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Monday, April 14, 2008

What’s Driving Development

posted by on April 14 at 13:01 PM

This is the thinking: With the Sound Transit light-rail link opening between downtown and the airport next year, MLK, Jr. Way South is transforming from an urban highway into a desirable neighborhood. One station on the route is at the intersection of MLK and South Othello Street, 15-20 minutes from downtown. People will want to live there.

Enter capitalism. Othello Partners has proposed two major developments, both enormous, on adjacent corners. One of them I outlined last week, and Othello’s Mike Hlastala sent me a rendering of it to share with Slog. The proposal is for a six-story building that would contain 375 units, 365 parking spaces and 25,000 square feet of retail.


Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine

The other proposal, Othello North, is also six stories and will contain 15,000 square feet of retail and 260 parking spaces.

This project indicates the future of the neighborhood, and the design process here sets precedent for what it will take to get the neighborhood right. “Specifically, ensuring a well proportioned scale is a critical factor to successfully integrate the project into the neighborhood fabric that is in flux,” wrote the review board after a previous meeting. So I tip my hat to Othello and the design board for spending a lot of time modifying the building’s mass and shape specifically to make it welcoming to pedestrians. It’s still not amazing, but it’s a nice enough building and a commendable use of space.

However, I’m also a bit disappointed. Considering that the impetus for this project is the site’s proximity to the Sound Transit station, with 600 parking spaces between the two new buildings – nearly one space per unit – it still promotes reliance on driving. For this intersection to succeed as a neighborhood, mass transit must be a necessity, not just an amenity. Residents must be required to get out and walk and talk and shop to make this a functional neighborhood, not just a highway with big buildings by the side of the road.

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Yay. Overpriced condos right on top of a people mover. Good bye quiet mornings, good bye privacy. Good bye world.

Posted by jerry falls well | April 14, 2008 1:09 PM

One car per unit? That's progress, AFAIC.

Posted by Will/HA | April 14, 2008 1:10 PM

Does anyone have the dreaded feeling that 2009 ST light rail will be sabotaged by those other than in state/county/city government? Such as those who currently live in Othello and other MLK Jr area locations?

My dream is for this whole light rail shiz to work, but all of the outrage about the razing of that one block of Pine St. in the Stranger/Slog will be a spit in the ocean compared to the development that will be taking over MLK Jr./Light Rail corridor.

But this time the outrage will not be televised in The Stranger.

I mean, all respect to you guys at The Stranger, but I don't expect The Stranger to be as anxious to follow stories of displaced south Seattle residents as you do stories of really remote locations in Capitol Hill.

As a fan of Slog and The Stranger, with all respect, please prove me wrong.

Posted by mackro mackro | April 14, 2008 1:19 PM

A lot of those parking spaces will be devoted to retail.

Posted by cmaceachen | April 14, 2008 1:22 PM

I also want to join on on praising Dominic for this excellent series on Slog.

I think this *particularly* entry will be a cornerstone if what I fear comes true, however.

Posted by mackro mackro | April 14, 2008 1:24 PM

So how much are those units going to cost? Are they going to ensure that they are offered at the going rate for the area? That part of town, those units should sell for between $150,000 and $300,00 for the penthouses. Anything more, and you are overselling them and/or expecting others willing to drop a half Million to live in the 'hood.

Who the hell wants to live down in the 'hood, and has $500,000 to drop on a CONDO? That mortgage is going to be around $2,500-$6,000 a month. You know how many drugs will need to be sold to cover that mortgage?

Or are we the taxpayers going to subsidize much of that new fancy urban livin'?

Just curious... thanks again for the awesome posts Dominic!

Posted by Reality Check | April 14, 2008 1:35 PM

We need to update the zoning NOW. It should be at least 165 foot heights (but let's go for more) with no parking required within a 1/4 mile of the stations. Or even better...a rule about the maximum amount of parking spots they'd be allowed to build.

The only reason the City has not significantly rezoned the areas near light rail stations is that most of the areas right off of arterials abut single family residential neighborhoods and they know it will open up a big can of worms.

