Cosmo blog, an open letter to the mayor

The Cosmo Blog has posted a letter to the mayor about the development going up next door:

Dear Mayor Nickels-

We the community of Cosmopolitan Condominium owners and residents are writing to inform you of a problem with our community. All of us are supportive of Seattle urban growth, otherwise we would not have chosen to invest and live in the Denny Triangle neighborhood. However, we take issue with the lack of communication about an adjacent development project (1918 8th Ave) that affects us directly, and with the lack of formal environmental impact analysis on behalf of residents.

It’s a good letter with lots of photos and diagrams:

34schnitzer Cosmo blog, an open letter to the mayor

And really highlights one of the downsides of buying pre-sale.

About Matt

Matt , Urbnlivn's publisher, has a love for lofts with industrial features and new construction condos that is only eclipsed by his passion for outdoor sports and urban living. Phrases such as “polished concrete” and “exposed brick” are music to his ears. You can also find Matt on Twitter or skiing.

  • mw

    Continental Properties had no responsibility to disclose views or possible view blockage on that property. A developer simply cannot guarantee what the city will do or another property owner.

    The only way to guarantee your views wont be blocked is to buy a unit that has a protected view like at the Cristalla. The developer purchased view rights over the building to the west.

  • mw

    Continental Properties had no responsibility to disclose views or possible view blockage on that property. A developer simply cannot guarantee what the city will do or another property owner.

    The only way to guarantee your views wont be blocked is to buy a unit that has a protected view like at the Cristalla. The developer purchased view rights over the building to the west.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/letter-to-mayor-nickels.html cosmo seattle

    mw — agreed. however, there are other non-view related issues when considering the impact of adjacent development. the material impact i mentioned above (which seems to be what you are replying to) is related to the close proximity of the development. the impact is the loss of sunlight and the loss of privacy.

    what’s the difference in livability when a building is 15 feet away versus a building that is 60 feet away? at what point in considering the impact does a developer (or the city) have a responsibility to notify buyers? at five feet away? how about one foot? the new land use code does NOT require any separation when the buildings are on the same lot.

    jo & erik k — the DPD design permit document (dated 12/14/2006) indicates clearly that schitzer submitted a new permit application directly following the April 2006 zoning changes and that the request for increased height was based on the new legislation. here’s a direct quote from that document:

    “In 2004, the site received a Master Use Permit for the construction of a 13 story building containing 230,000 square feet of administrative office and 8,950 square feet of ground floor retail space. That Master Use Permit (2401880) was reviewed by the Department and approved on August 25, 2005. Due to changes in the downtown Code outlined above, the project was redesigned to reflect changes in height and other provisions of the code.”

    mark w — the narrow strip is 60ft and was sold from continental properties to schitzer at the time schitzer broke ground on the building to the south. what’s interesting is that continental originally bought the cosmo parcel (including the 60ft strip) from schitzer. i wonder what kind of disclosure schitzer provided to continental as part of that sale?

    and by the way, caveat emptor is absolutely right! on that note, i hope others will learn from our experiences.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/letter-to-mayor-nickels.html cosmo seattle

    mw — agreed. however, there are other non-view related issues when considering the impact of adjacent development. the material impact i mentioned above (which seems to be what you are replying to) is related to the close proximity of the development. the impact is the loss of sunlight and the loss of privacy.

    what’s the difference in livability when a building is 15 feet away versus a building that is 60 feet away? at what point in considering the impact does a developer (or the city) have a responsibility to notify buyers? at five feet away? how about one foot? the new land use code does NOT require any separation when the buildings are on the same lot.

    jo & erik k — the DPD design permit document (dated 12/14/2006) indicates clearly that schitzer submitted a new permit application directly following the April 2006 zoning changes and that the request for increased height was based on the new legislation. here’s a direct quote from that document:

    “In 2004, the site received a Master Use Permit for the construction of a 13 story building containing 230,000 square feet of administrative office and 8,950 square feet of ground floor retail space. That Master Use Permit (2401880) was reviewed by the Department and approved on August 25, 2005. Due to changes in the downtown Code outlined above, the project was redesigned to reflect changes in height and other provisions of the code.”

    mark w — the narrow strip is 60ft and was sold from continental properties to schitzer at the time schitzer broke ground on the building to the south. what’s interesting is that continental originally bought the cosmo parcel (including the 60ft strip) from schitzer. i wonder what kind of disclosure schitzer provided to continental as part of that sale?

    and by the way, caveat emptor is absolutely right! on that note, i hope others will learn from our experiences.

  • Harry

    Bummer! Schnitzer is certainly within their rights to modify the project. Which is why those design review meetings are very important. The condo owners at Cristalla, for example, have been very active in the design review discussions regarding the 2 proposed 40-story towers at 2nd Ave and Virginia.

    There is another projected proposed for the 8th Ave and Stewart corner of that block, a visit to the NBBJ website: http://www.nbbj.com provides a look at the block with 1918, Cosmo, 818, and the proposed tower.

  • Harry

    Bummer! Schnitzer is certainly within their rights to modify the project. Which is why those design review meetings are very important. The condo owners at Cristalla, for example, have been very active in the design review discussions regarding the 2 proposed 40-story towers at 2nd Ave and Virginia.

    There is another projected proposed for the 8th Ave and Stewart corner of that block, a visit to the NBBJ website: http://www.nbbj.com provides a look at the block with 1918, Cosmo, 818, and the proposed tower.

  • Mark W

    Up on Cap Hill are a number of buildings that don’t seem to be separated by much more than the 16 feet (though sometimes it looks like at least the living room gets better street or alley views). In college I once had a basement with one window that looked out at a parking lot – my view was often the underside of a vehicle. What’s happening at Cosmo certainly isn’t desirable for most people, but that doesn’t render the units unlivable.

