The bizarre loopholes in building permits, proximity to airports and nuclear shelters

Random Wikipedia adventures often lead to some of the greatest, and rather pointless, informational revelations.

As an extremely curious person, I often can’t help myself from researching and discovering as much potential information about any given *thing* as possible; a tidbit of information about some random historical event, a factoid about a piece of pop culture such as a movie or song, a minor detail about something I see every day. The more information the better; I’m really annoying at parties, which I rarely attend.

For an example, just this evening I ended up on the Columbia Center’s Wikipedia page, the tallest building in Seattle that stands slightly below 1000 feet, with 76 functioning stories, and was a potential target of the attacks on 9/11, pretty well-known facts.

But what I didn’t know was that the original architect of the tower was planning to make the building over 1000 feet tall had he not run into permitting issues with the FAA. Turns out with its close proximity to Sea-Tac airport, the tower was not permitted to be taller than 50 stories.



But where there’s a roadblock, there is almost always an alternative wheel to grease.

Just for a clear picture, the Columbia Center sits between 4th and 5th avenue, one of the highest vertical differences between any two streets in downtown Seattle. As someone terrified of driving his wife’s manual transmission car, I absolutely 100% avoid driving in this area, as I am certain if ever challenged with an attempt to get said car into first gear on these hills, I will roll straight back down the hill for several blocks until I either hit something or end up in the water.

source: Seattle by Sarah
source: Seattle by Sarah

There was  (perhaps still is?) a strange land use loophole that if a building includes retail access on the first floor, the architect is granted extra height in the building, allowing it to extend several floors beyond the maximum 50. So with the grade of the city offering THREE street access points on separate floors, developer Martin Selig managed to apply three individual bonuses to the Columbia Center, thus lowering the odds that anyone would be able to make a taller building in Seattle.

So I got curious.

What other real estate loopholes exist? There are quite a few.

Robert Scarano is particularly famous in, ahem, unique designs. Such as adding space for a second bedroom hidden behind a thin layer of drywall in order to conceal square footage for a variety of unsavory reasons.

Or how about in Alabama, where if you build a nuclear fallout shelter you’re given a $1000 tax deduction on your property.

Want to become an expert in navigating permitting loopholes and exemptions? Here’s an entire book dedicated to loopholes when building that exists. It almost comes across as an art form in the architectural community to attempt breaking these rules.

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