The 'preserve all single family zoned land' zealots have the city council by the balls and without the leadership of Steinbrueck I am afraid to say there is no one at City Council who has the desire and political clout to take this on. I do think the Mayor would do it but not without some degree of certainty that someone on Council would be there with him.

The Mayor and Steinbrueck used to argue about devilish details in upzones but then they'd finally get it done. The current crop of Councilmembers is so completely paralyzed by their own fear that we will likely miss this opportunity. UNLESS, that is, they actually hear from people other than Lesser Seattle Nimby's

Posted by I'm Smarter | April 14, 2008 1:44 PM

The rebuilt Seattle Housing Authority mixed-income projects at New Holly (also at Othello station) and Rainier Vista have provided that folks will buy market-rate housing in the "'hood".

Forcing developers to supply less than one parking space per unit is a risky move. Even folks who take the train to work every day (the bulk of ultimate occupants, would be my guess) will still own a car, for evening and weekend errands and other personal uses. And the people who can afford these units will likely not tolerate having to park all the time on the street.

Even with the parking, there's no evidence that these Othello developments will be giant auto-spewing factories at 7:35 each morning.

Posted by Perfect Voter | April 14, 2008 1:46 PM

Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine - wasn't he one of Bertie Wooster's chums?

Posted by Abe | April 14, 2008 1:47 PM

This is exactly what we should be praising along the light rail route.

That area is currently nothing but parking lots and strip malls. That area has great potential to become a beautiful, dense urban center. It is fantastic to actually see it happening. Being in a residential neighborhood, next to Othello playground, this could be the type of density in which you could actually raise a child, and that is a major improvement.

That they own cars is practically inconsequential if they are using mass transit the vast majority of the time.

Posted by Cale | April 14, 2008 1:51 PM

A little under a parking spot per unit is a lot less than is currently there: just parking with no units.

Posted by Andrew | April 14, 2008 1:57 PM

A few things to keep in mind...

1) It's not decided if the units will be apartments or condominiums. With the market as it is, it's very likely they will be apartments.

2) The developers really wanted to see the project built with far less parking, citing the proximity to transit, etc. However, the equity investors required at least that much.

3) The developers will likely operate a significant portion of their available parking as a park-and-ride.

Posted by Preston | April 14, 2008 2:08 PM

Great comments, Preston. Re 1) Hlastala told me they would be market-rate rental units, but I guess that could change. Re 2) That's fucked, if it's true. Re 3) Using the parking for a park-and-ride would be bitchin'.

Posted by Dominic Holden | April 14, 2008 2:14 PM

Thanks, Dominic. The information comes from a co-worker who performed the feasibility study on the site(s) for the developer.

Posted by Preston | April 14, 2008 2:59 PM

"MLK, Jr. Way South is transforming from an urban highway into a desirable neighborhood"

The horrors! Why, making a neighborhood livable and human scale will most certainly displace the kind of people we NEED to keep our city shitty!

The south end simply can't afford a nobrain drain!

"Who the hell wants to live down in the 'hood, and has $500,000 to drop on a CONDO? That mortgage is going to be around $2,500-$6,000 a month."

Reality Check checks in with his usual clueless whining. $500k got you a nice, big three bedroom three bath townhouse market rate at the new development down the street. And no, unReality Check, the developer made money on those. By your idiotic rantings, are we to believe you oppose both public subsidies for affordable housing AND developers making money off of their product?

If that isn't the ultimate crank position, I don't know what is...

"You know how many drugs will need to be sold to cover that mortgage?"

Oh, I get it. Reality Check isn't stopping at stupidity. He want to cement his racist cred, too. Since when did out-of-town troglodytes become such avid Slog participants?

Posted by FemBot | April 14, 2008 3:34 PM

@7: I agree with you completely on what should happen regarding the zoning esp. w/ height& parking requirements.

I also agree that the City Council would cave the moment they got 30 emails generated by the same people who oppose everything.

Posted by Great City Urbanist | April 14, 2008 4:59 PM

@3, have you ever been down MLK? Indeed, have you been down it recently - like in the last five years? Do you even know what is at the corner of Othello and MLK? Let me enlighten you...

NW Corner: The world's skeeziest Safeway, with a huge surface parking lot.

