After completing most of the necessary steps with the City of Seattle, construction for a new apartment building in Columbia City is set to begin sometime in December.

“We’re finishing up our building permit application, the project is phased, and we’ve already got a permit for demolition,” said Chris Weber of BAR Architects, one of the firms in charge of this project. “It’s been a fairly typical building permit and application process.”

The new Columbia City development at 4730 32nd Ave South will have six buildings consisting of 244 apartment units. The apartment building is also expected to have a roof terrace, lounge, and a fitness center. Weber said the target date for the completion of construction is set to summer 2015.

Columbia City Map

With 215 parking spaces, 126 on the surface and 89 underground, the amount of parking is a major issue for a neighborhood with ambitions of being transit-friendly.

Aerial view“With Columbia City, we looked to see a balance between working for sustainability and conforming to the demands of rent,” Weber said. “We understood early on that there simply is a market to be in for parking spaces.”

Weber added that there are no expectations of empty parking spaces in the apartment buildings.

“Even though the project is next to a light rail station, people living that far from the city center have the expectation of using a car,” Weber said. “While we all like the idea of working toward an automobile-free society, the apartment simply won’t be rented out if there aren’t any parking spaces.”

Rob O’Dea, president of Barracuda M.A.D., another firm that also helped design the project, said said that the project’s zoning didn’t necessarily pose constraints, but ensuring the development design was respectful of both the character of the adjacent existing single-family homes and the future evolution of the neighborhood was critical.

“The site’s proximity to the light rail station influenced every aspect of its development,” O’Dea said.

Earlier in the year, after receiving public comments to encourage better pedestrian-vehicle separation and safety for the adjacent 32nd Ave driveway/sidewalk interface, O’Day said he and his firm looked to ensure that the apartment site would accommodate pedestrians well.

“This included appropriate site porosity for residents moving from within to the adjacent light rail station,” O’Day said. “Pedestrian traffic to the downtown Columbia City core was encouraged along the traditional sidewalk grid. This ensures activation of the sidewalks and reduces the probability of petty crime opportunities that historically were a problem in the area.”

Street ViewO’Dea stressed that he and his partnering firms worked hard to deliver a design that anticipated the future development of the immediate neighborhood, and particularly of the MLK corridor.

“[We] included creating a site plan that ensures the remaining and yet undeveloped portion of our land to the north can be molded to best serve the community in its future use,” O’Dea said. “We are very excited to begin contemplating what exactly that phase will hold.”

As an aside during my interview with him, O’Dea added that one of the other major challenge his team faced during the early stages of the project was making sure they were accommodating the Zion Prep School, a private elementary school that is currently occupying the apartment site.

“The school knew the property was for sale and would be redeveloped, yet had not planned their move,” O’Dea said through email. “We ended up extending their lease at no cost to the school to accommodate an extra academic year. This provided the school time to find a new location with minimal disruption the children or academic calendar.”

75 Replies to “Columbia City Developers Believe They Need the Parking”

  1. “We understood early on that there simply is a market to be in for parking spaces.”

    Another possibility: “We wanted to complete the DPD process sometime before the heat death of the universe and the surrounding property owners would have made that impossible had we built any fewer parking spaces.”

  2. Not that surprising to me. My Capitol Hill building’s garage is basically 100% full at $175/month. The building is not fully leased yet. And a car is probably less necessary here than in Columbia City.

    1. As a counterpoint to the above, my building (in Eastlake) has a seriously empty garage problem. At most — say, midnight on a weeknight — the garage is 1/3 full. The rate for a spot is $100/mo. and it’s included in our rent. Even with the inclusive parking spot, few people have a car. The developers wasted almost an entire floor on the garage.

      1. As a counterpoint to your counterpoint, check the streets around your bldg at nite Whenever I go to Eastlake at nite, parking is a rare commodity. And no, I will not take the bus.

      2. Parking is actually plentiful and easy around my building; I rent cars, use Car2go, friends come and go — there’s never any difficulty.

