Northgate Station parking lot
Today, a parking lot. Tomorrow, mixed-use high-rises?

From now until Monday, May 22, King County Metro and the City of Seattle are seeking input on their plans for transit-oriented development right on the front door of Northgate’s upcoming light rail station. Take the survey here.

The TOD project would be split into two phases because of the selected site and its current use. Phase 1 would replace the parking lot to the west of Thornton Place and be opened in 2021, concurrent to the Link station. Phase 2 would replace the bus bays and open after buses are moved under the light rail station in 2021. Metro and the City hope to blitz through the public feedback period and release a Request for Proposals by the end of the year, and break ground on Phase 1 around summer of 2019.

The area around the station is currently zoned for a maximum height of 125 feet, but the City is aiming for a new height limit of 240 feet under MHA and/or a Station Area Overlay. The 2014 Urban Design Framework envisioned a few smaller buildings on the property dwarfed by a proper high-rise set back from the station. Newer proposals instead flip the setback, with taller buildings and the station forming a wall between the rest of the neighborhood and I-5.

The public-private TOD at the station could set the tone for how the rest of the Northgate area grows into its identity as an urban center. While the addition of new parking garages around the station is discouraging, flipping acres of asphalt parking into transit-oriented housing and offices will be a huge win for density outside of downtown.

One of several proposed designs for a high-rise TOD at Northgate Station (Via Architecture)

30 Replies to “TOD at Northgate Station: Take the Survey”

  1. They need to go taller. Hell, they are building 600+ foot buildings in Burnaby, BC, a good 8-10 miles from downtown Vancouver. And they can’t go taller than this only 5-6 miles from downtown Seattle?

    1. Agreed. That 85′ building to the west of Thornton Place moving theater is a lost opportunity as no views will be blocked against a windowless-wall. Every vertical foot needs to be maximized in this area.

    2. If 400 feet is good enough for South Lake Union it should be good enough for Northgate.

      1. Part of SLU’s 400 foot limit is to deal with the glide path of sea-planes landing in Lake Union.

      2. Do we really need sea planes landing in Lake Union at all? They’re extremely noisy and polluting, and are basically just toys for the super-rich.

  2. This survey is a horrific waste of time! It’s mostly about “Rah! Rah! Aren’t we wonderful people doing TOD!”. The only input appears to be solely on generic goals, and on why people go to Northgate today (as if that won’t change depending on the TOD once built). There are no constructive tradeoffs.

    Really? This survey is offensive to one’s intelligence. It’s not 1980 when TOD was more novel; it’s 2017!

    Why only ask why we go to Northgate today? Why not ask why we would go to Northgate in the future?

    Why ask only for ranking of broad goals? Why not choosing goals from a longer list first? Is the ranking of these fairly indisputable goals impactful on the TOD process?

    The City planning department needs to take a hard look at whether they are a PR firm or whether they are open to taking strategic, substantive input! Whatever candidate that runs for mayor willing to take on this culture has my support!

    The STB readers need to call this out! The survey doesn’t even take any feedback on how important bus connections are, how best to provide pedestrian and bicycle connectivity from the platform to the development and the surrounding area, how best to design for drop-off and pick-up inevitable at the station, how best to design and maintain the property to make sure that it works well in years to come in terms of lighting and security and deliveries, and on and on.

    I’m ashamed for the Planning Department. It makes me think badly of them.

    1. Agreed on the goals of TOD in this area. Sustainability? Yawn. What a feel-good question to put there. Nowhere does it ask about maximizing land use or providing more housing for those in the middle class.

      1. There is a comment section at the very end where you can express your feelings about density and height requirements.

    2. Do I think they were seriously trying to get input? no. I agree this was mostly for PR, but I also think it was good PR. I think they were trying to sell the public on TOD, and I suspect this effort will be helpful.
      Even if I disagreed with TOD, I would still think this sort of PR styled open house is understandable. The city planners work hard to make the city better. Then they get publicly harangued by people who both don’t understand how the plans will improve the city and also put their own personal preferences over the needs of the city as a whole. So I’m not surprised the city has decided to try and sell us on what they already decided to do.

