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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gateway and Choke Point

posted by on November 15 at 16:12 PM

Even as the national housing market declines, Lexas Companies is banking on Seattle’s boom to continue. The developer, also behind the fancy 30-story Escala on Fourth and Virginia, has announced plans for a soaring twin-tower complex in the Denny Triangle called 1200 Stewart.

Denny – for decades a traffic funnel flanked with light industrial, parking lots, and a few terrifying restaurants – is becoming a high-density corridor. Awesome!


About a dozen new residential developments are proposed or under construction, and 1200 Stewart, in its nascent stages, will likely be a giant among them. If approved, it will sit on the triangular lot wedged between Denny Way and Stewart Street.


This image above is how the block currently looks to a satellite. Thanks, Google Maps.


And this is a visual orientation of 1200. Thanks, Sclater Partners Architects.

“It’s the gateway to downtown,” says Dave Reddish, of Sclater Partners Architects, one of two architects designing the building. 1200’s footprint would fill the entire block. Planners propose commercial spaces in 1200’s 65-foot-tall base, topped by two towers, each with 150 condos, that would max out the city’s new zoning height limits at 400 feet.

At that height, 1200 would overlook the neighborhood, giving residents on the top floors a vantage to peer down on much of Capitol Hill. By comparison, the tallest of the three nearby Metropolitan Park towers (formerly the twin toasters, now the, um, toaster triumvirate?) is only 20 stories, reaching 279 feet. Photos and more after the jump.

Here’s how the block looks now, with the Metropolitan Park buildings in the background and Capitol Hill behind them.


New zoning regulations allow developments to exceed the previous cap of 290’ if developers meet certain criteria—provide residential units, meet certain environmental standards, and, in some cases, provide affordable housing or pay into the city’s affordable housing fund.

In order to bolster 1200’s enviro-friendly "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" (LEED) rating, Dave Reddish says, “We’re talking about using heat pumps to use heat generated by commercial to use in residential.” I’ve put a call into Lexas to find out if 1200 will either pay into the housing fund or provide discounted units in the building. The latter is particularly unlikely.

“They see this as being a world class luxury destination for condominiums,” Reddish says.

As remarkable as the towers’ visibility above the street may be, the uses below grade are what could make people gasp. Parking. Lots of it. For 800 vehicles. That works out to 2.6 cars for each of the 300 units.

“This is higher than average,” says Alan Justad from the Department of Planning and Development. “The average is a space-and-a-half per unit.”

Reddish says many of those spaces would be reserved for customers of the six commercial floors. To mitigate traffic congestion, architects are pushing for vehicle access on Minor Ave, the quietest of the three bordering streets.

Regardless, that’s a lot of cars to add to an already-congested intersection. Even without the thousands of new residents and their cars moving into the new developments, Denny is a clusterfuck.


This was taken midday, when traffic is relatively light.

Complicating matters, 1200 is about a block from where the I-5 exit dumps onto Stewart (hence the gateway thing), which is also a major corridor for buses. With a bus stop on the same block as the proposed development and 800 or more cars a day trying to turn right around them to access the parking garage--all with freeway-exit traffic behind them--it's a recipe for gridlock.

“There will be a traffic analysis for this project,” assures Justad. DPD would work with the Department of Transportation and an independent consultant, which would conduct an impact study. The results, he says, could give the city just cause to place restrictions on 1200’s proposed design. “There may have to be a transportation management plan,” he says, “but since this is residential that may not be the case.”

“We are a little bit at odds with the [design review] panel,” says Reddish. The panel discussed having more retail on Denny, he says, “Nobody can really stop there to use it.”

Seems to me, unless a traffic-management plan is imposed, cars will spend a lot of time stopped on Denny. A design review meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for Tuesday, December 4th in City Hall.

RSS icon Comments


If the Mayor tells DPD he wants it green-lighted, traffic will not be a factor.

Nor will anything else.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | November 15, 2007 4:18 PM


I've driven up and down Denny from Capitol Hill a few times in the last month or so (I really don't drive much) and I've been astonished at how much more traffic fills the corridor from Stewart to Aurora (where I'm usually going) than when I first moved here 4-5 years ago. Every time I pass through that stretch I try to imagine how many MORE cars will be on the road once the projects under construction are occupied. I also try to imagine what it would be like to live in the area around Denny and have to try to cross the street, as a pedestrian. It's up there with Aurora and Rainier as a pedestrian nightmare. It's the antithesis of "livability".

