Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts
Mt. Baker Lofts – SMR Architects

The DJC (subscription required) reported yesterday on the pending design review for Artspace’s proposed lofts at Mt. Baker Station.  You can read more about the proposal on Artspace’s website.  Martin wrote about “the awfulness of Mt. Baker Station” a few months back, and I highly recommend his post for an overview of this transit-oriented disaster. Martin posits that development might be the solution.  If that’s the case, the Artspace project — which was announced back in 2010 — might be a step in the right direction.  On the plus side:

Mt. Baker Station Lofts has been tasked with jumpstarting an urban village in the Rainier Valley, in part by transforming a car-oriented environment into a walk, bike, ride neighborhood. The project will have ample bicycle storage and a reserved car-share parking space in lieu of an automobile parking lot.

57 lofts won’t change the world, but it’s a start.  Unfortunately, opportunities for further development in the immediate vicinity of the station are rather limited.

Seattle DPD has the full PDF of the project proposal.   If anyone was at the meeting, share your comments below.

42 Replies to “Mt. Baker Lofts Goes to Design Review”

  1. 57 units might not make the place over, but it is a start.

    Any update on the current status of the bowtie? The April article says it is still swirling around the lower levels of SDOT and DPD.

    How does someone go about pushing for it to become a reality?

    1. Nothing’s changed. The only way to move forwards to get a critical mass of the neighborhood to tell the Council it should be a priority.

    1. Thanks for that link. I’ve been suffering from insomnia, and that building design put me right to sleep! Thanks.


  2. Overall a great project. But this is one location that should have been allowed triple that height, at least. Floors 5 and above would have had less noise from tranist anouncements.

    1. Agreed. I find it a bit comical that the station it self is almost taller than this building. A lot more could have been done on this site but good to see that at least the retail will do a fairly good job of embracing the station.

    2. Economics and construction types play into decisions about scale. I’d guess that a 50 story height limit on this site might have made at best a couple of story difference. After that the construction type has to change driving costs higher for a small footprint.

      1. But that’s conjecture. It’s one thing if economics leads to non-optimal design. It’s another when we force bad design by law.

      2. Can’t reply to the post below in this formatting.

        But, “non-optimal” implies something can be optimal – which of course is in the eyes of the beholder.

  3. Is the first floor going to be commercial store fronts?

    Will the most direct access to the station elevators be preserved?

    1. A ton of storefronts. IIRC a maximum of 16, at least two being set up to be restaurants.

      1. I am very excited about the possibility of this leading to a mix of (hopefully) local small businesses. I think affordable, small commercial space is what the neighborhood needs to spur small business growth and make a livelier, more attractive environment around the station. With all the talk about gentrification, I think another shortcoming is getting lost in the heat: the lack of promised economic opportunities and job growth. Ideally, there would be some micro start up scale spaces that will allow new entrepreneurs to begin creating a more vital station area, a mix of ideas and a marketplace like array of stores.

      2. @Drew I completely agree. I think the lack of small and affordable retail/commercial space which small business can use to get started is something that has been missing from the discussion.

      3. +1 Just as “Apodments” are important for affordable housing units, I’d love to see more tiny stores. That “hole in the wall” burrito place at the entrance to Pike Place Market wouldn’t have great $4 burritos if they had more than a ~100sf shop.

        Oh, and I confirmed the number of possible storefronts on this building. Frank’s link to the DPD proposal is outdated – they only had a dozen or so back in May. Now they’re up to 16, and many are excellent shapes (deep, with narrow storefronts). Here’s the updated proposal. Check out page 12.

    2. Looking at the layout of the nearby area, I’m worried that the walking path to the station may be ridiculous, indirect, and involving multiple poor-condition sidewalks.

  4. BTW, tall buildings will be a wonderful noise buffer for the nearby neighborhoods. It’s a shame these lofts aren’t even taller. ;)

    1. I’m sure that went though the back of the minds of some people who are involved with the RNA… well heck if we have to build tall buildings why not use them like human sound walls! After all their just apartment dwellers, not actual land owners…

      In all seriousness though, I actually overhead a older man at the City Neighborhood Council (CNC) land use committee say as much.

  5. Would these qualify as “affordable urban density”.

    As in, can we use these as a living experiment, to confirm whether people would willingly give up, or reduce the use of their cars, and move themselves and hopefully their family of 4 into The City in order to have the benefits of The City?

