Site A will include 150 apartments and 22,865 square feet of retail.
Site A will include 150 apartments and 22,865 square feet of retail.
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There were many aspects of the four-site Capitol Hill transit-oriented development the East Design Review Board liked, but confidence was not high enough to clear it for permitting on Wednesday.

Situated above the light rail station, the transit-oriented development will be Capitol Hill’s largest construction project to date, creating more than 400 apartment units in a superblock that borders Broadway, 10th Avenue, East John Street and East Denny Way.

Each of the four buildings will be seven stories. Three will provide around 20 percent of their apartment units at affordable levels, while the Capitol Hill Housing B-North site will include 110 units at affordability rates of 30-60 percent of the area median income.

The East Design Review Board’s last assessment of the development, which is being led by Portland-based Gerding Edlen Development (GED), was in December. Board members agreed developers responded to the guidance provided at that time, but didn’t feel every response hit the mark.

Site A

Site A will face Broadway, sitting next to the north light rail station entry at East John Street. It is designed as two structures, with a pedestrian pass-through that connects to a central plaza.

Twenty-two percent of its 150 apartment units will meet affordability standards.

EDRB chair Curtis Bigelow said he liked the design presented during December’s Early Design Guidance meeting better, particularly the modulation of the building’s Broadway-facing facade that put focus on each storefront area. He focused on a “lantern” style with its ground-floor window treatments. The windows remained in the latest interaction, but with a more flat facade.

“This is a really good building,” Bigelow said. “I think we were expecting it to be a great building.”

Board member Barbara Busetti said Site A felt very long, and concrete piers help break up the space.

Some board members wanted the buildings to have more similar elements that tied them all together, though they agreed those features should be subtle. Busetti said it was important that not all of the buildings look like a singular development.

Site A will also include 22,865 square feet of ground-floor retail, with a large anchor tenant planned on the north end.

GED partner Jill Sherman told one Broadway business owner on Wednesday that locking down an anchor tenant has proven harder than expected, though the developer is still in active conversations with several prospective lessees. If it comes to a point where a viable tenant can’t be found for the space, Sherman said, GED could split it up for a few tenants. She added those spaces would still be sizable.

Central Co-op had launched a campaign last year to be considered as the anchor grocery tenant, but later pulled out due to the higher than expected cost.

A rooftop garden is planned for Site A, and developers are working on the concept with Roof Crop, said landscape architect Jonathan Morley with Berger Partnership. Roof Crop would grow food to be available within the site, possibly in a restaurant or at the Broadway Farmers Market, which will use the central plaza as its permanent home following construction.

Site B-South

The East Denny side of Site B-South received the most attention of anything else featured on that structure, as it is proposed to be two residential units; there will be 74 total in B-South. EDRB member Andrew Haas and Bigelow felt retail would be best there — the Denny Festival Street will be activated for special events and the Broadway Farmers Market. Grace Kim with Schemata Workshop said they’d asked for retail on Denny, but the development agreement GED reached with Sound Transit and the city required those spaces to be residential, though the option to switch in the future is included in the design. Haas later said he felt the development agreement is stuck a decade in the past and doesn’t reflect the growth coming into the neighborhood.

The board generally supported a departure for a 7 1/2 foot setback rather than 10 feet on East Denny, though Haas argued that could prevent outdoor seating should retail replace residences in the future.

Developers are still hoping to use the plaza-facing side of Site B-South for a restaurant.

Site B-North

Capitol Hill Housing’s 100-percent affordable housing development — with 110 units and a 1,400-square-foot community room — received some colorful comments on Wednesday.

“I would go with a different color,” said board member Kenny Pleasant.

The latest design shows several shades of green and teal paneling.

“I do think that color is used a lot to spruce up affordable housing,” Busetti said.

Pleasant also felt the building itself was bulky and lacking in modulation. Kim said they tried to keep the modulation, but it made the studio apartments two feet shorter.

“That modulation means I have to use less expensive materials on the ground floor,” Kim added.