  3. The city should look to the future and plan now to layout a dense grid around northgate and upzone to support high rise residential and commercial uses. Just please don’t turn northgate into Bellevue 2.0. It’s a future satellite business district right on a major freeway and our public transport spine. And if we ever build a new rail alignment north of Seattle for heavy rail (supporting HSR) it’ll make sense as a station and transfer point.

    1. What’s wrong with Bellevue 2.0? Downtown Bellevue is denser & more urban than any part of Seattle outside of the downtown core (QA/Cap/First Hill/etc.). Bellevue is building >20 story office & apartment towers left and right. We can only hope for the same level of development in Northgate.

      1. Bellevue’s blocks are too big, and streets are too wide. The newer development there is pretty good though.

      2. What Chris says. Bellevues density is good. And it’s newer developments are attractive. But it is designed for cars. I liken it to Las Vegas in terms of experience actually. You’re not expected to arrive anywhere on foot. Your expected to arrive by car. The pedestrian movement is an after thought which consists of narrow, bare sidewalks hugging wide roads on blocks that are absolutely massive. Bellevue needs to adopt a policy of breaking every one of its super blocks in half now with new public streets before it’s too late (for many it is too late). This is what I refer to with Northgate. The city needs to plan for increased density and pedestrian movement and make sure it is broken up with a grid of public streets. At the moment if development proceeds without that it will more likely end up being private towers on top of private podium blocks with access expected to be via car.

      3. Bellevue is working on making the downtown area more walk able.
        with a large pedestrian trail the cut through a bunch of supper block going from the new Meydenbauer Bay Park to circle park to the east side rail corridor.
        Bellevue has also past a transportation levy to make Bellevue more bike able.
        Bellevue is getting more pedestrian and bike trails a well as new parks at rate that should make Seattle jealous.

      4. Plenty of people take the bus to Bellevue right now. And if you don’t think Bellevue is pedestrian friendly, I suggest you walk around downtown during lunch hour on a nice day – the sidewalks are packed with people milling around, heading to cafés and foodtrucks. The sidewalks are generally very broad, the crosswalks are well designed, and the city is steadily adding midblock pedestrians crossing around downtown (plus some Kemper Freeman funded pedestrian bridges…)

        You can argue there are a few stroads – NE 8ths is probably the worst right now, but it’s the same number of lanes as 5th Ave in Seattle.

        And I have coworkers that bike to Bellevue from Fremont. Obviously those people are super hardcore given the distance, but now that you can bike on 520 it’s a very straightforward & safe route. And the ERC bike trail should make for a very nice bike commute into Bellevue coming from north & south.

      5. I think it depends on what you mean by urban. If you mean big buildings, then Bellevue is more urban than any part of Seattle outside the urban core. But if you mean a place where lots of people live and pedestrians outnumber drivers, then I would say both the UW and Ballard are more urban.

        But that really gets to the heart of things. Ballard and the UW evolved a long time ago. It has accelerated, but there was still the old commercial core and neighborhoods designed more for walking, and less for driving. Unfortunately, Bellevue grew up after the automobile. There are strip malls next to skyscrapers. There are huge streets and big blocks.

        Personally I think Bellevue has done quite well, from what I can tell. I used to walk around there a lot (about ten years ago) and have only been there once since (about a week ago). I think you can make the argument that all Bellevue needs is just time. The strip malls are being replaced by bigger buildings. As long as they have ground floor retail — a nice, pedestrian friendly street presence — I think it will be as well as you can expect for a city that evolved when it did.

        There is only so much you can do. I think it is unrealistic to see a road diet on streets like Bellevue Way. Bike lanes seem possible, but my guess is the most they will do is add a few mid-block crossings, like on Lake City Way. This did wonders for the area, despite the fact that it is still a four lane highway through there (

        I see Northgate as being very similar to Bellevue, in that it grew up after the automobile. There are big streets and places designed for car access. But like Bellevue, it is changing. There are plenty of pedestrians on the streets, which I find kind of surprising, because it really isn’t great walking. But there have been plenty of apartments in the area for years, and the addition of new apartments with ground floor retail has changed the dynamic. Now you walk out of your apartment and grab some Indian food. That just wasn’t possible twenty years ago.

