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Friday, October 24, 2008

Destroying History on Second Avenue

posted by on October 24 at 3:50 PM

We have more details on the MJA Building, a 1914 building on Second Avenue and Stewart Street that crews stripped of its terra cotta trim yesterday. It was defaced to erase the building’s historic status, tenants and neighbors say, thus potentially allowing the site to be developed into a tower.


The building was nominated for historic landmark status in 2004 but failed to achieve the designation after nearly half the Landmark Preservation Board missed the meeting, the Department of Neighborhoods reports. Seven votes from the 12-person board are required to designate a landmark. But only seven of the members attended, says Sarah Sodt, coordinator of the Landmarks Preservation Board. Five voted in favor of declaring it a landmark and two opposed.

Although the five absent members of the board may have also dissented against declaring the building a landmark, if they had attended the meeting and two of them voted for it, the MJA Building would have won landmark status in 2004. But Sodt says there is no requirement for the Landmark Preservation Board members to attend the meetings.

Five years are required between each landmark nomination. “When next April rolls around, someone could again nominate it,” says Sodt. “But they slipped under that five-year timeframe.” Now, the owners have removed terra cotta--the very feature that qualified it for landmark nomination the first place.

The current owners, Iowa-based Principal Global Investors Limited, purchased the building in March 2007. The company had no comment today about why it was removing the terra cotta frieze work and trim (a spokesman did promise to call back next week). But a spokesman for Collins Woerman, a local developer, said the company was hired one or two years ago to study plans for a 20-story office building on the site.

I'll update when I hear more from the owner, and from the Department of Neighborhoods--are they doing to do anything to prevent this from happening again, like require the Landmark board to actually show up at meetings?

Warehouse Alchemy

posted by on October 24 at 1:24 PM

While the city considers ways to preserve the historic buildings in the Pike-Pine neighborhood, current rules promote knocking those buildings down and holding back developers from restoring them.

But Scott Shapiro and Liz Dunn aren’t waiting for the city to act. Over the past few years, the developers have gutted drab warehouses on 12th Avenue and renovated them into neighborhood icons. Café Press, Osteria La Spiga, Retrofit Home, and others are in their portfolio. Now they’ve set their sites down the barrel of Pike-Pine.


Two adjacent warehouses on Melrose Avenue lay low, an unmemorable olive green. But in February, Shapiro and Dunn will begin renovating them into restaurants and stores—injecting life into a historically dead wedge of the neighborhood.

“It’s a serious investment, but it’s worth it for us,” says Shapiro. “As long-term local owners, we believe we are creating something unique to a neighborhood that values creative and unusual spaces.”


These sorts of projects are labors of sacrifice. Choosing to limit a building to one or two stories represents potentially passing on millions of dollars in revenue because zoning rules through most of the Pike-Pine neighborhood allow developers to build up to 65 feet. Moreover, renovating these spaces—sandblasting the massive fir beams and bringing century-old buildings up to modern standards for retail spaces—costs even more.


“Some other developers are tearing down buildings that housed some really great places that people on Capitol Hill and the rest of Seattle value,” says Shapiro.

But existing city regulations work at odds this sort of renovation and restoration. Shapiro says the code requires many upgrades that may be unnecessary, such as throwing out old windows and purchasing new ones. While the new materials are more energy efficient, discarding the old material in a landfill and manufacturing new material is a net environmental and financial burden, he says. “That makes a new development cheaper because a developer doesn’t have to deal with the hassle and cost of the restrictive land-use code,” he says. “It would be great if there were more flexibility to allow a building to keep its existing character.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smashing History

posted by on October 23 at 4:59 PM

As you read this, crews are breaking off the terra cotta trim from a 1914 building at the corner of Second Avenue and Stewart and throwing the pieces into Dumpsters. Stripping the building of its vintage details will erase the building’s historic status, tenants and neighbors say, which will potentially allow the owner to redevelop the site into a tower.

“Our guess is that it had to do with taking down what would have been the historically significant portion, which is the terra cotta,” says Joe Woods, an architect at Hummel Architects, a tenant in the building. “[The owners] would have their hands tied if the historic process got further down the line."

The two-story MJA Building is a product of the downtown building boom of the early 1900’s, which was spurred by the Klondike Gold Rush. In 2004, a historic resources survey found that the building “appears to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.” But for reasons that are unclear, the building didn't become a historic landmark.

New owners, calling themselves MJA Building LLC, bought the property late last year. Under zoning rules adopted by the city council in 2006, a new building on the site could be as tall as 400 feet. Until this week, it looked like this:


But today, Slog tipper Christine alerted us to the carnage occurring under the scaffolding that wraps the building. Construction workers are “taking the terra cotta off in such a way that there will be no way to salvage the actual material,” she says. The owner “is replacing it with one of those hideous fake stucco products.” She sent this photo of how it looks today:


“We are just trashing our history when we do stuff like this,” says Jeff Hummel, owner of Hummel Architects. “These buildings are our heritage.”

The property-management company, KG Investment, sent a notice about plans for stripping the exterior to the building’s six commercial tenants two or three weeks ago, calling it a “seismic retrofit,” says Hummel.

“They have been framing this as a seismic retrofit, which is total bullshit,” says Hummel. “It is not.” If it were a retrofit, he says, the owners would also reinforce entryways, the skin of the building, and other components of the frame. Building owners could retain the historic facade and still build a tower on the site, he argues, much like the Cristalla a few blocks north.

KG Investment and MJA Building LLC have not returned calls to comment.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pb Elemental’s Lead Balloon Bursts

posted by on October 13 at 1:04 PM


Pb Elemental, the development firm behind some of Seattle’s most daring and innovative towers and houses, laid off 16 of its 50 employees last Friday. The layoffs are across the board, including architects, project managers, and adminstrative staff.

“It makes us heartsick,” says Michael Boyd, a spokesman. “This is a regrettable thing that we did but a necessary business decision.” He cites the ailing economy and credit markets for the layoffs, but he wouldn’t name the specific projects that may have been canceled or postponed. "We’re not breaking that out at this point," he says, adding, “The residential market is tough."

Pb Elemental has proposed a series of delightfully boxy town houses in the greater Seattle area, especially in the Central District. Many are already built. The company has teased us with the tapered Trophy Building, an ambitious residential tower that the company "moved away from," and the unapologetically stark I.D. Building, a mixed-use hotel. That building is delayed due to rezoning, he says, but is still on the table.

“I should point out that we don’t foresee any additional layoffs being necessary,” says Boyd.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

City Fast-Tracking Plan for Taller Buildings in Rainier Valley

posted by on October 7 at 5:20 PM

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis delivered a bitter pill last night to a South Seattle community group: The city plans to increase height limits for buildings in the Rainier Valley around the light–rail station. Along with other city employees and a local developer, he called it the "informal kick-off" of a program to rezone the area by next November. The light-rail link between downtown and the airport will open in July 2009.

To warm up the Mt. Baker Community Club, a Sound Transit spokeswoman described the East Link, which will connect Seattle to the eastern burbs if Prop 1 passes next month. She patiently answered the audience’s questions: “Yes, 55 miles per hour is as fast as it goes,” and, “Light rail does not refer to how light it is; it is actually quite heavy.”

Then to taller buildings. Ceis, along with new city planner Ray Gastil, told the group that the city aimed to increase density near the transit station. “The bad way to do it is to do nothing—leave zoning the way it is,” he said. Instead, he said the city would ask the residents to give their feedback and complete the plan in a year. Many neighborhood plans are drafted semi-autonomously by neighborhoods over several years.

Pat Murakami, president of the Mt. Baker Community Council, asked how many new apartment or condos the city planned for the neighborhood. She had heard the city was considering 3,000 new housing units near the station. Some at the meeting were concerned about the construction noise, increased property taxes, and towers in the neighborhood.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you it will be all low-rise density,” said Ceis, waving his hands by his waist, without committing to a specific plan. “I would be lying to you.”

Indeed, under current rules, most of the properties on Rainier Avenue South around the Mount Baker Station already allow for 65-foot mixed-use buildings. Considering the pitch, I'd estimate heights will be set between 85 to 125 feet.

