The intersection of MLK and Rainier Avenue, Seattle
Rainier and MLK, photo by rutlo

The state TOD bill is still making its way through Olympia, and I’ve been thinking a lot about development around Central Link stations. The one that always springs to mind is Mount Baker station, at the intersection of Rainier and MLK. Clair Enlow, a who writes a regular “design perspectives” column in the DJC, has written a great piece on HB 1490, and has a terrific description of the area around the station:

The intersection of McClellan Street and Rainier Avenue is straight out of the late auto age, where cars take precedence over pedestrians.
There’s a gas station, an auto supply store with parking, a big apron of parking for a drugstore-grocery and the back wall of a big-box hardware store. At a bus stop nearby, passengers wait for a Metro bus to fight its way through the heavy traffic on Rainier.

But the future is rising just beyond the auto supply and tire stores. The glass and steel vision that is Mount Baker Station now stands below the arc of the light rail platform, which swings around from Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and disappears into the Beacon Hill Tunnel.

More Enlow and my thoughts below the fold.

“There are several opportunities (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) as we are building out the system,” said Bill LaBorde of the Transportation Choices Coalition, one of a handful of environmental organizations now working on the bill to make it more acceptable to cities and other stakeholders. “The next few years are our best shot to take advantage of them.”
The legislation is based upon principles that are now hard to refute, and fairly easy to follow. First, global warming is based largely upon carbon dioxide emissions, which must be reduced dramatically to stabilize these changes. Furthermore, vehicle miles travelled are responsible for about half of the threatening emissions. Finally, auto use is strongly influenced by patterns of development.
The bottom line is, sprawling development increases our dependency on cars. Compact, walkable neighborhoods linked by transit decrease it. We need more of the latter, and the underdeveloped land right next to light rail stations seems like a perfect place to start.

Take a look at the satellite image of the intersection of MLK, Rainier and McClellan (or if you think that aerial view is a little more illuminating). That station’s immediate area contains the largest concentration of surface parking in Southeast Seattle, and most of that is within or just past the half-mile radius of walk-ability HB 1490 had in its original version. The big box retailers and huge supermarkets bring tons of traffic from relatively far off, which is why they need those huge parking lots, and I can’t imagine how NIMBYs would prefer have those retailers and the traffic that comes with them over some dense development. It seems to me that the area around this station is Seattle’s version of Bel-Red, a huge opportunity to turn a dusty pass-through-only area into a walkable urban environment.

Am I crazy? Would a couple of twelve or fifteen story apartment buildings be wildly out of place? I am wrong that NIMBYs would prefer apartments and restaurants over big-box retailers? Let me know in the comments.

70 Replies to “Density Around Light Rail Stations (Again)”

  1. I live a few blocks from this site and I would love to see some 15 or 20 story apartment buildings (or even higher!) where QFC or Lowe’s are currently located. However, after attending several community meetings about TOD, light rail and related issues over the last year or so, I would wager that I’m in the extreme minority of people living within a mile or so of this intersection. People like their cars and are terrified of apartment buildings. The most common argument against density that I hear is that it will bring more traffic and possibly crime, although justification for these claims is seldom offered. People in the neighborhood seem to seldom mention that the density could also support more shops, restaurants and other amenities which are sorely lacking from this site. And I seldom hear from neighbors about other benefits of TOD, such as curbing sprawl, reducing our carbon footprint, etc. People just want their SF-5000 and SF-7200 blocks, unlimited parking options and to hell with everyone else.

    1. That’s kind of what I guessed, though it doesn’t make a lot of sense. How a big box store with a giant parking area brings less traffic than a apartment building next to a train station, especially one with few parking spaces, is beyond me.

    2. I’m opposed to 1490, not because of density, but because it substitutes state law for the requirement that developers do a good job at respecting the historical fabric of the neighborhood.

      That is not an easy thing to do, and just calling concerned residents ignorant complainers is just an excuse for doing a poor job – something that Seattle has plenty of – in spite of, or because of, all the money Boeing and MS have dumped into the City.

      I’m not aware enough of the area to say what density is appropriate for the area, 15 stories, definitely strikes me as high, s/b probably no greater than 5 or 6, right on Rainier, MLK, if not less. Rezoning of successful single family neighborhoods is outright unacceptable.

      Lastly, as a point of understanding, consider the type of renter most likely to be attracted to this area. The percentage of folks recently released from jail or headed that way will be much higher than in more upscale neighborhoods – as well as sex predators, etc. Such developments, public or private, run the risk of becoming project ghettos, especially if managed with the same sort of oversight as 1490 inspired development would get you.

      The density should be condo, IMO.

  2. I agree, the densification of Southeast Seattle corridors starts in Mount Baker. There is so much potential there, and it is far to0 close to the city core to be such a car-focused nightmare. Even just redeveloping the space taken up by Lowes and its sea of parking (site of the old Sicks Stadium) would be transformative.

