Courtesy the City of Kent and Studio Meng Strazzara

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.

38 Replies to “Op-Ed: TOD’s First Alight on South Sounder at Kent Station”

  1. Yes, Mayor Suzette Cook and the Kent City Council finally got rid of that insolvent parking lot.

    The location there is stellar. Adjacent to a the park, shops. It straddles Old Town (which is still quite vital with eateries like Wild Wheat and some of the best sushi in Washington at Kuine Sushi) and the new town of Kent Station’s outdoor mall and public place.

    In addition, it’s a few blocks east of the fabulous Interurban Bike trail which runs all the way north to Tukwila and Southcenter (and then on, in patchwork trails to Seattle) and south to Auburn and Algona!

    This is beautiful, right sized density, appropriate to the existing structures and needs of the area.

    Although it would be doubtful if I’d ever move from my garden apartment atop Kent East Hill, this site has my attention!!

    1. Oh, and did I mention that the Kent Central Library is right on the other side of that fountain park? And that the farmers market is held on weekends on that street…and that Kent Cornucopia Days festival is also held in those streets adjacent…and that………

    2. Historic Kent does have a lot of great shops and restaurants. I love the Perk Up Place, Kona Kai Coffee, Spiros, and Maggie’s on Meeker. Wild Wheat is great too. The city centre has fantastic services, including the parks, community centre, and library. It’s just a shame that the FDR era post office has closed–much like is soon to happen in Redmond. :( I’ve always loved Kent’s city centre. I wish they’d re-open St Christopher’s Academy at Holy Family RC. Would be nice to have a real city centre elementary. (Calvary walls itself off from the world.)

      1. Yes, Kent Station is a beautiful thing…I always love stopping there on my bike rides in summer to grab an ice cream at Cold Stone, or a quick espresso at Dilettante.

        In fact, the interior plaza is spectacularly “human friendly” and I don’t think there is anything in Seattle remotely like it!

  2. Yaaay. This is the antidote to sprawl. One building will beget another, and eventually there will be a compact community in downtown Kent and another on East Hill, and a RapidRide from Renton to Kent and SeaTac and Rainier Beach. Then people living in mid south King will have a real choice between living in a walkable neighborhood or living in driveable neighborhood. They won’t have to move to Seattle if they want walkability and good transit, and they won’t have to commute back to Kent if their job is in Kent.

    1. The trends point in this direction. Increasing population. More non-driving elderly. Internet-generation young adults who aren’t getting driver’s licenses as quickly as their parents did, and are so over the kind of low-density house they grew up in. More businesses writing to politicians saying, “We can’t wait any longer for more transit, we need it now!”, as several companies recently did to the Bellevue city council, telling them to stop quibbling about East Link and get it built. It may not be this exact route, and RapidRide may be different by then, but something needs to happen.

      Fun fact: the WWII and boomer generations moved to the exciting new suburbs shown on Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. Now the Xers and millenials have grown up in low-density tract houses, and for them it’s not an exciting utopia, it’s the status quo. Some of them prefer it, but others yearn for a more interconnected environment as shown on Seinfeld and in the cultural memory of streetcar suburbs. And Kent was a streetcar suburb. So it’s going back to its roots and its potential, not doing some fly-by-night experiment.

      1. Whoa, whoa, whoa!! Holy crap Batman, Kent had streetcars??? I seriously need to drop into the heritage museum. Via Central Ave?

        I come from that generation and I’m one of very few of my friends who live out here (most like me it isn’t a choice–it’s the economy). But development like City Center could change that.

        RapidRide would be great. All day frequent, fast service to Renton and Seattle would be preferable. One to supplement 566 would be nice too. The 180 and 169 leave a lot to desire.

      2. I see the Interurban as more of electric commuter rail than a streetcar, but potato potato (well that doesn’t work written out).

