chs_development

Last week it was announced that Sound Transit has selected a developer to build atop the Capitol Hill light rail station. Since so many of our other light rail stations are sadly hemmed in by highways, constrained by density-opposing locals, or located next to giant sporting arenas, everyone seems to have pinned their hopes on Capitol Hill to deliver some actual transit-oriented development.

With all that scrutiny came intense pressure to build affordable housing, family-sized housing, a community center, a farmer’s market, and other amenities. The site became a vessel for every neighborhood group’s dreams. One developer decided it was too constraining and abandoned their bid.

While the selected proposal looks nice, it’s actually quite short for being next to a rail station. In Vancouver, 25 stories seems to be typical for development around SkyTrain stations, even outside of downtown.

But you don’t have to look all the way to Vancouver to see 20+ story residential buildings. In fact, just half a mile from Capitol Hill Station there are several tall residential towers going up.  Developers seem to have realized that, despite being worlds apart culturally, sleepy First Hill and buzzy Capitol Hill are, geographically speaking, actually kinda the same place. For example, 24-story 1321 Seneca will be just two blocks from Pike/Pine.

All of which leads to a funny/sad situation, in which the tall buildings are not where the station is.  First Hill has been zoned for high-rises for a long time, while Capitol Hill has not.  And so we end up with a lopsided neighborhood.

Of course, First hill was initially slated for a light rail station. And yes, the First Hill Streetcar (opening soon!) is supposed to ameliorate some of the disconnect.  Still, it would be ideal to have the most intense land use adjacent to light rail.

76 Replies to “When it Comes to Zoning, the Status Quo Tends to Win”

  1. Developers don’t write project specs. So I doubt that the applicants submitted bids competing on number of stories. What’s the Sound Transit Board’s “comeback” on this matter? Is opposition to density itself the whole story?

    I wouldn’t mind moving to a 25-story building on Broadway- if the rent is lower than what I couldn’t afford in Ballard. But I wonder how much sprawl-sympathy results from recent visits to Ballard.

    Where today’s density would have been called “tenements” in the great Gangs of New York days when the city built a subway in four years. But in Ballard, the present buildings so antithetical do density will give the concept a boost by virtue of their own crappy ugliness.

    From the looks of them, it’s very likely their design life will end before LINK is completely built out. In fact, people will celebrate their being torn down and replaced with excellent skyscrapers at exactly the right time.

    Starting with the breathtaking 40-story one on top of the Ballard LINK station. If that Night-Stalker mad civil war doctor still has his office in the Pioneer Square Underground, maybe Medicare will cover treatments that’ll let me move in.

    It’ll be ok if I don’t get the top floor.

    Mark

  2. ST has a record of not being smart with their properties and maximizing revenues. Was this another give-away? Will property taxes be paid on the parcel or will it enjoy tax-free status? And will the developer of the complex pay rent to ST on the property? Down in LA, their transit agency shrewdly made a deal with a developer to be paid $750,000 a year for a property next to a rail station. How much will ST be paid for this parcel?

  3. Zoning is to blame, certainly, but as you note, we’d really need to jump the zoning to 25 stories or so before it would make a difference. Concrete/steel construction isn’t economical for buildings less than ~15-20 stories unless you can charge some premium for it (e.g. higher-end condos).

    This becomes an issue when TOD is intended to include substantial shares of affordable housing. Like it or not, developers make less money on subsidized or below-market housing. More than half of the 418 residential units in the winning proposal are effectively rent-controlled (38% of units are below market for 12 years, with 81 more units (19%) permanently below-market). With less than 50% market rate housing, it simply doesn’t make sense to build up unless you could put all of the market rate units in one tall tower (but then we’d have our own version of the “poor-door” controversy – “rich building”).

  4. Somehow New York City manages to support hundreds of subway stops in the mid rise neighborhoods that make up most of the city.

    By this philosophy, only Lower and Midtown Manhattan, and a handful of other pockets (Downtown Brooklyn, etc) should be graced with a subway station. We could probably cut the whole NYC subway system down to one or two lines and 20 or so stations if we limited it to places adjacent to 25 story buildings. Would anyone support that?