  3. You are not crazy. This is one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly areas in SE Seattle, and being next to the station as it is, it’s got to change. But the grocery store there is a needed amenity for the neighborhood (as is the Rite Aid, since Beacon Hill no longer has a drugstore on top of the hill). Ideally they would be developed differently, though — not stores surrounded by a sea of parking.

    Mount Baker Guy, the folks who go to the meetings seem to be anti-TOD. But the folks who commented about this topic on the Beacon Hill Blog were (surprisingly to me) mostly for it. I don’t know that it’s a minority who want TOD. It is, perhaps, an old guard/new guard or generational difference, maybe.

    1. Then why aren’t they coming to the meetings?

      Someone should make a poll about that…

      Or maybe it’s a Beacon Hill/Mount Baker difference for some reason?

      1. No, people at the Beacon Hill meeting are the same way. And the pro-TOD folks should be going to these meetings, and to the upcoming neighborhood plan revision meetings.

        This is what someone who attended the last council meeting told my spouse a few weeks ago: “We spent a large time talking about House Bill 1490, the proposal to increase density to 50 units per acre in one half mile areas around all transit stations. There is a lot of opposition to this bill, justifiably so. The proposed areas take in all of the east part of Beacon Hill, and are to be imposed state wide by this amendment which now goes to the Senate. Washington State needn’t impose sanctions on us!” (This was before the bill was revised.)

        I found this interesting because I know for a fact that this is not the universal feeling about TOD on North Beacon Hill. Obviously, a lot of people do feel that way, but not everyone.

        So when Andrew posted an editorial on the Beacon Hill Blog about this, the comments were mostly pro-TOD — so those folks might want to consider getting out and letting their opinions be known.

  4. Hopefully someone with a better memory will chime in here, but at a walkability forum at Van Asselt Community Center last year a member of the family that owns the QFC/Rite Aid property spoke. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it turns out he was raised on Beacon Hill and that his his recent work has been doing transit oriented developments (I want to say in Denver and Phoenix?)

    Maybe someone with more time on their hands can get the google-fu to hunt down the name of his company and exactly what they’ve done, but I generally left feeling like his heart was in the right place, and more importantly that his wallet knew mixed use TOD was worth a lot more than one story strip mall and parking lot.

    As for the knock on big-box retailers though I have to say the Lowe’s is a lot more usefull to me then 90% of the storefront retailers you usually see on the first floor of mixed use. Do I wish it was more like the Dearborn Target project? Yes. But I’d still rather have it there then have to drive 10 miles just to pick up some PVC or mortar.

  5. Seems like the “highest and best use” of the 1/2 mile area around the station will develop west of MLK and south of the station.
    The strip of land between MLK and Chesty greenbelt would be a prime location for high rise apartments/condos, provide some greenspace next door, and the steep slope west of the greenbelt would provide a natural barrier to visual impairment to the surrounding single family homes — which won’t be going away anytime soon. LRT being on the same side of MLK is a plus, negating a walk across Rainer Ave. Also the pedestrian bridge to the high school helps.
    I’m sure Jorve roofing and other small commercial sites could find suitable digs to conduct business, as the property values soar.

    1. Well, actually the small semi-industrial type businesses will likely move to places like Everett, based on the South Lake Union experience. Something ultimately contributing to sustainability like the folks who had tons of reusable building fixtures or furniture rehabbers, should have had a place made for them somewhere like SODO.

      Almost seems like relo and one-for-one replacement type thoughts need to be applied to our small business people?

  6. In another thread, on this or another blog (maybe Huge Ass City), someone once mentioned Portland’s Pearl as exemplary of appropriate densification of a near-downtown a neighborhood, relative to transit development. I would venture that the Pearl wasn’t sf5000-7200 before it’s renovation as a neighborhood began, and the anti-gentrificationists would gag, but there are a couple of examples of doing mixed big- or near-big-box development on the first topped by apartments/ condos in 5 to 8 stories or so and it works great. The best example there that comes to mind goes to litlnemo’s comment about needing a grocery store. It’s a giant Whole Foods (I told you the anti-gentrifiers would vomit) topped by at least 4 if not more stories of apartments, condos, offices, lofts, studios.

    I believe that similar-but-smaller, less “downtowny” developments would work great near stations, even in outer communities with stations (thinking Kent and Sumner since I’m in the south-end).

    But I also agree with Patrick’s comment about the first floor, retail tenants. Boutique-y niche businesses that don’t do local volume will inevitably draw their clientelle from people driving into the neighborhood. Ironically, many of the businesses that were taken in parts of the Rainier Valley to create the correct-sized ROW for the LRT were a sort of non-gentrification-version of niche businesses (nail salons, small ethnic specialty groceries, a curb-stoner auto dealer or two…).

      1. hmm the ‘other side’ being we love sprawl? That’s really working out great! Common sense requires no koolaid, taking seriously that article does.

