Columbia City Station Area
Columbia City Station Area

Today the DJC is reporting that the 6.25 acre site of Zion Preparatory Academy in Columbia City has been sold to development company JC Mueller for $5 million.

Across a small street from the station, this property is planned as transit oriented mixed use, including continued operation of the school. With expansion of the Rainier Vista community to the north, this bodes well for future Link ridership.

46 Replies to “Columbia City Site Purchased By Developer”

  1. Great news for Central Link ridership! Will be exciting to see future TOD in the neighborhood in the future.

  2. Any news about developing the site of that monstrous abandoned (I believe) supermarket and massive asphalt parking lot on the corner of Rainier Avenue S and S Edmunds Street?–just a short walk from the Columbia City station. And begging for something, anything.

      1. You’re kidding? Columbia city might have to keep that mess in the name of historic preservation? No way!

      2. unfortunately it’s preserving the look and feel of the district. clearly a 6 story building will impact the district. Lots of folks don’t like change. :(

      3. I thought I read somewhere that there was a building planned there, but the developer backed off – not necessarily out – when it became less financially viable to build condos in Seattle. I thought they were just sort of mostly waiting for some growth in the housing sector of the economy.

  3. And this is how it starts. Transit oriented communities and the associated transit ridership takes time to build but will continue to grow into perpetuity.

      1. it’s still not as easy to get credit as it was previously, making it hard to obtain funds to build…

      2. i’m not so sure it’s the same for businesses/developers. i think it might be the same at least for developers. for example, that nice hole in the ground by nordstrom rack and the bon parking garage.

        that has got to be far more valuable than these plots in CC, and my understanding is that is stalled since the developer couldn’t get enough money…

        (and actually that hole in the ground is closer to a light rail station than most/all projects in CC. This zion prep one might be about the same, it depends on how you count the distance to get into the tunnel….)

      3. Ben,

        Peter’s right. The mid-sized banks from whom most developers get financing are the ones on the ropes now. Commercial real estate is the new sub-prime.


      4. I’m thinking that this development would be much easier to get enough credit for than the hole in the ground at 2nd & Pine because when they build a development at the latter, it will be a huge skyscraper costing hundreds of millions of dollars, whereas the Zion prep project will be just a smaller mid-rise building.

  4. Just check the City zoning map — site is zoned L-3, or 4-story apts. I suspect the developer will want something a little higher AND a zone designation that allows non-residential uses, at least on the ground floor. And being this close to the rail station, the City should cut them some slack on parking requirements.

  5. As a teacher, I love the idea of having a school within a mixed-use development. Schools are supposed to be connected to the community. Also, it reminds me of that ultimate of transit-oriented communities, New York City, where many schools are housed within buildings alongside other tenants.

    1. i’m afraid that NYC isn’t the ultimate transit-oriented community. Manhattan maybe but not all the boroughs. I’ve found copenhagen and paris and even london to be much more transit oriented than even manhattan.

      1. Having just moved to the Bronx a month ago, I confirm that this is definitely the case. While transit here isn’t horrible, it’s absolutely car oriented. Sidewalks just mysteriously end, if they exist at all. Even the newest buildings like Mercy College aren’t designed to accessible by anything other than cars. I could go on for hours… :-)

      2. Yeah when I visited NYC last year I stayed at a friends apartment in Brooklyn. While it is really easy to get into Manhattan it is really hard to go anywhere else. I was also in a “transitional” area and it was pretty appalling the lack of grocery stores and basic necessities within walking distance. If I wanted to cook I had to shop in Manhattan and bring it home with me.

  6. Anything planned near the Beacon Hill Station? What a fantastic station, but it’s next to nothing dense or commercial. After leaving a station like that, you would expect to zoom up the elevator to a vibrant dense residential/commercial zone, and then… you’re in single family housing land!

    1. No one seems to know the plans of the families who own the properties that were used for construction staging and are now empty lots. Last I heard (admittedly, a month or so ago) was that the city was trying to work with them and not getting any response.

      Of course, I can’t exactly blame them for waiting for the market to heat up a bit if they are going to sell or develop.

      Also, they could be waiting for the neighborhood plan update to be completed and its associated rezones. It is not unlikely that those lots would be rezoned to 65′, which would probably make them more valuable than they are now.

      Other folks in the area with developable property might be waiting for that too, or just for the economy to pick back up.

      Believe me, this is one of the biggest questions up here on the Hill right now.

  7. 6.25 acres is 3 city blocks (100 yds X 100 yds per block).

    When you consider that Rainier Vista is 64 acres and New Holly is over 100 acres, 6.5 acres is pretty small.

    1. But it’s private – subsidized housing is fantastic and we need more of it, but this indicates that developers are starting to consider station areas as good sites.