There is no valid argument against upzoning around this or any other light-rail station. The only argument is that it be done right. The city should involve the neighborhood. Developers must avoid building a dozen homogeneous slabs of housing. Good street life will require deep retail spaces of varying sizes affordable to small businesses—not giant retail that wraps around parking garages (those are expensive to rent, awkwardly arranged, and minimize the retail potential for a building). The bottom floor needs big glass storefronts, using warehouse style fronts like in Portland’s Pearl District. And the city should require a copious amount of affordable housing. Neighbors may moan, but it must be done.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Artists Evicted from Magnuson Park

posted by on October 2 at 2:00 PM

Twenty-four artists who rent studios from the city at Magnuson Park in Sand Point will have to move, after the City Council this week adopted an ordinance to allow a developer to take over the building where they work in a long-term (30-year-plus) lease.

The artists want to stay at Magnuson Park, the old Naval station where the city says the buildings are crumbling and uninhabitable without major upgrades—upgrades this developer is willing to do.

But the artists say they're trying to work out a development plan of their own for another building in the park, and the city sounds closed to that idea. City spokeswoman Dewey Potter said she'd provide more details in a forthcoming email, but today she said the artists will definitely not be able to stay in Magnuson Park. That's news to the artists.

Artists renting at Building 11, a humble and creaky building but one that's drenched with perfect studio light from the large windows overlooking the waterfront, include Claudia Fitch, Francisco Guerrero, Eugene Parnell, Juliana Heyne, Carolyn Law, Carolle Rose, Liz Bruno, Nancy Loughlin, Tom Collicott, and Anne Hayden Stevens. They opened their studios for the building's first open house this past Saturday, but got the bad news Tuesday. They say the developer plans to put in an Ivar's and a Kidd Valley, and to turn the converted studios into expensive offices.

More as I hear from various sources.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Meanwhile, In Columbia City...

posted by on September 24 at 4:56 PM

The tragically misnamed Columbia Plaza--an ugly parking lot with a small indoor mall of shops at its western end--will soon be morphing from this...


to this:


The renderings I've seen so far don't include a full front view (i.e., what things will look like from where I was when I took that first shot of Columbia Plaza), but here's one that includes the ugly-ass Bank of America drive-through building in the front (which, unfortunately, was not sold as part of the development):


There's a lot I like about this project. Foremost: It will replace one of the worst-used lots in Columbia City--a lot that effectively walls off downtown Columbia City from the Columbia City Park and the renovated Columbia City branch library--with a development that will extend the downtown area to its logical terminus at Alaska Street. All that dead space will be gone (and RIP, Columbia Plaza, but there are plenty of places that sell wares similar to yours right down the street), replaced by retail and (God willing) restaurants, which the growing neighborhood desperately needs. Second: I really dig that the parking is all underground. Granted, that's kind of a given on a small lot in a dense area, but--if the renderings can be trusted--the parking will be practically invisible. That's good planning--especially for a building on the street (Edmunds) that Sound Transit's planning to turn into a pedestrian link to the light rail line a few blocks west on MLK. Third, while I don't know how much these will sell for, I like that the units are small--between about 500 and 800 square feet, which will (I hope) translate into lower prices than some of the large, two-story luxury lofts that have been going up around the neighborhood. ($725,000-per-unit converted apartment building, I'm looking at you). Finally, if the developers do actually put in a green wall facing the Bank of America, it'll be an awesome visual fuck-you to a squat gray relic on an increasingly pedestrian-oriented street, making it look more than ever like the out-of-place car-centric anachronism it is.

Now, a few cautionary thoughts: It would be nice if the open space weren't clustered in the center, where only residents of the building can really access it. Why not next to the park instead? And these drawings show a muted, conservative palette--but will the developer stick to it, or fall prey to the still-trendy "throw a few buckets of primary colors on it and call that massing" school of design? Finally, if there is a "road diet" on Rainier, narrowing the highway-like road from five lanes to four or less, will the developers do something to plan for that? Right now, the side that faces Rainier looks pretty monolithic. That won't work very well if and when Rainier is narrowed to be more user-friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pedestrian Insurgence

posted by on August 28 at 2:33 PM


The city released an audit a couple weeks ago that calls for improving pedestrian mobility around construction sites. While the city figures out how to do that, Dan Bertolet of Hugeasscity has a post on the stroller revolt around the Four Seasons hotel construction site. What happens when pedestrians are faced with a "sidewalk closed" sign on First Avenue during rush hour? Mothers carry babies, fathers push strollers, and scofflaws tote bouquets into the path of oncoming traffic.

“There are places around city where a sidewalk has to be closed due to safety considerations,” says Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, when I called him today. Gee, it looks more dangerous to have it closed. Shutting down a sidewalk, he says, “is allowed by Seattle Department of Transportation, but we always make sure that one side is open to pedestrians and cyclists.”


Several other major cities require developers to provide covered sidewalks for pedestrians. But not here in Seattle. “Hills make it impossible” for staging construction equipment on certain side streets, says Sheridan, requiring developers to use the sidewalk for equipment. In those cases, other cities require barricaded walkways on the street. But here in Seattle, this is what we do to pedestrians in the street. Sheridan says, “To close a lane [on First Avenue] would create a lot of complications just for traffic.”

To remedy the problem, Sheridan says, “We are going to Washington, D.C. to see how they accommodate that traffic and see if there are techniques we can adopt in Seattle."

More pictures at Hugeasscity.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Breaking: The Government Did Not Blow Up 7 WTC

posted by on August 21 at 1:33 PM

According to a new report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, fire ignited by falling debris—and unimpeded by the sprinkler system, which failed to sprinkle because the city water main was broken—was the cause of the collapse of 7 World Trade Center.

The New York Times explains:

The investigators determined that debris from the falling twin towers ignited fires on at least 10 floors at 7 World Trade Center, which was about 400 feet north of where the city’s two tallest buildings once stood. The blazes burned out of control for six hours, as the city fire department, devastated by the collapse of the twin towers, abandoned its efforts to extinguish the fire, and the sprinkler system was incapacitated.

The heat from these fires, the investigators said, caused the beams on the lower floors of the east side of the tower to expand, ultimately causing a girder on the 13th floor to disconnect from a critical interior column that supported the building’s long floor spans. Once the 13th floor gave way, a cascade of floor failures started down to the fifth floor, leading to the overall collapse of the tower.

Continue reading "Breaking: The Government Did Not Blow Up 7 WTC" »

This Unstable Earth

posted by on August 21 at 1:03 PM

We learn geology the morning after the earthquake, on ghastly diagrams of cloven mountains, upheaved plains, and the dry bed of the sea.

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The largest earthquakes of the last week (count: 181).


The largest earthquakes of the last week in North America (count: 131).


The largest earthquakes of the last week in the Pacific Northwest (count: 27).


From the always-fun-to-refresh USGS earthquake charts.

(Thanks to Slog tipper Kevin S.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

“Bank of Opportunities” to Be Demolished

posted by on August 20 at 4:26 PM

The Bank of America building, on the corner of Broadway East and East Thomas Street, was, no doubt, quite fresh in the 1960s—the slate on the exterior walls, the little moat of rocks, the windy plaza facing a blank wall. It is, needless to say, all quite stale now.


A chipper receptionist answered the phone today, “Thank you for calling Bank of America, the bank of opportunities.”

But the next opportunity will be a wrecking ball. SRM Development filed plans with the city this month to demolish the bank and rip up the adjoining parking lot, replacing them with two buildings. The first phase will be a four-story building on 10th Avenue; the second will be a six-story building over the bank site on Broadway. Combined, they will contain 13,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and 113 apartments above.

Continue reading "“Bank of Opportunities” to Be Demolished" »

Monday, August 4, 2008

It’s the *@$#&% Economy

posted by on August 4 at 3:02 PM

A reader asks:

In May of 2007 there was a splash of news … about a four-star hotel to be built on Ballard Ave. It was big talk back then, but nothing seems to have happened, and I wonder if developers thought better of it. But I can't find any updates anywhere on the web. I'm curious whether Sloggers can sleuth out the latest. Thanks!


