by STEPHEN FESLER
While TOD around Sounder stations has had little coverage around here, one of the first examples may be making its way to Kent Station. Local developer Goodman Real Estate has been chosen by the City of Kent as the preferred bid to spearhead a mixed-use development of the City Center site. Goodman has also brought architecture starlet Studio Meng Strazzara along for the ride to create a modern urban statement.
More below the jump.
A Complex, Tortured History
If you’re familiar with Downtown Kent (or have at least passed by on the train), you know that there has been an abandoned parking garage adjacent to Kent Station for some time now. It’s been called many things over the years, but is generally known by the community to be an “eyesore.” A project known as “City Center” was supposed to be a catalyst development in Kent that would have built upon Kent Station and provided a permanent downtown people presence. A hotel and condo with ground-floor retail were proposed.
The City Center project stalled in 2007 right at the beginnings of our economic depression. Typical story: Plan B Development (the developer) had ambitious plans, made a big gamble, and promised a lot to the community. Yet, Plan B was unable get the required bridge loans to deliver its project. Work on the development dried up and the City of Kent was left mired in a complex legal battle for the property interest it had vested into the development.
The original project was a patchwork effort by the City of Kent and adjacent property owners. The City owned a small parking lot on the southwest portion of the block and decided to do a land swap to get a project that would maximize the potential of the block for a mixed-use development. A comprehensive plan was devised to bring in a new public park while Plan B would build the mixed-use structure and provide a negotiated number of city-owned garage parking spaces (for a whopping total of 355 parking spaces).
Ironically, the City’s parking interest in the never-completed-structure was a key element to the City’s ultimate foreclosure and total ownership of the block in October 2010. Fast forward to September 2011.
TOD on Its Way
Goodman is now making headway with the project. The developer was slated to demolish the original parking structure in early October, which is now complete. The City has resurrected its City Center plan through this developer, but with considerable revisions. The plan now no longer includes a hotel element, but rather a focus on modern urban apartments—and a whole lot of those at that: 164 units on the 1.89 acre site*. Retail will also be a small portion of the development, again on the ground floor. The structure will be a striking five stories, likely making it one of the three tallest buildings in Kent.
Planning staff also tell me that given the three-block proximity to Kent Station, there will likely be a significant departure from parking code standards which generally require a very high 1.8 spaces per multi-family unit ratio. In other words, don’t expect anything close to the original 355 parking spaces. Ultimately, this translates as a positive for everyone encouraging greater transit ridership, resulting in a more modest increase of auto-oriented traffic, reduced development costs, and providing the developer with more opportunities to build density.
All of this is not to say that this singular development will be gangbusters awesome for Sounder (currently experiencing ridership stagnation) or other transit services. It, however, sets a precedent and standard for future TOD in Kent—and perhaps to other South Sounder stations in the Kent Valley and even Tacoma. The surrounding blocks of Kent Station have ample capacity and opportunity for hundreds of new mixed-use and urban residential units which would necessarily feed increased transit ridership. And that’s why getting this infill TOD project rolling is so vitally important.
*Stats for the density nerds: The site (not including the public park) is approximately 1.89 acres with an average density of 87.2 units per acre. Proposed gross floor area is not yet known, so therefore no FAR is computable.