    2. And it also doesn’t include the space used for parks, streets, etc. You’re comparing a single building to a master planned community. The are very different.

  8. A few notes about this:

    First, great site with a lot of potential. This is really key in enhancing the pedestrian connection from MLK down to the Historic District. I think the best would be to do a diagonal cut from SW to NE through the property with some storefronts or walk ups in there, and some open space.

    Also about JC Mueller:

    The Good News – They did a lot of great community outreach for their projects around 23rd and Madison and the final design was really bold and community friendly.

    The Bad News – The properties are now sitting vacant until things get better, so I don’t know if I would expect work on this site any time soon.

    1. Thanks for saying that Josh. Since I saw the projects that JC Mueller wanted to do on Madison and 23rd I have always had a very good opinion of them but I still didn’t know if they really were a “good” developer.

      The designs they have for the CD would fit right into Copenhagen or Amsterdam’s newest development zones. They will be a breadth of fresh air like the 1111 E Pike building. I’m particularly excited about the courtyard in 2026 E Madison building.

      When I was in Elementary school I live just a few blocks north and Madison was a very evident line that you didn’t cross. This corner in particular was by far the worst.

      Josh are you familiar with the Portland Development Commission. It seams like Seattle could really benefit from an organization like that.

  9. Question for all y’all: I’m one of those elitist North Seattleites who doesn’t really know much about anything south of the ship canal (and Capitol Hill). What is the current state of development around the Link stations? Is there anything that compares in density to the Ave or the Pike/Pine corridor?

    1. There a lot of opportunity for development. Take a ride on Link and you’ll get a good overview.

    2. Right along the line it’s basically auto-oriented strip-mall type development, some run down retail, and empty lots. The SHA areas have relatively new apartment/townhome/compact SFH projects.

    3. The Ave and Capitol Hill/First Hill are the densest neighborhoods in the state, so it will be a long time before anything else comes close. Pretty much every neighborhood center and suburban downtown is building a dense core, but it will take a long time before they’re “complete” enough that you can can fulfill all your needs (or perhaps “all your non-employment needs”) without leaving the neighborhood. In the Rainier Valley, people treat the whole valley as an extended neighborhood, and ride the bus up and down to the store or library or whatever the

      It is worth taking a day to explore the stations and neighborhoods. But here’s a brief sketch (from memory):

      Stadium & SODO: all industrial. Sears/Marshall’s is a quarter mile away. Costco is a mile. A few restaurants are scattered on 4th.

      Beacon Hill: library, Red Apple supermarket. Not many apartments within walking distance.

      Mt Baker: the hourglass of Rainer Valley, where MLK and Rainier avenues cross. So it’s a great place to catch a bus, and theoretically a convenient place to live, except that there aren’t many apartments right near the station. Crossing the two big streets takes time, and then you have to walk east past Franklin High School to find more houses, or west up the steep Beacon hill. Grocery Outlet (an overstock/discount supermarket) is next to the station. Remo Borrachini’s bakery is a half mile north on Rainier.

      Columbia City: a few existing apartments in the vicinity but not much else. To get to Columbia City you walk two long blocks on Edmunds Street past single-family houses.
      Columbia City is the biggest and best preserved historic village in the valley. It has a library, farmers’ market, Columbia City Ale House, movie theater, bookstore, monthly music walk, etc. It doesn’t have a full range of businesses yet but it’s made impressive strides.

      Othello: of the four corners around the station, three are empty lots, and the fourth has a tired but functional Safeway. All three lots were going to be 300+ unit condo developments until the crash. Now, one plans to build next year, another seems to be in an earlier stage of revival, and I don’t know about the third. Behind Safeway is the huge NewHolly mixed-income community. Also across the street from the station as a 2-story strip mall with Tammy’s Bakery, several pho restaurants, and other Vietnamese businesses. So you’ll have no trouble grocery shopping or finding dinner. Othello Park is a block from the station. Going east to Rainier, it’s all residential and a few auto-related businesses. Bus 39 goes to Seward Park and PCC, a mile or two from the station (every 45 min until 8:30 or 9:30pm).

      Rainier Beach: Vince’s pizza place (an old Italian restaurant and Seattle tradition). Some garden thing on a hill. A small produce shop. Henderson Street goes five blocks to Rainier & Henderson, with apartments & condos in between. Rainier & Henderson is an drab but functional urban village, with a high school, community center thing, two supermarkets, a library, and the tiny “beach”. It was one of the traditional centers of gang activity and has only partly recovered. Saar’s supermarket won’t let you take backpacks in. (So what if you’ve been wearing a backpack all day? And how do you carry groceries home without it?)

      Tukwila Intl Blvd: park n ride. In the distance, McDonalds and some other restaurants. The nearby houses aren’t very visible. You mostly see ashpalt and trees.