Dearest Brooks, the Slog Bloodhound Gang is at your service. Malli Anderson, a land-use planner for the city, confirms that in 2006 the Olympic Athletic Club applied to build a shmancy five-story hotel on Ballard Avenue NW, across the street from Hattie’s Hat. But those applications have since stagnated. The permit, she says, “is not even close to being issued.” However, she didn’t know why.

“I believe the owners are trying to find the best financing,” says project architect Gordon Lagerquist, who adds that the market for new construction is shitty right now. “We’re just trying to stretch the permitting process as far as we can," he says. Rather than the original completion date of January 2009, he says the owners now don't expect to break ground until later that year.

So is dragging out a permit this long weird? “Not to me,” says Anderson. “Usually it’s hurry up and wait.” But she says things have been slower at the Department of Planning and Development lately. She says when she used to work in the application service center, where developers and architects go to file plans and ask questions, "We used to have 400 people a day." But when she worked last Friday, she says, "We had one person all afternoon."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hotel Deathwatch

posted by on July 31 at 3:28 PM

It’s a bad time to build hotels, according to a story in today’s NYT. High gas prices, more expensive airfares, fewer flights, and the advent of the staycation are keeping down occupancy rates. But the cranes are still going up.

The industry now has about 6,000 new hotels, with nearly 800,000 rooms, under development, a 27 percent increase from last year, according to Lodging Econometrics, a consulting firm in Portsmouth, N.H. About 2,000 of those hotels are already under construction, and construction is scheduled to begin on many more in the next year….

But perhaps more telling is the number of projects called off in the last three months — 327 — after investment banks like Lehman Brothers, UBS and Merrill Lynch began to reduce financing for new construction, according to Lodging Econometrics. It was the highest number of cancellations since immediately after Sept. 11.

Construction will certainly halt in some of the most obvious tourist destinations—such as Vegas, Hawaii, and beach towns—but what’s going to happen in Seattle?

Prospective demand for more hotel rooms has driven many developers to propose hotel-condo hybrid towers--for example, the Candela Hotel and Residences, the AVA tower, the ID Building, the tower on 2nd and Virginia, and the Heron & Pagoda Towers. Those projects haven't broken ground, but 1 Hotel & Residences, which broke ground and stalled, leaving a hole on 2nd Avenue, is overhauling its luxury hotel concept.

Meanwhile, local realtors, developers, and economists foresee that demand for condos here will resume in a few years, just as the supply from buildings currently under construction runs dry. So I’m guessing we'll see a pre-building conversion wave--in which hotel plans will be scrapped and replaced by condos.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Guns Don't Shoot People: Anti-Gun Campaigns Shoot People

posted by on July 18 at 11:15 AM


From the BBC:

Three Chinese reporters attending a police briefing on the success of an anti-gun campaign were accidentally shot, media reports say. An officer picked up one of the weapons on show—a confiscated home-made gun—but it went off in his hand.

Another irony: Historians think gunpowder—lethal, lethal gunpowder—was accidentally discovered by Chinese alchemists searching for an immortality drug.

According to Wikipedia, the first reference to gunpowder is probably in the Zhenyuan miaodao yaolüe, an old Taoist text:

Some have heated together sulfur, realgar and saltpeter with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down.

Then, last year, Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang flipped the equation again, turning lethal, lethal gunpowder into a 59-foot-by-30-foot banyan tree:



Sunday, July 13, 2008

Last Days

posted by on July 13 at 9:04 PM

Several businesses on Broadway are vacating their spaces tonight to make way for construction of the light-rail station. As psyched as I am for real mass transit in Seattle, I’m really sad these gorgeous old buildings will be demolished. Most are two-story brick gents—the sort with details and materials too expensive for new construction. The most nostalgic of these losses, by far, is the space occupied by Vivace Rosteria.



So long, Vivace. And so long former site of Pizza Haven and that nail salon and the piroshky place... I don't think I'm just being sentimental about Capitol Hill, either. On Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street, the wrecking ball is halfway done leveling this old brick building, which is three blocks from this recently demolished brick building on First Hill. I know I do a lot of the cheerleading for new development here on the Slog, but it’s one thing when a '50s duplex is razed or a parking lot is transformed into something more useful, but it's pretty mournful when solid old buildings with local businesses are taken out. Even if losing these few spaces on Broadway was inevitable--I'm really excited for light rail--or if they could have been spared is a moot point. Seattle needs a better mechanism in the future for preserving these old buildings—the ones that wouldn’t qualify as historic landmarks but have the sort of character and quality new construction always lacks. Maybe disincentive to redevelop those sites through some sort of zoning penalty, a bonus for developers who renovate old buildings, or maybe zoning incentive to build somewhere else… Any ideas?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Long, Long Wait for Better Town Houses

posted by on July 9 at 1:14 PM

Mayor Greg Nickels stood in front of a bunch of town houses on Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon to propose cures for Seattle’s ugly town houses. Among his ideas: the city would review designs for new townhouses. Developers say that would be an expensive hassle.

Miklos Kohary, who built 160 town homes in the city last year, said the mayor's "insane" proposal would add $30,000 to $40,000 to each home. He now spends that much on loan payments, he said, waiting for building permits to clear with the city, which takes seven to 10 months.

"We were doing what was the objective of the mayor: affordable housing," Kohary said. "My average buyer ranged from 22, 23 to 35. These were all young people who didn't want to have a big garden and a house. "[City officials] either want housing or they don't. If they want housing, this is insane."

Nickels said, "We don't think it will be a significant cost driver."

Nickels boldly went against the grain and stood up to the developers who build flimsy crap, who many neighborhood activists say he’s in the pocket. So rah rah for the mayor, right? Not so fast. In fact, really slow.

The first problem is that his big idea for administrative design reviews is an old, impractical one. Design review will take a long-ass time for each project, and still fail to address directly the biggest problems with town house design: banning four-pack housing and wide central auto courts with no pedestrian function. Those changes will be made, hopefully, after it gets to the city council, which will have to enact any zoning changes. Which will happen, eventually…

This multi-family rezoning package is the result of years of study by the Department of Planning and Development, which answers to Nickels. DPD handed the proposal to Nickels late last year, and it’s been waiting on his desk, as folks at city hall put it, since then. Meanwhile, Councilmember Sally Clark, head of the land-use committee, is waiting for the legislation to go through a SEPA review (an environmental impact review), which will take until September, before she can touch it. But by then the council will be working on the budget, and probably won’t get around town houses till 2009—and that process will entail more public comment, debate, revision, blah, blah, blah. If Clark makes any gutsy changes to the town house rules—changes that would actually improve them rather than just tweak the designs we have—the SEPA process could begin all over again.

Nickels could have expedited this entire process, and truly taken developers of the worst projects to task, by moving on the legislation promptly. Instead, those developers have another year to keep building the shitty townhouses.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hope You Like Those Cranes on the Skyline

posted by on July 2 at 5:23 PM

I’ve got an article in this week’s issue about how the building bust will impact some of the glamorous projects in town. Lots of buildings—mostly tall fancy towers—are on hold or on the chopping block till the economy turns around. Meanwhile, the downtown skyline is filled with cranes for projects already under construction. So at least those glamorous towers are on schedule, right?

About 500 union fire-sprinkler installers have gone on strike, affecting work on several of the largest construction projects in the Seattle area.

[P]icket lines had gone up at about 25 sites in the Puget Sound area, including Olive 8 and 818 Stewart in downtown Seattle and the Bravern, Bellevue Towers and City Center Plaza in downtown Bellevue. Other union construction workers appeared to be honoring the picket lines for the most part…

David Thyer, president of R.C. Hedreen, Olive 8's developer, said only about 20 nonunion construction workers were working on the high-rise hotel/condo project today. Normally more than 300 people would be on the job, he said.

And if you thought it was dangerous living without fire sprinklers, consider the risk of living with cranes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Please Stand By

posted by on June 26 at 10:35 AM

A transformer explosion has disabled our internets. Paul Constant is reading poetry aloud and we may soon resort to cannibalism.

Slog will be slow for a while. Please make a note of it.

Update: We're back.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Knock-Down, Drag-Out Fight on Capitol Hill?

posted by on June 12 at 9:50 AM

It's easy to support infill density—like when a developer steps up with plans for a great building on an empty lot. But what if the developer wants to demolish a well-utilized building for an uncertain project?