    2. No doubt. Anyone who thinks people will be buying $300-500,000 homes and not owning a car are deluding themselves.

  3. They are missing a key data point. If the apartments could rent for $300 less per unit without parking would that affect their stance in the marketplace?

    There is an assumption that no one lives in Columbia City without a car. Its just false.

    This and the most recent Othello station project is why we need parking maximums in the 1/4 mile near stations.

    1. Ha ha, I’ve never met a developer that would lower their rents when provided an opportunity to lower their capital investment. You’ll find that $300 in his or her pocket…

      Remember, microstudios save capital investment and triple developer rents. $6/sq ft vs $2.3/sq ft.

      1. You’ve never met a developer that would compete in order to rent units? The developers contention is that the units would go unrented without parking. If they had a margin to work with that other developers didnt (say, from not building parking) they would have an opportunity to compete on price and those units would rent.

        My contention is that the parking is not necessary (and may even be a deterrent) to renting the units.

      2. Only a small niche of tenants is willing to live in a microapartment. Especially when a full-sized apartment with amenities is only $200-300 more. Likewise, the luxury units with parking that most developers target is only part of the market. I would rent a place with no or minimum parking near a light-rail station, and I’d prefer it over a regular building.

      3. Supply of housing is not particularly elastic so the signal behavior is not symmetric. Developers have not had to “compete” for rents in a long long time. And when their units have gone begging, what has been the typical response? They leave units vacant rather than allow rents to recede.

        To achieve the possibility of the nirvana you claim, developers would have to build units at multiples of the current absorption rate and even then, rents might not come down much. There are too many factors that developers take advantage of to maintain their property values. Yet, there is an unmet need for at least 50,000 affordable housing units in this area.

      4. Charles – Focusing on the issue at hand *does this building need parking in order to rent up? — You seem to just be providing more evidence that it does not because the rental market is so hot. Which is my central point.

        Regarding affordable housing – true. The market is not going to build affordable units. The city needs to step in and build/finance *a lot* of affordable and low income units.

        Your indirect claim that supply has nothing to do with demand is just wrong. Didn’t we just go through a housing bubble a few years back? If apartments are empty at a rate that is higher than what they are expecting, there is downward pressure on prices. Developers want to make money. They don’t leave units empty out of spite.

      5. The market for home ownership is not the same as for rental units although an inverse correlation is often observed between rental occupancy rates and home ownership.

        Under that theory, the housing bubble would have softened the market for rentals and when the bubble burst, it would have increased demand for rentals.

        As for downward pressure on prices, there maybe some, but it is negligible. In the face of weak demand for their product, what have the operators of the Station at Othello done with their units? Or with their commercial units for that matter? It’s my understanding that it took more than 2 years for them to get full occupancy only to be followed by a rush of people exiting the building on completion of their leases. What I observed was there was a small downward change in their rents – more often using incentives (free months rent, gift certificates, anything but an official change in rental rate), but far from the market norm of 33% of AGI in the market.

  4. Unfortunately, the developer is right about the neighborhood objections re parking. The Columbia City Business Association is particularly stuck on parking as a necessity, since members claim most of their customers demand easy parking as key to “driving in” from other parts of the Valley. Still very much a single family home mentality around here, especially from the lake view side, and not nearly the pedestrian oriented activists numbers that abound on CapHill.

    1. If there are 244 units in the project with an average of 2 people per unit, that puts about 500 people within walking distance of those Columbia City businesses and none of those 500 people will need a car or a parking space to get to Columbia City. Seems pretty simple–unless the project uses more parking than it provides. What incentives will the developer provide to encourage car-free living?

      1. Apparently–very few. That’s the problem. The pressure from the biz community to provide that all-important easy parking plus the lack of activist “no, you don’t have to” that places like CapHill have seems to equal “just put in parking to get the deal done”. Again, I don’t like it, but that is what is going on.