    Seattle already has plenty of mid rise neighborhoods, including Capitol Hill. What we lack is a subway that goes to those places. But yes, we should have built that First Hill station.

    1. Not midrise. Under 10 stories is lowrise. Midrise is about 10-20 stories. But your point is spot on (not that this couldn’t have even greater density given the systemwide context).

    2. I think you’re missing a big point – that modern building techniques make mid-rise buildings uneconomical. Therefore, the argument goes (and I really know no more about it than this), you have to go low-rise or high-rise. We’re in the low-rise realm, which, yes, can provide for some solid subway stops (eg. Cap hill), but that requires a larger area and a higher degree of buildout.

      You are right, certainly, that transit doesn’t require 25 story buildings (I’d also mention that height of buildings doesn’t equal density – I’ve visited some miniscule Manhattan apartments), but the point, I think, is more to illustrate an attitude and its resulting problems. If we won’t allow serious density on this parcel, adjacent to light rail, in the densest residential neighborhood in the city, and where revenues can help support transit, then are we willing enough to build density that we’re going to be able to support a great transit system? Or are we going to tax ourselves a pile to build something that will not have enough customers to support it, leading to less frequency, leading to less density, etc.?

  5. I would have been fine with 10 or even 12 story buildings, but anything taller would have been totally out of character with the neighborhood, which is generally a more european 4-8 stories. As it is, it’s already one of the densest residential neighborhoods in Seattle and has tons of people within a half-mile walking radius of the station. In my opinion, let’s leave the high rises for the u district and first hill, which are already set up for them, and let capitol hill be capitol hill.

    1. Ok fine, let’s massively upzone areas without that kind of character then… like the empty parking lots of Northgate.

      1. Agreed. People might bemoan the new SLU, but almost nobody misses the old version (whereas I’m a big density advocate, but I miss the old days of Capitol Hill, too). Even fewer people will miss Northgate.

    2. First Hill is set up for the high rises, and Capitol Hill is not?

      Where is that station opening next year? And which neighborhood is not getting a station?

      1. It was a massive failure not serve First Hill, but we will fix it… to great cost and pain later.

        Eventually First Hill is going to need its own leg on the subway. In the mean time it looks like we are going to serve it with a number of boosted service lines like the Madison BRT.

        Its substandard but at least we are doing something.

    3. Ten or twelve stories might have worked, especially if they got rid of the stupid FAR rules (for this one building). When talking about the new architecture, one of things people often complain about is the fact that the buildings so often look the same. The main reason for that is zoning. So allowing builders to put up a bigger building (just this once) might be a really good thing. Of course, the devil would be in the details — for such a building, you would want it to be very nice looking, from the street level as well as from a distance. The last thing you want is a new Safeco Tower (which is horrible on two sides, and boring from a distance). Done right and you could have a nice, iconic building for the hill, done wrong and you are left with a big ugly mess.

      1. We should worry less about big ugly messes and worry more about the economic effects of such rigidly restrictive zoning codes, which are preventing development from keeping up with demand and thereby driving prices up all over the city.

      2. Not so much zoning but building codes–the break between wood-framed and metal/concrete is five stories (over 1-2 stories of concrete) and the zoning you see follows that. This is a fire code and life safety issue in effect, and it’s why you see so many 5 or 6 story buildings. Beyond that, taller buildings often do not make financial sense between 6 to 10 or 12 stories. This is more critical than zoning codes, except for the fact that the zoning codes need to be tweaked to be tall enough to allow buildings that pencil out economically. It’s why the “lowrise” zoning is at 65 feet–unfortunately the “midrise” zoning directly east of Broadway is too low to allow economical buildings there, which is why you see lowrise 4-5 story buildings there, not 10 story ones even though it’s zoned for taller buildings.

        The midrise (65 foot) zoning should be bumped up in some areas around stations to 120 feet; higher than that at places like Northgate. Some place like Lake City would probably be built out at 120 feet if there were a station there.

    4. Why is everyone so concerned with the “character of the neighborhood?” The station is the only one there and it’s not “out of character.” There are very few churches, but they are not “out of character” of the neighborhood. Neighborhoods can change when there are once in a hundred year opportunities to do so, and they are not always bad. Neighborhoods can also have singular projects. I wish the character argument would just go away.

