Updated:

SEATTLE - Nearby residents are sounding the alarm about two new massive hotel and apartment towers in the works along a block of 5th Avenue between Virginia and Stewart streets.

The projects will result in more than 350 hotel rooms and nearly 700 apartment units, with about 400 parking spots.

“It’s just going to be a mess,” Jerry Meyer, who lives in the Escala building behind one of the sites, said. “And it’s going to cause big congestion messes on both Virginia and Stewart.”

The section is often slow-moving for drivers trying to get through downtown and onto I-5.

The project at the corner of 5th Avenue and Virginia by Douglaston Development will include the demolition of the building housing the Icon Grill restaurant. It will be across the alley from the Escala.

The other, by Stanford Hotels, will replace a parking lot at 5th Avenue and Virginia. Both will also have retail on their bottom floors.

The Seattle Department of Transportation said the closest available numbers, at 5th Avenue and Lenora, showed 13,744 daily trips in the area. According to Douglaston’s traffic study, the project would add 1,450 weekday daily trips. SDOT later informed KIRO 7 that those numbers were from 2006.

“That’s a lot of traffic to impact this immediate area and it’s going to have a ripple effect throughout all of downtown,” Meyer said, adding that residents also have concerns about the scale and proximity of the buildings.

“How do you respond to people who look at this and say, well, you guys got to live in this high rise tower. Why shouldn’t these people?” KIRO 7 asked Meyer.

“Well, certainly they can. And I welcome them,” Meyer said. “I’m realistic enough to know that the development’s going to occur… But I think they’re going to be just as inconvenienced and put out by the fact that they’re 18 feet away from my window and I from theirs.”

Meyer and other residents have hired a land-use attorney, Claudia Newman, to ask the city for a deeper look at all aspects of the Virginia Street project via an environmental impact statement.

The developer has issued an addendum, or add-on study, of the project’s impacts, which is added to a 2005 EIS for the downtown area.

A project-specific EIS  would look at all aspects of the project’s impact, including its proximity to other buildings, the traffic impact in connection with the other development, and how the project fits in with the rest of the area in its current state. It would also include public involvement via hearings.

“The city actually has the authority to look, on a case-by-case basis, at each building and change the building,” Newman said.

Wendy Shark, a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, said right now, that step is unlikely as the city reviews the developer’s addendum.

“We’re encouraged to use already-existing environmental documents, like the downtown EIS,” she said. “If we have any questions and need more information, we'll definitely work with the applicant to get that information.”

Shark said the city is also reviewing the developer’s traffic study and may require steps to improve the traffic impact.

“This is an area that is zoned for office buildings and they’re choosing to build residential towers there,” she said.

Douglaston Development issued a statement, which read in part: “Our future residents have the same concerns as Escala, given our close proximity. It’s unfortunate that Escala was built to so close to its property line when there was an opportunity for them to anticipate future development. To allow for more air, light and privacy, our Seattle-based design team has responded to comments throughout the city’s design review process and pulled back substantially from our property line.” The developer also said it looks forward to collaborating with neighbors and the city.

Stanford Hotels also issued a statement, pointing to the millions it would provide in occupancy and sales taxes and the hundreds of construction and permanent hospitality jobs the project will provide.

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