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Monday, October 16, 2006

Care for a Condo to match that Prius?

posted by on October 16 at 11:17 AM

Wandering aimlessly around the Central Library a few weeks ago, I saw this slogan on a construction fence for the new 5th and Madison development: “Condominiums with a Conscience.” My first reaction, of course, was to snark. Environmentally friendly, LEED-silver certified condos for the very wealthy? Sounds like a marketing ploy to soothe the liberal consciences of those who consume the most.

But I had nothing else to do, so I rode the elevator up 25 floors to the 5th and Madison show room and now I’m sold on the whole green condo idea.

Since 2000, the City has required Seattle public buildings to be green (City Hall, aforementioned library), but in May our esteemed City Council passed the Downtown Livability Plan which forces big private downtown developers to go green as well. Thus the rise of the Conscience Condos — expensive, elite and eco-friendly condominiums where the building’s environmental qualities are marketed and appreciated as part of the overall sophisticated package. Forget composting toilets and peat-moss houses, between Denny Way and King St., even the exclusive and elegant can enjoy luxurious living with a clean, green conscience.

Here’s the mock-up of 5th and Madison from where the library is now (so looking west from Madison, with 5th avenue to your left). All 24 stories of glass are insulated for energy efficiency.

And from 5th Avenue you can see their plaza, which counts as green space.

Buyers even get to customize their condos with earth-themed color motifs — storm, dawn, etc…
floor-al patterns.JPG

There’s six residences per floor and most are priced between $500,000 - $700,000, with higher ones going for up to $900,000.

So yeah, yeah, yeah, some of you may deride the people who buy 5th and Madison condos (or those at the also LEED-silver certified 1521 2nd Ave development, whose website opens with the phrase “Designed exclusively for the confident few”) as yuppies trying to buy their way into environmentalism, but is there anything really wrong with that? Having people willing to shell out a little extra for some eco-friendly refinements is what makes green building attractive and viable.

“Initially, when this happens, you need the right people, the right politics and the right place,” explains Tony Gale, who was on Nickel’s green building team and is now the corporate architect for Starbucks. “There needs to be a mindset that can allow it to happen, a real world-view in the general populace, a ground-swell in interest from the general public.”

Even if the condo builders and buyers are motivated (like Gale) by a well-intentioned desire for a cleaner world, their decisions are founded on good financial sense. The 5th and Madison brochure makes sure to mention that green condos have a higher resale value than standard gas-grubbing homes and in Seattle, flush with money and liberalism, there is a definite and growing market for conscience condos.

“Five years ago, people wouldn’t have noticed, really, if it was green building,” says 5th and Madison public relations manager Pam Perry, “The market’s on a tipping point.” According to Perry, the buyers are people in 30s, 40s and 50s, a lot of single men who “urban-oriented people comfortable with living downtown, a little more sophisticated.” She explains:

That’s the whole shift in green, people think it’s yurt-like living, but of course the new green doesn’t look like that at all. You can’t really look at that building and go, “Oh, that’s a green building,” The green part is all in the innards. A lot of people don’t necessarily walk in and go, “I’m buying because it’s green.” It’s a bonus, they know their energy bills will be less.

So are green condos going to spread to all of Seattle or stay only downtown where they’re mandated? It’ll have a lot to do with how successful 5th and Madison turns out to be.

“You better be careful what you propose in the private sector,” says Gale, “it better work.”

RSS icon Comments


That's great and all, but no one reading this can afford them.

Posted by Gomez | October 16, 2006 11:37 AM

Vulcan has been a leader in this field. Glad to see others are catching up!

Posted by green eggs and ham | October 16, 2006 11:41 AM

fuck off gomez. plenty of stranger readers can afford a 500k condo. hell, condos on cap hill run up to 500k all the time.

Posted by seattl98104 | October 16, 2006 11:43 AM

Most apartments - owned or rented - are pretty green if you don't heat them, or at least go for something more like 65 rather than 70 degrees. Needing a 70+ degree environment to live in is like needing a big metal box to haul your body around in.
It's sad how frail the modern American has become to have such a lifestyle as a desideratum.
Read Jack London. Watch Gordon MacRae sing "My Boy Bill" (Carousel). Then gird your loin with panties, don a dress, and weep like a little girl at the passing of the rugged virtue that once made America great.

Posted by kinaidos | October 16, 2006 11:48 AM


What the hell planet are YOU living on?