      1. “Character of the neighborhood” in Seattle = “The way I remember it looked when I moved here from somewhere else.”

      2. Totally in agreement. The neighborhood is going to change drastically one way or another, so why not add density while we’re at it? An iconic building here or there can definitely be a good thing too, and if it turns out Capitol Hill gets dramatically upzoned and more built-out what do we lose? The character? That was lost a long time ago.

      3. Because character is one of the reasons why Seattle is growing. Its what makes the city so popular and desirable. That’s why we don’t want to destroy its character.

  6. Did ST lobby to have the zoning changed at this location and failed?

    BTW, it says a third of the 418 unit building will have at least two bedroom units. That seems high for an urban area, esp CH. Or is that common? I honestly don’t know. Are a third of units in the new buildings in SLU at least two bedroom units?

    1. Broadway was upzoned a few years ago from four stories to six. The building in the announcement picture is the same size as the surrounding new buildings.

      ST originally tried to remain neutral in the land-use debates to avoid being demonized by anti-growthers, but a year or two ago it decided to side with density because the evidence from transit best practices is overwhelming. I don’t know whether ST asked for a higher upzone at Capitol Hill Station; the decision came when that station area was well underway.

      There’s a severe shortage of 2+ bedroom apartments for families with children. Most apartments are 1 bedroom and an increasing number of studios. There are some 2-bedroom units but not many, and families and single parents are competing with dual-income roommates, so there aren’t many vacancies and they’re expensive. That forces most families to the suburbs even when they want to live in the city. The community has strongly asked for more 2+ bedroom units in the city. The result in this complex may be a bit lopsided, but it’s addressing a shortage.

      1. Most families, in a pinch, can get by with a one bedroom apartment. The parent(s) sleeps in the living room (like you would if you had a studio apartment) while the kid(s) sleep in the other room. I’ve done it.

        In general when people put up with an apartment structure they don’t favor, it is just because of overwhelming need, which is often the result of restrictive zoning. Ban apodments, and a guy looks for a roommate to share a one bedroom. In that kind of market, you might as well build one bedroom apartments. What do you bet half the two bedroom apartments have two (or more) unrelated people in them (although it depends on how big they are).

        This is what happens when you have the most restrictive ADU rules in the Northwest, and then turn around and try and force all apartment building into little sections of the city. It wouldn’t matter if businesses didn’t like moving here, but they do.

    2. Actually the zoning on Broadway was changed to 65 before U-Link even broke ground. And then the current zoning for these parcels was established through a development agreement between ST and the city, at the city’s request. Seattle is the land use decision maker here. They wanted this development to be a transitional buffer between the SF east of there and the higher density west of there.

      http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/pdf/about/board/motions/2015/Motion%20M2015-34.pdf

  7. As a resident of Ballard, there are constant howls of the place being overcrowded, too much development/not enough resources for the new growth (often stated as parking, but transit also applies) etc. If Ballard gets the “Route 40 streetcar” in ST3, it won’t be pretty.

      1. Yeah, if think those two projects are by far the best projects out there. Choosing between the two (if we have to) will be difficult. I’m not sure which I prefer.

      2. Yep, that’s my wish list. Plus Denny Subway.

        Maybe I’m a dreamer, but if we really have as much downtown transit demand as that study suggests, the CCC will not only be well used, it might put pressure on the city to dedicate more right-of-way to the First Hill and SLU streetcars. And if the SLU streetcar is faster than walking (which is already faster than driving in SLU), ridership and frequency could grow tremendously.

        Maybe we’ll have a good transit system. Maybe.

  8. We don’t need Manhattan.

    We need Queens.

    We need Jackson Heights…rows and rows of apartment buildings, good quality ones, with a solid design.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Jackson_Heights_NY_82nd_Street.jpg

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Heights,_Queens

    They can be built along the existing LINK corridor in Rainier.

    They can be build in Sodo — like the early vision promoted.

    They don’t have to be huge single towers.

    They don’t have to be ramshackle low rises that look like motels.

    They should be true, moderate height, apartment buildings…lots of them, where they still can be built especially in South Seattle, Sodo, maybe even Renton.