The thought of adding up to 800 more cars coming in and out of that corridor, whether part of the 1200 Stewart project or an amalgam of other projects, makes me shudder.

I say fill that parking garage with hundreds of, ZIPcars!!!!!!

Posted by From the Hill | November 15, 2007 4:30 PM

It all goes back to poor planning when they put the freeway in. If you think Denny is bad, try Mercer sometime.

Seriously, if y'all are looking to live in a dense, walkable city, you should be ROOTING for heavier, slower traffic. The more congestion the better.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 4:41 PM

Slower traffic is inevitable, Fnarf. And I'm rooting for it--to an extent. But I'm not rooting for an 800-car parking garage. That's just asking for a clusterfuck.

Posted by Dominic Holden | November 15, 2007 4:50 PM

Clusterfucks are good to run into when you're running from the cops, or some dude trying to kill you.

Posted by Mr. Poe | November 15, 2007 4:51 PM

Denny, Fairview, Westlake, Boren, Mercer, 5th - they all suck at rush hour. If that's your general destination, however, it still beats hopping on the highway to drive home.

Stewart street, though - that's always a dumb choice.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | November 15, 2007 4:53 PM

If you had looked at the zoning code changes proposed in the downtown upzoning, you would have been able to extrapolate exactly these changes.

Zoning codes: the bread and butter of growing cities. And what city council spends a lot of time on, while the media sleeps.

Now, do you see why I push doubling local transit? Because, if you extrapolate the growth and the density increase, you need a bare minimum of doubled local transit just to cope with the population density increase - and probably a lot more.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 15, 2007 4:59 PM

High rise residential all along Denny, with hundreds of parking spots per development, is going to kill the already non-existent mobility there. Where's the planning for transit?

Posted by Cascadian | November 15, 2007 5:07 PM

A clusterfuck is the only thing that's going to get those people out of their cars, Dominic.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 5:13 PM

Great posts on projects in the pipeline, Mr. Holden - keep em coming!

Not holding my breath for Lexas to get financing for construction on this project, though. That Escala hoity-toity tower will be a millstone around their neck if not enough easy-money dipstick buyers can sell their current homes and get the jumbo mortgages they need to make the switch.

The bank that provided Lexas with Escala financing, Fremont (stock down 85% so far this year), will be no help; they're doing all they can to keep from going under right now thanks to all the dumbass housing loans they already made around the country.

Design review's the time to hit it if you're a concerned citizen; once it's approved the juggernaut's tough to stop unless the developer's financing dries up.

Posted by tomasyalba | November 15, 2007 5:20 PM

Fnarf, there will be a clusterfuck, but surface buses will be stuck in it. Without rail transit, where's the alternative to driving?

I'm not even sure what rail transit would be viable along Denny. There's no room for a streetcar, and building a subway would be expensive. Maybe we need a downtown monorail circulator? Denny-Boren-Yesler-Alaskan or something like that, with connections at both ends to the transit tunnel?

Posted by Cascadian | November 15, 2007 5:21 PM

No transit is going to be particularly viable there, because the people in those cars are mostly heading out to distant points. If they wanted to ride a bus, they'd already be on one, down in the tunnel. Maybe this will drive them to it.

A monorail circulator won't work. People don't want to change trains, let alone change modes. And a monorail circular is just more of the piecemeal demonstration-project approach we've already had way too much of in this city.

There was a plan that could have been a head start on something real, both here and elsewhere, but we voted it down. The monorail. I honestly don't see how Sound Transit can help Denny Way, but it'll have to do. the question is, does it go where these people are headed? Mostly not.

Ultimately, the level of congestion will drive people to new routes and new methods no matter how inconvenient. It will be interesting to see just where that point of maximum inconvenience will turn out to be.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 5:29 PM

Have you ever walked from Denny to the bus tunnel along 6th?

Sounds like a plan in the summer.

Try it when it's raining.

I used to do it all the time. Most of these new residents won't.

But they can take the SLUT.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 15, 2007 5:34 PM

#6 - I took Denny on a weekend at 9PM and after midnight. And it was still gruesome. I walk or bus during rush hour.

Getting to and from Capitol Hill to Ballard or Fremont any time of day, bus or car, is a pain in the ass no matter how you slice it. I have a few friends who live in those parts of town. One of them is about to move to the Rainier Valley. Thank god. As much as I appreciate some of what Ballard has to offer, I hate the commute and would rather just stay on or near Capitol Hill.