Busetti said she did like the use of dark brick on part of the ground floor.

The design board agreed that the entire development needs to be done right, considering its long-term impacts on the neighborhood.

“Timeless would be an important quality, I think, for this building,” Busetti said.

She said the lack of balcony space could also result in the building being confused for an office.

Haas said he wanted the community room running along East John Street to have an entrance there, rather than on 10th Avenue.

The design board ultimately supported a departure request to bring the height of the community room from 13 feet to 11.6 feet in order to not impact affordable housing above.

“I want it to be taller,” said board member Melissa Alexander, “but I want those affordable units more.”

Alexander agreed with the developers that reducing the depth of the community room from 30 to 19 feet would make the space more dynamic, especially with art added.

Paul Feldman, who is with the Seattle AIDS Legacy Memorial group, said he’s excited about the Capitol Hill transit-oriented development’s art program. The group was convened in 2015 by former city councilmember Tom Rasmussen and the director of the Museum of History & Industry to create a memorial to those who lost their lives at the height of the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Morley said conversations with Seattle AIDS Legacy Memorial about a mural are ongoing, and could be in the community room or on the light rail station vent room, which is sited near the central plaza.

Site C

Site C will be at Broadway and East Denny Way, and includes 94 apartment units and 11,960 square feet of retail space.

Bigelow remained adamantly opposed to using prime Broadway retail frontage at Site C for a daycare.

“I still think it’s a terrible idea to put ground-floor childcare on Broadway,” he said, “and I will not be supporting it.” Bigelow later doubled down on his opposition. “Frankly, I can’t support the project with this.”

The transit-oriented development had originally planned for Capitol Hill Housing to take on the daycare center in its B-North development, but it was moved to Site C to allow for the design of an outdoor play space.

Julia Nagele with Hewitt architecture firm, which also designed the light rail station entries, said the daycare is currently designed at 60 feet wide along Broadway. Bigelow said that could accommodate three retail spaces.

“I would say there looks like plenty of opportunity on the second floor,” Pleasant said about daycare space.

A 2,200-square-foot outdoor play area is planned behind the daycare.

Retail space is still designed on the north end of Site C at Broadway, and wraps around East Denny Way, which could potentially accommodate two or three businesses.

Brie Gyncild with Capitol Hill Champion, which was formed by the Capitol Hill Community Council and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to represent neighborhood interests in the project, expressed the group’s support for the daycare center. She said she understood the board’s desire to promote a pedestrian environment on Broadway, and that there are tensions when it comes to community priorities.

“We also hear over and over again how desperate people are for good, quality daycare options,” Gyncild said.

Plaza

The East Design Review Board responded positively to a major change in the central plaza, which is now more elliptical and includes more tree plantings. SDOT removed a requirement that the Nagle Place Extension run from East John Street to East Denny Way, which meant less staggered seating than what was proposed in the EDG.

“I felt the evolution from these jagged retaining walls to this ellipse was wonderful,” Busetti said.

Morley said LED lights are planned at the plaza edges and on building overhangs.

Several EDRB members called for specialty paving on the Nagle Place Extension, which runs between Sites A and B-North, in order to discourage vehicles from going beyond it. The extension will allow for delivery trucks to access Site A.

Next steps

Developers had asked if portions of the project could be allowed through for master use permitting, but EDRB members voted on each of the four buildings and determined the entire project would need to return for another recommendation meeting.

Site D

Seattle Central remains in negotiations with Sound Transit to purchase surplus property north of its campus, leftover from development of the Capitol Hill link light rail extension. The college has the right of first refusal to purchase Site D.

Sarah Lovell, transit-oriented development program manager for Sound Transit, came to Wednesday night’s EDRB meeting to support the development. She later told CHT she believes an agreement for Site D is close.

Seattle Central plans to use the space for an academic building, and will divert affordable housing requirements further south of campus by redeveloping other properties through a public-private partnership.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick told CHT in early August that the agency and Seattle Central were in the final stages of negotiations.

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