    As for who should keep the prospective buyers informed? Some years ago, when I bought a house that backed up to farm, I asked about the zoning. When the city discussed changes in zoning, I asked. No one else was responsible for keeping me informed about zoning changes that might impact my home.

    Did the Cosmo contracts require they inform buyers of any changes to nearby lots? Did any of the buyers who signed that request that, or perhaps request a contingency? Did any of the buyers keep an eye on the signs on the adjacent properties as you kept tabs on your tower being built? The letter seems to put the communication burden on others. What responsibility do you think the buyers had for keeping themselves informed of what was going on around their investment?

  • Mark W

    Up on Cap Hill are a number of buildings that don’t seem to be separated by much more than the 16 feet (though sometimes it looks like at least the living room gets better street or alley views). In college I once had a basement with one window that looked out at a parking lot – my view was often the underside of a vehicle. What’s happening at Cosmo certainly isn’t desirable for most people, but that doesn’t render the units unlivable.

    As for who should keep the prospective buyers informed? Some years ago, when I bought a house that backed up to farm, I asked about the zoning. When the city discussed changes in zoning, I asked. No one else was responsible for keeping me informed about zoning changes that might impact my home.

    Did the Cosmo contracts require they inform buyers of any changes to nearby lots? Did any of the buyers who signed that request that, or perhaps request a contingency? Did any of the buyers keep an eye on the signs on the adjacent properties as you kept tabs on your tower being built? The letter seems to put the communication burden on others. What responsibility do you think the buyers had for keeping themselves informed of what was going on around their investment?

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/what-is-public-deliberation.html cosmo seattle

    mark- thanks for the questions! the cosmo developer (continental properties) very clearly absolved themselves from any responsibility to inform buyers of nearby development “even though seller may know of developments” (quote is from POS).

    at the time, the permit for a 12-14 story building was approved. most cosmo owners knew of this planned construction next door. the trick is that after purchase agreements were signed and the grace period ended, our 12-14 story neighbor turned into a 36 story neighbor.

    with the degree of change in the land use codes and the scale of the density initiatives, i think the city has an obligation to protect citizens from this untested environment. it feels a bit like we’re beta testing the new legislation.

    of course the schnitzers and the continentals are going to jump on an opportunity to exploit (maximize is probably a more neutral term) the changing regulation environment. the problem is that debugging the new system comes at the expense of consumers.

    yes, i was keeping tabs and tried addressing the change when it happened. earlier today i explained the details of my summer-2006 encounters with DPD on the cosmoseattle blog (ref post and comments).

    this is really techie, and often dry, stuff–thanks for engaging.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/what-is-public-deliberation.html cosmo seattle

    mark- thanks for the questions! the cosmo developer (continental properties) very clearly absolved themselves from any responsibility to inform buyers of nearby development “even though seller may know of developments” (quote is from POS).

    at the time, the permit for a 12-14 story building was approved. most cosmo owners knew of this planned construction next door. the trick is that after purchase agreements were signed and the grace period ended, our 12-14 story neighbor turned into a 36 story neighbor.

    with the degree of change in the land use codes and the scale of the density initiatives, i think the city has an obligation to protect citizens from this untested environment. it feels a bit like we’re beta testing the new legislation.

    of course the schnitzers and the continentals are going to jump on an opportunity to exploit (maximize is probably a more neutral term) the changing regulation environment. the problem is that debugging the new system comes at the expense of consumers.

    yes, i was keeping tabs and tried addressing the change when it happened. earlier today i explained the details of my summer-2006 encounters with DPD on the cosmoseattle blog (ref post and comments).

    this is really techie, and often dry, stuff–thanks for engaging.

  • jo

    i like how he would sign his emails:

    Clifford Tatum, MBA
    Doctoral Student
    University of Washington

  • jo

    i like how he would sign his emails:

    Clifford Tatum, MBA
    Doctoral Student
    University of Washington

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    hi jo- thanks for reading the correspondence i provided. i think there are a lot of details for all of us to consider when purchasing real estate in this new wave of development.

    if nothing else, i hope that by sharing our experiences at the cosmo others will be more informed about buying and living downtown. take a look around… do you see any developers or seattle council members sharing their purchase experiences? as consumers, we’re stronger together than we are divided.

    by the way, i don’t understand your comment. care to explain?

    cheers,

    Clifford Tatum, MBA
    Doctoral Student
    University of Washington

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    hi jo- thanks for reading the correspondence i provided. i think there are a lot of details for all of us to consider when purchasing real estate in this new wave of development.

    if nothing else, i hope that by sharing our experiences at the cosmo others will be more informed about buying and living downtown. take a look around… do you see any developers or seattle council members sharing their purchase experiences? as consumers, we’re stronger together than we are divided.

    by the way, i don’t understand your comment. care to explain?

    cheers,

    Clifford Tatum, MBA
    Doctoral Student
    University of Washington

  • jo

    hahaha

  • jo

    hahaha

  • jcricket

    Does kind of suck for the Cosmo owners, but it seems an uphill battle to get any changes that would materially affect the new building.

    Perhaps the best they can hope for is the coming recession will stop the building before it’s built (only partly in jest).

    One of the dangers of buying presale, or in the midst of a boom/change in zoning is that it’s really hard to tell how your “neighborhood” will shape up.

    I do wonder about the lack of setbacks in some of these buildings – while I’m not concerned about any owners views (or even light issues, sorry), I wonder about the livability of a city where towers are all built to the edge of the block, there’s no green space, etc. Belltown, for example, ends up being block after block of 5-10 story buildings, all smooshed up against the edge of the street. Less attractive than it really could be.

  • jcricket

    Does kind of suck for the Cosmo owners, but it seems an uphill battle to get any changes that would materially affect the new building.

    Perhaps the best they can hope for is the coming recession will stop the building before it’s built (only partly in jest).

