On Tuesday night DPD held an open house for its Northgate Station Area Community Design Study. As part of the North Link project, Sound Transit is scheduled to open an elevated station just to the west of King County Metro’s Northgate Transit Center around 2021; ST hosted an open house regarding the design of that station in May. Tuesday’s Open House was focused on future zoning, land use, pedestrian and transit connectivity, and public amenities in the areas adjacent to the station.
For those not familiar with the area, what constitutes Northgate is, like most Seattle neighborhoods, somewhat ill-defined, but is centered on I-5 and NE Northgate Way and invariably includes the Northgate Mall and Transit Center. The larger Northgate area, subsuming the neighborhoods and major institutions of Pinehust, Maple Leaf, Haller Lake, North Seattle Community College and Northwest Hospital, is designated as an Urban Center, one of only two outside the central city, and perhaps the only one that enjoys both a large amount of readily-buildable land and a favorable regulatory environment.
Northgate TC is well served by transit, but today’s built environment is not very pedestrian- or transit-oriented. The TC is surrounded by acres of surface and garage parking on two sides, with a fairly long and bleak walk to the mall or the stores on Northgate Way; to the west is I-5, forming an impenetrable pedestrian barrier with nowhere to cross between Northgate Way and 92nd St; to the south are single-family homes. The explicit goal of this community design study is to get from the status quo to the kind of vibrant, walkable, bustling place where people will want to live and work.
The Open House was structured as a presentation followed by an informal workshop. The presentation began with a brief history of the area and DPD’s goals, then moved on to a great discussion of some basic principles of urban design, including the importance of street-level activation and landscaping to the perception of massing and height. The presentation touched on the evolution of urban design in area, noting the large, squat, widely-set-back single-use buildings typical of the 1980s and the evolution towards more pedestrian-friendly mixed use buildings of today, of which the “big-box” (actually small-and-tall box) stores on Northgate Way and the invitingly-landscaped Aljoya senior apartments and Thornton Place are good examples. More after the jump.
The workshop consisted of a series of poster boards where the public was invited to answer questions about the kind of amenities and design aspects they want to see and concerns they had, in and about the new neighborhood and transit facilities. There were very few specifics: for example, no zoning heights were mentioned; rather, different building styles and forms were presented and people indicated which they preferred. I didn’t detect any concerted opposition to DPD’s goals, although I did hear fairly standard complaints about parking and bus noise.
One specific project under consideration is the universally-supported idea of constructing a pedestrian bridge from the vicinity of the station across I-5. Construction of the bridge is unfunded, but Metro obtained a federal grant to perform a feasibility study and some initial cost estimates — in the ballpark of $15 to $20 million. Another, covered more at the ST open house, is the workforce housing TOD project planned by King County on the parts of the TC property that will be surplus after station is complete.
The Northgate area has tremendous possibilities and some large but manageable challenges for transit and density advocates; however, the possibility of success here is perhaps greater than anywhere else. For instance, most of the controversy surrounding the Roosevelt station area upzone can be attributed to the failure of advocates to engage with and address the concerns of the local community, appearing as if from nowhere to demand major changes in the closing months of a process that has taken more than six years . There is no reason why we should repeat these mistakes at Northgate.
I encourage readers to flip through the presentation and poster boards I’ve linked to, and send your feedback to Gordon Clowers, the lead planner on this project. An online survey and future open houses will be forthcoming from DPD. I would also encourage readers to visit and become familiar with the area and the concerns of local residents, in order that we may have stronger and better-informed advocacy once more concrete plans start come from DPD.