        The newly proposed Woodbridge Northwest Othello project has the same economic dynamic. One developer who has done only one Seattle project told me at a meeting that the long term investment incentive is to put in parking, because unless a project is specifically locked in to be income-based “affordable” those parking spots will eventually be rental gold, as parking already is in New York City. The other buildings that chose little or no parking won’t have spots, and the buildings that do will rent units at a premium (“parking included”) or rent out the parking at a premium.

        Again–not good, but that’s the thinking.

    2. What is to stop renters from buying neighborhood parking permits and parking a car on the public right-of-way? Are the RPZs limited to homeowners?

    3. The Greenhouse Apts.–the LEED Gold project just a few blocks from this site–provide 94 parking stalls for 124 units (.76 stall/unit). This new project will provide 215 parking spaces for 244 units (.88/unit), which is more parking than Greenhouse. How do the residents of Greenhouse Apts. spend their money? Do Greenhouse residents spend a higher proportion of their money within walking distance of their home than other residents? Is the Greenhouse good for the local, walkable neighborhood or is the Greenhouse a negative? If those questions can be investigated and answered maybe the business community will see things differently

  5. The stat from Westneat’s piece was that 16% of Seattle households don’t own a car. Certainly, the figure around light rail stations is higher than that, and would move upward if the developers would cater to people who are moving there to take advantage of the transit.

    BTW, I am thinking of moving next to a station, and I will not rent from any place that bundles a parking spot with my apartment.

    1. I suspect this is true. Check out the study by UW grad students posted on rainier valley greenways website. They surveyed pedestrians in Columbia City and found that over 50% said walking was their primary mode of transit.

  6. I am highly suspicious of the developer’s assumptions, and think having residents with cars, rather than residents without cars, will be bad for the neighborhood (though better than not having a project at all).

    The real scandal here, though, is the zoning. 5 years after Link opened, and there’s lots of SF5000 and LR3 directly adjacent to the station.

    1. Absolutely agree that having so much parking won’t be good for the hood. The question is, how do we convince the existing hood of that?

      1. It seems that the business owners are a major constituent in the neighborhood, and business owners benefit when they know who their customers are and how they got there. Thus, they might support a survey of where their customers come from and how they got to the business, especially if they’re involved in the survey design. Afterwards, everyone can make decisions based on data instead of assumptions.

    2. Martin,
      I noticed that in the map posted with the article. The city really needs to do a better job of up zoning around rail stations.

      At the very least the parcels directly adjacent to MLK should be all NC-65 at the very least.

  7. The Columbia City strip is already a difficult place to park in the evenings when all the restaurants and clubs are open, so if the project ultimately consumes more parking than it provides, the neighborhood will be negatively impacted. 215 parking spaces for 244 units doesn’t seem like an outlandish request, but it does bring into question how the neighborhood will develop. With the library, the playfied, the community center, several schools and the Boys & Girls Club all nearby, I’m more interested in whether or not the project will continue to serve multi-generational families or if it’s going to be another “studio and 1-bedroom only” project. Adding 215 cars to a site that currently serves maybe 20% of that total will be a big impact. Plus, with the new development at Rainier & Edmonds opening soon, there are going to be plenty of new traffic problems for the neighborhood unless there are restrictions/incentives to avoid adding more cars to this neighborhood.

    1. Funny story: I was at one of my favorite restaurants next to Othello Station a few months ago and got to meet the owner. I mentioned the light rail, and she went into a tirade about how the light rail was making it impossible to find parking and not bringing her any business.

      I looked out the window and saw her parking lot was empty, and I was the only customer in the restaurant. This was during dinner time.

    2. Unfortunately, reality has to intervene in this discussion. Let’s not delude ourselves — Columbia City is a cool place to live/work/play, but in many ways it’s also an outpost.

      If you don’t live near Link, getting to/from Columbia City without a vehicle is either difficult or prohibitively slow. If you don’t have easy access to the 7 or 8 (which, admittedly, is a good chunk of the city, but still), you’ll likely have to make a transfer at Mount Baker, or find some way to get to Link first. People north of the ship canal really have no easy access to Columbia City.

