The Amazing Disappearing Condo View

Granted, this is pretty much old news by now, but the issue of the disappearing condo views is at least worth mentioning.

Benjamin Shanfelder signed up to buy a condominium on the west side of downtown Seattle’s Cosmopolitan building in 2005 because it was one of the first new downtown high-rises and was convenient to amenities like the downtown bus tunnel and South Lake Union streetcar.

But before choosing a condo on the west side of Cosmopolitan’s 21st floor, he looked into plans for the adjacent lot and found the city had approved a 13-story office building there.

“I bought with that assumption,” he said last week.

Shanfelder knew other nearby projects would block some of his view. But it was a nasty surprise when developers of the neighboring building, which would be 18 feet away, revised their planned height to 34 stories — one story higher than Cosmopolitan.

“I would lose most of my remaining view and pretty much all of my sunlight and privacy,” he said.

Actually, he won’t: He sold his condo last month and moved to Queen Anne.

This tale of two towers raises questions about the city’s rules for tower spacing, the process for notifying neighbors and reviewing potential effects, and the obligations of a developer to tell buyers about plans for adjacent projects.

Developer Schnitzer West applied to build the 34-story tower in April 2006, just after the city raised downtown height limits. On Schnitzer’s site, limits went from 300 feet for a commercial building and 360 feet for a residential building to 500 feet for either.

Adjacent property owners, including Cosmopolitan developer Continental Properties, were notified of the new application, as per city requirements. But those who had signed agreements to buy in Cosmopolitan were not.

Ah, the joys of downtown condo living. Amazing views (for a year or two), trendy granite and stainless steel finishes (which will never go out of style, ever), and easy access to the SLUT. Who wouldn’t want to pay half a million or more for all that?

(Aubrey Cohen, Seattle P-I, 12.02.2007)

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.

39 comments:

  1. 1
    Lake Hills Renter says:

    Wow, 18 feet between buildings. After being on the 37th floor of Key Tower and watching the corner of Columbia Tower disappearing and reappearing thriugh the window during the last earthquake, I wonder if 18 feet is enough for the buildings to now slam together should we have another.

  2. 2
    Bubblicious says:

    Speaking from experience (structural engineering), you shouldn’t worry about the 18′ gap between the two buildings during an earthquake. The buildings will sway in unison and always be perfectly parallel to one another. The technical term for this is “synchronized swaying”.

  3. 3
    biliruben says:

    “Syncgronized Swaying” – A new exhibition event in the 2012 Building Olympics!

  4. 4
    Buceri says:

    And 18′ allows you to get your Grey Poupon from your neighbor across the street.

  5. 5
    uptown says:

    re: “Synchronized Swaying”
    I don’t think so…

    I have seen what happens when two buildings sway – a friend had an apartment in SF that spanned 2 buildings, designed to look like one (very close together). A breakaway was designed to fill the gap, with the asssumption the difference in sway would be minimal (according to the engineers). Well, the apartment was a mess after the 1989 earthquake, and required major repairs.

  6. 6
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    Could someone please explain to me this fascination with ‘views’? Almost everyone seems to think it’s vitally important to their lifestyle that they be able to look out their window at…something. But I don’t know anyone who actually spends a significant amount of time doing it.

    6 months out of the year, it’s dark outside from the time you get home from work until the time you leave for work in the morning (if you have a day job).

    During those same 9 1/2 months, most people I know frown when the look outside and see the rain or clouds.

    The rest of the year, people are usually outside enjoying the nice weather while we have it. If you have a SFH, you might enjoy your view then, but if you live in a Condo you have to go someplace else to enjoy the outdoors anyways.

    Again, what’s with views?

  7. 7
    Ubersalad says:

    Bubblicious said,

    on December 4th, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Speaking from experience (structural engineering), you shouldn’t worry about the 18′ gap between the two buildings during an earthquake. The buildings will sway in unison and always be perfectly parallel to one another. The technical term for this is “synchronized swaying”.