I'd be surprised if 5% of Stranger readers are in that price bracket.

Gomez is right on, here.

Posted by renter | October 16, 2006 11:54 AM

>>"Forget composting toilets and peat-moss houses"
So these buildings have composting toilets? And they're made out of biodegradable materials? No? Then why all the hating on the yurt crowd? Jeez, people move into a slightly more energy-efficient condo and they act like they're John Muir or something.

Other than being insulated and having courtyards, what does a "green" condo mean?

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 16, 2006 11:56 AM

I would say only where mandated; don’t believe the hype about Seattle being different from any other place in America where “green” products are concerned. Shopping “green” is a noblesse oblige for American liberals and progressives… it makes consumerism palatable and snobbishly puts oneself in a different sort of category then those bourgeois that could afford to buy ”green”, but don’t.

Being "green", being eco-friendly, what have you, is a privilege that comes with wealth. Low to moderate income folks and families can not afford to purchase "green". Money is in short supply for a lot of people.

Conservation is key for all income brackets, but that means simply using less, and not simply purchasing "green". A "green" roof, a "green" hybrid car, a “green” composting toilet, organic vegetables etc all cost more money then similar non-”green” products.

A big “Yeah and a pat on the back” for you if you can afford those "green" luxuries... the rest of us insulate with fiberglass, drive just enough in our non-hybrid cars, eat vegetables that don’t cost a lot and flush the toilet knowing that our crap may or may not be processed efficiently by the city.

But you know, when a person lives week to week on their paycheck, there aren't a lot of options out there for expensive items. No matter what the reason is for the want.

Posted by Phenics | October 16, 2006 11:58 AM

Sarah Mirk: My first reaction, of course, was to snark. Environmentally friendly, LEED-silver certified condos for the very wealthy? Sounds like a marketing ploy to soothe the liberal consciences of those who consume the most.

First the "Unpaid Intern" goes ga-ga for bus rapid transit, now this. Well, The Stranger is doing a great job at hiring unenlightened interns. So what if these high-end condos weren't designed up to the highest environmental standards? On average, people living in even the most wasteful condos produce far less pollution than people living in the equivalent single-family homes out in the suburbs.

Here's a nice, little cheatsheet for the interns:

  • Green condo: redundant.
  • Bus rapid transit: oxymoron.
P.S. Bonus tip for the day. "Who's website" -- make that "whose website."

Posted by cressona | October 16, 2006 11:58 AM

And for all you class warriors out there, richies in high-rise condos waste far, far less resources than white-trash poor folk out in the sticks, with their '89 Chevy Caprice on blocks leaking transmission fluid onto the lawn, fertilizers and pesticides running down the storm drain, high-flo toilet and 24/7 shower (for all those kids) running up the water bill....

Posted by Fnarf | October 16, 2006 12:04 PM

I think that green condos are a great business model because not only do you do more to reduce energy consumption, but the concept of touting "enviromentally friendly" as a selling point is something that doesn't just apply to automobiles.

More sectors of the economy will soon realize that an eco-friendly business model is a successful one. You will see an increase in green products as the traditional business types make this realization. This is a good thing.

so I hope that these do really well and show everyone that you can in fact make money, maybe even a lot of money, by producing and marketing green products (condos, cars, whatever).

As for the market rate of those condos, there are plenty of new developments that have condos in the 200k - 300k range, which is more accessible to someone who has a college degree and a few years worth of savings put away for a down payment. Applying green principals to smaller developments can't be too far behind. In fact, aren't those condos on 15th just off Madison green? Those are much more affordable than the condos S.Mirk talked about here...

Posted by charles | October 16, 2006 12:04 PM
Posted by charles | October 16, 2006 12:07 PM

If you really want to be green, you'll find ways to reuse existing stuff, instead of building new stuff. Now, there is some question about break-even points with things like old, low-efficiency appliances and such, but on the whole, the most environmentally sensitive thing to do is to quit acquiring more new shit.

Posted by Geni | October 16, 2006 12:13 PM


Just to catch you up a bit, Sarah Mirk is no longer an unpaid intern--she's currently on staff. I'm sure that sticks in your angry little craw a bit, but some people (people who count) liked Sarah's writing enough to employ her.

Posted by cienna | October 16, 2006 12:17 PM

I'm with Gomez - and I question the use of "Yuppie" in that context as well - I thought yuppie was short for "young upwardly mobile professionals" not "young, already rich professionals". Not that I defend yuppies....