      1. I actually think the “Building TOD is not enough” point is very important. TOD development could result in unfriendly buildings that make a neighborhood feel as cold and dead as the downtown financial district after 5pm. I’d actually prefer big box! Ideally any upzones should result in real benefits paid for by developers: community centers, parks, mixed income housing (remember the middle class is being priced out of Seattle too), etc.

        And, we might as well link to the rebuttal posted at hugeasscity:

  7. SE Seattle doesn’t have nearly enough grocery stores or drug stores for the population. True there are a number of ethnic groceries including some so large they are essentially supermarkets, but often even the large ethnic stores have a limited selection of the sort of items one would expect to find in a Safeway, QFC, or Red Apple. There are some small family owned pharmacies as well, but often they have limited hours, won’t take many insurance plans, and don’t have the selection of a Rite Aid or Bartell’s.

    Broadway Market and the Safeway at 23rd & Madison are examples of where a large grocery store can be developed in a more pedestrian friendly way that increases density than the big box set off the road surrounded by a sea of parking. Broadway Crossing would be an example of doing the same with a drug store.

    Even something like Harvard Market or the Metropolitan Market development on Lower Queen Anne are better than the usual large supermarket from a pedestrian and density perspective.

    As for the Lowes’ I have mixed feelings. When I was living in the CD it was handy to have a big-box home improvement store close by. People who live in the city shouldn’t be forced to drive out to the ‘burbs when they need the sort of things Lowes’ or Home Depot sell. On the other hand I don’t think I’ve seen a large home-improvement store that wasn’t a big-box surrounded by parking.

    1. Theres’ a home depot in Sodo also, so it’s not like there isn’t another in the near city.

      1. Sad to say, Lowe’s sucks so hard in comparison to the Eagle Hardware it used to be (which was GREAT, and at least a regional chain, not a national one), that the Home Depot is usually a better option anyway. And Sodo is a better location for a store like that.

        I still can’t get over the time I went into Lowe’s asking for shellac and no one working there that day had even heard of it. They were completely mystified. And no, they don’t carry it. Home Depot had multiple varieties. So as far as I’m concerned, the Lowe’s is a waste of space — except for their tiny Sick’s Stadium memorial thingy.

      2. You are absolutely right. Lowe’s is a waste of space. They are a waste period. I am a fired Lowe’s employee. Their new tactic is to fire people for “violation of company policy” so they don’t have to pay unemployment. The greedy front end managers seem to think they can terrorize employees — push them to the point they emotionally break or can’t handle a job after writing that person up for poor job performance. Make sure, Lowe’s employees, you know your company policies. Don’t do or say anything in public or private against Lowe’s or use a vulgar word in an email to a company that administers your FSA when you have a major accident and fall down the basement stairs. Don’t ever cost them any money for insurance or L & I. They are sure to get you. They are write up happy. They basically have me in a position of being destitute. They can always give me a bad reference. Don’t ever get angry and think you are just blowing off steam and say something about any manager or don’t repeat a rumor. Results: you are fired!!!!!

    2. People who live in the city shouldn’t be forced to drive out to the ‘burbs when they need the sort of things Lowes’ or Home Depot sell.

      I don’t see why not. It is not as if people need to go to the hardware store everyday. They do have to go to work every day. I’d rather have people who live in the city have to go to the suburbs to buy hardware, than people who work in the city have to live out in the suburbs.

      And this sort of thing is going to be in the city, it should be put in industrial areas (like the SODO Home Depot) rather than important residential/commercial space, especially when it is near a transit station. Lowes business is, for obvious reasons, going to be entirely by automobile, so its placement could not be worse.

      1. Maybe we wouldn’t go there every day, but that’s not a good argument to place hardware stores only in the suburbs. I’m living in DC now, and since I’m living without a car, I’d like to be able to go to a hardware store when I need to using the same mode of transportation I use to commute every day — mass transit.

        I’ve only found two big-box hardware store even remotely near, and even visible from a Metro station. The one visible from the metro is a Home Depot inside DC, and the other is also a Home Depot, maybe a mile or two from the Van Dorn Street Metro. All the others around my apartment are in suburban Virginia, and I’d really rather not have to get a Zipcar just to buy some screws.

      2. People who don’t own cars rarely live in houses and consequently only have use for a hardware store very sparingly. Most hardware store purchases couldn’t even reasonably be accommodated by transit. Sure, it would be a hassle to have to go farther away to buy screws, but how often would that be really? And transit riders in Seattle can easily get to SODO to buy there.

        Furthermore, if there was such a demand for hardware in city neighborhoods, then smaller stores could accommodate them. The presence of Lowes eliminates any possibility of small, local hardware stores opening up on the East side of Seattle.

      3. Places like TrueValue and Ace sell things like screws in a small, TOD-friendly space.

        If you do need things like boards that only big-box hardware stores sell, and you live in TOD, maybe you could order them online?