    I am not an engineer, but I know buildings will hit each other and I will blog about it!

  8. 8
    Affluent Bitter Renter says:

    “Again, what’s with views?”

    Marketing, when you flip your condo.

  9. 9
    Bubblicious says:

    re: “Synchronized Swaying”
    I don’t think so…

    =======
    Actually, my comment above was a joke. I’ve never taken any engineering class in my life. Guess I played it too deadpan. :)

  10. 10
    Dave0 says:

    “Could someone please explain to me this fascination with ‘views’?”

    I agree with you RCC, views are overrated. They are desired by people who don’t have them because those that don’t have them think their lives will be a lot better with them, or something like that.

    I grew up on sunset hill with a view of Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains. Every once in a while it’s entertaining to pass time watching the ships go by, but it gets old after a while. I definitely wouldn’t pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for it.

  11. 11
    B&W Nikes says:

    Sound Views maybe over-rated, but access to natural light, air, and a token pad of outdoor space are essential and make all the difference between home and prison. The panopticon of aluminum and glass ‘lofts’ notwithstanding. Most of the junk being built to encourage ‘density’ (punny) lacks a great deal of humanity. But hey, after all, this is a city where people will still pay more than a million dollars over their lifetime to happily equate urbanism with discomfort without much question of the quality of life they are purchasing from a builder. It’s too bad – these structures will be around for more than a lifetime.

  12. 12
    CCG says:

    ‘Could someone please explain to me this fascination with ‘views’? Almost everyone seems to think it’s vitally important to their lifestyle that they be able to look out their window at…something. But I don’t know anyone who actually spends a significant amount of time doing it.’

    I’ve had a view of Elliot Bay for 10 years – it was the one thing I wanted when I moved here – and it never gets old. It helps me unwind from the 520 commute. I’ve thought about moving closer to work, but I’d pay at least as much or more for a no-view crackerbox in Redmond so it would definitely be a net loss.

  13. 13
    CCG says:

    ‘During those same 9 1/2 months, most people I know frown when the look outside and see the rain or clouds.’

    I’ve never understood why people move here and then whine about the rain. I don’t like sun, but if I did I’d move somewhere that has it.

    ‘The rest of the year, people are usually outside enjoying the nice weather while we have it.’

    Good point. I on the other hand am lazy :-)

  14. 14
    Joel says:

    Could someone please explain to me this fascination with ‘views’?

    I’m going to watch the new year’s fireworks from my living room. That’s gotta be worth the extra $0/month I’m paying in rent.

    Seriously though, the best thing about having a view is that you aren’t looking straight into someone else’s house (and vice versa). Although I have to admit that I’ve seen several really nice sunsets from our house and everybody that comes over seems to be impressed by our view.

  15. 15
    explorer says:

    B&W Nikes said,
    “Sound Views maybe over-rated, but access to natural light, air, and a token pad of outdoor space are essential and make all the difference between home and prison. The panopticon of aluminum and glass ‘lofts’ notwithstanding. Most of the junk being built to encourage ‘density’ (punny) lacks a great deal of humanity. But hey, after all, this is a city where people will still pay more than a million dollars over their lifetime to happily equate urbanism with discomfort without much question of the quality of life they are purchasing from a builder. It’s too bad – these structures will be around for more than a lifetime.”

    My sentiments exactly. My beef is this can be accomplished with simpley an iota of thought and design, instead of a ton of overvaluation and greed.

    In Seattle, it used to be a waterfront property would sound the trumpets to the holy grail. Now it’s just breathing room. Sad, that we have NYC developer mentality and Chicago politicans dictating what is best now. I don’t buy it.

  16. 16
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    I contend that ‘views’ and SFHs are natural enemies. I’m sure there will be outrage from this statement, but hear me out. I’ll make my argument through absurdity.

    Assume that one building could house every resident in Seattle. Further, assume that it accomplished this by being tall, so every living space had an exterior window. This would be the highest density housing we could imagine. At the same token, it would maximize the view of every resident.