    One of the dangers of buying presale, or in the midst of a boom/change in zoning is that it’s really hard to tell how your “neighborhood” will shape up.

    I do wonder about the lack of setbacks in some of these buildings – while I’m not concerned about any owners views (or even light issues, sorry), I wonder about the livability of a city where towers are all built to the edge of the block, there’s no green space, etc. Belltown, for example, ends up being block after block of 5-10 story buildings, all smooshed up against the edge of the street. Less attractive than it really could be.

  • http://www.indieTV.tv kaywood

    Actually you can sue someone for just about anything.

    I think the Cosmo owners should file a class action against Continental Properties and the RE agents that sold them the units.

    I was in the Cosmo elevator last weekend and a RE agent was with some clients, I warned them about the buildings going up and the RE agent gave me a dirty look! She was obviously hiding that fact!

    Bad RE Agents!

  • http://www.indieTV.tv kaywood

    Actually you can sue someone for just about anything.

    I think the Cosmo owners should file a class action against Continental Properties and the RE agents that sold them the units.

    I was in the Cosmo elevator last weekend and a RE agent was with some clients, I warned them about the buildings going up and the RE agent gave me a dirty look! She was obviously hiding that fact!

    Bad RE Agents!

  • Mark W

    Re the timeline posted on the Cosmo blog – was there just one prospective buyer trying to participate in the review process for the changes across the alley? The timeline seems to make suggest that. Although I’m skeptical that it would have made any difference in the decision to allow the 36-floor neighbor were 10-20 prospective buyers were trying, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the concerns if they come from just one person.

    Should prospective buyers be notified of pending changes? Looking beyond Cosmo, the problem here is what that means when it comes to prospective buyers for established communities. E.g., what if I were to put in an offer on a Meridian unit and the city decides to rezone something next door? Would the city be obligated to notify me? The current owner? Lots of current owners may not be aware how their own property is zoned, let alone the neighbors. All zoning changes? Major, minor, positive, negative? Subjective. Even when it comes to lousy views.

    As for Continental “absolving themselves from any responsibility to inform buyers”… The buyer absolved Continental by signing this. If prospective buyer doesn’t like this language in the contract, request that it be changed or don’t sign the contract. If the developer refuses to make changes that the buyer requests, why would the buyer want to do business with that developer? I think it’s hard to make the case that the city should have informed buyers who signed away a requirement that Continental inform them.

    Re View vs Privacy/Light. It fundamentally is a view question. I noted the narrow spaces that exist between some Cap Hill buildings. There are a number of Belltown 5/1s whose alley views stare directly into other buildings. If a 5/1 were to have a parking lot across the alley, it’d be all but impossible to develop the parking lot because anything with windows would impact privacy/light of the established 5/1. Lots of street level, sub-street level and lower floors have minimal privacy if the curtains are open, and the trees and nearby buildings – even if they’re across the street – impact the level of light.

    The only unusual aspect of the Cosmo case is that it’s a tower instead of a 5/1. How far back from the alley would have been acceptable? (I’m a block from the east facing Westin towers – yet they impact my sunlight, and I’m treated to some PG-13 and R-rated views by some of the guests on sunny mornings. When I want privacy, I close the blinds.)

    Re JCricket and the setbacks – when the city was talking about allowing taller residential buildings, they seemed to refer to Vancouver a lot. But it’s been my observation that Vancouver seems to mostly avoid the Cosmo situation. I’d certainly like to see more street level open space. But downtown land prices being what they are, I’m not holding my breath.

    Re Kaywood and a suit – I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the buyers might have had a stronger case had they not agreed to close on their units after the zoning change took place. Then they’d have a real loss of sorts and not a hypothetical one. (Having a couple dozen flipper units for sale at the same time in a building that’s kind of isolated from downtown’s action doesn’t help values either; do you sue the flippers?)

    Re Kaywood and the Bad RE Agent. Just because the realtor gave you a dirty look doesn’t mean she was hiding the fact. Cosmo is surrounded by construction equipment, so it’d be impossible to hide the fact anyway.

  • Mark W

    Re the timeline posted on the Cosmo blog – was there just one prospective buyer trying to participate in the review process for the changes across the alley? The timeline seems to make suggest that. Although I’m skeptical that it would have made any difference in the decision to allow the 36-floor neighbor were 10-20 prospective buyers were trying, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the concerns if they come from just one person.

    Should prospective buyers be notified of pending changes? Looking beyond Cosmo, the problem here is what that means when it comes to prospective buyers for established communities. E.g., what if I were to put in an offer on a Meridian unit and the city decides to rezone something next door? Would the city be obligated to notify me? The current owner? Lots of current owners may not be aware how their own property is zoned, let alone the neighbors. All zoning changes? Major, minor, positive, negative? Subjective. Even when it comes to lousy views.

    As for Continental “absolving themselves from any responsibility to inform buyers”… The buyer absolved Continental by signing this. If prospective buyer doesn’t like this language in the contract, request that it be changed or don’t sign the contract. If the developer refuses to make changes that the buyer requests, why would the buyer want to do business with that developer? I think it’s hard to make the case that the city should have informed buyers who signed away a requirement that Continental inform them.

    Re View vs Privacy/Light. It fundamentally is a view question. I noted the narrow spaces that exist between some Cap Hill buildings. There are a number of Belltown 5/1s whose alley views stare directly into other buildings. If a 5/1 were to have a parking lot across the alley, it’d be all but impossible to develop the parking lot because anything with windows would impact privacy/light of the established 5/1. Lots of street level, sub-street level and lower floors have minimal privacy if the curtains are open, and the trees and nearby buildings – even if they’re across the street – impact the level of light.

    The only unusual aspect of the Cosmo case is that it’s a tower instead of a 5/1. How far back from the alley would have been acceptable? (I’m a block from the east facing Westin towers – yet they impact my sunlight, and I’m treated to some PG-13 and R-rated views by some of the guests on sunny mornings. When I want privacy, I close the blinds.)