Posted by scharrera | October 16, 2006 12:19 PM

Geni, I totally agree, but I would rather demolish a set of buildings that only house a small business or restaurant and replace it with a six to ten story mixed-use condos with new, energy efficient appliances, improved insulation, less water use, and easy-to-use recycling facilities than move into some crap house built in 1970 in the suburbs.

the real problem is the current capacity of existing structures isn't enough, so its more a question, in my mind, of how do you expand capacity most efficiently.

Posted by charles | October 16, 2006 12:20 PM

Cienna: Cressona,

Just to catch you up a bit, Sarah Mirk is no longer an unpaid intern--she's currently on staff. I'm sure that sticks in your angry little craw a bit, but some people (people who count) liked Sarah's writing enough to employ her.

Cienna, I was referring to Sarah as an intern, not as an unpaid intern. The name "Unpaid Intern" was the byline used by your resident "bus rapid transit" fan.

Anyway, Cienna, I appreciate your perspective. Next time I notice a misconception from one of your writers, I will refrain from pointing it out for fear of being called "angry."

Posted by cressona | October 16, 2006 12:28 PM

I could afford one. (If I were to move from Sandy Eggo, and if I were to want to live in something that large.) I tend to agree with Sarah that sometimes the impetus for these shifts can come from the rich down, and that it's not a bad thing to encourage the development of such condos. Eventually, the techniques and materials that are developed for the wealthy become more ubiquitous (and less expensive) and can be used by more and more people. Not a bad thing at all.

Posted by Sachi | October 16, 2006 12:34 PM

Class warriors, take a deep breath. Not all rich people are the enemy. If someone is making a bucketload of money, and they want to buy a place to live, isn't it good to know that they at least have the option to buy something half-way eco friendly? Sure, it would be nice if everyone could live with composting toilets and sod roofs, but how are you going to do that for 2 million people in the region? The likelihood of convincing them to buy such a place rather than a downtown condo is virtually zip. The "Condominiums with a Conscience" may be imperfect to the environmental purist, but I'd say it is a major step in the right direction. You'd be better off directing your anger at developers scraping off hundreds of acres of forest to extend the faux-mansion suburbs out into the Cascade foothills.

Posted by SDA in SEA | October 16, 2006 1:02 PM

agreed. for social change, liberal guilt is more affective then conservative rage.

Posted by Phenics | October 16, 2006 1:17 PM

Oh hell, if taking some cheap shots at hippies is what it takes to market more energy-efficient condos then I'm all for it. But I still reserve the right to mock those who act like buying a "green" condo is equivalent to living in a bark house, growing organic vegetables and making their own tofu. Fair enough? There's enough mockery to go around.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 16, 2006 1:31 PM

For the record, the number of Stranger readers with household incomes over $100,000 is well over 5%. That is for the print version, I don't know about the website.

Posted by cite | October 16, 2006 1:39 PM

Hey, 98104, since you're so filthy rich, mind throwing me $1000, since such a sum is no object to you and all?

Posted by Gomez | October 16, 2006 1:45 PM

Green condos for rich people is neat and all, but what happens when developers are bulldozing affordable (for people like me) apartments to build more of these expensive condos?

What, should the rest of us just fuck off and die?

Posted by Gomez | October 16, 2006 1:50 PM


there's always Renton.

Posted by Ronnie | October 16, 2006 1:53 PM

While these green condos are great, the affordable housing issue is the elephant in the room. We need more green condo towers in the burbs. Go to Vancouver, and every Skytrain station is sprouting 20 story residential towers, even way out in Surrey. Why isn't the Puget Sound following suit? We talk a good game about transit oriented development, but the follow through isn't there.

Posted by Some Jerk | October 16, 2006 2:50 PM

So viva the aristocracy and get the fuck out. I see how you roll. ::applause::

Posted by Gomez | October 16, 2006 2:59 PM

gomez, you don' have to be filthy rich to afford the mortgage on a 500k condo, if that were so, no one would own homes in this fucking town.

Posted by seattle98104 | October 16, 2006 3:06 PM

" color motifs — storm, dawn, etc…"

And that contributes to a building being 'eco-friendly?'