      4. I know of two smaller hardware stores right next to subway stations in San Francisco. Big box won’t work, but smaller stores are perfect for TOD.

      5. > The presence of Lowes eliminates any possibility of small,
        > local hardware stores opening up on the East side of Seattle.

        There in lies the big problem. A Mclendons can compete but only if it’s way bigger than a local hardware store like the old Downtown Redmond True Value used to be. The only place family owned business like that can survive now are out in Duval. Getting specialty tools, electrical items, even boards are entirely different than mega chain stores like Lowes that sell major appliances, carpet, lawn tractors, etc. Lowes was able to skirt zoning laws in Bellevue by claiming they were a contractor supply business rather than retail.

        City of Redmond has some good polices which relate number of housing units to square feet of commercial space based on location and type of commercial use. Any land owner which partitions for rezone of a parcel must show how these changes will enhance the master plan for the neighborhood. There is no prefect world but local control is the key to managing the unique issues of each TOD project.

      6. Oh yes, when I’m going to fix my stairs or remodel my kitchen, I’ll just fire up Yahoo Shopping to get my boards. Better yet, eBay! I’m sure they’ve got some deals.

        Actually though, I don’t think anyone buys boards from the internet. Think of what the shipping cost would be.

      7. First, telling someone that if they want to buy X, forcing them to drive to the suburbs is “fine” isn’t a great attitude for anyone who wants to promote TOD or sustainable development. You are forcing your externalities on someone else and promoting more VMT. Telling people to buy garden pavers, concrete, or paint on-line is silly, especially considering the shipping cost of small lots of heavy/bulky items. With a large order this might make sense, but not in the quantities most people are going to buy.

        Second, smaller local hardware stores can survive in the face of Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, etc. Just look at Hardwick’s, McLendon’s, or any number of Ace or True-Value still around. Even in North Seattle where there is a Lowe’s and Home Depot right across Aurora from each other at 125th.

        Third, offering some form of home delivery can make big-box and certain types of retail much more transit friendly than the current auto-dependent model. For that matter unless you own a large SUV, pickup, or van you’re not going to be hauling much home from a home-improvement store or Ikea anyway even if you drive there. Toyota Corollas aren’t exactly known for their cargo hauling capacity.

        Lastly, I’m sure development of the Sicks’ stadium site will happen when the market conditions are right. I’d expect part of the parking lot to get built on before the store itself was re-developed. At the time Eagle moved in it was considered quite the coup, there was a great fear the old film lab would turn into a white elephant and a blight on the neighborhood so in some ways it is better than what might have been.

        As a final note, once Link opens I’m far more likely to visit businesses in Rainer Valley along the alignment. Even though I currently live in North Seattle. Mostly that is because I don’t own a car and walk/bike/use transit for most trips. Only borrowing or renting a car, or taking a taxi when I absolutely have to. Given the transit connectivity in North Seattle; Aurora, Ballard, or Lynnwood might as well be North Bend. Of those Ballard, Freemont, and Greenwood are the only places I really WANT to go to more, but sadly that often proves more difficult than I would like.

    3. It wasn’t until I went to New York for college that I saw a big-box hardware store in a dense format, and to be entirely honest, I like the dense format more.

      Home Depot has a few locations in NYC, and the two I’ve been to are the Midtown location (in the 50s or 60s, East Side), and one on 18th (or 17th?) near Madison Square Park. The stores were split up over two or three underground levels, with normal and cart escalators connecting them. I don’t remember where the lumber was, though, and that might be an issue with building something similar in Seattle… Maybe building a parking garage on one side with a loading dock built into it, connected to the store?

    4. I like Lowe’s I shop there at least twice a month and it’s on a direct busline even if it’s not in the best spot.

      The Safeway at 23rd and Madison is one of the most awful examples of what you get when a neighborhood is desperate to improve a bad corner. It’s not walking friendly at all.

      Get involved in your neighborhood’s planning. These kinds of discussions go on. The thing everyone learns is:
      – You are doing infill so there may be value in preserving some existing buildings or building them up. You will be thinking about general overall mass, scale, balance, open space, but it’s all relative because you really want to see who comes to develop which lots, and not necessarily summarily upzone. You might be guessing what is gonna go and what is gonna stay in the near term and think about what the overall effect should be.
      – You are doing infill so there are other people who live there and want to stay. You might be surprised about what they are really concerned about. It might not be the idea of some bigger buildings. It might be the loss of the ethnic food store for an upscale generic (and Whole Paycheck is formula) thing.
      – You might envision what you want to see appearance wise, but unless you are saying it all must be torn down ASAP, you could even get agreement by all about how the streetscape should develop. But what you get is flat out UGLY no matter if people spend all their evenings at design review meetings. You might even get flat out ugly in multifamily zones that are not built to the height because townhouses are more profitable or something.
      – You all might envision the mix of types of stores, services, etc., that you want, but while you might zone for it, they might not come.