    If yes, then these should fill up instantly.
    If no, they will remain half empty while people continue to drive into downtown.

      1. Why is that not the case with Othello Station? My impression is that it is still pretty empty.

      2. According to Anh, the Leasing Agent that was available on the online chat right now, they’re 87% leased so far. The cheapest place they have available is $850 for a studio with a 13 month lease.

      3. It certainly started out slow but the latest article I could find put it at 73% occupied. Not sure how many are taken by public assistance programs or how the commercial side is doing. Any retail tennants yet?

        Othello Station is home to The Station at Othello Park, the only major market-rate TOD built to date along this south end of the light-rail line. The six-story project has 351 apartments that range in size from 426 to 1,041 square feet, with rents ranging from $1.50 to $1.95 per square foot. The project opened in April 2011 and is 73 percent occupied.

        The Station was a hard sell since it is the first upscale development in the immediate area. If they are able to keep it rented the next developer and the next will have a much easier time of it.

      4. I live in the Station. Most of the remaining units are either 1) unappealing for various reasons or 2) the very expensive units on the view side.

        Anh kicks ass, by the way.

      5. 73% occupied is an absurdly high 27% vacancy rate!

        Isn’t that nearly 8 times what the average is for Seattle?

        If in fact, the demand is there for reasonably priced TOD then Othello should have a waiting list a mile long even if the “view isnt’ that good”.

        Sheesh, when demand is high, people sleep in linen closets. But here is a (according to STB) super prime building and it has a 27% vacancy rate. Absurd!!

      6. “when demand is high, people sleep in linen closets.”

        That’s a different kind of demand. That situation is characterized by runaway rising rents across all price levels, so that even middle-class people can’t afford the “normal” apartment situation of one person in a studio or 1BR. Thus they’re forced to resort to extraordinary measures normally relegated to the poor: two or three people in a room, or closet-sized apartments.

      7. The runaway-rent situation thankfully hasn’t happened in Seattle yet. People with minimum-wage jobs have trouble affording Seattle’s apartments, but people with professional jobs are OK. Another difference is that in Seattle you can just look at the “For Rent” signs, get an offer, and usually wait a day or week to make a decision. In runaway-rent situations, all the vacancies have been snapped up by “agents”, and you have to go through them and pay a commission in order to find an apartment, and if you don’t take the offer immediately when it’s made, there are three people lined up behind you ready to take it right now.

      8. Or (in runaway rent situations) there are people literally willing to outbid you over their cellphones in order to secure an apartment.

      9. David L. — it would be interesting to have a breakdown of exactly which types of units are not renting. What is “unappealing” right now in this area?

        (“The very expensive units on the view side” I understand; nobody ever wants to lower their asking price for their high-end units even when the top end of the market is thin.)

    1. Silly John. Except for the very few 3-bedroom units, places like this are not marketed toward families of 4. They’re marketed toward singles and couples. Not everyone is in a family of 4.

      1. I was surprised at how many 3 bedroom units there are in the updated design Matt posted. Floors 2-4 will each have four 3BR units (~21%), 13 1BR, and two studios.

    2. People can’t move immediately when a building opens. They have to find out the building or neighborhood exists, decide to move there, finish their lease or sell their house, make sure their job won’t change for the next year or two, make sure everyone in their household can get to work or school from there, and make sure they can fulfill their responsibilities to other family members who live elsewhere (e.g., if they have to visit an elderly relative weekly). All this can take several years. So you can’t expect a building to be full the day it opens. If it does, there’s a severe housing shortage and you need to build more housing pronto.

      1. Well…isn’t 50% of the premise of this blog that there’s a severe shortage of urban apartments served by transit?

        If so, this building should be eaten up like ice cream.

  6. That facade texture looks like JPEG aliasing. Is it actually designed like that or is it, in fact, just aliasing?

    1. Wood grain from massive old-growth trees? Wait, no – it’s aliasing. P.15 of my link above shows it’s mostly vertical and horizontal metal ribbing exterior, with some brick down low.

  7. It would be really interesting to know the breakdown of Othello Station by tenant type,i.e. open market vs public assistance. Could potentially help draw market rate developers to the Rainier Valley.

    1. I don’t know about Othello, but this project will likely be mostly affordable units. Artspace is the developer, and it looks like that’s the kind of work they do.

      1. I don’t see a link you’ve posted above, and your second link doesn’t go anywhere.

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