Posted by City Comforts | October 16, 2006 3:40 PM

Gomez, I agree that we should discourage landowners from tearing down low income housing to build million dollar condos. And I would go so far as to limit the number of apartment to condo conversions, which also displaces lower income renters.

However, in this case, the accusation is unwarranted. If I'm not mistaken, the site used to be the old city hall before they moved. No low income renters were displaced constructing this particular building.

Posted by SDA in SEA | October 16, 2006 4:02 PM

Does a person need to be RICH to buy a half million dollar condo?...well, lets break it down by backing out the numbers... a $500k mortgage @6.5% interest, no down is ~$3160 a month payment. Generally rent/mortgage should be no more then 30% of a monthly income (25% is ideal, with the other 5% being upkeep, tax, condo asst dues, etc). This would mean that, hell lets go before taxes since depending on the broker that is what they could use as a qualifier, the income level for the mortgage would be ~$125k/year. Most condos/homes are purchased using a dual income (an LTR income, and not two jobs), and all things being equal, would mean one person would need a pre-tax yearly income of at least $63k.

The median income is $45k a year in King County (one of the top ten in the country! BTW), so a simple bell curve puts that one person (rough math here, since income curves tend to skew left, but KC is already skewed up to the right as it is) in the upper 30% of income earned in King County.

Being rich is a state of mind, more then an economic reality AKA spending power, but earning more money then 70% of the total population does make a person wealthy. (don't get me wrong, wealth is not a measure of character, despite what the republicans would say otherwise. It is how a person uses that wealth that is a character judgment, despite what the republicans would say otherwise) It just might not feel that way with credit card payments, insurance, student loans payments, car payments, etc, totaling about 40-50% of a person's monthly income. But, pre-tax monthly income of ~$5200, ~$10,000 for a couple, does make a person well off... especial to those at the bottom of the income scale looking up.

(BTW, Does pointing out income differences between the haves and have none in America make one a "Class Warrior"? I just like to know what a label means, if it is being stuck on me, that is all)

Posted by Phenics | October 16, 2006 4:04 PM

That's all very nice, but the original argument wasn't "you have to have a good income to afford this" but rather "no one can afford this".

Posted by Fnarf | October 16, 2006 4:37 PM

I think that your numbers are off. For non-FHA loans, many lenders are willing to allow borrowers to spend up to 45% of their gross income on PITI (Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance). The rationale is that beyond a few of life's basic necessities, income is discretionary - and why not allow people to spend it on their homes if they so wish.

I also think that zero down on a $500k loan is unrealistic (most buyer at that level would have at least 10%).

So, a loan for $450k at 6.5% produces principal and interest of $2,844. If you figure $400/mo for taxes and $100/mo insurance, you're at a monthly payment of $3,444.

If your payment is 45% of your gross pay, your income would need to be $89,182. Per person that comes out to just under $45k (or almost exactly the median income).

Posted by mortgage guy | October 16, 2006 4:44 PM

"So yeah, yeah, yeah, some of you may deride the people ... as yuppies trying to buy their way into environmentalism, but is there anything really wrong with that?"

Nope, not at all. Interesting post, and thank you for not snarking.

Posted by Seam | October 16, 2006 5:43 PM

All the rich people who can afford such places all move here from SF, LA and NYC, 98104, after they've sold homes with much higher value. You telling me someone making $35K a year can afford a $2700 mortgage payment or that a bank will even loan $500K to someone making that much?

Or are you just trolling? My radar needs service.

Posted by Gomez | October 16, 2006 6:13 PM

Also, unrelated, but... great article from Forbes recently about how a married couple has a harder time with their finances than a single person, due to all the homeowning expenses they tend to pile up shortly after marriage.

Posted by Gomez | October 16, 2006 6:16 PM

By definition, using the median income as a yardstick for affordability of these and other new (and less-than-new) housing developments automatically eliminates half of the population from the ground floor (so to speak) of home ownership in Seattle. Using per capita income would be a better gauge for general housing affordability, but I imagine the outlook would be even more dire, given that PCI is about half of the median.

Posted by Laterite | October 16, 2006 9:18 PM

gomez we're not trolling, i have a partner with a steady job that pays well, and I'm a musician and I get paid well, together as other's have pointed out, our incomes can more than afford a 500k condo. the point is, the notion that nobody in seattle, and specifically as you put it stranger readers (wtf?), can afford these condos is ludicrous. you might as well be telling me no one owns houses on cap hill or condos on first hill. it's fucking bunk. fud. et al.