    Re JCricket and the setbacks – when the city was talking about allowing taller residential buildings, they seemed to refer to Vancouver a lot. But it’s been my observation that Vancouver seems to mostly avoid the Cosmo situation. I’d certainly like to see more street level open space. But downtown land prices being what they are, I’m not holding my breath.

    Re Kaywood and a suit – I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the buyers might have had a stronger case had they not agreed to close on their units after the zoning change took place. Then they’d have a real loss of sorts and not a hypothetical one. (Having a couple dozen flipper units for sale at the same time in a building that’s kind of isolated from downtown’s action doesn’t help values either; do you sue the flippers?)

    Re Kaywood and the Bad RE Agent. Just because the realtor gave you a dirty look doesn’t mean she was hiding the fact. Cosmo is surrounded by construction equipment, so it’d be impossible to hide the fact anyway.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    harry- thanks for the nbbj link. the 8th and steward bldg in the nbbj image, a proposed condo building, was actually denied by the city. the details are fuzzy, but from what i can decipher, this condo building proposal was submitted for permit along with 1918. DPD later denied the condo apparently because it exceeded some unknown density limit for the block as a whole. the existing watermark will be demoed soon but the new bldg cannot exceed the current height of the watermark.

    an interesting question emerges with this sequence of events; what would it take to swap the locations of those two buildings? that is to swap 500′ 1918 with 10-story watermark replacement.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    harry- thanks for the nbbj link. the 8th and steward bldg in the nbbj image, a proposed condo building, was actually denied by the city. the details are fuzzy, but from what i can decipher, this condo building proposal was submitted for permit along with 1918. DPD later denied the condo apparently because it exceeded some unknown density limit for the block as a whole. the existing watermark will be demoed soon but the new bldg cannot exceed the current height of the watermark.

    an interesting question emerges with this sequence of events; what would it take to swap the locations of those two buildings? that is to swap 500′ 1918 with 10-story watermark replacement.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    jcricket- a coming recession would certainly be an interesting twist. as i understand it, schitzer is building this 500-footer on spec!

    residential tower spacing has its own code in the land use regs. in belltown, spacing requirements are: 60ft separation required for buildings above 125 ft and 80ft separation for buildings above 300ft. heres where i think the city council failed us. in an effort increase office density, they eliminated residential tower spacing requirements for most of denny triangle.

    by the way, your name [jcricket] brings back fond memories of elementary school safety films (of the reel-to-reel rickety sort). whatever happened to Jiminy Cricket?! too bad hes not around to give us some good land use safety tips. the little fella always said hed live to a 103!

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    jcricket- a coming recession would certainly be an interesting twist. as i understand it, schitzer is building this 500-footer on spec!

    residential “tower spacing” has it’s own code in the land use regs. in belltown, spacing requirements are: 60ft separation required for buildings above 125 ft and 80ft separation for buildings above 300ft. here’s where i think the city council failed us. in an effort increase office density, they eliminated residential tower spacing requirements for most of denny triangle.

    by the way, your name [jcricket] brings back fond memories of elementary school safety films (of the reel-to-reel rickety sort). whatever happened to Jiminy Cricket?! too bad he’s not around to give us some good land use safety tips. the little fella always said he’d live to a 103!

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    Mark W- good questions!

    1) yep, just one. it was me. with more people and in physical presence at design review meetings (i was working abroad then, so all correspondence was via email), the board has the authority to trade off on other regulations as incentives for developers to make costly adjustments. in other words, they can help find a balance among stakeholder interests, provided that key stakeholder voices are heard.

    2) in most zoning issues DPD is required to notify current residents (by mail) within a 300 foot radius of the change. we were not residents at the time of the change. but we were not perspective buyers either. we were in that in-between space of being contractually bound to close but not yet owners. not only did the land use for 1918 change but the whole of seattles land use code changed during that 18-month in-between time.

    looking beyond the cosmo, the 18-month-to-close duration requires that you keep tabs of any changes to land use around your new home. in my opinion, this is an unreasonable expectation. just finding the where DPD keeps and updates this info is difficult enough. understanding the specialized vernacular is nearly impossible for someone not in the urban planning industry. more importantly, the ability to know when your rights have been trampled on requires a legal team of the sort that developers keep. if residential supply and demand dictate pre-sales as a continuing mode of home buying, i think the DPD notification rules should be revised to make this a more reasonable transaction process.

    3) continental did absolve themselves from any responsibility to inform. the issue is (as above) that the land use/zoning code changed after we signed and locked in. naive on our part? perhaps. however, when both parties with all the knowledge and all the power (the developer and the city), absolve themselves of all responsibility to inform, who are they serving? each other, of course. is it legal? probably. is it right? as tax payers and consumers of urban density, what should we expect from our public servants in this regard?

    4) im not sure what a 5/1 is (a 5 story bldg?) but as i noted in a comment above, there are specific tower spacing requirements for residential towers in all of the new zoning codes, except for the denny triangle (DOC2) zone. for example, in belltown there is a 60ft separation required for buildings above 125 ft and 80ft separation for buildings above 300ft.

    in the 11th hour of the density legislation debate, the city councils urban growth committee (chaired by Steinbrueck) excluded denny triangle residential towers from any tower spacing requirements.

    5) re JCricket and the setbacks/vancouver – a couple years ago there sure was a lot of rhetoric about vancouver-style tall and skinny residential towers, open spaces, and family oriented density. im not so impressed with how the reality measures up to the rhetoric.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ cosmo seattle

    Mark W- good questions!

    1) yep, just one. it was me. with more people and in physical presence at design review meetings (i was working abroad then, so all correspondence was via email), the board has the authority to trade off on other regulations as incentives for developers to make costly adjustments. in other words, they can help find a balance among stakeholder interests, provided that key stakeholder voices are heard.