    1. Clearly yes, we need this. Aurora is another corridor that could accommodate more affordable, multi-FAMILY (not multi-studio) housing. Unfortunately it’s cheaper and easier to bulldoze a block of ‘rundown’ SFHs to build a 6 story breadloaf of 400 sq ft studios. We’ve got that down pat in this city. We’re building a future of 20-something singles living alone until they get married and move to the suburbs. The only 3+ bedroom units in the city will be for the lucky few.

      1. Apparently that is what the townhomes are for. They are building quite a lot of 3 bedroom townhomes wherever the zoning allows.

      2. I don’t think studios on Aurora would rent as easily as studios in Capitol Hill/U-District/Ballard, so it’s a self-limiting problem. When people go further out they expect larger units, more bedrooms, and lower cost; otherwise there’s no incentive to go further out.

      3. @Mike Orr

        Of course we need a lot more townhomes to bring the prices down. We also need more 2-3 bedroom apartments. We can’t just push all families out into the suburbs again. Our region can’t sustainably take that kind of growth this time.

      4. Mike,

        You’re right, it’s a problem; a severe one. However, it’s a problem because there are far more people in the world with more money than many of those who currently live in Seattle who would very much enjoy living in Seattle.

        There is no way to avoid those people with less money being pushed out; it will happen.

        It may indeed be sad; it may even be “unjust”. But it is inexorable. The city either needs to become much more like Vancouver BC with high rises scattered around everywhere, but with sensitivity to sight lines and airyness or it will become a gated community for the world’s wealthy. The secret is out: one can survive the winters and the summers are spectacular! The sound and the mountains are among the finest locations in North America, indeed, in the world.

    2. +1. The reason so many expectations are packed into this complex is that there are few places to live near good trunk transit. The biggest reason for this is the 80% of residential land taken up by single-family houses, sometimes within two blocks of a Link station or major bus stop. These single-family blocks near trunk transit need to be converted to multifamily. Seattle is no longer a 200,000-person small city that can afford such single-family luxury.

      The main thing I’d disagree about is SODO. There was no early vision to turn it residential, and there needs to be a thorough citywide discussion before doing so. Once the industrial land is gone, it’s gone forever. In the future we may need more local manufacturing. Industrial land allows new blue-collar businesses to start up, address niche markets, and contribute to our economy. Seattle has avoided the complete conversion from industrial city to paper-pushing/mouse-gesture/botique-shopping city that many of our peers have. That has kept our economy more balanced and resilient. We’ve been lucky that our industrial lots have remained productive or been recycled to other industries rather than turning into obsolete ghost towns that had to be converted to something else. Without SODO/south Ballard/Interbay, the only place blue-collar companies can go is Kent, Issaquah, Bothell, Canyon Park, etc — practically inaccessible by transit.

      The one caveat is that the industrial land has started to become a dumping ground for car dealerships and freestanding big-box stores. That’s not what we’re preserving it for! If that’s it’s future, then maybe we should bring in more residential. But we have to make sure we don’t push out the viable workshops and distributors and warehouses that are there. And I am glad that the Honda dealership has built an urban-friendly multistory structure that got it out of Denny Way. Having it on SODO may be the lesser evil. But I don’t want to see all the SODO warehouses turn into car dealerships and big-box stores.

      1. Folks are often dismissive or ignorant of Seattle’s industrial chops. My line of work keeps me busy on and around the Duwamish River, and the number and diversity of industrial work is pretty remarkable. King County notes that the area, with over 100,000 jobs, boasts 8% of the workforce in the County.

        I remember once overhearing a table at lunch in Bellevue how nothing goes on there anymore, and they should be talking about reclaiming that waterfront. They were surprised to hear that stretch of river accounts for almost as many jobs as the ENTIRE city of Bellevue, and likely more economic output (*cough* Boeing *cough*). The level of disconnect within Seattle often seems substantially similar.

    3. We don’t need Manhattan. We need Queens.

      In some of areas of Seattle, it might be a challenge to even become Southeast Portland because obviously having two front doors on a house horribly degrades the entire neighborhood.

      And the absolute sacrilege of putting two mailboxes on the front of a house! It’s a terrible affront to the entire community!

  9. I think it makes sense to learn from this and upzone places now that haven’t been build yet but could take a lot more capacity when Northgate Link goes in.