      This is also not an excuse for proper planning. The 215 spaces for 244 units hardly seems out of character with the neighborhood, but it also fails to account for how the place is being transformed: it’s planning for the place as it exists today, not what it will look like in 10 years. Just more impetus for getting Link going sooner, but also placing new focus on the bus route network in that part of town for the 7, 8 (future 106?), 9, and 50.

      1. Your point about not planning for the future is excellent, but who cares if people north of the Ship Canal (or Jackson St.) don’t have easy access to Columbia City? [not intending to be sarcastic or rude] Every part of the city should have its own Columbia City/Old Ballard/Wallingford/West Seattle Junction neighborhoods. Small, self-contained, self-sustaining neighborhood commercial districts that are accessible by foot, bike or transit are what needs to be created, not destination districts that people will drive for miles to experience.

      2. Speaking of planning for the future, In 7 years, quite a few neighborhoods north of the ship canal will have good transit access to Columbia City. Build rail to Ballard, and the number will increase further.

      3. Every part of the city should be easily accessible without needing a car. That is the whole point of building a transit infrastructure and changing our built environment. The SeattleSubway map shows what is possible. I may

    3. CC is hard to park in? I find at most I have to walk 3 blocks away from rainier to find abundant free street parking. (Not to mention there’s a huge cheap pay lot half a block from rainier)

  8. I’m annoyed by the parking, but really annoyed by the _surface_ parking, what look like street setbacks with planters, and surrounding themselves on 3 sides by new roads (apparently without sidewalks). That’s a suburban apartment complex pushed slightly closer together and dropped in the city next to our rail investment.

    1. With luck parking demand will be lower than expected and the north lot can go away in a future development.

    2. The only existing street that the project will face will be 32nd Ave S. (the west side). All the other sides will have other buildings distancing the project from the sidewalks. What will be the pathway for residents in Buildings 1-4 to walk to the Columbia City business district? Will they have to walk to 32nd or Alaska to get to Geraldines or the PCC? That won’t be good.

      1. That’s concerning. It’s reasonable to expect people to not walk through your backyard, but it’s also important that pedestrians don’t have to detour. Being porous from one of four sides of a block isn’t all that porous, is it?

      2. Being porous from one of four sides of a [mega-]block isn’t all that porous, is it?

        This, even more than the offputting parking perimeter that Matt correctly identifies as Adapted Redmond, is major problem here.

        This isn’t a normal city block. It’s massive! It is so huge that some of these residents will physically live 1/4 of a mile from Columbia City central, but will find the pedestrianized route along Edmunds requires a full 1/2-mile walk out of them.

        That’s significantly further than the 1/3 mile to Rainier from the Link platform itself. Talk about unnecessary backtracking!

        Add to that the lack of existing frontage continuity along Edmunds, and the “eerily quiet” problem along the walk at night, and this project is almost begging for its residents to drive for even the shortest trips.

      3. Do we know there won’t be all-resident paths around building 2? It sounds like something we need to confirm. It looks similar to other complexes that have all-resident paths in the courtyards.

      4. Looks like DPD did ask for pedestrian access to 35th Ave S from the east fence of the property: “the Board recommended a condition that the fence along the east property line should provide a minimum 3 ft. wide opening, and that opening shall align with the final east-west path location on the adjacent project to the east.” – http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/LUIB/AttachmentProject3015157ID58353015157.pdf

        The development on that adjacent property to the east was cancelled with Weyerhaeuser’s sale of Quadrant Homes, so I don’t know where that leaves things. d.p. is right, it will be a long walk around to the business district without pedestrian access on the east side of the lot.

      5. That’s the real story here, not the amount of parking. I really have no problem with a developer or a home owner who decides to add a bunch of parking. I do have problem with a construction project that makes it really difficult for people to use what should be streets. If you look at the neighborhood, there should be two additional streets between Edmunds and Alaska (Angeline and Americus). It’s too late to add the streets back into the grid, but the developer can fix it, or at least make it tolerable. There are plenty of examples of developers doing just that (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/AppDocs/GroupMeetings/DRProposal3016543AgendaID5006.pdf).