    2) in most zoning issues DPD is required to notify current residents (by mail) within a 300 foot radius of the change. we were not residents at the time of the change. but we were not “perspective” buyers either. we were in that in-between space of being contractually bound to close but not yet owners. not only did the land use for 1918 change but the whole of seattle’s land use code changed during that 18-month in-between time.

    looking beyond the cosmo, the 18-month-to-close duration requires that you “keep tabs” of any changes to land use around your new home. in my opinion, this is an unreasonable expectation. just finding the where DPD keeps and updates this info is difficult enough. understanding the specialized vernacular is nearly impossible for someone not in the urban planning industry. more importantly, the ability to know when your rights have been trampled on requires a legal team of the sort that developers keep. if residential supply and demand dictate pre-sales as a continuing mode of home buying, i think the DPD notification rules should be revised to make this a more reasonable transaction process.

    3) continental did “absolve themselves from any responsibility to inform”. the issue is (as above) that the land use/zoning code changed after we signed and locked in. naive on our part? perhaps. however, when both parties with all the knowledge and all the power (the developer and the city), absolve themselves of all responsibility to inform, who are they serving? each other, of course. is it legal? probably. is it right? as tax payers and consumers of urban density, what should we expect from our public servants in this regard?

    4) i’m not sure what a 5/1 is (a 5 story bldg?) but as i noted in a comment above, there are specific tower spacing requirements for residential towers in all of the new zoning codes, except for the denny triangle (DOC2) zone. for example, in belltown there is a 60ft separation required for buildings above 125 ft and 80ft separation for buildings above 300ft.

    in the 11th hour of the density legislation debate, the city council’s urban growth committee (chaired by Steinbrueck) excluded denny triangle residential towers from “any” tower spacing requirements.

    5) re JCricket and the setbacks/vancouver – a couple years ago there sure was a lot of rhetoric about vancouver-style tall and skinny residential towers, open spaces, and family oriented density. i’m not so impressed with how the reality measures up to the rhetoric.

  • Mark W

    Re 8th & Stewart – walked by the site the other day. The zoning sign I saw is for a 35(?) story apartment building, which would exceed the Watermark, and perhaps the Cosmo. Don’t know if that sign is outdated.

    Also saw a new zoning sign at Icon Grill (5th & Virginia) for hotel/residences just across the alley from Escala.

    But back to the Cosmo…

    re (2) – In my Meridian example, I meant the person is pretty far along in the process, but hasn’t closed. (In my limited buying/selling experiences, there was earnest money involved before the actual closing.)

    The fact is, you weren’t residents or owners. It is a grey area, to be sure, but this is one that I think the government should stick with actual owners and residences – that’s a black & white, easy to define segment. That doesn’t mean that the developer shouldn’t pass the information along to prospective residents, but that’s between the developer and the prospects.

    And as for keeping tabs on it for 18 months… Absolutely the buyers should keep tabs on their own investments. There are plenty of existing condos on the market, so it’s not like the 18 month wait is mandatory to buy a condo in this town. People who pre-commit like this are making that choice. There’s no reason for the city to have to babysit their investment for them just because the closing is further off for them them than for others.

    (3) Re absolving themselves… Earlier you wrote, “even though seller may know of developments (quote is from POS).”
    The developer is off the communications hook here *only* if the buyer agrees to this condition. It is the buyer agreeing to this that absolves them. The buyer who agrees to this provision is not a victim here, except perhaps by their own choice. It’s not like anyone had to buy at Cosmo, and given the number of units for sale at 2200, Carbon 56 and Cosmo, it’s not like there are hoardes of people clammoring to get into that section of the Triangle.

    A prospective buyer can negotiate any terms of a contract that are not mandated by law. If the developer balks, the buyer can walk. The language in question – “developments” – certainly suggests that changes are possible.

    The gist of your comments here is that buyers shouldn’t have to keep track of their own investment for 18 months out, and it’s okay if they sign an agreement that releases the developer from having to communicate anything about nearby zoning changes that might affect their decision. And yet, if things change it’s somehow now the government’s responsibility to communicate it – which they have to do through the developer whom the prospective buyer released from communicating such things when they agreed to the language of the contract.

    What exactly do you think are the buyers’ obligations here?

    This actually gets at the crux of what bugged me about the open letter, and even more as the thread has continued – and why this is the first thread I’ve participated in here. It just doesn’t seem like you think the buyers have any responsibility for minding what for most people is the biggest investment they make. I check out the neighborhood pretty regularly – I’m still get a kick out of watching the construction process for these places. But that said, I’d hate to think that I paid more attention to Cosmo than most of those buyers did.

    Re (4) the 5/1s are the 6 story boxes – often a concrete ground floor with 5 wood construction floors above. In a discussion of privacy, light and views, my point with them is that there are a lot of places around here with alley views of other buildings and windows. I don’t like windows that close myself – I don’t envy the Cosmo folks on what’s coming – but it just isn’t that unusual in a downtown area where the proximity of buildings creates all kinds of light and privacy impacts. The Cosmo situation isn’t unusual in that regard – except for its height.

    As for the Urban Growth Committee and the density in the downtown core… Conceptually I like the idea of greater downtown density, but they got carried away from a residential standpoint, IMO. Having come here from the Dayton Ohio area where there has been exactly one new downtown building in the last 21 years, it was amazing to me to see how many tower proposals popped up all over the Triangle once the committee finished their work.

  • Mark W

    Re 8th & Stewart – walked by the site the other day. The zoning sign I saw is for a 35(?) story apartment building, which would exceed the Watermark, and perhaps the Cosmo. Don’t know if that sign is outdated.

    Also saw a new zoning sign at Icon Grill (5th & Virginia) for hotel/residences just across the alley from Escala.