      It’s also worth going all the way down Rainier (bus 7) and MLK (bus 8). Rainier has different sections which cover the whole century of architectural development. Pockets of 1920s density with no setbacks (Columbia City, Genessee, Little Saigon), alternating with industrial sections, the I-90 park, strip-mall automobile-land (around Mt Baker station), mall complexes with big parking lots (Safeway and a kind of cheap mall), residential density with a few auto-related businesses (Hillman City), and a kind of thrown together urban village (Rainier Beach).) MLK is less interesting and more residential, but actually seems a bit more practical than Rainier now, in terms of having the kind of everyday businesses one needs.

      1. “In the Rainier Valley, people treat the whole valley as an extended neighborhood, and ride the bus up and down to the store or library or whatever the”

        … whatever they need that’s not in their immediate neighborhood.

      2. Nice overview Mike- I’ll just toss in- many people don’t realize it, but there is actually a ton of employment in the vicinity of the SoDo Station — the Starbucks Center alone has about 3,000 employees, add to that the School District, main post office, Rabanco, and lots of employment along 1st Avenue S. Most people working in the area seem to use the 1st and 4th Ave buses instead of the LRT, but I’d expect that to gradually change as the extensions get added, and people realize how much faster it is getting through downtown.

      3. Yes, I think the station was built mainly for workers to use. But I was focusing on non-employment aspects: things that would interest a visitor or resident in the neighborhood.

      4. Beacon Hill also has a small but good bunch of restaurants, including El Quetzal which is very popular. There is the Despi Delite Bakery behind the Red Apple, a very good bakery.

        There are more apartments within walking distance of the station than it probably appears at first glance, but, yeah, not terribly dense. None of the apartment buildings are more than 3-4 stories, I think. Certainly denser than, say, most of Lake City (and the housing stock was mostly built in the 1900s-1940s so it’s bunched pretty close together, like Wallingford). Actually, it’s not all that different from Wallingford in some ways. Demographically a bit different, of course, but the density is similar. Wallingford has a much stronger business district, though!

        The Grocery Outlet next to the Mount Baker station has been closed for a long time now. It’s currently vacant, and the store’s lot is a pay parking lot.

        The Beacon Hill Blog did a series of articles about the stations from Mount Baker south a while back. If you go to and scroll down a bit, you’ll find some articles headlined “Going places on light rail” — those give an overview of what’s around the stations.

        “Some garden thing on a hill”? That’s the fairly well-known Kubota Gardens.

      5. I think the garden thing on the hill Mike Orr was talking about is actually the big P-patch under the power lines to the right as you head south — Kubota Gardens is hidden behind a hill to the left.

        This walkthrough really brings it home that there are actually no dense residential neighborhoods on Central Link — the International District is probably the only neighborhood with > 10,000 people/sq mi, and it’s basically part of downtown. It’ll be fun to watch the growth — my guess would have been that Columbia City and Beacon Hill have the most promise in the short term, though it seems like Othello is actually currently densifying faster.

      6. But the ID isn’t “basically part of downtown”. Historically it wasn’t, and certainly currently people who live and work there won’t say “I live downtown” or “south downtown” or whatever other marketing the City comes up with next. They’ll say they live in Chinatown, or the ID.

        There is tremendous untapped potential in that neighborhood, and preserving its unique identity (including that of Little Saigon) needs to be a priority; cities work best when they have neighborhoods, particularly relatively dense urban neighborhoods, with their own identities. SF, Manhattan, London, Paris…what makes them interesting places is the pockets you find that are different than the other places in the city.

      7. I meant Kubota Gardens, I just couldn’t remember the name.

        I think Steve meant “part of downtown” in a density sense, not an identity sense. The Intl District is part a walkable region that extends to Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. That’s different from islands of density Columbia City or Beacon Hill.

        The boundaries of many neighborhoods are vague, and the signs the city put up don’t necessarily match with what’s in various people’s minds. Traditionally people talked in larger regions: International District, Central District, Industrial District, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill. Then the city put up signs, sometimes revealing census tract names that weren’t well known: Squire Park, Maple Leaf. That pleases some people and makes others think, “That’s the wrong name.” Then there’s the names the 1990s city marketers and real estate industry created by fiat: West Edge (sounds edgy), SODO (doesn’t sound industrial), Madison Valley (doesn’t sound black). Those drive some people up the wall. (I pretty much only started saying SODO when the station opened. “ID” still messes me up because I think Industrial District rather than International District.)

  10. Zion Preparatory Academy sold their property in Columbia city for $5 million dollars. Wow, I never thought my old elementary school would be worth that much. I hope this allows them to improve their services and offer more scholarships to their students.

    Also great news to hear that the light rail is spurring some development in the area. Columbia city is a great place. I am glad some new economic development is taking place in this neglected part of Seattle.

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