      Study the existing Neighborhood Plan and study the zoning maps. Get some basics under your belt about economics and sociology. Without that, this blog and hugeasscity have interesting ‘blue sky’ thinking, but an incredibly mechanistic approach.

      1. I agree about getting involved in you’re local neighborhood planning and government. This blog has helped me do that by highlighting concerns outside the neighborhood that are “coming our way”.

        I’ve also been challenged to find answers. Don’t believe everything you read on the web but sources like city government and agency documents are often available on line. When they’re not an email, phone call or visit has yielded results that have changed my thinking from, “government isn’t responsive” to “people aren’t interested in finding out the facts”. I may not agree with what they say or challenge the information they give me but so far when I’ve engaged government officials they have consistently and honestly attempted to answer my questions.

      2. I never said the 23rd and Madison Safeway was a stellar example of what could be done with an urban grocery store. I do think it is more pedestrian friendly than the model of a single story/use large store set back off the street behind a moat of parking. It is also far more dense than that suburban model.

        Could the architect have done a better design both for the pedestrians walking by and for those who have to look at it? Yea, sure. But I’d rather Safeway was building more of their new stores like this one or the Queen Anne store than what they are planning in Pinehurst or what they did in 15th E, Ballard, or Roosevelt.

      3. Having found some pictures of the new Safeway and the project it is part of it looks like that is a much better job having a large grocery story with housing above while still providing an active street front.

        I wish something like this had been done for 23rd & Madison or the 15th E store.

      4. Then maybe you ought to stop shopping at Lowe’s. Find out how they treat their employees. They treat them like crap, shouting orders, terrorizing them, threatening to send them home if they are non-productive; saying things like “you are lucky you are not one of the people laid off.” I know I was doing the job of four people and that wasn’t good enough. Most employees are wonderful people. I got along great with my co-workers. They thought I did a great job. It was just my front end manager and department manager who had a campaign going to get rid of me. Hey, they had a cashier walking around drunk on the front end. She ended up on L & I because she dropped a paint bucket and hurt her neck while drunk. I questioned why I had to do her work and mine and was told that they couldn’t tell she was drunk and that she was protected by federal law. The guy that was power equipment expert was also fired for drunkeness. He was so smashed when he left, he came back to work the next day because he did not know he’d been fired.

      5. This drunken employee (the cashier) was treated like the prodigal daughter. My department manager cried when she was fired. This girl came back the same day and there’s the department manager hugging her. All I got when I tried to talk to the department manager (the same one I was blowing off steam about) was I am too busy, it’ll be a minute, refusing to let me in the building when I was standing at the door knocking. When I’d ask for an override she would stand and talk to another employee while the customer stood their glaring at me. When a friend got fired under similar circumstances, this front end manager continued to make nasty comments about the guy who worked in commercial sales whose wife was on dialysis. Hence, the reason for firing him. Cost too much money. They don’t like disabled people.

  8. I agree that there needs to be increased density around stations, but in neighborhoods like Mount Baker that aren’t designated urban centers, the maximum should be 12 stories, with basically one or two at that height then with buildings stepping down from there..

  9. I am delighted there is a Seattle Transit Blog, but sometimes I feel like major contributors are not grounded in the neighborhood by neighborhood realities and differences.

    Twelve to fifteen stories at Mt Baker is a pipedream, anytime soon. Imagining Lowes leaving is pipedream — they just remodeled and expanded. But redoing the whole RiteAid/Safeway complex with some mixed apartments and walkable areas IS possible because their landowner has already built similar developments on land he owns in California [and he already explained this at a Mt Baker Community Council meeting].

    I don’t know why we need to imagine buildings as high as high as ten stories by the Mt Baker Station — three to five stories would be helpful and a real difference anyway. Those will come, and they won’t force a drastic scale on the neighborhood. The McClellan-MLK-Rainier area is really tricky to redevelop because it’s a triangle — not just an intersection — of important arterials, and it is anchored by a major big-box hardware store.

    There are places in Seattle with really awful and out-of-scale high-rise apartments. Take the two towers in Madison Park, which cast bad morning shadows on their neighbors. Scaling and higher stories at Mt Baker Station will develop slowly, and let’s hope tastefully and organically.

    1. I don’t agree with your definition of “organically”. By “organically”, you mean via zoning rules set in place by politics? But which is really more organic, building to the size the market demands or building to a rule set in place by a politically motivated zoning action some time before under nearly random circumstances that don’t reflect the situation today?

      Anyway, the buildings you are talking about in Madison park are twenty three stories tall. That’s almost double what I’m talking about here. There is a fifteen story tall building up on beacon hill, the high end of what I’m talking about. It’s big, but it’s not bizarrely out of place, and because of its set-backs, it casts minimal shadows.

      Anyway, it can’t be that big a pipe dream because city council members (who control zoning) supported it, and no building, even renevated lowe’s hardware shops, last forever.