  9. They believe they’ll make a better return on their investment with more parking than with less. Fair enough. I happen to believe they’re wrong, but it’s their capital to throw around. Time will tell if they’re correct.

    29 of these new units will have no parking included. This should serve as a good case study of how much more rent a parking space actually commands in Columbia City, and will hopefully influence future developers accordingly.

    1. But what if one of the car-free tenants doesn’t want one of those 29 units. Maybe he wants one of the other units, and still doesn’t want to pay for a parking stall. I don’t think they thought that through.

      1. Everyone in the building ends up paying for the spaces because there is no pure market for new built parking. What I mean by that is: No one is willing to pay the price of parking when its un-bundled. Its just too high — so they raise everyone’s rent and try to have direct parking fees cover about 30% of the cost.

  10. O’Day said. “Pedestrian traffic to the downtown Columbia City core was encouraged along the traditional sidewalk grid. This ensures activation of the sidewalks and reduces the probability of petty crime opportunities that historically were a problem in the area.”

    This is a big block and not really a pedestrian friendly grid. By traditional does he mean existing, car-centric grid? Anyone know if there is a pedestrian easement through to 35th ave s from the centre of the east parking lot? From what I saw in the developer’s plans submitted to dpd they expect residents to walk around to edmunds or take Alaska down the hill to rainier and then back up to the business district.

  11. Right now, it’s about a half-mile walk from this site to the nearest supermarket, which is Safeway on Rainier. The planned PCC market will be closer but PCC isn’t exactly a large and comprehensively stocked market. If PCC somehow goes away, there won’t be anything close for food not to mention other things. My point is simply that parking needs are more a function of how urban a neighborhood is (as opposed to how close to light rail it is), and that Columbia City is nowhere near a self-contained urban community. The parking rules should be differently here and I see nothing wrong with this proposal.

    1. PCC isn’t large? I shop at Central Co-Op and Trader Joe’s on Madison, and you could fit both of those in the Fremont PCC. Still, Central Co-Op has almost everything I need, including things I didn’t expect it to have like cranberry sauce. I used to shop at Hop Thanh (a small Vietnamese supermarket at 12th & Jackson that closed a couple years ago.) It also had a variety (of what Asian home cooks buy). You can find most of what you want at a small supermarket, it’s just that it has one or two brands instead of a dozen. But you don’t need those dozen brands. In Fred Meyer I counted 30 kinds of vanilla ice cream, and I couldn’t tell the difference between them. (What’s Vanilla vs Old-Fashioned Vanilla vs French Vanilla vs Vanilla Bean vs Slow-Churned Vanilla, and why would I want one over the other?)

  12. Angels on the head of a pin. It is perfectly reasonable to want to rent an apartment adjacent to transit so one can commute via Link, and still want to own a car. People with active lifestyles, who enjoy the PNW outdoors, want and use cars to get out of the city. For skiers, backpackers, birders, whatever, a car is pretty essential. Sure you could support such a lifestyle with flexcar, but the flexibility of owning a car to plan and go when you want is pretty hard to beat. Add kids to the mix and a car becomes even more useful. And why is that a bad thing? Putting an apartment building next to Link that has less than one stall per unit is still reducing a whole ton of trips that might otherwise be taken if the renters chose to live in the suburbs or an underserved neighorhood. In a land of weekend warriors, I can see why there is a market for parking.

    1. What’s wrong is that structured parking spaces cost $30,000 each to build, and that’s a significant part of what’s driving up rents. Also, if the wall of parking is exposed, it forces people to walk around it (because no destination is there: no shop or friend’s apartment or park), which means they’re walking longer distances and those add up, making the neighborhood less pedestrian-friendly than it would otherwise be. Buildings are often contorted to fit in the parking, which means strangely-shaped units, smaller units, fewer units.

    2. There are only 215 spaces for 244 units. That’s significantly less than one space per unit! Why is that too much? I’m actually concerned that there isn’t enough, given that this site is completely surrounded by residents for at least a block in every direction. This is not a “run downstairs to the store” building on a street of 5-8 story apartments like Capitol Hill or Belltown, but is a large structure at a much higher density than the neighbors around it.