    Here’s the alternative. Every single person has a SFH on 4,200 sq ft lots, arranged in a grid fashion with no “green barriers”. Everyone gets direct natural light, but nobody has a view.

    So pick!

  17. 17
    Buceri says:

    Oh yes; the view….It’s been over 10 years since my wife and I were looking at condos on the Eastside with “lake view”; after going up to the window, you would have 1/8″ view between cedars. Back then, they were $300K plus. Today we still laugh at those days.

    But you have to admit it; very few towns offer the views you get on the Pacific Northwest (even a cloudy sky is beautiful).

  18. 18
    Brian says:

    I think views are a significant perk/selling point to buying a home in some situations. My wife works out of the home and she points out at least once or twice a week how great it is to have our view from her office. When we decide to buy, the view will be something we consider simply because it provides my wife relaxation. If we have to pay a little more to get that view, that is just part of our equation.

  19. 19
    Chris says:

    I have a drop dead view of puget sound out my apartment deck, and a larger deck for that matter. Absent that, there’s no way I’d live there. View gives a feeling openness and light/air and place to get some fresh air. Its invaluable. Worth a 20% premium on my rent (vs. similar apt facing the other direction off the back of the building looking into a hill) no question

  20. 20
    Chris says:

    well not invaluable, seeing as I valued it :)

  21. 21
    Bellevue Ave says:

    The entire problem with this problem is that the new condo did what they needed to, the cosmopolitan didn’t.

  22. 22
    B&W Nikes says:

    Absurdism rules. How about we dig a pit with an elegant elaborate arrangement of shafts, tunnels, and mirrors that pump natural light to the Morlock residents deep into the ground and make a mint selling them sunglasses? Just think of how pastoral the surface would be!

    Seriously, neither SFH or multi’s inherently block anything unless you allow for taller and more massive building at lower elevations than you do at higher adjacent elevations. Most issues can usually be solved with creative and talented architects and designers and a little bit of foresight (urban planning anyone?). The fact that so much is built without any care or thought is a bucket of cold water on our natural features.

  23. 23

    PRACTICALLY ALL SEATTLE REAL ESTATE IS SOLD WITH A “VIEW” PROMISED

    The term “view” is vague and ambiguous, Hades, Mt Ranier is visible from Olympia to Kirkland….they call that a “view”.

    Overpopulation will likely destroy all our views at the rate we’re piling condo ant towers into this once fair city; the air will turn brown like LA and China with overpopulation and kiss all our “views” good-bye if/when that happens.

  24. 24
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    B&W Nikes, your absurdism has merits…but you ignored the very real fact that no Morlocks will be alive for another 100,000 years.

    Seriously thought, I disagree with your assertion that a given building doesn’t inherently block anything. If it’s solid material, it blocks some view. The question is just what is actually blocked.

    That said, I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the lack of any urban planning in this city. Being a Sci-Fi buff, I look at those elaborate centrally designed domiciles we’re all going to live in sometime in the future and think “oh to actually live someplace that is planned.”

  25. 25
    explorer says:

    RCC:
    “So pick!”

    I choose door number 3, Mr. Carey. What B&W sez, with the simple design rule that two equally tall or one higher that the other structures not be built directly acrosss from one another. In other words diagonally opposite. Otherwise NYC here we come.

  26. 26
    george says:

    While we’re on this topic: why do houses have windows? After all, they’re expensive. Most of the time it’s dark and you don’t look outside. Why don’t people just live underground in caves like bats, with computer monitors and TVs as the only sources of light? I mean, what’s the deal?!?!?!

  27. 27
    Bellevue Ave says:

    engineer, how do you stop over population from happening without

    a. prices increasing due to lack of supply and higher demand? (you limit the amount of stuff that can be built)
    b. spreading outward? (you build towards the burbs)
    b2. while you dont invest in the needed infrastructure to accommodate it.

