Seattle City Council seeks to avoid watered-down deal in trade of building height for public toilet
Tourists, businesses, homeless people and advocates all want a public restroom in Pioneer Square, but it’s up to the Seattle City Council and the developer of a Pioneer Square building to make it happen.
Urban Visions, a property development company, has tentatively agreed to purchase and install a Portland Loo, an outdoor toilet designed to be easily cleaned. In exchange, the city would allow Urban Visions to build a 130-foot building at 200 Occidental, in a spot now zoned for 100-foot buildings.
Proponents say the neighborhood has long needed a public restroom.
“We have the largest concentration of people living in missions, and the largest concentration of unhoused people, and we have night clubs, and we have tens of thousands of sports fans, and we have no public restroom,” said Leslie Smith, executive director of the Pioneer Square Alliance.
Some councilmembers, however, are seeking more than a restroom.
The city allows developers to build taller in exchange for public benefits, but Councilmember Nick Licata said a $235,000 toilet is an insufficient trade for 30 extra feet in Pioneer Square. Urban Visions first applied to redevelop the site at 200 S. Occidental before the housing market crashed in 2008. At the time, the city had asked for a garage for street trolleys, but now that they’re no longer in use, the two parties are renegotiating the deal.
Licata wants Urban Visions to buy the restroom and pay to maintain it for 50 years. The Pioneer Square Alliance has proposed footing the bill for maintenance.
The city council is considering the matter at a meeting Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. at City Hall.
Seattle has a rough history with public restrooms. In 2004, Seattle purchased five self-cleaning toilets that became havens for drug use and crime; the city sold the toilets on eBay in 2008 at a significant loss.
Designers of the Portland Loo based their product on everything that went wrong with Seattle’s automated toilets. The metal is graffiti-resistant, and there are slats pointed down so people outside can see feet but nothing else. It is otherwise enclosed for privacy.
With a simple toilet on the inside and a sink on the outside, the Portland Loo functions as a permanent, sturdy portable toilet.
Portland has installed seven of the toilets, most of them in a neighborhood similar to Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
“I think this is a great opportunity to test this out,” said MJ Kiser, executive director of Compass Housing Alliance.
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