    Both the U-District and Northgate ought to be rezoned for much, much taller buildings then they are now.

    Northgate specifically has a lot of empty lots (like the metro lots) that could be upzoned without costing anyone their existing “neighborhood feel”. These lots are already slated to get redeveloped, so we ought to get as much out of the space as we can. I think a 16-32 story tower is not out of the question here… its surrounded by hills, malls and freeways.. and its directly adjacent to where the light rail will go.

    Metro has said repeatedly that they will not redevelop these lots until after the LRT goes in (and the new 6 story underground garage replaces them) so we have time to fight for this change. The more pressure we put on sooner, the better.

    1. I agree. Northgate probably has more TOD than anywhere we have considered building. It is already a fairly popular area and it will only be five minutes away from the UW via the train.

    2. Yes, Northgate is a designated urban center, so it had better be an urban center. Make it as big as downtown Bellevue and show Lynnwood and Totem Lake up. Northgate can easily become “desirable” to companies and residents as the next SLU, although hopefully lower-cost and more diverse. Lynnwood will have a harder time attracting companies and people, although I do wish it success.

    3. I’m sensing Northgate will be our next major opportunity and challenge. Capitol Hill, the U-District, and Roosevelt are already headed in a limited-growth trajectory that we can do little about. Rainier Valley is just too residential-minded for large-scale development. That leaves Northgate. Where is the city at with rezoning it? Has the mall said anything about which direction it might want to go? There’s lots of room for a multistory mall with housing, or development in the parking lots.

      The most controversial issue has been the station location next to the freeway. But we can’t do anything about that so we’ll have to work around it. 5th Avenue NE is within walking distance, but only to about Northgate Way and 100th. So feeder buses doubling as local circulation will be needed. The community has already said it wants feeders from Maple Leaf and Licton Springs and north Northgate, so that should be covered. Then there’s the size of the buildings and uses. I think we’ll need some cultural things, some kind of nightlife.

      1. Right now the zoning caps out at 125ft… and most of that is over the mall complex. Right now the mall is planning to build a 2-3 story parking garage over a large chunk of their 125ft zoning.

        The rest of Northgate ranges from 85ft to 65ft in the limited footprint that is outside of the single family residence space. We need to get some of these areas (especially the metro lots!) rezoned much higher fast.

        There are also several canyon park style office buildings in medium sized lots. I am not sure if there is yet enough office demand to push for these to redevelop, but I suspect they will not do so until the transit access is much better (i.e. maybe when the light rail arrives).

        The only major projects in the area are:
        1) Two apartment buildings east of 5th that will replace a small retail complex.
        2) Two hotels on either side of the freeway replacing former restaurants.
        3) A new 6 story hospital with an 8 (!!) story parking garage on the west side just south of the McDonald’s
        4) The afore mentioned giant (but short) parking garage the mall intends to build.

        Welcome to PSRC’s regional center of the future.

      2. The office buildings will probably not redevelop until later, because there’s a lot of productive space that would just be replaced, and I don’t see them getting twice as high.

      3. If everyone lives in their cars at Northgate in the new garage, the density map goes nuts.
        Low income, multi-family, shared restrooms, low carbon footprints. What’s not to like about this?

      4. @Mike Orr

        I believe that is the updated zoning, but if anyone knows something that I don’t I’d appreciate some more information.

        There has been a mention in the 2030 planning docs about possibly up-zoning around light rail stations again, but I have no idea when that would take place.

  10. A tower would have made sense here, since it is right next to the park, and across from the school. Both eliminate the possibility of the new building making people feel “hemmed in”. You can see that in buildings that are much, much bigger than anything that would have been built here. Across from Central Park or Millennium Park, the huge buildings are admired, but it is a completely different feeling (one of spaciousness) when in the park. I don’t mind walking through tall buildings, but for those that do, a building here wouldn’t be bad at all.

    The same is the case throughout much of Vancouver. Big towers are set next to parks. In this case, we had a rare opportunity to build something a lot more organic — a nice icon for the area — a Space Needle if you will (although much shorter) — next to a wonderful park and college. Instead we will get much of the same.