      1. Andrew,
        Zoning laws are far from random. They represent stability in a neighborhood or city and it’s a major reason people choose to make an investment in an area. If you buy a new home in your dream TOD neighborhood should market forces allow a rezone for a professional sports area to be built next door?

        What I don’t understand about this argument for “market forces” is why the clause for affordable housing is always included. If it’s building to demand then shouldn’t the developer be allowed to put in the most expensive housing that he thinks will sell?

      2. I didn’t say that zoning was random, I said that the circumstances at the time the zoning rules were put in place were essentially random, please read more carefully. Most of Seattle’s zoning rules were put in place in the late 1980s or early 1990s. If they had been put in place in 1996 they would have looked completely different. The economic, social and political climate at any specific random date is essentially random.

        Affordible housing is necessary because there’s never enough housing, because zoning is too strict. There’d be a lot more cheaper, older housing if zoning wasn’t so strict in 1990, and there’d be a lot more cheaper housing in 2030 if there wasn’t such strict zoning today.

        The sports arena point is hilariously off the mark. When was the last privately fund sports stadium built ? Seriously! That’s not market forces, that’s the force of tax-payer funded corporate handouts.

      3. Very true, the cost of housing in Seattle is very much driven by supply and demand. If there are more condos/apartments/rowhouses/townhomes the cost will drop and the price of even single-family will go down both to rent and own. Same thing if you allow more duplexes/triplexes or accessory dwelling units.

        Another thing that would help is to cut way down on the parking requirements. I’d like to see them dropped entirely for single family, rowhouses, townhomes, duplexes/triplexes, and accessory dwelling units.

        I think you could even go so far as to have no parking minimums for larger multifamily developments. The market is going to dictate parking requirements to a large extent and if tenants demand parking for certain types of development no sane developer will ignore that.

      4. We have an excess housing supply now which is a large component of the current financial woes. Thank goodness Seattle hasn’t had the sort of anything goes zoning that’s doomed areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas.

        The idea that developers are going to take long term interests of the community into account are naive.

      5. We have an excess of housing out in rural areas. Phoenix and Vegas aren’t doomed because they built too much housing downtown or on rail lines, they are doomed because they built too many sprawling subdivisions out in the exurbs.

      6. We have an excess right here in King County and it’s not just rural areas. Even though sales of condos are up they are seeing the largest percentage increase in inventory:

        • In King County, 9,947 homes were for sale, a 44 percent increase from the previous July; 2,955 condos were for sale, an 80.6 percent increase.

        Development has out striped demand across the board both for housing and office space in this latest build for the bubble development spree.

      7. We have an excess of new housing, not an excess of old house, a lot of it is over-building.

        This over-building is over all a good thing for affordibility, though it’s hard to get credit right now.

      8. Supply and demand works for interchangeable commodities like oil and corn. It’s not that simple with real estate. The old saying in real estate was buy land, they ain’t making any more of the the stuff. As density increases prices (residential and commercial) drift higher because there’s more demand for the same amount of space and new development always moves “up scale”.

        The looming glut on the market will bring prices back down but only enough to smooth out the insane spike of the last 2-3 years. Prices today are double what they were during the last bust phase back in 2001.

        If you want to save old homes and neighborhoods then you should be pushing for more stringent zoning. If developers had a free hand all the stately homes up on Capital Hill would have been bulldozed years ago before the influx of yuppies drove prices back up.

      9. Supply and demand works for anything that is a close substitute of another (and somethings that aren’t substitutes, but I’ll stick to close substitutes). If an Xbox, which is not interchangable with a PS3, suddenly becomes much cheaper than a PS3, say half the price, they will sell more units and PS3 less. A toyota camry is not a perfect subsitute for a chevy malibu, but it is a close substitute.

        A house in capitol hill is not a perfect substitute for a house in the central district, but it is a close substitute. A townhome on beacon hill is not a perfect substitute for a condo on queen anne, but it is a close substitute. If condo prices in Queen Anne fall, so probably will house prices in beacon hill.

        The old saying in real estate it complete bullshit, because 1) they can build more land, harbor island is made land for christ’s sake and 2) even if they don’t make more land, they can always make more housing by building more on the same land. Today’s luxury buildings are tomorrows affordable housing. The university plaza tower in the U-dist is relatively cheap for high-rise condos ($200 a sq ft) but was a fancy luxury building in the 1960s.

        Density doesn’t increase prices, density is a response to higher prices. You think if they built high rise condos all over detriot, that would increase the price of housing? that’s a joke, a nonsense statement. All those old, affordable brick buildings around town were luxury buildings when they were built almost a century ago. Some goes with 1950s construction. The reason the city is filling with condos is because a lot of people want to live in Seattle, and many of them can’t afford $500,000 houses. So they buy $350,000 condos.

      10. I do agree that protecting stately homes is a worthy goal, and something we should do a better job of. But it really should be done via historical landmark rules, not through zoning.