    But back to the Cosmo…

    re (2) – In my Meridian example, I meant the person is pretty far along in the process, but hasn’t closed. (In my limited buying/selling experiences, there was earnest money involved before the actual closing.)

    The fact is, you weren’t residents or owners. It is a grey area, to be sure, but this is one that I think the government should stick with actual owners and residences – that’s a black & white, easy to define segment. That doesn’t mean that the developer shouldn’t pass the information along to prospective residents, but that’s between the developer and the prospects.

    And as for keeping tabs on it for 18 months… Absolutely the buyers should keep tabs on their own investments. There are plenty of existing condos on the market, so it’s not like the 18 month wait is mandatory to buy a condo in this town. People who pre-commit like this are making that choice. There’s no reason for the city to have to babysit their investment for them just because the closing is further off for them them than for others.

    (3) Re absolving themselves… Earlier you wrote, ““even though seller may know of developments” (quote is from POS).”
    The developer is off the communications hook here *only* if the buyer agrees to this condition. It is the buyer agreeing to this that absolves them. The buyer who agrees to this provision is not a victim here, except perhaps by their own choice. It’s not like anyone had to buy at Cosmo, and given the number of units for sale at 2200, Carbon 56 and Cosmo, it’s not like there are hoardes of people clammoring to get into that section of the Triangle.

    A prospective buyer can negotiate any terms of a contract that are not mandated by law. If the developer balks, the buyer can walk. The language in question – “developments” – certainly suggests that changes are possible.

    The gist of your comments here is that buyers shouldn’t have to keep track of their own investment for 18 months out, and it’s okay if they sign an agreement that releases the developer from having to communicate anything about nearby zoning changes that might affect their decision. And yet, if things change it’s somehow now the government’s responsibility to communicate it – which they have to do through the developer whom the prospective buyer released from communicating such things when they agreed to the language of the contract.

    What exactly do you think are the buyers’ obligations here?

    This actually gets at the crux of what bugged me about the open letter, and even more as the thread has continued – and why this is the first thread I’ve participated in here. It just doesn’t seem like you think the buyers have any responsibility for minding what for most people is the biggest investment they make. I check out the neighborhood pretty regularly – I’m still get a kick out of watching the construction process for these places. But that said, I’d hate to think that I paid more attention to Cosmo than most of those buyers did.

    Re (4) the 5/1s are the 6 story boxes – often a concrete ground floor with 5 wood construction floors above. In a discussion of privacy, light and views, my point with them is that there are a lot of places around here with alley views of other buildings and windows. I don’t like windows that close myself – I don’t envy the Cosmo folks on what’s coming – but it just isn’t that unusual in a downtown area where the proximity of buildings creates all kinds of light and privacy impacts. The Cosmo situation isn’t unusual in that regard – except for its height.

    As for the Urban Growth Committee and the density in the downtown core… Conceptually I like the idea of greater downtown density, but they got carried away from a residential standpoint, IMO. Having come here from the Dayton Ohio area where there has been exactly one new downtown building in the last 21 years, it was amazing to me to see how many tower proposals popped up all over the Triangle once the committee finished their work.

  • Dan C.

    I believe the sign near the Icon grill is for the now defunct Trump Tower. If you have been reading the news lately, he has been getting owned on a number of his other gaudy developments.

    Gosh, I sure wish people would build more condotels…like we don’t have four already?

  • Dan C.

    I believe the sign near the Icon grill is for the now defunct Trump Tower. If you have been reading the news lately, he has been getting owned on a number of his other gaudy developments.

    Gosh, I sure wish people would build more condotels…like we don’t have four already?

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/letter-to-mayor-nickels.html cosmo seattle

    Mark W- “What exactly do you think are the buyers obligations here?”

    The obligation should be the same as when buying a house in queen anne or a pre-owned condo. rather than list the obligations, perhaps it would be more productive to talk about the differences involved in our situation. key differences are a) time to close is 18 months instead of just one or two, b) the obligation of the seller to file a form 17 disclosure statement–this doesn’t apply to a developer, apparently, and c) there were massive zoning changes introduced during our 18-months to close.

    i don’t know the history of public notice requirements, but the city (and citizens) decided somewhere along the way that it would be important to provide notification of potential impact due to new development. so in a way, the city already “baby sits investments” as well as potential impact to quality of life. our argument is about where they draw the line for who to notify of potential impact-not whether to notify.

    the new density legislation gave developers expanded (and necessary in my opinion) freedoms in what they develop as well as significant incentive to develop. what they failed to do is provide notification requirements commensurate to the degree of change. we think that the line drawn for who the city is obligated to notify should be moved a little closer to the side of consumers.

    later in your comment you wrote, And yet, if things change its somehow now the governments responsibility to communicate it – which they have to do through the developer whom the prospective buyer released from communicating such things when they agreed to the language of the contract.

    things did change and the government is who changed them. i was comfortable with the POS at the time of signing. after signing, during the 18-months, the zoning context changed. yes, i think the gov had an obligation to notify us. they probably spent 5 years crafting the new legislation, which included active dialog with developers. i think its unreasonable to oblige consumers and residents to figure out not only what material changes are in play but also how this might impact them.

    re 8th & stewart: i have heard two stories (both from schnitzer) about the residential building proposed for the watermark parcel. Schnitzer originally proposed this as a condo building at the same time they submitted the bigger 1918 8th ave plan (circa april 2006). initially, they told me that the condo building was rejected by DPD because it exceeded a maximum density for the entire block. more recently they told me that they chose not to pursue it due to the softening condo market. in any event, they are no longer planning to develop that parcel as residential. as a commercial space they indicated that would be the same height as watermark.

    with respect to adequate tower spacing, there is a difference between a 5/1 and a 500-foot tower. the city recognizes this difference and developed an appropriate spacing regulation for building above 160 feet and for most of downtown. whats unusual about the comso is that its in the only zone that was excluded from these residential tower spacing regulations.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/letter-to-mayor-nickels.html cosmo seattle

    Mark W- “What exactly do you think are the buyers’ obligations here?”

