“I’d like to thank you for inviting me to this three-minute speed dating with the Capitol Hill community,” John Marasco chuckled from the stage of the Broadway Performance Hall.
Marasco is the Chief Development Officer of Security Properties, one of the nine developer groups competing for the land above Capitol Hill Station. Each was introduced to the neighborhood and given three minutes to convince the community of its value at Monday night’s community meeting, a collaboration between Sound Transit and the Capitol Hill Champion. Capitol Hill was introduced to each hopeful developer, which had three minutes to present its case, and then a chance to give comments and concerns regarding community priorities at the sites up for grab.
“Tonight we’re going to turn the typical format of a public meeting on its head,” Jeff Munnoch, Sound Transit Director of Community Outreach, said. “Typically when you come to one of these things, people on the stage have the information, and the people in the audience need that information and have questions that they want answered. Tonight, the roles are reversed. You guys are the local experts tonight; you have the information that these folks need to do their job.”
Since its creation in 2009, the Champion has been fighting for the community’s priorities for the Capitol Hill Station development. As a collaboration between the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Community Council, the Champion has the voice of both residents and businesses.
Based on community feedback and reports at its first meeting in 2009, the Champion created a Recommendations Report for the city and Sound Transit regarding Sound Transit’s surplus properties. Over the years, the Champion held public forums, attended community meetings, and even sat at a card table at the Broadway Farmers Market and asked for neighborhood input. Then, led by Vanessa Murdock, with the city, Sound Transit, and the Champion, they began working on the Urban Design Framework, which was adopted in 2013.
“The amazing thing is that that recommendations report doesn’t look all that different from what we’re looking at today. The community has been remarkably consistent about what they want to see at this site,” said Michael Wells, Executive Director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, member of the Broadway Improvement Association, and second-in-command to Cathy Hillenbrand of the Champion.
So, what are Capitol Hill’s priorities? That the Broadway Farmers Market be a permanent tenant of the plaza space on site A, and at a sustainable rent. That there be a lot of affordable, mixed-income housing that accommodates a diverse community – artist spaces, families, seniors, and so on. That there be a community cultural center run by an LGBTQ or arts organization. That the layout makes transit and pass-through easy and safe. That it be pedestrian- and bike-friendly. That it be sustainable.
“Right now we are getting bars, restaurants, banks, and fitness studios, and I think that we’re all getting really tired of that,” Hillenbrand said.
Hillenbrand added that the community priorities are deliberately unranked since the Champion’s vision is an integrated development where all parts contribute to the success of the whole.
The developer presentations used their three minutes to convince the community of its good intentions and desire to make the community vision a reality.
Bellwether Housing,which would like to develop site B-North, has developed and managed apartments in the area for 24 years, and manages 30 properties in Seattle.
Tory Laughlin Taylor, Deputy Director of Bellwether Housing said that her team’s core values are establishing long-term relationships, increased affordability, and environmental sustainability.
“Here’s the key thing that you need to know about non-profits as developers: we’re in it for the long haul. We expect to always own our buildings, and that informs every decision that we make… so we build with quality so that our buildings endure well,” Laughlin Taylor said.
David Dologite, the Director of Real Estate and Sustainable Communities at Capitol Hill Housing, noted that his team had an ongoing 38-year history with the Capitol Hill community, and he pointed to projects like The Jefferson Apartments on 12th Avenue, and the mixed-use 12th Avenue Arts center, which is currently under construction. Capitol Hill Housing currently manages 44 buildings (the count moves to 45 once 12th Avenue Arts opens), and would like to add to that site B-North.
“We have a deep and enduring commitment to provide long-term affordable housing to all members of our community,” Dologite said.
Jonathan Rose Companies, a joint venture with Capitol Hill Housing, wants to be a Master Developer (develop on all of the available sites). Kristin Neil Ryan, the Director of Jonathan Rose Companies’ Seattle branch said, “We only develop in the places that we live in. This allows us to bring first-hand knowledge to the projects.” Neil Ryan lives on the Hill.