      11. Density is a response to higher demand (or speculation of higher demand). As soon as property is up zoned for higher density the price of the land skyrockets. The price point of the development on that land will increase in response. In other words the housing that get’s built will always be more expensive than what it replaced. Zoning, for a time anyway, insulate neighborhoods from that effect.

        The examples you mentioned are no where near being a close substitute. If you’re a real estate agent and a client says they’re looking for a condo on Queen Ann you’re not going to take them to Beacon Hill and say this is almost the same but cheaper. A close substitute in real estate is first of all a close match in price and secondly a close match in accessibility. Prices have risen almost universally in Seattle over the last 10-15 years but there have been plenty of periods in the towns history where some neighborhoods have seen rising prices while they’re falling elsewhere.

        It’s far from a given that expensive buildings will become affordable housing in the future. There’s lots of old neighborhoods in Seattle and King County where even modest sized homes are astronomically expensive for what they are. What’s that place next to the Fisher Building? It’s roughly the same vintage as the Plaza Tower and those condos are out of sight expensive. The gleaming condo towers in downtown Bellevue are driving prices of apartments all around the city up, not down. In large part development and growth feed on each other. The latest boom in Bellevue was primed by the over development during the dot com bubble. The plans for development in South Lake Union create demand by enticing companies to move to Seattle.

      12. Landmark or Historic Building status is certainly worth while. Sometimes it goes too far and sometimes it’s a big debate (like the Dennys in Ballard). Preserving individual homes though does little to preserve the character of a neighborhood.

        I don’t know if historic building status had anything to do with it but the refurbished building(s) on Yesler (corner of 23rd?) look like a great example of development that improves a neighborhood. I was actually shocked after seeing those boarded up forever that anything was done. What they did is a huge improvement over them being bulldozed and turned into a concrete tower.

      13. I’m not talking about a close substitute in individual apartments or houses, I’m talking about close subsitutes in an economic sense. We were talking about supply and demand, remember?

        Anyway, there’s a continuum of home buyers from people who can only afford hovels to mansion buyers. Movement in the mansion space will still effect the hovel market. Imagine if 100,000,000,000,000 mansions were built, don’t you think that would effect the hovel market? How about 1,000,000 n the seattle area? How about 100,000? At any level, an increase in supply effects the price. It might not make a huge difference, but it does. If you don’t believe that, I cannot talk to you, you are disagreeing on the fundamentals of science.

        Comparing office space to condos is totally misleading. Dense office development drives up the price for housing because a) office space is not a substitute for housing (no one lives in office towers) and they compete for the same resources (land) and b) more office space attracts employment which increases demand for housing. Don’t say that dense office towers some how prove that more housing makes housing more expensive.

        Of course the housing that is built is more expensive than the original house (otherwise they wouldnt have built it), but since there are more units, it’s likely cheaper per unit.

      14. Andrew, the price of hovels and mansions is largely disconnected. It’s history not theory. In fact building more mansions tends to drive up the value of nearby hovels. The increased supply doesn’t lower the cost of hovels (affordable housing). When I’m talking about office space I’m talking about mixed use like all of the new towers in Bellevue. I’m all for mixed use. It makes a lot of sense and seems to be the way of the future. It’s not for every building but overall I expect the number of residential units should come somewhat close to the number of new jobs in South Lake Union? If not then perhaps they should have zoned differently.

        When they build new higher density housing the price per unit tends to be the same or higher (sometimes much higher) than what it replaced. Kingsgate out by Totem Lake is one example I know well. Several blocks of 70’s vintage 4 bedroom split levels were torn down and replaced with condos. The homes were valued around $250-300k each (~5 -years ago) and the cheapest one bedroom condos in the complex started at $340k. More expensive per unit and way more expensive per square foot.

        An increase in supply drives down (or more like curtails increases) in housing when land is converted to housing; be that from industrial or rural (sprawl). Otherwise there’s no money in it for the developer to come in and create housing that’s cheaper than what was already available.

      15. Looking at averages is a bit deceptive because the really high priced homes tend to swing wildly which doesn’t provide a real feel for what most of the housing is doing.

        I think we might want to consider better ways to reuse and repurpose buildings, making a big old house into a home for two families for example, without needing to go through the whole historic preservation thing. I’m thinking beyond the multifamiliy zones. Most people in single family zones scream if there is any hint that maybe it would be good to take a big old house and make it work for two families. Not increasing the footprint or anything, but recognizing that family sizes are much smaller and it would be better environmentally to repurpose and live a bit smaller and denser at the same time. You can hardly do an auxiliary unit in Seattle these days, much less replace an existing duplex with a new duplex.

      16. One example in bellevue during a housing bubble doesn’t tell the whole story. Take a parking lot in belltown and turn it into housing. How about a parking lot in rainer valley?