    The obligation should be the same as when buying a house in queen anne or a pre-owned condo. rather than list the obligations, perhaps it would be more productive to talk about the differences involved in our situation. key differences are a) time to close is 18 months instead of just one or two, b) the obligation of the seller to file a form 17 disclosure statement–this doesn’t apply to a developer, apparently, and c) there were massive zoning changes introduced during our 18-months to close.

    i don’t know the history of public notice requirements, but the city (and citizens) decided somewhere along the way that it would be important to provide notification of potential impact due to new development. so in a way, the city already “baby sits investments” as well as potential impact to quality of life. our argument is about where they draw the line for who to notify of potential impact—-not whether to notify.

    the new density legislation gave developers expanded (and necessary in my opinion) freedoms in what they develop as well as significant incentive to develop. what they failed to do is provide notification requirements commensurate to the degree of change. we think that the line drawn for who the city is obligated to notify should be moved a little closer to the side of consumers.

    later in your comment you wrote, “And yet, if things change it’s somehow now the government’s responsibility to communicate it – which they have to do through the developer whom the prospective buyer released from communicating such things when they agreed to the language of the contract.”

    things did change and the government is who changed them. i was comfortable with the POS at the time of signing. after signing, during the 18-months, the zoning context changed. yes, i think the gov had an obligation to notify us. they probably spent 5 years crafting the new legislation, which included active dialog with developers. i think it’s unreasonable to oblige consumers and residents to figure out not only what material changes are in play but also how this might impact them.

    re 8th & stewart: i have heard two stories (both from schnitzer) about the residential building proposed for the watermark parcel. Schnitzer originally proposed this as a condo building at the same time they submitted the bigger 1918 8th ave plan (circa april 2006). initially, they told me that the condo building was rejected by DPD because it exceeded a maximum density for the entire block. more recently they told me that they chose not to pursue it due to the softening condo market. in any event, they are no longer planning to develop that parcel as residential. as a commercial space they indicated that would be the same height as watermark.

    with respect to adequate tower spacing, there is a difference between a 5/1 and a 500-foot tower. the city recognizes this difference and developed an appropriate spacing regulation for building above 160 feet and for most of downtown. what’s unusual about the comso is that it’s in the only zone that was excluded from these residential tower spacing regulations.

  • Mark W

    Re the Icon Grill sign – it just went up on Nov 15 and announces a December meeting. 200 hotel rooms + 200 residences.

  • Mark W

    Re the Icon Grill sign – it just went up on Nov 15 and announces a December meeting. 200 hotel rooms + 200 residences.

  • Mark W

    Re Cosmo Seattle

    Sure the 18 months is a long time, but that’s a buyer’s choice. If a buyer isn’t prepared to keep tabs on his or her investment for 18 months, I’m not sure why they would commit to such a purchase. But agreeing to 18 months to close instead of one to three is a buyer’s choice. The amount of time is irrelevant.

    As for your being comfortable with a POS at the time you signed it in which you agreed to absolve the developer from communicating “even if the seller may know about developments…”, well you got exactly what you agreed to from the developer, apparently. Lesson learned – carefully consider any developer-favoring language in anything one signs.

    As for what the government should have done. Well, it should have followed the laws and established procedures in place, given that we can’t go back and change the past. Lesson learned – buyers need to make sure they know what what those procedures are, because the government and developers most likely do.

    Did the government communicate the changes? Well, the downtown zoning changes were widely reported in the new, and I assume they were properly publshed when they were formally adopted. And proper signage did go up on the adjacent property for anyone to see, not just owners and residents within 300 feet. Maybe someone who tracks these sorts of things can answer whether the government actually publishes such requests as well (I would assume that they do, perhaps on the web).

    And since Cosmo is within 300, it’s probably certain that the government properly notified the owners and any actual residents there. The government, however, has no idea who the prospective buyers are. But there already exists a perfectly reasonable channel for that information to reach the prospective buyers – in addition to the property signage and government publication. And that is through the developer.

    Unless of course the buyer lets the developer off the hook by not requiring that the developer nofify buyers about developments in the area.

    Lesson learned – especially for purchases that are as far out as 18 months, put a contingency in the POS that identifies key changes that would cause the buyer to reconsider his or her purchase. And if the developer is unwilling to agree to the contingency, then don’t buy from that developer.

    This is actually better than merely having the government notify more people directly – even if dozens of Cosmo buyers had shown up at the appropriate meeting, I doubt you’d have gotten a different outcome, since the privacy and light issues are still fundamentally view issues (views are what you see outside your window, even if it’s just a bunch of office workers looking back at you). The contingency gives you an out, and it is entirely between you and the developer, and thus doesn’t need any further government notification.

    There’s no reason why your developer couldn’t have passed along the information that the government provided it, except that you were comfortable agreeing to a POS that didn’t oblige them to do so.

  • Mark W

    Re Cosmo Seattle

    Sure the 18 months is a long time, but that’s a buyer’s choice. If a buyer isn’t prepared to keep tabs on his or her investment for 18 months, I’m not sure why they would commit to such a purchase. But agreeing to 18 months to close instead of one to three is a buyer’s choice. The amount of time is irrelevant.

    As for your being comfortable with a POS at the time you signed it in which you agreed to absolve the developer from communicating “even if the seller may know about developments…”, well you got exactly what you agreed to from the developer, apparently. Lesson learned – carefully consider any developer-favoring language in anything one signs.

    As for what the government should have done. Well, it should have followed the laws and established procedures in place, given that we can’t go back and change the past. Lesson learned – buyers need to make sure they know what what those procedures are, because the government and developers most likely do.

