The Pike/Pine corridor doesn’t have many character structures left over from the ’40s and earlier, but preservation-minded Capitol Hill residents like Liz Dunn don’t want to see them come down over mandatory affordable housing requirements being developed by the city.
The Dunn + Hobbes developer was adamant during a Monday Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council meeting that a conservation overlay incentive and Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program can coexist in a way that preserves character structures and lets Seattle reach its housing goals over the next decade.
The neighborhood advocated for, and the city council approved the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District in 2009. It has been amended several times since then, but currently gives developers incentives to preserve character structures during redevelopment; one being the ability to construct a building an additional 10 feet — from 65 to 75 feet.
The proposed upzone through the Mandatory Housing Affordability program would allow developers to construct projects up to 75 feet without preserving the character structure.
While the conservation overlay would remain, PPUNC members believe the added cost of construction above 75 feet will discourage developers from using the incentive to go to 85 feet.
The MHA program is anticipated to generate 6,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years, by requiring developers to include them in their projects or pay a formulaic fee to the city of Seattle to invest in housing. The incentive from the program includes numerous upzones around the city. So far, Downtown, South Lake Union and the University District have been upzoned.
“We’d like to have both,” said PPUNC chair John Feit, “and I think we’re looking here for ideas to do that.”
Seattle city planner Geoff Wentlandt with the Office of Planning and Community Development had shown draft zoning changes to attendees of PPUNC’s January meeting. Feit and others said then that the proposal didn’t seem like it would continue to encourage developers to use the conservation incentive.
Wentlandt was back with PPUNC Monday, where the two-hour meeting was dedicated to strategizing a solution. He said the city believes the overlay and MHA can work together, but there is a strong need to ensure affordable housing goals set by the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) are met.
“The only way we get there is if we have an affordable housing program in every neighborhood,” Wentlandt said.
Dunn said Capitol Hill is a neighborhood that has long promoted increased density, but also preserving the few character structures left in the Pike/Pine corridor.
“We’ve gone way beyond to encourage development,” she said.
The largest remaining character structure in the Pike/Pine overlay is the Richmark Label Building, which Wentlandt used to show examples of redevelopment conditions under existing regulations, and then with the proposed upzone and overlay incentive.
“The architects are squirming at me and saying I’m crazy,” he noted during the presentation.
Dunn said the proposal would only work if developers weren’t given a choice between Type 5 construction and more costly 3A construction. Then the cost of leasing market-rate units would be at a premium, she added.
Wentlandt said he does believe there is a way to strengthen the conservation overlay requirements so they take priority over the MHA program.
Capitol Hill Housing board chair Cathy Hillenbrand said she’d like to see Pike/Pine upzoned and preservation be a requirement, not an incentive, in the conservation overlay.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into developing this conservation overlay district and implementing it,” she said.
Wentlandt said there could be ways to make not using the overlay incentive undesirable.
“Extremely undesirable,” Dunn added.
The Seattle planner proposed for consideration keeping the additional floor bump, but not placing MHA program requirements on the top floor of a new development. That would mean a developer could pay less for affordable housing through character structure retention.
Weber Thompson architecture firm principal Jeff Reibman said that would be a strong approach, but he would hate to take away affordable housing. Dunn said there are likely a little more than a dozen character structures remaining in the overlay district.
Wentlandt said he will plan on returning to PPUNC with a package of options, with an MHA reduction incentive as a fallback to reconsider.