        Erentz point about the street grid is a good one. Thornton Place actually did a pretty good job because there is a walkway through the place, connecting it to 102nd ( All that remains is for the city to add a crosswalk there. The gap between 5th and 8th is annoying, and really should be fixed. There are a few places where you can walk through, but very few. I hate to put pressure on developers to build anything, but if they can accommodate pedestrians, and make it easy to walk between there, they should. Otherwise people are forced to walk around, and a lot of those people will just drive. I think that should be a priority for the entire area, really. What is true in Northgate is true for Lake City. Too often you have to “walk around”, and on very crowded streets at that. The city is working hard to build “Greenways”, in the area ( — and those are great. But rather than pick a particular route or two, quite often they just need to put back the grid and allow people to walk in a more direct fashion.

    2. I think Ross’s comments are spot on. I agree that neither Bellevue Wy or NE 8th are going to get road diets, but a few more midblock crossings would go a long way.

      If there’s opp’ty for a road diet, it’s along Main street between Bellvue Wy and 112th.

  4. A major rezone is needed within a mile of the station. Truly affordable housing won’t happen without a lot more mid sized apartment buildings nearby as well as townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, etc.

    The commercial nearby also ought to be rezoned to make it competitive with SLU since it will have better transit connections sooner.

    As for the lots? TOD of almost any height is better than empty lots. Zone taller and see what the market builds.

    We do need a grocery store in the area though. There is an acute shortage of daily needs shopping near the apartment complexes to reduce the need to own a car.

    1. The Target at Northgate North or the QFC at Northgate Way and Roosevelt aren’t close enough? You’re about 2 decades too late for there to a be a grocery store in the mall itself.

      1. The other day I took my first trip up to Northgate in a Zipcar, and my first thought was, “Wouldn’t want to live here since walking to the stores and such would be a PITA.” Very few people actually walking to stuff that I could see (although it was raining that day). I wanted to spend as little time as possible there. Contrast with driving through U-District or Capital Hill where it’s obvious you’re in a pedestrian friendly environment and you’d rather be walking, biking, or taking transit. I’d even argue that making it more pedestrian friendly to access the many existing businesses and amenities in Northgate is actually more important than up-zoning and increasing density near the Link station site.

      2. With the decline of Macys, JC Penney’s and Sears, a grocery store in the mall not a half bad idea.

      3. When the QFC was at the mall itself, it suffered from a few issues: sharing parking spaces meaning it could be a long walk to your car with the shopping cart or carrying your groceries, delivery trucks had to use the tunnel underneath the mall which made that process more difficult than street level unloading, shoplifting/loitering was an issue simply due to the transient nature of people at the mall. (Transient in the passing through sense.)

        I’m not saying a grocery store at the mall wouldn’t work but I imagine it would have to be more like the U Village QFC (same property, separate building) than the way the Northgate QFC used to be.

      4. @B — :Lots of people walk to the shops in the Northgate area. It isn’t that much different than Market, in Ballard. By all means old Ballard is much more pleasant. But just as with Market, a lot of people will walk along a wide street if there are enough places and people there.

        @M — Good point. The parking for the mall has plenty of space where a grocery store could be built. Along 103rd would be ideal. I’m not sure how much it would generate in walk-up customers, though. Northgate has unfortunate growth patterns. It is backwards, really. Imagine the mall as the residential center, and you could see how shops and grocery stores would be build around it. But instead you have apartments along Northgate Way and 5th, with a few to the north and east (on Roosevelt). I’m sure some closer to Target buy food there, and those closer to Roosevelt walk to the QFC, but most people probably drive. What I would like to see is more places like the District Market, at the south end of the Ave (in the U-District). It’s just a ground floor retail shop. No big parking lot, but fresh produce and all the staples you would expect. I see no reason why one of the new buildings couldn’t add that, as the area adds enough people to support it.