Last week, Tara Hoch stepped outside her office in the Mercer Professional Building on 19th Avenue East to discover a small yellow land-use-action sign. A proposal filed with the city outlines plans to demolish the building—which currently contains 15 businesses—and replace it with a four-story, mixed-use development that would contain 52 condominiums and ground-level retail.

“They're destroying a beautiful building in excellent repair with no apparent structural problems whatsoever,” says Hoch, a massage practitioner.


The building also houses Monsoon restaurant. Says co-owner and chef Eric Banh: "It’s a business decisions for them, and it’s too bad we happen to be in the way." But it's not a done deal.

Murray Franklyn, the devlopment firm, hasn't yet purchased the property. For now, applying for the permit is only part of a feasibility study, according to Ron Boslcola, a company partner. “If we can get the permit," he says, "then we have a sale agreement.”

Although it would be unusual for a modern, three-story building to face the wrecking ball, this isn't Murray Franklyn's first proposal to demolish buildings currently put to popular use. The same developer recently tore down several neighborhood hang-outs on a beloved block of East Pine Street for a six-story building. But that project is being appealed, and the block is now a parking lot.

Wade Metz, who procures land for Murray Franklyn, says he doesn’t expect any hitches for this permit. (He thinks the existing structure is “small” and “not a very nice building.” And there's a parking lot on the site.) However, Metz says, even if the land sale closes, Murray Franklyn will wait to begin construction until "we perceive there is a market." He says, “The condo market is non-existent at moment... Our business is way off."

So how long until the market picks up and Murray Frankyn can break ground? “The soonest possible would be next summer, but no guarantee,” Metz says.

If finances are so tight that Murray Franklyn can't build on 19th Avenue for a year or more, the city should hold off on issuing a permit until Murray Franklyn shows it can afford to build on Pine Street. We don't need to demolish buildings just to make more parking lots.

“I would like to stay near central Seattle," says Hoch, "but I look around and I don’t think I can afford it.” So, in an effort to dissuade the developers, she started gathering petition signatures on Monday from folks who “object to the senseless demolition of perfectly sound building” and “wish to reject the four-story condominium.” She plans to deliver the petitions at an early-design-guidance meeting next Wednesday, June 18.

Monday, June 9, 2008

For the Love of Lazarus

posted by on June 9 at 3:46 PM

Foss Village is where people go to die. But the non-profit nursing home, in operation since the 1920s, is ready to start a new life. Foss has plans to demolish its aging one- and two-story buildings and sprawling parking lot in Bitter Lake, and replace them with a modern nine-building campus and underground parking that fills almost a full block.



Mithun Architects

Talking with Foss CEO David Crouch about what will happen to the residents during construction was sort of depressing. “We will do a downsizing over time,” he says. “In nursing homes, people are pretty much at the end of their lives anyway.” He says that Foss will relocate those patients not lost to "attrition" to other facilities.

But from there, our conversation became uplifting. In a gravely cadence, Foss said the trend among elder care is toward “bringing services to where people live, and that’s what we’re trying to build here.” The new campus will support 179 apartments and 60 assisted living units. (It’s a block from this development.) He said, “Eventually I think you’re going to see nursing homes clean up their act and provide a nicer environment for folks."

Although Foss has filed applications to build the site, the project hinges on receiving funding from the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Crouch says he’ll know whether construction can begin within 18 months. A design review meeting will be held tonight at 6:30 p.m. Ballard High School, 1418 Northwest 65th Street.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The End of an Era on Madison

posted by on June 5 at 4:22 PM

Andrew Taylor has detested the nefarious activity along a sordid length of East Madison Street through the Central District—a few blocks from his home of 25 years—until recently. “The greatest impact was the day that Chocolate City closed,” he says. In February 2007, the bar, formerly named Deano’s, shut its doors and the loiterers scattered. “With respect to street drug dealing and prostitution, the neighborhood has been remarkably quiet," he says. Last Friday, a chain-link fence appeared around the bar and about two-thirds of the block.


A tax affidavit filed with the state last Thursday shows the land’s owner, Dean Falls, sold the parcel to a development company for $7.5 million. The buyer, Jim Mueller, says he plans to construct a six-story building that contains retail on the street level and around 200 apartments above.



Model and graphic by Slater Partners. Photo by Andrew Taylor.

Demolishing several vacant buildings and acquiring a permit to build a massive development would ordinarily take several years, but this location is different. Falls had already received a master use permit to develop the site (which has been transfered to Mueller), so Mueller says that his company, JC Mueller, LLC, need only create detailed drawings and apply for a construction permit before breaking ground. “That could take 9-12 months,” he says.

But will the crackheads return when the buildings go up and the fences come down?

Mueller thinks not. “We own the site across the street—The Twilight Exit.” On that property, Mueller says he’s planning a similar project that will begin construction in the same timeframe. “The fact that we own the two pieces of property across from each other allows us to really change the feel of the location,” he says.

Taylor concurs: “I suspect that the owner of the building will be careful… and will choose businesses that fit in with his idea how the neighborhood should be,” he says. In lieu of their old haunts, he says, “More gang-related groups are outside Thomson’s [Point of View], but a lot of the older Deano’s crowd moved downtown.”

Dean Falls did not return calls before this story was posted.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rock on, Mr. Liebowitz

posted by on June 4 at 3:10 PM

Before we get started with today’s design meetings, let us all bid a farewell to a tired sight on Broadway.


Good riddance. The blank wall that extended for nearly a block down the city’s best pedestrian thoroughfare was, by far, more offensive than any new building that will replace it. The QFC is dead. Rejoice.

MLK, Jr. Way and East Union Street

Man, I can’t wait for this vacant lot to get developed.


Marty Liebowitz, of the Madrona Company, says he’s planning a four-story building that will contain up to 30 rental units in the top floors (several for low-income tenants), office space on the second floor, eight storefronts on the street level, and eight music-practice spaces in the basement.


“The rock-and-roll kids only make 10 to 20 thousand dollars a year,” says Liebowitz. “So we’re trying to create a scenario where they can live, a place to practice their music, and maybe a venue where they can perform.” He says the musicians can’t afford to live on Capitol Hill, so he’s building affordable rentals and spaces for inexpensive restaurants in the Central District.

What’s driving the 62-year old Brooklyn native? “I have three kids who love music and have a lot of friends in bands. The existing building [a five-plex next to the vacant lot that will be demolished] is filled with friends of my kids. They are nice people, they may dress a little weird and have purple hair—a lot of adults don’t understand. I’m an adult, but I do understand.”

I'd like to nominate Mr. Liebowitz as the coolest developer in Seattle. The design meeting, where he says he’ll have a model of the building, is at 8:00 p.m. in Miller Community Center, 330 19th Avenue East.

At the Foot of Her Majesty

On the base of Queen Anne, Avalon Bay Communities is planning a six-story, 196-unit residential building with about 5000 square feet of retail on the corner. It will also contain 8 live-work units and 245 parking spaces. The Mountaineers Club building will be demolished for this...



GGLO Architecture

Block-long developments are generally sucky, but designs for the ground floor here do a good job of breaking up the bulk to look less like that damn wall at the QFC. The recommendation meeting is tonight at 8:00 p.m. in the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West.

Valley Girl

In other nudes, a five-story office building in SLU, which I expose over here, has a design-recommendation meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Miller Community Center, 330 19th Avenue East. Sorry for the shameless sexification of an ordinary building.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Maybe This Will Shut Up Those “My View!” NIMBYs

posted by on June 3 at 5:59 PM

Or maybe it will make them scream louder.

The South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors Community Council (SLUFAN) board is meeting right now to ratify recommendations for taller buildings throughout the South Lake Union neighborhood. According a draft letter from SLUFAN to Mayor Greg Nickels dated on the 5th of June—two days from now—the proposal sets forth three zoning proposals. (Lest it go unsaid, SLUFAN is a racket, really, because it's mostly a symphony of business interests that amplify the mayor’s goals to blanket SLU with new devlopment. For instance, SLUFAN’s Web site is sponsored by Vulcan, and the board’s appointed members include representatives of PEMCO, Sellen Construction, Vulcan, and the Seattle Times Company. But there are only two elected positions on the board from the SLU community.) SLUFAN, naturally, seems to be pushing the tallest upzone on the table.