  11. It would be great if the Roosevelt station also would have businesses and housing on top. Additionally, I have often wondered why the Green Lake Park and Ride cannot be turned into a real transit center where buses can lay over, etc. Even if the location will not be used for a Link stop, as I wish it would have, it would make sense as a north/south, east/west crossroads, with its close proximity to the freeway.

  12. One thing I can’t figure out and need help with is arguing against the common anti-density complaint that all new building is luxury apartments and therefore we shouldn’t upzone. I usually say that even so-called “luxury” apartments increase supply and thus will decrease rents (or increase them less slowly if they hadn’t been built).

    We need an ‘urbanist’ talking point to get true TOD through political minefields.

    1. There are only so many rich people, so when we get enough luxury apartments they’ll have to look downmarket. Unless Seattle becomes a place for international investors, in which case the demand for luxury units would be essentially infinite. We must guard against this; play up Lesser Seattle; and focus on unhip outer neighborhoods that investors won’t notice or be interested in. The $4000 apartments have arrived at 9th & Pine so there’s no time to lose. But we don’t need to panic; the median rent has a way to go before it reaches $2000, and only a few places can command that.

      The most accurate argument of the anti-growthers is the replacement of older, small, paid-off buildings with new buildings. That does destroy affordable housing and raise the median rent. And even if the building doesn’t change, new owners or even existing owners are jacking up rents because there’s a new building nearby so it’s a “better neighborhood”. The zoning laws don’t allow small 4-8 unit apartments to be built cost-effectively, so we end up with breadboxes and townhouses. So what do we do about this? Those buildings are gradually disappearing, and the ones i used to keep my rent low in the 90s and early 00’s won’t be available in the near future. Those buildings have courtyards (amenity), outdoor walkways (inexpensive), and/or dingbat parking (inexpensive). None of the new ones do.

      Then of course there’s ADUs. The inexpensive, unobtrusive way to increase housing supply.

    2. There is this bizarre talking point that anti-density folks have that building new apartments only pushes rents up and therefore the best way to keep things affordable is to build nothing or somehow (magic?) demand all developers build fewer units but make them affordable.

      While its true that the new luxury apartments are not affordable, its because the cost of construction is so high and the limits of what can be built are so tight that essentially luxury apartments is all that pencils out.

      I would point out that not building new apartments is not going to make the economic forces (lots of IT workers looking for housing) go away. If you don’t build new luxury apartments, current renters will get out bid of their current apartments and will forced out of the city much faster than the would be with the new apartments being built.

      In addition, if the rate of new projects keeps going at the pace it is now, they will eventually outpace demand and prices will have to eventually stabilize (or even drop). Its of little consolation to someone whose rent is going up $100/mo this year, but that is why we also need to be pushing for more public/affordable housing in the city limits.

      This is a big problem that needs multiple strategies working simultaneously to solve it.

    3. Mike,

      What is wrong with Seattle becoming a “place for International investors”? It’s going to happen, so you’d best learn to like it. Just get laws on the books which make it impossible for them to buy the City Council and take their money.

      1. The issue with investors (particularly foreign ones) is that they often don’t live in their homes or rent them out. They sit empty most of the time. Apparently they are so rich that they don’t need the rental income.

        London has a large number of vacant residential units owned by foreigners. Many sit empty much of the time. Vancouver, New York, and Miami also have a large number of non-resident foreign owners. Phantom density is not good.

        I have no issue with foreign investors building more housing – we should be welcoming that type of foreign capital. It’s all about increasing supply. Empty homes don’t help.

      2. The problem is that they buy up all the available real estate, especially in walkable neighborhoods near subway stations. They bid up the prices by paying top dollar in cash, shutting everybody else out. They may not care if they lose 20% if the price falls later because they might lose 50% or 100% investing in their own country. This is mostly for owned assets rather than rental apartments, but if there’s a big influx of rich investors looking to buy, all those new apartments will be converted to condos for them.

      3. On the other hand, the foreign owners of those “empty” apartments/condos are paying property taxes that fund services that actual residents use. I don’t see the problem with building as much luxury high rise units as we can fit, as long as there’s demand to buy them and pay those property taxes on them.

