“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The red wall on Broadway has become a fixture of daily life on Capitol Hill, but it won’t be long before it exists solely in archival footage and photographs. When the wall enclosing the development site of the Capitol Hill light rail station comes down, permanent structures of higher utility will replace it. Currently, Sound Transit and the Seattle Department of Planning and Development are in the early stages of determining what will happen to four building sites opened up by the light rail project.
The two organizations had one of many public meetings on Sept. 24 at Lowell Elementary School to discuss the development issue. As has been the case with many recent construction proposals on the Hill, a good cross-section of the community attended to have their questions answered and their voices heard.
The building sites in question cover a few blocks along Broadway next to Cal Anderson Park. The east border is on 10th Avenue, the north border is John Street, and the majority of the development will impact Nagle Place. Sound Transit currently owns all of this land, but it is legally obligated to sell it once construction of the light rail line and Capitol Hill Station are complete. The funds used to purchase the land came from local, state, and federal tax dollars designated specifically for transit purposes. All four sites will be sold to private parties, though with a long list of conditions and provisions to match the agendas of the city and the neighborhood. The City of Seattle could purchase any of the sites, but a representative of the DPD stated at Monday’s meeting that, “The city is currently in no position to acquire any of this land.”
City Council has been very specific about its goals for the Capitol Hill Station area. Some of the requirements placed on prospective developers are unprecedented in their specificity, especially the encumbrance on all developers of market rate housing to price a minimum of 20 percent of the units they build at “affordable housing” rates. Affordable rates are given to households determined to live on various fractions of the area median income and are subject to change each year. The encumbrance requires housing developers to maintain that 20 percent minimum for 12 years, though there are already plans to show preference for any developer that is willing to exceed those minimums.
In addition, one of the building sites, Site B North, has been reserved entirely for affordable housing developed and administered by a not-for-profit entity. Site B North is the larger of the two parts of Site B between Denny and John on 10th Avenue. The housing at this site is expected to be offered to households that live at or below 60 percent of the area median income.
Though none of the development sites will be publicly owned land, a significant portion will be reserved for public use. Specifically, a plaza area behind Site A on Broadway has already been more or less promised to the Broadway Farmers Market as a permanent home for two to three days a week. Currently, the market runs once a week on Sunday on an increasingly long stretch of Seattle Central Community College land. It has yet to be determined what will happen in the plaza space during the rest of the week, but Sound Transit has indicated that it will give strong preference to any developer that will keep the plaza open for frequent programming. It is likely that Site A will be sold for the creation of a community and culture center that would then be responsible for coordinating programming on the site.
The rest of the available land is expected to grow into commercial and residential space in keeping with the mixed-use philosophy that has become standard for most development throughout the city. To this end, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Community Council are both heavily involved in the ongoing discussion of the land’s usage. At many public meetings, including the introduction on Sept. 24, several people voiced concern over the priority for local businesses in Capitol Hill. Broadway north of the station site is dominated by local, independently owned restaurants, retail, and services, but Broadway south of the site has a significant number of national chain businesses. There are currently no formal metrics to determine if a developer’s intentions match the community’s wishes for the neighborhood. A system for allotting points to development proposals will be in place by the time developers begin submitting applications in 2014.
Sound Transit and the Seattle Department of Planning and Development are asking for public input about the ongoing Capitol Hill Station project. The DPD and Sound Transit websites update frequently with design documents and announcements of public meetings. Questions can be directed to Rhonda Dixon, the Community Outreach Coordinator for Sound Transit.