    Did the government communicate the changes? Well, the downtown zoning changes were widely reported in the new, and I assume they were properly publshed when they were formally adopted. And proper signage did go up on the adjacent property for anyone to see, not just owners and residents within 300 feet. Maybe someone who tracks these sorts of things can answer whether the government actually publishes such requests as well (I would assume that they do, perhaps on the web).

    And since Cosmo is within 300, it’s probably certain that the government properly notified the owners and any actual residents there. The government, however, has no idea who the prospective buyers are. But there already exists a perfectly reasonable channel for that information to reach the prospective buyers – in addition to the property signage and government publication. And that is through the developer.

    Unless of course the buyer lets the developer off the hook by not requiring that the developer nofify buyers about developments in the area.

    Lesson learned – especially for purchases that are as far out as 18 months, put a contingency in the POS that identifies key changes that would cause the buyer to reconsider his or her purchase. And if the developer is unwilling to agree to the contingency, then don’t buy from that developer.

    This is actually better than merely having the government notify more people directly – even if dozens of Cosmo buyers had shown up at the appropriate meeting, I doubt you’d have gotten a different outcome, since the privacy and light issues are still fundamentally view issues (views are what you see outside your window, even if it’s just a bunch of office workers looking back at you). The contingency gives you an out, and it is entirely between you and the developer, and thus doesn’t need any further government notification.

    There’s no reason why your developer couldn’t have passed along the information that the government provided it, except that you were comfortable agreeing to a POS that didn’t oblige them to do so.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/email-from-mayor-nickels.html cosmo seattle

    thanks everyone for the great questions and for challenging our claim. responding to your comments has helped surface the main issues of contention. i posted a synthesis of these key issue on the cosmo seattle blog and would welcome any new feedback.

    Mark W- i’m glad you decided to join this discussion. your comments were particularly thoughtful and challenging. thanks again for pushing. let me know if you still disagree with the specific issues noted at cosmo seattle.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/2007/11/email-from-mayor-nickels.html cosmo seattle

    thanks everyone for the great questions and for challenging our claim. responding to your comments has helped surface the main issues of contention. i posted a synthesis of these key issue on the cosmo seattle blog and would welcome any new feedback.

    Mark W- i’m glad you decided to join this discussion. your comments were particularly thoughtful and challenging. thanks again for pushing. let me know if you still disagree with the specific issues noted at cosmo seattle.

  • Mark W

    First, re the 8th & Stewart sign – I checked that again the other day, and it’s dated 2006, so its 30+ stories stuff is definitely out of date. Don’t know what is currently planned.

    Re the city and the web – a quick Google turned up the website right off the bat. One can even subscribe to email lists of reviews, meetings, etc. for property changes, approvals. I don’t know if this was true at the time of the Cosmo pre-sale, but it does provide pre-buyers with a convenient means for keeping tabs on the area around their pre-buy independently of their developer.

    But also looking through the info on the site, I’m even more convinced that the Cosmo pre-buyers wouldn’t have been able to stop the changes to the building across the alley unless they were willing to pay for the air-rights. Your neighbor is simply a developer exercising its rights to maximize the value it can get from a site within the bounds of the zoning restrictions. And those zoning restrictions don’t appear to do much for view-related issues like privacy and sunlight in that part of downtown.

    I think your real “enemy” (if you will) was the broader downtown zoning change process. That was well-publicized and dates back to even before I got here in 2002, and it continued to get a lot of attention until the changes were finalized. Clearly most developers were paying attention, given the number of signs that popped up around the area within a couple weeks after the changes were finalized. The end result sure doesn’t look like the Vancouver model they talked about, but that’s the city’s doing, not the developer across the alley. And I take it that Cosmo pre-buyers probably did not participate in the feedback process for that.

  • Mark W

    First, re the 8th & Stewart sign – I checked that again the other day, and it’s dated 2006, so its 30+ stories stuff is definitely out of date. Don’t know what is currently planned.

    Re the city and the web – a quick Google turned up the website right off the bat. One can even subscribe to email lists of reviews, meetings, etc. for property changes, approvals. I don’t know if this was true at the time of the Cosmo pre-sale, but it does provide pre-buyers with a convenient means for keeping tabs on the area around their pre-buy independently of their developer.

    But also looking through the info on the site, I’m even more convinced that the Cosmo pre-buyers wouldn’t have been able to stop the changes to the building across the alley unless they were willing to pay for the air-rights. Your neighbor is simply a developer exercising its rights to maximize the value it can get from a site within the bounds of the zoning restrictions. And those zoning restrictions don’t appear to do much for view-related issues like privacy and sunlight in that part of downtown.

    I think your real “enemy” (if you will) was the broader downtown zoning change process. That was well-publicized and dates back to even before I got here in 2002, and it continued to get a lot of attention until the changes were finalized. Clearly most developers were paying attention, given the number of signs that popped up around the area within a couple weeks after the changes were finalized. The end result sure doesn’t look like the Vancouver model they talked about, but that’s the city’s doing, not the developer across the alley. And I take it that Cosmo pre-buyers probably did not participate in the feedback process for that.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com cosmo seattle

    mark w- you seem to be pretty invested in this issue. may i ask what industry you work in?

    i think our claim is pretty clear now (thanks in part to you pushing the issue). so at this juncture i’m reasonably happy to agree to disagree.

    however, i’m left wondering about your strong defense of developers and your apparent disdain for buyers. care to explain?

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com cosmo seattle

    mark w- you seem to be pretty invested in this issue. may i ask what industry you work in?

    i think our claim is pretty clear now (thanks in part to you pushing the issue). so at this juncture i’m reasonably happy to agree to disagree.

    however, i’m left wondering about your strong defense of developers and your apparent disdain for buyers. care to explain?

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