      4. Can we get them to buy luxury post office boxes instead? You can fit a hundred thousand of them in one building.

      5. Actual residents also pay property taxes. Unless you have children in public schools (perhaps unlikely in a luxury building anyways) there is very little public spending that varies based on whether you live here or somewhere else.

        In addition, empty homes don’t generate one cent of additional spending. No eating out, no shopping, no services, no entertainment. For someone who lives luxury building that could easily be $30,000/year. That’s a lot of sales tax revenue and a lot of money absent from the local economy.

      6. Property taxes aren’t enough if there’s a cap on them that’s insufficient to fund basic infrastructure and subsidized housing. In that environment, second houses and rarely-used apartments just subtract from the units available which is already too low.

  13. One of the perturbing things about this plan is that strange obsession with a farmers market. At the same time they want to build a market hall?! There is ample space on the streets and elsewhere to put on the market – that happens once a week. Contrary to the nice renderings with smiling people in it, the “public plaza” will be empty like a bath tub without water during the rest of the time. As if this town didn’t have enough empty rinks. But like the OP said: “The site became a vessel for every neighborhood group’s dreams.” This granola bar urbanism could be comical were it not anything but urbane. They wanted the all-purpose perfect development for everything with every fashionable characteristics attached. Which means it will be actually good at nothing.

    “Farmers market! Farmers market!” was muttered by the zombies while green foam came out of their mouths.

    1. The developer is responsible for “programming” it during the week so that it’s not empty.

  14. I find that the height limit is way too simplistic when it is applied over 40 or 50 feet (general tree canopy level). Once it gets over 85 feet, we should really be talking in terms of FAR as well as height I’d much rather have 135-foot tall building with open spaces near it than a 85-foot building that goes property line to property line. We should have a system to reward developers for letting in more light and air.

  15. I think that the “train already left the station” when it comes to this Capitol Hill redevelopment. The City of Seattle and market forces have already set the redevelopment pattern in this neighborhood (noting everything built in the past 5 years) and it seems the wrong time to change that buy obsessing about one building that has already advanced this far in the selection process.

    We should be instead identifying where new stations should be and getting planning in place to redevelop other neighborhoods at this point. For example, the area south of Rainier Beach Station begs for higher density development. There are plenty of underutilized blocks to redevelop around the 23rd/Rainier/90 station or the SODO station. The amount of land for redevelopment along Elliott and 15th Ave W and East Ballard is much more plentiful than is in East Queen Anne or Fremont (if we had the vision to adopt the 15th Ave light rail alignment as a land use/transportation opportunity), and plenty of 20 story buildings can go there. That’s in addition to the Northgate area discussed in other posts.

  16. That seneca project you mention is 214 units. The capitol Hill station project is 418 units. The area of the TOD is about twice as big, and it has about twice the units.

    The seneca project is not substantially more dense, even if it is taller.

    1. But the Capitol hill development takes up at least twice as much space, right?

  17. A few months ago, there was a discussion about a building with ‘too much parking’ and a farmer’s market at Othello.

    Is this an issue with farmer’s markets? The people who develop them appear to expect customers to drive in. (And if customers are loathe to lug bags of groceries home, maybe they’re right). Vendors are likely parking too.

    But that suggests farmer’s markets make poor tenants for transit-oriented spaces, right?

    1. Farmers’ markets certainly improve the neighborhood’s pedestrian experience. All urban villages should ideally have one. But I heard somebody at one of the markets taking about the lack of a Beacon Hill market say that Seattle is saturated: there aren’t enough patrons or farms to support more markets.

  18. Queens (much of Brooklyn too for that matter) is actually a good model when it comes to transit supportive densities. But the key point is the “rows and rows” of buildings there. That kind of density can support high quality transit if a large area is dense. But if all you’ve got to work with is a few parcels, then there’s a lot more argument for maxing out those parcels..

    1. Northgate is not Queens, nor will it be. We have a limited number of parcels that we can maximize in the town center along Northgate Way (between I-5 and Roosevelt) and between 5th and the Freeway until roughly the 92nd bridge.

      There are also a few parcels right on the west side of I-5, north of the College.

      Anything else will be pretty difficult to develop due to geography, existing singly family zoning and a broken street grid (hills and streams).

      We ought to maximize what can be done with these lots or its not really worth continuing to call Northgate a regional hub.

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