Some neighbors at a meeting to discuss those proposals last month, which I wrote about over here, were upset they could lose their views from Capitol Hill. The upzone has also ruffled feathers at the Buck Law Group, which organized neighbors afraid of losing their view, and generated an image that ran in the Capitol Hill Times of an unbroken wall of buildings blocking everything west of Capitol Hill. However, the actual designs aren’t quite so imposing.


To provide some context for this diagram, the majority of the buildings in the SLU valley close to I-5 (and Capitol Hill) are 125-165 feet tall. In comparison, the grey-and-black-striped Metropolitan Park towers, the undeniable view-blocking eyesores that they are, stand 279 feet tall. The few locations where the buildings shown above approach that height are few and far between, and the tallest buildings, the handful at 400 feet, are narrow enough to preserve most view corridors.

Like what you see? Hate it? SLUFAN will likely hand off these recommendations to the mayor's office in two days, but the changes would have to be approved by the city council. They would modify the neighborhood plan. You can find out more and rant at the city over here.

A block-by-block description of the proposed rezone in the diagram above—for the most intrepid land-use enthusiast among you—is after the jump.

Continue reading "Maybe This Will Shut Up Those “My View!” NIMBYs" »

Rezoning South Downtown

posted by on June 3 at 3:45 PM

Under a plan from Mayor Greg Nickels’s office called Liveable South Downtown, an advisory group has drafted recommendations to increase density—residential and commercial—in areas around Pioneer Square, the International District, and the stadiums. Tonight the city will hold an open house to exhibit the proposals and answer questions. Here’s a sneak peek at the presentation.

Existing zoning in the area:


Proposed zoning:


This how it could affect Little Saigon (I always feel weird calling it Little Saigon for some reason):


“The problem is that this administration is treating everything the same: high rises everywhere,” says Art Skolnik, an architecture preservationist in Washington for the past 40 years. “It destroys the character of micro-neighborhoods by encroaching on them,” he says. “You have to have a buffer zone.” Skolnik argues that the developers will give “sweetheart deals to incubator businesses” in new buildings. For example, “There are women-owned businesses that just started,” he says. “It sucks them out of the historic district, with no compensation [for older buildings], no guarantee that they will find other tenants and they will have to drop rents,” he says. “We are creating sprawl by pushing low income folks to suburbs because that’s what they can afford.”

“We’re not increasing heights across the board,” counters Susan McLain, the project’s senior planner for the Department of Planning and Development. She says the goal is to preserve the historic districts but add residents around those neighborhoods to “create more of a 24-hour presence of people who live and work in neighborhoods, and put more eyes on the street.”

Despite Skolnik’s desire to preserve historic neighborhoods—which I think everyone wants—increasing the number of available units won’t drive people out of town. That would defy laws of supply and demand. New spaces will cost more, not less, than offices in old buildings. And if additional vacancy does force renters to compete, that will drive rents down and create more affordable spaces in the city. Excellent. However, do share Skolnik's concern about the potential impact of rezoning areas that don’t have historic status, such as South Jackson Street in Little Saigon, where a number of small one-story businesses could be displaced by incentive to build large developments. There should be a provision to protect the mom-and pop, one-story retail that provides basic neighborhood amenities while allowing infill density in the parking lots that surround those blocks.

The open house tonight runs from 5 p.m. to 7p.m. in the Bertha Landes Room of City Hall. A short presentation will be given at 6 p.m. The city will accept written comments until June 30th, and the City Council will likely vote to modify or codify the proposal later this year.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Village and the District

posted by on June 2 at 2:29 PM

New Village

Ah, University Village… a bounty of Apple products, flavored coffee, and family apparel. If only there were more of it. Pray tell, what is this: Plans for four more emporiums built in three phases over coming years? Yes, it’s all true.


One of the buildings by Perkowitz+Ruth Architects

In the design proposal, developer Blumen Consulting Group says the new plans are geared to “create an urban densification.” (Here’s a big diagram of the U-Village layout.) Some day, if U-Village keeps building, U-Village may feel less like a Potemkin Mall and just a teensy bit more like part of the city. Calls to Blumen with pressing questions like, “How big will Abercrombie Baby be?” have not been returned. Ask them tonight at an early-design guidance meeting at 6:30 p.m. in room 209 of the University Heights Community Center, 5031 University Way Northeast.

New District

Just look that these houses--rentals off the freeway in the University District.


They hold the ghosts of a million killed kegs. Base Capital plans to build warehouse-style apartments on the grave site, zoned for mid-rise development, using architectural precedent from the Agnes Loft on Capitol Hill. It will stand 6 stories and contain 24 units.


Shugart Bates

The decision to build the 47th and 7th Flats “was more opportunistic than anything else,” says Kevin Nagai of Base Capital, which notices the parcel was for sale while developing condos across the street. Most of the developer’s properties up to now have been built in suburbs and exurbs, he says. “We were actually looking for places to develop infill in the city,” says Nagai. “The land was just getting so expensive even in outskirts to build apartments.”

An early design guidance meeting is tonight at 8:00 p.m. in room 209 of the University Heights Community Center, 5031 University Way Northeast.

What’s on Second?

posted by on June 2 at 11:39 AM

The most mind-boggling thing about the parking lot on 2nd Avenue and Pike Street is that there even is a parking lot on 2nd Avenue and Pike Street. This ideal downtown crossroads has been underused--and budding with potential--practically forever.

Greg Smith, developer and Principal of Urban Visions, had plans for the site a couple years ago, before downtown was rezoned to allow taller buildings. But last week, Smith was back before the city’s downtown design-review board to present a bolder vision for a geometric, two-tone tower that will stand 440 feet tall. It’s called the Candela Hotel and Residences.



Olsen Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects

“We recognize the intersection as one of the most important in the city,” Smith said. Bravely, the architects disregarded a design guideline that requests new buildings relate to the immediate architectural context—because, really, even one Newmark building is too many—in favor of adding something unique to the skyline. Portions of the pearly tower cantilever out over the rest of the building’s frame, and an arm of the hotel juts unexpectedly away from the body. However, the building encounters its greatest obstacles at the street level.

More after the jump.

Continue reading "What’s on Second?" »

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Blank(ish) Canvas

posted by on May 31 at 12:00 PM


From Slog tipper Mark: "Saw this land notice over on Madison and Pike, across from the Madison Market. Cracked me up."


"moat (filled with sharks)." Lovely. These signs demand modification. Someone should hold a contest...

(A friend of mine once proposed to his girlfriend by building a mock version of one of these boards, titled "Notice of Proposed Hand Use Action." He wrote his proposal in opaque, DPD-ese and drew a schematic of her hand, with the proposed ring. He planted it in a yard she usually passed on her way to work. She accepted.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Big Digs at the Junction

posted by on May 29 at 4:02 PM

Whenever I hear about the West Seattle Junction (the intersection of California Avenue and Southwest Alaska Street), I get that damn "Conjunction Junction" song from School House Rock stuck in my head. But onward and upward or whatever…

Two proposed buildings at the Junction will contain a total of 200 residential units and a glut of retail on the ground floor. Since my last post about the project, folks in West Seattle seem to have warmed up to the idea after the developer, Conner Homes, released renderings of the buildings.


That's Alaska Street running from the top-left corner to the bottom, California Ave heads to the right


Weber Thomson

It would be difficult to make these buildings look any more ordinary, but at the end of the day, it’s about function. They are built to the curb and inviting (enough) to pedestrians. James Miller of Conner Homes was all platitudes when we spoke; when pressed for details on how this current proposal has changed to suit previous requests from the community and the design-review board, he said, “I’d rather wait until it’s presented tonight.” So go to the meeting but leave your bong behind. It’s at 6:30 p.m. in the Southwest Police Precinct, 2300 Southwest Webster Street. (PS -- Sorry this post is so late. I have strep throat and have been at the doctor's office. Cheers!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mystery Repeats Itself

posted by on May 27 at 4:10 PM

Three large construction projects are slated for design reviews tonight. But the design proposals haven’t been posted by the city and attempts to get copies from the architects and city planners have proven futile. Sorry it didn’t work out, folks.