Jonathan Rose Companies has a 40-year history with the Capitol Hill community and has worked on projects like schools, performing arts centers, parks, and open spaces.
Neil Ryan spoke as though the Broadway Farmers Marker were a sure thing for her group, that it would be the nucleus of their development.
Gerding Edlen is also competing to be a Master Developer. Jill Sherman, its Vice President, said that community outreach is part of everything that her team does. The team is based in Portland, but is active nationally and in Seattle.
“We specialize in urban, mixed-use, transit-oriented, sustainable development. We have proposed as a Master Developer because we believe that approaching the sites holistically offers opportunities that would be missed otherwise,” Sherman said. Though she added that her company is also open to working with other entities if that’s the result.
Then there’s Lennar Multifamily Communities that wants sites B-South and C. President of Lennar Multifamily Communities Brad Reisinger said that his team has over 50 years of combined experience and 60 projects in the Seattle market, including one on Madison.
One of its current projects in West Seattle, The Wittaker, is similar to the desired Capitol Hill Station site, and the company collaborated with the community to achieve it. Reisinger said that in one place the community asked for a 20-foot pass-through, and Lennar Multifamily Communities built one that was 50-foot and included things like a canopy to protect pedestrians from rain.
Senior Vice President of Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group Suzi Morris, also wants to be a Master Developer. The company is based in Los Angelus, but has had a local team in Seattle for the last 15 years.
Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group worked with the community on the Broadway Action Plan, and takes credit for the recent Red Lion Hotel renovations downtown and a condominium project in First Hill that will break ground in August.
“We don’t think that there are many challenges because we’ve developed a great team that is here to address the challenges,” Morris said.
Presenting for MacFarlane Partners was Lauren Smartt. MacFarlane Partners is a family company based in San Francisco, though it claims three projects in Seattle and one in Bellevue.
“Just to tell you a little bit about what makes up tick, community outreach is a huge thing for us,” Smartt said.
She lives across from The Uptown, a private-public partnership, multi-use building in Oakland, California that has similar requirements of the Capitol Hill Station sites, and also incorporates the city’s underground transportation, the BART.
MacFarlane Partners hopes to be a Master Developer.
Another family-run business, the Wolff Company has its eyes on site A. It’s responsible for luxury apartments like Pike Motorworks and Sunset Electric on Capitol Hill.
The company was founded in Washington 65 years ago, said Pete Wolff. His brother, a managing partner who oversees all of the Wolff Company’s development, lives on the Hill.
“We love this neighborhood, and we want to see that as it moves forward, the DNA of Capitol Hill, and the qualities that make it special to all of us in this room are preserved,” Wolff said.
Security Properties, also competing for site A, has had a local, Seattle-based team since 1969. All of its current properties in Seattle participate in the Multifamily Property Tax Exemption Program to offer affordable housing.
“We’re not only place-makers, we’re customers. My wife and I have driven across town to this farmers market for many years,” Marasco said. “We’re proposing to develop site A because we believe that we’re the best team to get the building’s relationship with the plaza and the farmers market right.”
The developers asked the community to clarify a few questions like if there’s a preference for rental or owned housing, what a correct ratio of parking is, if the neighborhood prefers the allocated affordable housing to be extended, or that there be more of it. The most repeated question, though, was how the developers could stay engaged with the community. That, the community will find out by stayingtuned to the Champion and Sound Transit updates, and by attending public meetings on the topic like these.
Coming up, mid-June the community can anticipate the release of Sound Transit’s RFP. Proposal deadlines are due in September, and then TOD site developers should be approved towards the end of October.
Wells opened the meeting with the following, but it function just as good as a closer: “Robert Frost had a poem called ‘Mending Walls,’ which you’ve all heard about. The famous line is that fences make good neighbors. But what people forget is that Robert Frost made a criticism of that in that same poem. The person who was commending fences was his neighbor, and he said that that neighbor lacked frivolity and fancy – something that Capitol Hill has never lacked any of. He also said that spring was all around him and yet his neighbor moved in darkness. There’s no need to move in darkness in this project. We spent years creating sunlight around this, and we’re really looking forward to this work.”