Posted by seattle98104 | October 16, 2006 11:26 PM

But see, 98104, people aren't well off like you. There are many more people in Seattle like me than there are like you. You don't get that.

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 8:17 AM

Also, many of these people bought into their homes before the big price spike, or again, are wealthier people form back east, or are overpaying and stretched to their limits just to pay the mortgage.

You're carrying a ton of misconceptions if you think the average resident can afford a $500K mortgage.

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 8:25 AM

Arg, you don't get it.

I get that maybe you and many other seattle can't afford a 500k home, condo, whatever, at this point their life, but what you don't get is that your skewed view of "That's great and all, but no one reading this can afford them" is completely off base.

I for one can, as I bet a ton of slog regulars could if they were actually in the market.

Who's calling who a troll?

Posted by seattl98104 | October 17, 2006 8:31 AM

and by the way, I never talked anything about the "average resident".

Posted by seattl98104 | October 17, 2006 8:32 AM

confidential to cressona:

Then I totally apologize. I get fed up reading unproductive, off topic, snarky comments from people. Sorry if I misdirected my angst; feel free to keep fighting the good fight.

hearts and infinite butterflies,

Posted by cienna | October 17, 2006 9:37 AM

At this point in life? Like making enough to afford a $500K condo is simply a rite of passage? Yes, that IS off base.

Think about the lifestyle of someone who can- oh, I'm clearly talking to a deluded exception to the rule. Nevermind.

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 10:16 AM

Also, if we wanted to read about the wealthy, their toys and dwellings, we'd read the daily rags or the Weekly. I'd rather not read about that crap, really.

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 10:37 AM

okay, gomez you got me, the majority of seattlites enjoy making 20k a year, they are the only readers of the stranger and they have no intention on moving up to higher income bracket, ever. EVER.

You win, I am the only person who reads the stranger that is in a relationship whereby the two of us can afford a 500k home. We are your lords, you are the serfs, give us your taxes off the land, you petty swine.

Posted by seattl98104 | October 17, 2006 10:37 AM

More like 25 and 30K, and even at 40K, affording a $2800 mortgage payment is still impossible, given someone making 40K doesn't even TAKE HOME that much a month.

Yes, 98104, "have not's" exist (and even calling them that is mostly a misnomer; I certainly don't live on rice and canned beans in a shack, but like most, I still am nowhere close to making the kind of money you'd need for a place like that), and you're fortunate not to be one of them, but not nearly everyone can safely afford a $500K place and still have enough to enjoy a decent lifestyle.

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 11:58 AM

usually i enjoy your commentay gomez, but today you're like a brick wall. I don't think (and never wrote) that everyone can afford a 500k home, what I have aproblem with is your assertion that stranger readers are all poor (or well at least none of them can afford a 500k home EVER), and none of them would be interested in a green condo downtown. it's, well, it's just wrong.

but you know, keep on bitching about the stranger reporting on green condos, art (which you can't afford to buy), and whatever else is out of your current financial reach, because you're probably high on their opinion meter. really they should just hire you and let you be the "will the poor folk care" litmus test.

And I say "current reach", cause like most capitolists, I'm sure you'll accept your next raise.

Posted by seattle98104 | October 17, 2006 12:29 PM

Really, 98104? How many of them can? You infer they're some sort of significant bloc.

I think not. I think you and your fellow economic elites are among the smallest of subsets. My point is that, by and large, nearly all of us don't care because it's far out of our range.

From brick wall to brick wall, I suppose....

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 3:29 PM

Also, real high-road of you to infer that I'm only making an issue of this (well, actually, you're making an issue of my response, but....) because I secretly wish I were rich.

Can it and stay on topic. I don't really need or want much more than what I've got.

Posted by Gomez | October 17, 2006 3:34 PM

if we're even on a topic (other than gomez hates 500k condos and the elites that buy them), please tell me what it is.

Posted by seattle98104 | October 17, 2006 5:09 PM

I think you've established the topic as, "There are lots of readers who can afford $3000 mortgage payments. Poor people like you aren't the mass majority of this weekly paper's readership. I also like insulting you."

Feel free to condense that if you can.

Posted by Gomez | October 18, 2006 9:20 AM

That's great and all, but no one reading this can afford them. I disagree go to

Posted by Warsaw apartments | October 26, 2006 5:08 AM

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