With no further ado, tonight’s meetings:

On the Lot

Can it really be true? Seattle’s most tragically underutilized space—the parking lot on the southeast corner of 2nd Avenue and Pike Street—is the site of a proposed hotel-residential thing!


Plans from the Department of Planning and Development don’t reveal the height of the residential-hotel combo, but the zoning there allows up to 400 feet of vertical gain and the architect’s name is Jerry Garcia. That’s pretty high, brother man. Please, let’s all hope the building doesn't look like one of those Jerry Garcia ties.


City land-use planner Jess Harris says the designs aren’t yet available because “This is a very large file so there is some technical difficulties occurring.” However, you can check out the design proposal at tonight’s early-design-guidance meeting at 5:30 p.m.
in the Boards and Commissions Room, L280, at City Hall, enter at 601 5th Ave.

In the Valley


This proposed building will be six stories tall, contain 75 apartment and six live-work units, and a bunch of retail. The early-design-guidance meeting is tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Rainier Cultural Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska Street.

By the Tracks


This two-story commercial building is another development budding on MLK, Jr. Way South--along the new light-rail link between downtown and the airport. It will replace a house. The early-design-guidance meeting is 8:00 p.m. in the Rainier Cultural Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska Street.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Silence, Disappointment, and Improvement

posted by on May 21 at 4:12 PM

The design review boards will consider these proposals tonight.

Where’s the Outrage, Madrona?

When a developer announced plans for a three-story, mixed-use brick building on the site of a parking lot on 34th Avenue, neighbors in Madrona lost their shit. Fifty complaint letters were filed with the city, according to an article in the Madrona Community Council newsletter, which then printed names and email addresses for the city and architect to complain about the project. And the lead story in the newsletter had this to say about losing the parking lot:

Many of us in Madrona fear that this development will negatively impact the open spaces and vintage character of Madrona and set a precedent for future structures on 34th Avenue.

So--shit the bed—when the announcement came that an adorable vintage gas station pictured on the front page of the community council’s web site (a bonafide neighborhood landmark) would be demolished for a new building, the newsletter was sure to come out guns a blazin’. Right? Wrong. The newsletter this month is neutral, and folks from the neighborhood group haven’t returned my call or they declined to comment on the new building.



The building will contain seven units; six of them are live-work units. “There were a few [concerns] about parking because at the first meeting there was no parking,” says Susan Jones of ateliarjones, the architecture firm designing the project. “Now there are five spaces,” she says. But did Jones or the property owner, Tom Flood, receive any complaints from neighbors about losing the neighborhood's vintage character when it lost a nice old building?

“We didn’t,” says Jones “I can’t totally explain it.”

A design recommendation meeting is tonight at 8p.m. in room 102 of the Seattle Vocational Institute, 2120 South Jackson Street.

Valley Low

Remember when the city bent over backwards to rezone land in South Lake Union to allow taller buildings for Amazon? Now we’re seeing the designs of those buildings. The current proposal, for phase four being developed by Vulcan, will stand 12 stories tall and contain 16,403 square feet of retail space. I’ve said it before, the buildings are fine: They relate well to the street, they reinforce some of the warehouse themes of the SLU neighborhood, and they provide open space. But considering we’re making special accommodations for one of the city’s economic powerhouses, it would be nice if Amazon made a special contribution to the city. The campus—which occupies nearly six blocks and will define the area—should be awesome. Instead, designs, rather than looking like a landmark, look like a hospital wing.


Callison Architecture

“They are asking for all the development candy and not much is going into public benefits,” says Lloyd Douglas, president of the Cascade Neighborhood Association and member of the SLUFAN board. “I don’t know if [only] Class A luxury office buildings are a public benefit,” he says. A design recommendation meeting is at 8:00 p.m. in room 1 of the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West.

Beside the Brownout

This is what's on Bellevue Avenue now.


It looks like it could be flattened in a gale. Here’s a drawing for the proposed building that will replace it, including part of the design for the proposal next door.


Roger Newell Architects

The new building would stand six stories, contain 23 residential units, and about 1,300 square feet of retail at the sidewalk. The design-guidance meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in room 102 of the Seattle Vocational Institute, 2120 South Jackson Street. It'll be fun.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

City Design Review Board Undermines Denny

posted by on May 15 at 3:01 PM

Once new construction occupies the hundreds of empty lots in South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle, Denny Way will essentially run through the middle of downtown. Cranes flanking the street, and design proposals filed with the city, show that Denny will be home to thousands of new residents and office workers. One of those proposed buildings, 1200 Stewart, being developed for Lexas Companies, will be a giant among them, standing 400 feet tall with twin towers on a block-long podium.


Thoryk Architecture

The big problem with block-long developments is their tendency to have massive unbroken faces with few or zero urban amenities, which turns off pedestrians. A lack of sidewalk activity makes for a dull and dangerous street. That’s why the downtown design guidelines' number-one requirement for the streetscape is to “promote pedestrian interaction.” Another guideline, for public amenities, is to “design for personal safety & security.”

In practice, this means providing retail at the sidewalk. Shoppers and workers make the street lively and keep an eye out for public safety.

But the latest designs for 1200 Stewart provide no retail along Denny Way, and only a couple of small retail spaces off Denny. And the downtown design-review board approved the latest drawings on Tuesday for the next stage of review with no requirement to build any retail.


“Denny is not going to be coffee shops and newsstands,” said downtown design-review board member James Falconer. “You’re not going to saunter down Denny. You have to accept it for what it is.” (Whether the Department of Planning and Development has officially provided an exemption to the design guidelines for Denny is unclear; calls to DPD for comment haven’t been returned.)

Falconer excused the lack of retail on Denny, saying that there was no place to park cars. But with 800 (!!!) below-grade parking spots in the proposed development, his assertion seems ludicrous.

Malaika Lafferty, who has lived for 11 years in the Cascade neighborhood, which borders Denny at the site of 1200 Stewart, says, “I think honestly, if we’re talking about improving the density in our core, I don’t know how one can do that without providing amenities at street level. It’s about what the neighborhood needs, and we need retail down there.”

I know, I know—Denny is clogged with cars and isn’t a very hospitable place for pedestrians, so building for retail in its current state seems unrealistic. But here’s the thing: Traffic on Denny is fucked—and will only become more fucked—and most of the thousands of newcomers will have feet. So they’ll be walking up Denny to get to Capitol Hill, crossing Denny to go downtown, or walking down Denny to go shopping. It's the only street that functionally connects South Lake Union to Belltown and Capitol Hill. It will be a pedestrian corridor regardless of what we build, so we should plan for pedestrians.

More after the jump.

Continue reading "City Design Review Board Undermines Denny" »

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tonight's Design Meetings

posted by on May 13 at 5:23 PM

Oh, dear Slog. I’ve been derelict in my duties to post about three design-review meetings tonight. My shitty excuse? Apparently there’s a print edition of this paper, so I’ve been tapping away at my keyboard writing words for those paper pages. Hardly any time left now, so here, in truncated and abridged form, are summaries of tonight’s meetings.

6th and Lenora Apartments

These twin 24-story towers of--as the name suggests--apartments by developer the Pine Street Group would rise from the former site of the UA 150 theater. Ah, memories. This project is among several twin towers slated to be built downtown over the next few years. I write about them here.



The question for tonight’s meeting: How will GGLO Architecture design the block-long podium (the six stories that fill out the block’s footprint) so that it looks like something pedestrians will want to stroll past and draw people inside? The meeting begins, like now. The info is here.

1200 Stewart

The developer hasn’t provided renderings for this second early-design-guidance meeting. For more info about the project, check out my post about it over here.

The question for tonight’s meeting, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is: Will this thing really going to get built? Considering it's still in the early-design-guidance stage in the middle of a building slump, completing a twin 400-foot tower project before 2011 seems unlikely. But it would be groovy if Lexas Companies pulls it off, so my fingers are crossed. No renderings yet; I hope to snap some photos at the meeting tonight.

MLK, Jr Way South and South Snoqualmie


This might look like a great design, but—as if time weren’t short enough—I don’t know what it looks like because the .pdf design proposal has crashed my computer three times. So the question to ask at tonight’s meeting: What’s wrong with the design file?