    LA and China have brown skies because of the amount of cars and dirty energy sources, not because they have tall buildings and people walk to where they need to go.

  28. 28
    off topic says:

    a great commentary on the ARM “bailout”

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/56041-arm-loan-modifications-delaying-the-inevitable

    essentially, the author suggests that the hope is to bail out the economy by doing anything necessary to prevent asset depreciation and that this effort can only fail.

  29. 29
    mydquin says:

    Homes are moving in my neighborhood again. Four out of the 10 within a mile or so sold last week.

  30. 30
    B&W Nikes says:

    True Rose, a wall by any other name is still what it is. I leaped ahead there – my point is that there are ways of building in consonant and dissonant harmony with the surroundings and there are crude ways of building that intentionally obstruct the surroundings (assuming no one builds unintentionally, though sometimes we seem to practice it here). I’m hoping the city learns something here and in the mean time obstructionists of the world keep their eyes elsewhere. In our neck of the woods new development should be trained into doing things that are more appropriate for our surroundings, even as it invites philosophical and political conflicts about land usage. Since most people are here on the livability ticket first and the financial performance ticket second – and many buildings end up outliving their creators – there could be much more emphasis on other performance indicators beyond box store style bang for the buck achieved in immediate dollars per square foot. Trusting the city or neighborhood groups to enforce what some will dismiss as aesthetics is not ideal, but ultimately necessary if we don’t want to emulate patterns established in places like Sao Paulo or Hong Kong, which were both not that different in size from Seattle 100 or so years ago.

  31. 31
    A says:

    A view is a comforting backdrop even if you don’t spend the time staring at it. It’s the difference between a lemon yellow painted room and a beige one. The first one will annoy you even if you don’t stay there and stare at the walls.

  32. 32
    Jonny says:

    “essentially, the author suggests that the hope is to bail out the economy by doing anything necessary to prevent asset depreciation and that this effort can only fail.”

    the party started around 1996 and everything we’ve done since then has been simply putting off the day of reckoning by drinking more. we’ve been partying for a decade now and what happens next is the hangover. guess what? it ain’t gonna blow over in a few months.

  33. 33
    NostraDamnUs says:

    softie – stop jerking off man – it eats the brain and you could become impotent

  34. 34
    notabull says:

    Nostra – stop getting really drunk and posting on blogs at 3am before you pass out on the bathroom floor.

  35. 35
    Bitterrenter says:

    This sentence captures the reason why views are desirable:

    Although I have to admit that I’ve seen several really nice sunsets from our house and everybody that comes over seems to be impressed by our view.

    It’s about impressing people and/or having something others do not. That’s why towers build in front of other towers blocking others’ views. It’s why SUVs ride higher than cars. Everyone wants to be the guy with the pyramid everyone else died building for him. To be on top. Envied. Revered. To be exclusive.

  36. 36
    off topic says:

    turns out, some people with high credit scores and low or no positive equity in their homes are doing the smart thing and giving their houses back to the bank:

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/56374-cibc-high-ltv-prime-loans-vulnerable-citi-most-exposed

    this makes prices far less sticky on the way down.

    it has gotta be a bad moment for anyone holding housing debt.

  37. 37
    what goes up comes down says:

    Not to be overly brutal, but is Seattle still so special when it is underwater?

  38. 38

    Same thing happened to my sister.

  39. 39
    bitterowner says:

    re: “It’s about impressing people and/or having something others do not.”

    I think this perspective is a bit over the top. It is human nature to surround onself with a desirable environment, otherwise we would all be happy to live in damp, poorly lit mud-floor cinder-block cells. I bet that most people buy pieces of art because they find them beautiful and enjoy them; not to show off to their neighbors. I assume some people buy more expensive cars because they are a pleasure to drive and not simply to show off. Obviously there are limits, but to think that the majority of people who buy a house with a pleasant view do so primarily to one-up those around them seems overly cynical.

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