Gridlock/clusterfuck isn't a bad thing in terms of getting the powers that be to act; however it IS a HORRIBLE thing for the environment. So those that are cheering it on, check yo'self.

Posted by From the Hill | November 15, 2007 5:35 PM

#12 & #13: The bus tunnel is fine if you're headed downtown, to the U-Dist. or the 'burbs. But you're screwed if it's passed closing time.

Busing from Capitol Hill to Ballard blows. It adds like an hour an a half to your commute time.

Posted by DOD | November 15, 2007 5:39 PM

Clarification: That's an hour and a half round trip.

Posted by DOD | November 15, 2007 5:40 PM

I'm with Fnarf. More traffic means slower traffic means I can walk to that Whole Foods (I don't shop at Whole Paycheck- my girlfriend does) a bit more safely... Unless you include huffing all the exhaust.

Anyway, living just across I-5 from all this building activity is exciting. Can't wait until there's a neighborhood in the East Denny Triangle no-man's land between Cascade and the Downtown Retail Core. It might just be more Downtown, but it'll be 3 minutes closer.

Posted by EDT | November 15, 2007 5:53 PM

What I don't get is why, if the city wants more density and more transit/fewer cars, it disincentivizes density (developers have to pay into affordable housing fund if they build to capacity) but doesn't do anything about parking. (I'm all for increasing affordable housing funds--though I'm not sure how that all works out with market prices, etc.) Wouldn't it make sense to say that new developments can only build parking spaces for a certain percentage of their units, and if they do build to that capacity, they have to contribute x amount to a transportation fund?

Posted by Damon | November 15, 2007 6:04 PM

The smart way to get to or from Capitol Hill from Ballard is to go the long way around -- down twelfth, then tenth, University Bridge, 40th (though it can be a bitch if the traffic's backed up at the stop sign). Or even further around and use Fuhrman or Boyer. I can beat the freeway almost any time of day.

And yes, the bus route there is a miserable nightmare. It was better back in the dark ages when it was one route all the way from Broadway and John to Shilshole, but now it's insane. I would actually recommend that ride to anyone suggesting buses are a practical form of mass transit in this city.

DOD, that's exactly where most of those cars are headed. Only a tiny fraction of the cars on Denny are going just from the regrade to Capitol Hill or vice versa. Similarly, Will, you are assuming that these trips are starting at Denny. They're not. Well, some of them will be, when they build these, but most of them have either just come off Aurora, or from downtown, and are headed to the freeway -- or vice versa.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 6:27 PM

The planning for transit and mobility improvements was defeated last Tuesday.

Posted by Giffy | November 15, 2007 6:27 PM

#20: Are you talking about the plan to build about twenty 500-1000 space free parking lots? (ST2?)

Posted by jamier | November 15, 2007 6:35 PM

@19 depending on the time of day there's a much quicker way to get from the Hill to Lardtown.

Cut down the side of the hill, cross over I-5, hang a quick right and jog over to Westlake and take that to Nickerson.

If Westlake or Dexter look slow, hit Aurora to 46th.

Of course, if you time it wrong you're fucked.

But, then again, your way could leave you waiting for hours while they pick up dead bicyclists.

Posted by gnossos | November 16, 2007 1:06 AM

Ah, Nickerson.

When people talk about how bad traffic is, they never mention the many fine streets in this city that never have any traffic at all. Maybe it's because they have such weird connections at either end. Nickerson, Eastlake, Airport Way, so many fine streets once you know about them.

Posted by Fnarf | November 16, 2007 7:13 AM

Denny has sucked since the Timberline closed down. The only reason to go to that part of town on Sunday afternoons. That and 24 Hour Fitness.

Posted by New Deal Deomoncrat | November 16, 2007 7:39 AM

I do not understand the comments about 800 more cars on the streets from this development. How many people who live/shop here will be eliminating already existing car trips by moving downtown? Eg say someone who works at the Federal District Court down the street moves from Everett to the Gateway. That reduces traffic, both regional and in the Denny Triangle.

Posted by Peter Carlin | November 16, 2007 7:49 AM

Well, if you provide no parking, many of those people are going to park somewhere. The area is not along major Downtown buslines and along a steep hill, so not very walkable.

Traffic's going to be there no matter what unless you just build nothing there and let the property rot.

Posted by Gomez | November 16, 2007 10:07 AM

Nice work Dominic... More posts like this please!

Posted by Hihg-Rise | November 16, 2007 10:09 AM

Fnarf - in this area, going from south to north at least, it's Dexter.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | November 16, 2007 10:51 AM

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