      3. I see a streetcar as something that moves slowly, letting people on and off – ideally while in motion (though the lawyers and air conditioners don’t allow that, these days). The Interurban went all the way from Tacoma to Seattle in 90 minutes. That’s commuter rail, not streetcar distance in my mind.

        Anyway, there are many instances of the Interurban being called a streetcar, so calling Kent a streetcar suburb is probably fair.

      4. I meant the Interurban. From the pictures it looked like a streetcar. The Seattle streetcars and the Interurban look essentially the same to me.

      5. “Interurbans” ran like streetcars through town centers and like railways in the open countryside. A very effective system.

  3. I’m pretty sure I’ve read papers indicating that TOD near commuter rail rarely leads to significantly lower vehicle ownership or greater transit usage among the people living in the TOD. Still, this sounds like it’s probably a good thing for Kent — even if the new residents clog up the streets and don’t take the train much, at least they can walk to downtown Kent when they want the amenities Bailo touts.

    1. Well Kent Station does have over 15 routes in addition to Sounder that operate at the transit centre as well. Most are frequent service throughout the neigbourhoods, industrial valley, Seattle, Bellevue, and more. I can honestly imagine many people choosing transit from this location and the future–much like The Landing (although I know some who won’t even walk to Paccar). Although, I would say the best way to induce ridership is to further drop the parking mins on city centre development rather than just administratively. I hope staff will consider that after this development.

    2. It’s about choice. They can walk to the shops in Kent Station, and they’ll be able to walk to a supermarket when one is eventually built. Fred Meyer is a short 168/169 ride away. Some of them may drive to other places instead, and their job may be elsewhere. But they’ll have the choice. Those living in outer Kent don’t have a choice: they have to drive or take the hourly bus to Southcenter.

      People who don’t care about walkability and transit will be indifferent to living in these apartments, but those who want walkability and transit will preferentially choose them. For a really successful example, see the neighborhoods around the DC Metro, and Reston Town Center which is not on the metro yet but is “rail-ready”. Once these things reach a critical mass, they grow, and that encourages other suburbs to plant more of them. Burien, Renton, and Kent are all building town centers, and I hear Des Moines and Federal Way want to too. Look at the difference between how these cities are now vs how they were in 2000 or 1990. There could be a lot more TOD by 2021 and 2031.

      1. My wife grew up in Burien and then Des Moines (Mother in Law was a flight attendant). Since I’ve deployed she’s moved back to the area (I will be leaving the Army soon after getting back from Afghanistan) and is currently living with her Brother in Burien. Since the move back she has been VERY impressed with the changes. Burien has a downtown and places that she can walk to. Totally different from when she grew up there according to her.

    3. Steve says:
      October 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      “I’m pretty sure I’ve read papers indicating that TOD near commuter rail rarely leads to significantly lower vehicle ownership or greater transit usage among the people living in the TOD”

      Well it does in NJ, NY, CT, and Chicagoland

      1. To be fair, those places have real commuter rail networks, with 100+ trains a day on each of many lines.

        The Sounder, While amazing to ride (as I did for work a couple summers) Is a joke compared to LIRR, NJT, Metra, etc.

      2. True, but projects like this that increase ridership can only help to turn Sounder into a more usable transit option.

      3. Does it really, though? Do people living in new TOD developments in NJ, NY, CT and Chicagoland really own cars at lower rates? Do they use the train more than their neighbors? The surprising conclusion of the paper I remember reading was that people living in new TODs along commuter rail lines (as opposed to TODs next to services like light rail or subway that are more frequent and hit more destinations) still felt they needed cars, and frequently chose to live in the new TOD because it was new, not because it was transit-oriented. That developers know about this effect was cited as a reason that TOD often doesn’t actually seem very transit-oriented. (I don’t have a citation, though, so my memory may be faulty)

        I haven’t lived in the NYC suburbs, but I’ve lived near CalTrain in the Bay Area, which is more than Sounder but less than Metro-North. I’m going to guess that the people paying upwards of $1.5 million for luxury condos in downtown Palo Alto, say, tend to own cars and don’t tend to take the train.