    2. WADOT also needs to install major sound barriers to make Northgate a place people will want to live in. Also, Metro needs to a better cross-town bus route through Northgate from Ballard to Lake City that doesn’t take an hour because it loops south down to 92nd street.,+Seattle,+WA/Ballard,+Seattle,+WA/@47.6941243,-122.3701165,13.02z/data=!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x54901161f8a49a7b:0xb423f20c91b36576!2m2!1d-122.2951857!2d47.7192927!1m5!1m1!1s0x549015d57a5da881:0xd07680ac0ad3f49c!2m2!1d-122.3860312!2d47.6792172!3e3

      1. Regarding freeway noise, I think that is an argument for zoning the land next to it for offices. No one cares much if their office is close to the freeway. In general, though, that freeway noise hasn’t stopped people from building apartments close to the freeway (in places like Roosevelt and Northgate).

        As far as the cross town route to Ballard goes, that just points out the weakness of the Northgate Transit Center location (ideally it would have been on Northgate Way). I’m not sure how else you would get to Ballard. It is actually the recommended driving route from Google ( Of course things will change once Northgate Link is built. Then it might make sense to take a train and transfer to the bus. If we build a Ballard to UW light rail line, then the entire trip (including the transfer) would be faster than driving (in the middle of the day) but it will take a very long before we build that.

    3. I agree, Charles. If we can’t have the huge change that I think a lot of urbanists want, I would basically do this:

      Low rise apartments on the outskirts. Much of it already is. North of Northgate Way and around North Seattle College there are plenty of apartments. The apartment zone could be extended a bit in both cases, but where there is the greatest potential is up the hill (on Maple Leaf) and to the south. There is a pretty sudden drop off east of 5th. You go from six story apartments to single family homes. Those homes are very close to the new station. Even up at 8th, you are less than half a mile from the station ( Granted, it is a steep walk, but one a lot of people would be willing to make. South of 95th there is a similar drop off to single family. That is a bit farther or a walk, but fairly flat. It is quite reasonable to walk ten minutes or so to get to the station.

      Upzone the commercial areas. What is striking to me is not that the commercial areas are so low, but that they have so much surface parking ( It makes sense, given when they were built. But a lot of these little clinics are ripe for growth. Allowing higher limits could encourage them to use up the rest of their property, while the strip mall ( get replaced by something more appropriate. I don’t know the particulars of the zone, but it may be that all we simply need to so is get rid of the FAR limits.

      Upzone and transform Northgate. The issue has been discussed before, but there should be a few goals for the city. One is pedestrian access though the mall. This may be difficult, as chances are, they will leave the existing buildings, and build around them. But if the zoning is high enough, Simon might see the transition to a more urban grid as being worth it. Even if they keep those building, you should be able to skirt them (as you can do now). Other than that, the sky is the limit. If tall buildings (similar to those at the UW or Bellevue) are built, i don’t see much objection. Maybe from folks on Maple Leaf who would lose their view of the Olympics, but that is about it. I would also see them as being very popular. It is very close to the UW, and not far at all from downtown. Once you get up a few floors, you have a great view of the Olympics. A few more floors and you can see past Maple Leaf to Rainier. This is one of those cases where a non-standard deal between the city and Simon would make a lot of sense. Simon could come out of the deal with a lot of money, and the city would be much better off than they are now.

    4. Has anyone been to Santana Row in San Jose? The developers transformed an underutilized, huge, one-story shopping center and transformed it into an amazing, dense, popular urban village. A visitor can get absorbed in this place and lose track of time. The surrounding area is noted for retail but the nearby residences were traditionally modest — like Northgate. It’s only missing light rail to be ideal.

      If Northgate was converted like this place, it would be busting at the seams with pedestrians and its station would be one of the most visited outside of Downtown.

  5. We are close to the time to look at replacing the actual Mall building with new structures. Thornton Place does a good starting model with retail, medical, residential and parking. The new density in the Park and Ride lot should empty the old housing north of NG way and allow that to be replaced with higher buildings.

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