NE Corner: An empty bowling alley turned fly-by-night church, turned vacant building with a large surface parking lot

SE Corner: A former chain store, now divided up into several skanky stores, with a huge surface parking lot.

SW Corner: Vacant lot.

Not many south Seattle residents to be displaced there. Indeed, moving either north or south on MLK you will probably see more residential than you would have previously - and a lot of it isn't high-end. In fact, the nicest stuff probably is Holly Park and Rainier Vista.

Displacement, such as it was, happened about ten years ago. You're a little late to your own pity party.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | April 14, 2008 5:11 PM

Catalina@17, you're assuming a bit much from my statement. "little late to pity party". Do you have any idea what you're talking about? And you don't need to school me on south Seattle. I was near Othello and MLK about two weeks ago. I don't live there, granted.

But I'm well aware that there's not a lot there. But light rail in south Seattle is going to skyrocket the cost of living along that area in a very short amount of time. I'm talking south Seattle in general, too, not just the spaces directly off MLK. Look out for "just blocks (psst miles) away from light rail!" advertisements.

Do you think that all of south Seattle is going to welcome this with open arms?

I think many people there will do just that. Great! But there will be as many people who will see this as "we're being routed again". Some may take it a step further and try to fuck shit up once Light Rail is in place. This is what worries me.

I'm not anti-development, especially in the context of light rail. Like I said above, I want this to work. This involves inevitable downsides of people and businesses displaced. We've all seen this. In this case, it's not so sudden and hence so surprising as everyone knows it's coming.

I'm concerned that we're not prepared for what I fear *might* be a revolt against Light Rail because it will translate to many as Get Out And Make Room For Rich Whitey to a much larger population than just Capitol Hill -- no matter how long in advance the announcement has been made.

And you're all aware of the degree to which Capitol Hill residents complain about sharply rising costs in development there -- people who are far better off to adjust.

I hope my fears are just that. That was my point.

Posted by mackro mackro | April 14, 2008 8:40 PM

A republican friend of mine who works in construction told me that the parking spaces per unit requirements have all been waived for new construction in some area around downtown. He said it like it was a bad thing. Can anybody here confirm that? It seems like big news that I would have caught on the slog if it were true.

Posted by Luke Baggins | April 14, 2008 9:13 PM

Mackro, I live on Beacon Hill, just blocks from the new station. I work out of the City Light southend service center, and the district that I am assigned to is the Rainier Valley. I am in the neighborhood every single day, and I can tell you that people - rich and poor, of every racial group - are looking forward to light rail. It's the first infrastructure investment in what has been a largely ignored part of town for decades.

Yes, property values will rise, and some people will be squeezed out. But that's been happening throughout Seattle - including Southeast Seattle - for the last fifteen years, and we've managed to get by without any kind of revolt thus far.

It's interesting to note that there's a large percentage of home ownership in SE Seattle, compared with the rest of the city. Those people aren't going anywhere, and will benefit from light rail. In the neighborhoods that are now being allowed to subdivide their single family lots, people are finding that they can build in their backyard, and make enough money to pay off their house.

The very poor will remain, due to Holly Park, Rainier Vista, and the numerous SHA managed properties in the area. It's the lower-middle class that will feel the pinch the most, but again, that is the case throughout Seattle, and probably throughout the country.

Other neighborhoods have felt the sting of rising home prices much more acutely than SE Seattle, and for much less reason, at least from a neighborhood service standpoint. I don't see why you think that this might be a special case, and might be more prone to "revolt"

Posted by catalina vel-duray | April 14, 2008 9:38 PM

Catalina@20: Thank you very much for your post. You're exactly what I needed to and wanted to hear from -- reps from south Seattle. If you don't get a sense of revolt, then I won't and hence won't worry.

It's been a concern among almost all my friends in central Seattle neighborhoods.

There's barely any coverage of, for lack of better phrase, "South Seattle News" -- anywhere -- not in the Times, P-I, Stranger, etc. Maybe Georgetown if they're lucky. It's really embarrassing but true (on my part as well.) :(

Posted by mackro mackro | April 15, 2008 7:39 AM

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