Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Towers on the Foss

The Tacoma Planning Commission is still accepting public input on a proposal to allow Simon Johnson LLC to build four 16-story buildings on the north side of the Murray Morgan Bridge. The project proposes at least 350 apartments and condominiums, retail space, and a grocery store with four towers that would sit atop a five-story parking garage.

The proposal was adopted by the Tacoma City Council on November 16, 2004, upon a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission, but subsequent review by the Department of Ecology suggested the need for re-evaluation of the proposal to address view impacts from public and residential properties if the proposed height amendment went into effect. Homeowners in the Perkins Building have complained that the project would block their current views of the Thea Foss Waterway and Commencement Bay.

Among others, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber has weighed in with support for the change. Height limits act primarily to constrain the real estate market from achieving the "highest and best" intensity of development and from providing the living or working environment sought by prospective residential or office occupants. Likewise, by effectively restricting supply, these limits have the economic effect of raising the price of space (of course, other regulatory variables also come into play--setbacks and coverage, as well as the parking ratio).

"Height limits can either deter investment or push some of it to other locations, depending on the strength of the market and the regulatory regimes that prevail in alternative locations," advises Richard Ward, CEO of Development Strategies, Inc. "At the same time, by restricting supply and creating monopoly values for existing property owners, height restrictions enable landlords to command higher space rents, providing the location enjoys other benefits sought by the market."

Ward observes that height restrictions may have either positive or negative impacts depending on the relative strength of the local real estate market. Keeping a lid on heights may create "relatively squat buildings abutting each other and filling the city blocks, property line to property line, usually with a public alley for services, utility lines, and deliveries when there are multiple owners, lots, and buildings on the block [that] results in a strong, pedestrian friendly street front, provided the public sidewalks are generously proportioned." At the same time, as a consequence of the height ceiling and a lower overall building density than would be achieved without it, development tends to spread out (i.e., "sprawl").

The Planning Commission is currently conducting the re-evaluation and is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council later in 2006. The Commission is scheduled to continue the discussion of the issue at its October 18th and November 1st meetings and will conduct a public hearing on the issue December 6th (this timeline, however, is subject to change).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:01 PM

    The economic benefit of the Foss towers far outweighs the angry Perkins and Cliff Street Lofts owners. Their values will not go down because of the new towers. They will only go up! Changing views, that is part of living in an urban enviroment. I know my view from my condo might someday be gone. The zoning across the street allows 90 feet but I know that new development will benefit my value and the neighborhood much more than my view. This is an exciting time in Tacoma, if you don't like it, move. Buy a place on the water where nobody can build in front of it or just GET OVER IT!