The proposal is for a four-story building containing 83 residential units of affordable hosuing, 8,000 square feet of retail space at the ground level, and parking for 24 vehicles. Info about the meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is right here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

City Gives Initial Nod to Massive Dearborn Development

posted by on May 9 at 12:40 PM

The Department of Planning and Development has conditionally approved plans to demolish the Goodwill building on South Dearborn Street and rezone the area to allow a 10-acre mixed-use development. To seal the deal, a city hearing examiner must approve the proposal, and then the city council must rezone the multi-block site to allow buildings 85 feet tall. The hearing examiner will hold a public hearing on June 9th and is accepting comments till June 6th.


The project, called Dearborn Street, would contain 565 residential units and 700,000 square feet of retail space. To give some context for the size, the PCC in Fremont is about 20,500 square feet. So this is like 34 PCCs worth of one-stop-shopping.


There are two valid sides of the debate over this project. In the corner opposing it, neighbors hate the cookie-cutter style of development and worry that big-box retailers like Target would siphon shoppers away from the mom-and-pop shops a few blocks away on Jackson Street. There are also 2300 parking spaces, and if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on Rainier around Dearborn Street, this won’t make things any easier.

In the other corner, supporters say that the project would provide 200 low-income housing units and support lots of mom-and-pop stores. At the heart of the pro-side, adding a ton of new residents and businesses makes more sense in the middle of the city than just ten acres of parking lots and a second-hand warehouse. Goodwill would remain at the site in a new building.

Thanks for the heads up, hugeasscity.

Our Looming Housing Crisis

posted by on May 9 at 10:19 AM

Couldn't sleep last night, so I sat up and read the new New Yorker. It's the Innovators Issue and there's a Malcolm Gladwell profile of area innovator Nathan Myhrvold. Myhrvold's a Microsoft millionaire and, you know, all innovative and and shit. I'd never heard of Myhrvold or his innovations or his hundreds of millions before... and, in all honestly, I didn't make through the piece. (I skipped ahead, I'm ashamed to say, to a dishy review of Barbara Walters new autobiography.) So I can't tell you just what innovations Myhrvold is busily innovating away at. But I trust Gladwell: If he says Myhrvold's an innovator, that's good enough for me.

But this detail, which comes early Gladwell's piece, stayed with me...

He started Microsoft’s research division, leaving, in 1999, with hundreds of millions. He is obsessed with aperiodic tile patterns. (Imagine a floor tiled in a pattern that never repeats.) When Myhrvold built his own house, on the shores of Lake Washington, outside Seattle—a vast, silvery hypermodernist structure described by his wife as the place in the sci-fi movie where the aliens live—he embedded some sixty aperiodic patterns in the walls, floors, and ceilings. His front garden is planted entirely with vegetation from the Mesozoic era.

I was speaking with a friend this weekend about two couples who, like Myhrvold, worked in tech, got rich, retired, and built insanely elaborate mansions—excuse me, houses—in the area. Microsoft and Amazon and other tech companies, which are all located here for entirely arbitrary reasons (and could pick up and move tomorrow), created hundreds of millionaires and a quite few billionaires. My friend—who isn't rich, but associates with richies—figures that two hundred or more these tech-money mansions—excuse me, "houses"—have been built over the last twenty years by tech millionaires with more money than taste.

Hey, it's their money, and they can spend it however they like. God only knows what kind of monstrosity I'd build—or have built—if I had Myhrvold's money. Probably something like this on top of Beacon Hill.

But here's what I wonder: What is going to happen in twenty or thirty years when the tech booms millionaires start to die off? Who is going to buy all these sci-fi movie mansions with Mesozoic gardens? A lot of insanely elaborate, insanely expensive houses are going to come flooding onto the market all at once—places that cost tens of millions of dollars to build—and there's no guarantee that our region will have the millionaires—billionaires—it's going to take to buy up all these houses when they come up for sale in twenty or thirty years.

So who's going to buy up all these houses in two or three decades? Who's going to live in them?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tonight's Design Meetings

posted by on May 7 at 2:55 PM

Queen of the Hill

The last time a developer proposed a block-long building at the site of the Metropolitan Market on top of Queen Anne, neighbors lost their shit. They didn’t like the size and they didn’t want to lose their neighborhood grocer. QFC later scrapped the proposal. But now, there’s a new plan for the site.

“This is better than the QFC proposal,” says Craig Hanway, chair of land use review committee for Queen Anne Community Council. “This new development is a similar scale but the developer is proposing a smaller grocery store, and they are working actively with Metropolitan Market to maintain them as a tenant.”

In addition to housing a grocery store and a few small retail spaces, the proposed four-story building would contain about 105 apartments above, and parking below grade. But it’s still a massive block-long development.


Tiscareno Associates

About 100 people attended an open house on Monday. “Some people had concerns about traffic, some had concerns about noise associated with truck traffic,” says Jeff Smith of the developer, Emerald Bay Equity. “We’re doing our part to mitigate noise.” A meeting tonight for early design guidance—the first for this project—will begin at 6:30 p.m. in room 1 of the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West.

Bottom of the Hill

At the other end of the community-involvement spectrum, a proposed apartment building at the southwest foot of Queen Anne is getting no love. A report after the last meeting said: “There were no public comments received; no one from the general public attended the meeting.” Aww.

However, the design board members did attend: “Improving the quality of the streetscape is of utmost importance,” they wrote in a report. “The Board felt that that architectural statement could be simpler.” Here’s the design criticized by the board.


And here’s the "new-and-improved" design they’ll be reviewing tonight.


Nicholson Kovalchick Architects

I think I liked the previous version more. But anyway, the site is currently used as a parking lot with 26 spaces. The new building, if built, will stand six stories, contain 40 apartments, and 20 parking spaces. That’s half a space per unit—the undignified horror. The public meeting—which will be more fun than rolling in the ocean surf with otter pups—is at 8:00 p.m. in room 1 of the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West.

Between the Hills

Two back-to-back meetings tonight will review portions of a bio-tech campus envisioned by the Blume Company, one of the largest players redeveloping South Lake Union after Vulcan. To the south, a four-story, four-building complex filling the entire block at Yale Avenue North and Mercer Street (map); to the north, along a winding tree-lined avenue called a woonerf, two more buildings (map). Behold.



NBBJ Architects

The glitzy new buildings—characteristic of the glass and concrete buildings coming to define SLU—will replace several light-industrial and storage warehouses.

“We don’t have any signed leases and we are still in the planning stages,” says Blume’s Tara Raymond. “If we had a medical or biotech company come along that would be fine, or if one of Amazon's partners came along, we would be thrilled.“ But will such a tenant be looking for spendy new digs in this mopey economy? “Actually, its interesting because the need [for office space] is there, unlike the residential decline,” says Raymond. “I actually think that things are getting better. Knock on wood, of course.”

The meeting for the larger southern portion begins at 6:30 p.m.; the second meeting begins at 8:00 pm.—both in the library at TOPS School, 2500 Franklin Avenue East.

Awkward Moments in South Lake Union Planning

posted by on May 7 at 1:17 PM

A meeting of the South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors group (SLUFAN), a community group loyal to the mayor’s and Vulcan’s development agenda, last night was supposed to accomplish, among other things, two goals: to hold an “urban form discussion” about its rezoning proposals for neighborhood growth, and to choose between two candidates tied for a board seat in a neighborhood-wide election. Easier said than done.

PART ONE—A room in the South Lake Union Armory building was stuffed with people who had read an article about SLUFAN considering recommendations to allow 400-foot-tall buildings in the neighborhood. The topic was allotted 50 minutes on the agenda; a gigantic portfolio that contained diagrams of the proposals leaned in the corner. But after a quick announcement that two future meetings would be held to discuss the plans, the board President, Dawn Oliver, noting the large turnout, simply asked if anyone had any comments. “What’s this I read about 400-foot buildings?” asked a man in the audience. The board members began to debate—was this or was this not the appropriate time to present the plans? Jim Holmes of the city’s Department of Planning and Development inched toward the diagrams—which he’d obviously brought to show the group. Each time a board member voiced support for showing the proposals, Holmes reached to open the portfolio, but then, as another member would oppose the presentation, Holmes would retract his hand. The board exchanged furtive glances; the crowd looked expectant. Vulcan’s Phil Fujii, one the SLUFAN’s board members, finally took a stand in favor of showing the drawings. And out they came.