      17. My example was in Kirkland (not a big difference from Bellevue) and it was well before the peak of the bubble. I can give you another real world experience of how McMansions raise the price of hovels. The first home I purchased was in Woodinville in 1984. We were living in Lake City at the time (renting) and really liked the area. Unfortunately nothing there was affordable, even in the fixer upper market. Back then Woodinville was the back of beyond. We actually had cows down the street from us! Well, a few years latter they started building Street of Dreams out off of Avondale. Our hovel went from about 60% of the median King County home price to around 75% of the mean just because of the value of the houses going up around us. It’s still a hovel but since there are so few $300k hovels out in that area it’s held it’s value where the McMansions have seen a 20% or so decline (back to 2005 2006 prices). There are a number of high end real mansions out there too. The kind with 5 acres and stables on the “grounds”. Those haven’t seen much if any off a drop in price. The people that can afford those don’t need to sell.

        I guess what I’m saying is that supply and demand do apply to housing but that it’s highly localized and price dependent. Housing prices are going to go up in Seattle faster than the rest of King County. Almost all of the “new” housing is really replacement housing. New housing is going to be built to satisfy demand. In fact it will be overbuilt to satisfy the developers demand. Zoning is how you control where that happens. If it’s mixed use projects as part of the South Lake Union project then that preserves, for a time, more affordable older homes on Beacon Hill. If Beacon Hill is wide open for the taking then it becomes the next Belltown.

      18. Bernie,
        One issue in the Seattle area is demand for housing has outstripped supply for the past 20 years or so. Even the “downturns” we’ve had in that time were short periods where prices were increasing slowly or flat.

        Sure an area of luxury homes will bring up surrounding property values. Similarly new higher density development will tend to bring up surrounding values. But this is due to other increased density development in the area becoming more economically viable and the possibility of being able to upzone surrounding property. Furthermore factors like job growth and the availability of credit tend to drive real estate prices as well.

        However that doesn’t mean supply and demand can be ignored in real estate any more than it can in any other market. The effect is perhaps clearer in the commercial real estate market which tends to suffer from frequent boom/bust cycles. When there is an oversupply of commercial space lease rates go down. When there is a shortage lease rates go up. This effect can be seen both in the best spaces and the worst.

      19. Chris,
        I think you’re pretty much spot on except I’m not convinced Seattle is immune to the nation wide oversupply issue. It certainly applies to the greater Puget Sound area and even to King County but Seattle is different. Seattle was essentially built out by the 60’s and for many years suffered a decreasing population. It’s grown steadily since the 80’s but the vast majority of new housing is redevelopment of existing areas.

        Commercial real estate is much easier to see prices follow supply and demand. For residential it’s hard to even define demand. If it’s “every body’s got to live somewhere” then the ratio of rents to mortgage payments suggest that there is an oversupply. If you look at the recent run up in prices then you’d think there was a shortage. One things for sure and that’s that in city single family homes are a shrinking resource and that’s why I think zoning should favor mixed use on existing commercial and retail rather than consume more single family residential.

      20. Bernie,
        I don’t think ANY real-estate market is immune to a downturn. Not even the Seattle Metro area.

        To some extent the price escalations we’ve seen, even ignoring the recent bubble, are a sign that residential construction isn’t keeping pace with demand.

        Increasing housing supply, even if it is primarily apartments and condos and even if many of those are say in Kent or Bellevue will take pressure off single family prices in the city. Another thing that can help take pressure off in-city homes is improved transit service, since it makes many neighborhoods more accessible.

        On the one hand I’m not for wholesale destruction of single family homes in the city. However I’m not for treating it as sacred either. There are areas where single family homes should be replaced with either mixed use or multifamily. In areas where this hasn’t been done the single family homes get torn down anyway and replaced with ugly cookie cutter townhouses or “skinnies”.

    2. I don’t think 10-12 story development would be entirely out of line near the Mt. Baker station. But only if it was between Rainer/MLK and the hillside and confined to within a few blocks of the station. Otherwise 6 story is probably about the right maximum height.

      On the other hand even if the zoning allows larger FARs and higher building heights there is no guarantee developers will build it. So even if most of the area was rezoned to allow 120′ you might still get the usual 6 story mixed use buildings or townhouses.

      I could see the parking lot and garage area of the Sicks/Lowe’s site being developed, but probably not for a while. There is a LOT of low hanging fruit in the area. In addition to the QFC/RiteAid site that has been mentioned there is a Grocery Outlet with a large parking lot right next to the station, large U-Haul right across the street from Lowe’s, and the block to the immediate South of the station has a church and a couple of really cheap and run down commercial buildings.

      1. You probably know this, but the Grocery Outlet there went out of business, basically, because of the station construction and the new lack of visibiity. The site would seem to be a prime opportunity for someone.

      2. Street level retail might be a challenge except for the side facing the station. On the other hand the site would work for offices or apartments.

      3. Yeah, the station and tracks make it difficult to see the site and how to get to it from the arterial. Though it will be easily accessible to train riders. Some of the visibility issues will go away a bit when construction is done, though.

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