Should downtown residents have to shell out for a new park and views?
When Highway 99 becomes a tunnel and the Viaduct comes down next year, Seattle starts work on the waterfront of its dreams. There’ll be a bike corridor, a walk-up to Pike Place Market — even a play area for kids.
And one special group of property owners is being singled out to pay.
It’s a one-time tax, just for downtown property owners. Amazon will pay the tax on buildings it owns. So will people who bought downtown condos back when they were cheap.
Many of the condo owners learned about how the tax would work in March at a city information event. And many are preparing for a fight.
“I’m sure my rent will go up as a business owner, and I know my tax bill will go up as a property owner,” said Tija Petrovich. “Not so happy about that for all the years I’ve lived in Pioneer Square. Since 1993.”
“I’m retired,” said Steven Sandberg, who lives in a condo at second and Pike. “This would literally force a number of my next door neighbors as well as myself into considering relocating out of the area. I don’t want to move.”
The budget for the waterfront park is $688 million dollars, and the city says $200 million of that should be paid by owners whose property values will go up because of the project. Some may even get spectacular views once the Viaduct comes down.
The one-time tax on downtown property owners is called a Local Improvement District — or casually, a LID. The closer a property is to the water, the more it will hurt: $39,000 for a condo at the foot of Union St, payable in one shot. Or $9,000 over at Second and Pike.
Owners at the city event said they were concerned about the potential size of their tax bill. A lot of them also said this bill isn't theirs to pay.
“I’m happy to contribute, but I don’t think I should be forced to contribute any more or less than anyone else,” said Sara Intrilligator, who lives at 6th and Bell. Her special tax bill is around $1,200.
Intrilligator said people who live near parks pay regular taxes, not special ones. And she said parks are good for everyone: “Everyone who lives near any park in the city has a benefit. No more, no less."
“There’s definitely concern in the room about what those assessments might mean,” said Marshall Foster, director of the City’s Office of the Waterfront. “And people really wanted to see us connect those potential assessments with the benefits that the new park would have.”
Foster said collecting $200 million from property owners has always been part of the plan. Properties downtown have seen a huge run-up in value over the last few years, and Foster said owners who are property-rich but cash-poor can take out loans to pay their tax bill.
Still, Foster said actually going through with the Local Improvement District is a political decision that hasn't been made yet.
“Our city council can also choose to lower it … based on what they hear from the public," he said.
That process is getting started with a city council committee on May 2.
The city will hold public hearings this summer about whether to go ahead with the special tax. If it there are changes to the plan, the money will have to come from somewhere else. If it goes ahead as planned, individuals can protest their tax bills to the hearing examiner.
Here's where downtown property owners can check for the impact of the proposed Local Improvement District.
Correction 05/01/2018: Updated to correct the name of the director of Seattle's Office of the Waterfront, Marshall Foster.