        All that said, developing Kent’s downtown is clearly better for transit than developing Kent’s hinterlands. So this can’t be a bad thing, as long as it can compete economically against more sprawl-y development.

      4. Slightly reduced car ownership,
        Slightly changed mode choices by those who still own cars,
        Shorter distances by those who still drive.

        Combine the three and it’s a sizeable effect, even if “slighly” is accurate.

        In a lot of Seattle neighborhoods a project like this would have 0.8 or fewer parking spaces per unit. In fact that’s a common ratio for a moderately high-end highrise. It’s easier in Seattle than Kent but definitely, a lot fewer people have cars in some places.

    4. Well it gets down to — do you care about vehicle “ownership” or vehicle “use”.

      Specifically, if you own a car for the average 2 mi. trip that a suburban person does to get to the supermarket, the gym, the daycare center, to drop off kids at school.

      What “transit” is trying to prevent are the 50 mile, freeway clogging, commutes during rush hours between home and work.

      So, a TOD that includes parking, essentially makes most if not all personal transit (cars) curtailed to short, 2 mile trips since the person can now dart off to a transit center, then take a fast modality to work or a central event like sports or art and keep his car in the 2 to 5 mile local range spread over a variety of time and days rather than cramming his car onto a freeway, M-F during rush hours.

      Transit needs to choose its battle and not just be a relentless War on Personal Transit. If cars can best do the 2 mile jaunts and allow people, especially families, to have low density options like yards and at the same time not create polluting traffic snarls by using transit for long distance runs and if we make the conversion to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles starting 2015, then I really don’t think there is an absolute case for not including personal transit vehicles in the transportation mix for our future.

      1. At the same time, the best TOD includes some of the shops and facilities that you’d otherwise drive to, so those trips are eliminated. Kent Station is more than just some apartments next to a station.

        So for a hypothetical person living in this development:
        – Sounder or the 150 to Seattle.
        – Walk to restaurants and shops at Kent Station. I’m not sure if there’s a supermarket there.
        – Walk to the ShoWare Center for hockey games.
        – The 150 or Interurban Trail to Southcenter.
        – Bus to Link for UW and Bellevue/Redmond. (This is where RapidRide is needed, and/or the 133rd Link station.)

      2. Sure, living there you could easily get away with not owning a car yourself.

        And you could still call Enterprise Rent A Car in Kent on Central if you need a car for a day or two. Enterprise will come to your doorstep and pick you up when you rent car with them!

  4. My wife and I bought our first home on Temperance, a few block walk east of the proposed commuter rail station back in 1993, hoping for a rapid adoption, deployment, and ground swell of transit and TOD in the neighborhood. We moved out in 2007, having watched our neighborhood change little in 14 years, along with some impressive re-development of the 40 acre Borden glue factory site just west of the new CR station and lots more traffic streaming off the hill trying slug it over to the freeways.
    Change is happening, but Oh-So-Slowly. Like watching a banana slug race.

    1. I’m glad it’s happening “oh so slowly”.

      Look at what happened to Seattle when it happened “oh so fast”…they turned America’s formerly most liveable city into a pricey, mess…

      I am hoping that will never happen to Kent.

      1. Rising prices, or stagnation and decay, are the only choices, unfortunately. Either you build new denser housing and improve transit and build more shops, which will attract more affluent people and perhaps have a spillover affect in prices. Or you don’t do anything, and it remains hard to get around without a car, and people avoid the area, and the 1970s-era houses and shops stagnate and fall apart, and jobs don’t locate there. It’s more affordable, but that’s because people don’t want to live there, and life is miserable for those who do. (Of course, some people prefer the low density, and driving to Southcenter, and the beauty of the mall, etc… but the number of people with this attitude is decreasing.) So there are tradeoffs both ways.

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