Proposed 101-story Seattle skyscraper hits FAA snag

proposed Fourth and Columbia Tower

SEATTLE -- A proposed downtown Seattle skyscraper that would be the tallest on the West Coast is apparently too tall for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The proposed Fourth and Columbia Tower, also called the 4/C, would be a mixed-use office and residential tower rising up 1,111 feet above the street. That's 46 feet taller than the Columbia Center, which is right across the street and currently the tallest building in the northwest.

It would be 101 stories, with two levels of retail shopping, four levels of above-grade parking, and six levels of office space. It would also play home to 350 hotel rooms, and 1,200 residential units.

But the FAA has now sent the building's developer, Crescent Heights Inspirational Living, a "Notice of Presumed Hazard." The notice says "the structure as described exceeds obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities."

The FAA says the 4/C is "presumed to be hazard to air navigation." But if Crescent Heights were to lower the building's height to roughly the height of the 965 foot Columbia Center, the project "would not have a significant adverse impact and a favorable determination could subsequently be issued," according to the FAA.

In a statement to KOMO News, Crescent Heights says the FAA notice is part of a "standard, business-as-usual review process" and "all development projects are presumed to be hazards until determined otherwise".

The consulting engineer hired by Crescent Heights, who is very familiar with working within rules established by Seattle and the FAA, says the notice of presumed hazard is just part of the negotiation process with the FAA when it comes to building heights.

"Most often these processes result in structure heights that meet developer needs while maintaining the integrity of our airspace system," said David Ketchum, Senior Planner Airports & Heliports for T-O Engineers.

Ketchum says he and the partners of the project have been involved in a lengthy review process that the FAA applies to almost all tall structures.

The notice also says construction cranes needed to build 4/C could interfere with helicopter traffic ferrying emergency patients to Harborview Medical Center, resulting the a temporary closure of the helipad.

But being the tallest could be something Crescent Heights may not want to give up.

"The history of tall buildings is tightly interwoven with ego and claims," said Antony Wood, Executive Director of the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a non-profit that follows the development of tall buildings worldwide.

Wood says being the tallest can be an important marketing tool "that will have a direct impact on the rental able or saleable area" for that developer to see a return on its investment."

A developer does not have to obtain FAA approval to get a building permit, but there are implications that can have a negative impact for a developer, including liability if the developer doesn't get an OK from the FAA.

In its statement, Crescent Heights says "we anticipate that a determination of 'no hazard' will be reached."

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