Three rezoning proposals are on the table (all still in flux) for the roughly 66 blocks of the South Lake Union neighborhood.

1. This would be the highest-density scheme, containing about 25 blocks where commercial buildings could reach up to 240 feet and residential buildings up to 400 feet. The remaining blocks would allow mostly 125- to 300-foot-tall buildings (a few blocks would be unchanged). In effect, downtown would stretch from the northern border of the International District to the southern shores of Lake Union. I know, right.

2. This would be the lowest-density upzone, with heights peaking out around 160 feet (catching up with the recent zoning accommodations for the planned Amazon complex), but many of the blocks would maintain the existing height limits between 65 and 85 feet.

3. The final proposal is a compromise between the height limits of number one and number three.

The notion that 400-foot towers could blanket a traditionally low-density area—predictably—raised hackles in the audience. “Just because you have that height limit to the south [of Denny Way] is not justification to do that to the north,” said a white-haired woman. She complained the buildings would block views: “It is going to depreciate the value of that property [with a blocked view].”

A tense moment after the jump.

Continue reading "Awkward Moments in South Lake Union Planning" »

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Design Reviews: Knocked Down Downtown

posted by on May 6 at 3:04 PM

Third Avenue and Cedar Street

The end is near for the one-story, wooden building owned by the Musicians Union of Seattle since 1948 on the southeast corner of Third and Cedar. Harbor Properties plans to demolish and replace it with a 17-story, 185-unit apartment building with 3,000 square feet of retail at street level. According to the city's recent notice, parking would be provided for 86 vehicles—egads, that’s less that one car per unit! How will the city function? Ahem. Here’s the design:



Hewitt Architects

The Musicians Union will be displaced during construction, which they expect to commence this fall, but plans to return after construction is completed. The meeting is at 7:00 p.m. in room 1600 of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue.

Eighth Avenue and Stewart Street

The intersection will be unrecognizable in a few years. The old Greyhound Bus station will be replaced by this, up the block to the east is this, and to the north will be this. And on the corner, Schnitzer West will demolish the 5-story Watermark Credit Union building and replace it with a 14-story office building with 10,000 square feet of ground-level retail.


The downtown design-review board will hold a guidance meeting for the project—no images yet—at 5:30 p.m. in room 1600 of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue. This is a very different (that is, smaller) project that originally proposed for the site in 2006.

Subject Line of the Day

posted by on May 6 at 1:27 PM

"Chipotle Launches Naturally Raised Chicken"

If Not South Lake Union, Then Where?

posted by on May 6 at 12:03 PM

[A] South Lake Union group is considering new proposals that would… seek zoning changes to allow 300- or 400-foot buildings in response to business interest in the growing area.

That has some residents, business owners and concerned citizens crying foul. They fear that if the new heights are ultimately approved, views from every neighborhood around Lake Union would be blocked, beloved parks and P-patches would lose sunlight to shade, and any vision for a walkable, "livable" South Lake Union would be destroyed.

"Any way you look at this, 400-foot height limits is very scary," said [Diane] Masson, regional marketing director for Mirabella, a continuing retirement community run by Pacific Retirement Services.

"I favor a few, tall narrow towers. ... It's not true that 400-tall buildings will block views," said [Queen Anne Community Council member John] Coney, who favors concentrating jobs, buildings and residential density in South Lake Union. "The principle behind urban centers is ... that you provide people the opportunity to live near where they work."

"Building 400 feet and out to the lot line could create a concrete jungle and blot out the sun," [Masson] said.

Concerns about darkened sidewalks and unwalkable cities are understandable--nobody wants a dark, desolate city--but they're unfounded.

Under this proposed zoning change, the rules that would apply to SLU would undoubtedly reflect the zoning regulations that apply the parts of Seattle where 400-foot construction is already permitted. Towers are restricted to around 11,000 square feet per floor, preserving view corridors and letting in light. The rest of the building that abuts the curb would be mostly limited to six-to-eight stories; that’s the same height as most buildings in Paris, where streets are walkable and bright. (Filling out lot lines with mixed-use buildings creates walkable, livable cities--not dark, unwalkable cities.) Even in the business district of downtown Seattle, where the towers are 500-900 feet tall, streets are still walkable and bright. Perhaps not bright enough for a vegetable garden, but it is downtown, and, really, SLU is destined to be part of downtown, too.

But even where the zoning allows it, not every block supports a skyscraper—some squat old buildings remain and developers choose not to fill out the zoning envelope for economic reasons at other sites. The market creates a mix of different heights.

And I've tried, but I cannot muster sympathy for the “I’m losing my sacred view” crowd. Views of skyscrapers are awesome. In fact, that’s what you should see when you look out the window in the middle of the fucking city. If you want to see the water or mountains, Seattle will always have plenty of those views—just not from the middle of downtown. Suck it up.

Here’s where I totally agree with the anti-density folks: 400-foot buildings shouldn’t be built right up to the shore of Lake Union. 85-foot zoning in the block-and-a-half back from the water’s edge (like what’s already being built around West Lake Union), provides density while leaving bright spaces and pedestrian-friendly boulevards. That’s an easy compromise.

In the next 32 years, 1.7 million people are expected to move to the Puget Sound region. Those people have to go somewhere. Sprawl is bad land use. Neighbors in single-family housing neighborhoods would have kittens if development one-third this density were proposed near their homes. If not South Lake Union, then where?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Design Reviews: Rebuilding Frellingford

posted by on May 5 at 2:40 PM

Two projects between Fremont and Wallingford scheduled for design reviews today would bring lots of residents and business to the area, but residents are concerned they could also bring more traffic problems.

Stone Way Village

The corner of North 40th Street and Stone Way North for years has been home to a despairing pit, but several months ago Prescott Homes announced plans to build a five-story, mixed use development containing 155 units.

Alicia Van Buskirk organizes a committee of neighbors that has met with the Department of Planning and Development several times over the past few years to discuss plans (originally QFC planed to build on the site but then dropped its proposal). “This is already a very traffic intensive neighborhood—they just need to make sure the traffic doesn’t make it any more dangerous,” says Van Buskirk. “They are going to put 150 homes in a half block… It seems like new projects should be able to keep impacts on their site—that means providing enough parking for residents and customers.”

After an early design-guidance meeting in February, a report from the Department of Planning and Development quoted neighborhood comments: “190 parking spaces are not enough for 160 proposed units. (This was mentioned by several speakers).”

Another issue regarded the scale of the project, which stretches a full block from 39th to 40th. Michael Derr, Director of Development for Prescott, said after the meeting, “We’re trying to make a design that is not monolithic… and design in a way that villages tend to grow, breaking it up into two distinct sections.”

But that wasn’t enough for the design board: “The four Board members unanimously urged the architect to reduce the overall massing of the project… [the design] should resemble a village of four to five structures rather than the three shown in the design review packet,” said a recently released report. So tonight’s proposal attempts to satisfy the board’s request. Here is the preferred scheme:



Baylis Architects

“I’m worried that it’s just going to be one solid box,” says Van Buskirk, who hadn't seen the designs. “They said they wanted to make it look like different buildings, but I think it’s just going to be one bulky piece with a few indentations.” The design meeting is tonight at 8:00 p.m. in room 209 of the University Heights Community Center, 5031 University Way NE.

Union View


TSA Architects

The second development is kitty corner, at North 39th Street and Stone Way. The proposal is for a four-story residential building, containing 62 apartments and 3,500 square feet of retail on the ground floor. Parking spaces for 78 vehicles would be inside, however, after some of those spaces are used for commercial vehicles, that would “leave only one parking space per residential unit, and that’s not enough,” says Van Buskirk.

“We’ve had a traffic study done, and we’re looking to accommodate the parking required within the project,” says Kent Smutny of TSA Architects. “As far as those [vehicle] trips, we’re looking at reducing those best we can—getting credit for bus service, that type of thing—that’s where’s we are right now.” The design meeting is tonight at 6:30 p.m. in room 209 of the University Heights Community Center, 5031 University Way NE.