Seattle City Council approves $160 million tax on downtown property owners for new waterfront park

Councilmember Debora Juarez said the public spaces would “reconnect the city to the Salish Sea,” and Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the legislation after the council’s vote.

Seattle cemented a $160 million component of its plan to redevelop the city’s central waterfront Monday, as the City Council approved a special tax on downtown property owners.

The council voted 8-0 to create a Local Improvement District (LID) to help pay for a new waterfront park, tree-lined promenade and pedestrian ramp up to Pike Place Market.

Councilmember Debora Juarez said the public spaces would “reconnect the city to the Salish Sea,” and Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the legislation after the council’s vote.

Seattle’s broader plan for the waterfront after the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct has a $712 million price tag, with the city, state and philanthropists chipping in. It also includes a new Alaskan Way, a landing where the Seattle Aquarium intends to build a new pavilion and street improvements.

Authorized by state law, LIDs allow cities to generate money for infrastructure projects by assessing nearby property owners whose property values stand to increase as a result.

The property owners in a LID pay a percentage of their anticipated “special benefits,” with those closer to the project paying more, based on their greater anticipated benefits.

Some condo owners in the area have opposed the LID, arguing they shouldn’t have to shoulder costs for amenities certain to attract visitors from the entire city and region and even the world.

“Do not vote to kick us out of Seattle,” condo owner Robin Eng warned the council, saying he won’t be able to afford the tax. “That’s what you guys will be doing.”

But to block the LID, the opponents needed to rally property owners representing at least 60 percent of tax money. Some large, commercial property owners made that impossible by instead cutting a deal with the city, backing the LID in exchange for input and assurances related to the waterfront’s operation and a reduction in the size of the tax from $200 million to $160 million.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, whose District 7 includes downtown and whose condo will be taxed in the LID, told her neighbors their payments will be worthwhile because the project will allow Seattle to re-embrace Elliott Bay.

“We’re going to have a front row seat,” she told them.

The median commercial-property owner in the LID, of which there are 1,528, will pay $5,900, for a total of $140 million, according to city estimates. The median condo owner, of which there are 4,600, will pay $1,900, for a total of $20 million.

The average commercial-property owner will pay $91,575, with some very valuable parcels on the high end, and the average condo owner will pay $4,656, according to city estimates.

Downtown renters and lease holders will pay what their landlords pass on.

At the 11th hour, an individual condo owner asked council members to disqualify themselves based on briefings they received from the city’s Office of the Waterfront and the nonprofit Friends of the Waterfront during months when they weren’t supposed to be lobbied for or against the LID.

The council members declined to disqualify themselves, saying they were collecting information rather than being lobbied and saying they had not been biased.

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