  13. This discussion is amusing, because it sounds like what most people want is really to live in a Kent or Auburn style apartment complex — with facilities like a gym, pool and so on. And have access to speedy downtown transit like Sounder while at the same time having adequate parking and the use of a car (for off hours trips, transporting goods from stores, …)

    But they haven’t realized it yet, so they are taking something like Columbia City and twisting it a thousand different ways to make it appear to be something that it isn’t — Puyallup.

  14. I have come to believe a residential building with a bunch of parking but otherwise good pedestrian fundamentals isn’t nearly as bad as an office building with the same amount of parking. In the office situation (or in an utterly car-dependent apartment/condo complex) you have to plan ingress and egress (including capacity of nearby streets) for a car in every parking space within the same couple hours. In a residential building that’s a reasonable walk from transit and various daily needs many of those cars won’t be used daily. So the presence of the parking doesn’t hinder true pedestrian- and transit-oriented development as much as in offices.

    The parking adds significant cost to the building and limits overall site density (or at least increases the cost of density)… and to the extent it actually does mess up pedestrian and bike routes it’s bad. And separating monthly parking rates from monthly rent should be encouraged everywhere but the most car-dependent sites.

    So on this site I’d worry about the superblocks, surface parking, and whether parking is separate from rent… not so much whether it’s available at all.

    1. In my ideal world residential areas would have a small corner parking garage every block or two, and the houses themselves wouldn’t have garages or driveways.

  15. This project, parking aside, is a pretty disappointing one. I was surprised that SDOT/DPD didn’t require the re-establishment of a grid and a truly accessible site. Sure, the building looks modern and won’t look horrific from an architectural stand point, but for Seattle, this is an extremely suburban development model, and for that reason alone, it’s highly disappointing.

    1. Judging from the architectural sketches, these buildings look painfully ugly. Message to developers: if you’re going to reap massive profits building in Southeast Seattle now that it’s “hot,” please spend a bit more on the aesthetics of the project rather than building the absolute cheapest, most generic structures you can get away with. A lot of us who live down here have invested enormous amounts of money, energy & our souls to improve this area.

  16. Have lenders stopped demanding a certain level of parking supply in new urban residential development? To what extent is the financial market driving the parking supply?

  17. I’m not very familiar with Columbia City, but I would challenge the notion that business owners know how their customers arrive. Business owners often over estimate the percentage of customers that drive, because that’s the mode they’re oriented to. This is why cyclists run campaigns like “I bike and I shop.” The same should happen with transit passengers. Maybe somebody independent of the businesses should survey customers.

    1. Although I’m generally reluctant to tell business owners what’s best for them, it seems like a building that attracts non-car-owning residents is a godsend for local businesses. If you don’t drive, you’re much more likely to pick the restaurant or grocery store that’s nearby rather than the slightly better/cheaper one farther away.

      1. Totally. I think a survey (independent or not) would benefit everyone.

        God knows that I pay more than I have to at for cleaning supplies because City Market is instant, while Costco is far.

        Even without a formal survey, a shop can get an underestimate of transit users by offering a small discount for those who show an orca card if you’re comfortable with equating orca card with transit use.

        You’ll miss people who are extremely price-insensitive / discount-shy / really want to support local businesses, but it’s better than none. [Old School Frozen Custard does this, but I have no idea what they do with the data.]

  18. Maybe not an important part of this post but Zion Prep isn’t currently occupying the site and hasn’t since February based on their website: http://www.zionprep.org/ . Almost all the buildings are demolished.

    The post states that new building construction is expected to start in December of this year and completion is expected to be in summer 2015. Maybe summer 2016?

  19. It seems many of us share a vision of walkable development and even believe it to be more economically viable than the parking park model. Yet we don’t seem to have much influence on the developer community. Just yesterday I read this article about investing in causes. Maybe someone should start a fund for walkable development. It could be the STB consensus fund.

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