Capitol Hill light rail development panel notes: ‘This place is going to be electric’

We called last Wednesday night’s Capitol Hill Housing annual meeting the Super Bowl for the Hill’s urban planning geeks. You can now enjoy the big game for yourself, thanks to the Seattle Channel. Video from the discussion “Capitol Hill 2016” with panelists Dow Constantine, King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Member, Cathy Hillenbrand, Co-Chair Capitol Hill TOD Champions, Grace Kim, architect at Schemata Workshop, Michael Malone, founder, Hunters Capital, Matt Roewe, Design Director, Via Architecture and Alex Steffens, founder and executive editor,, and moderator C.R. Douglas is below along with some commentary from the sidelines. The discussion was focused on the “transit oriented development” process that will shape the way the property that is part of the Capitol Hill light rail station is utilized in terms of community space, housing, retail and more. Here’s a look at CHS’s archives on TOD for background. We recently reported on the community effort to provide feedback and guidance to Sound Transit here.

CHS Game Notes:

  • Capitol Hill Housing’s Chris Persons namechecked CHS for our geek Super Bowl line during his opening remarks. Touchdown.
  • Hill developer Malone was the livest wire of the bunch. He managed to poo-poo community centers, urban planning, Seattle Central and the Joule Apartments all while being relatively charming and definitely entertaining.
  • Constantine played it pretty safe most of the night but did make it clear that he considers the station development a critical component of the region’s future. “What is done with this land is going to be critical to the future of this city,” Constantine said.
  • He was less clear on how the community can work with him to cut through the “fair market value” wall that officials often invoke when discussing community uses for the future station’s development.
  • Architect Roewe made a nice point. “We’re calling it TOD but it’s really what a lot of TOD aspires to be,” Roewe said. “It’s already a neighborhood. It’s vital. It’s authentic.”
  •  Roewe’s write-up on the panel, by the way, is here. Here’s a passage that describes another of the better exchanges from the night:

In my alter ego as Dr. Density, my approach was to swing for the fence and boldly propose that a stellar, 200’ or taller iconic residential tower be place on this site as a graceful and stunning beacon of light signifying this new nexus location. I framed this as just one lone skinny tower with a 30’ to 40’ tall podium at the base. One of the benefits of this approach would be the added value of a high end tower with more capacity traded for building public amenities desired by the neighborhood. By doubling the value or more, some portion of the profit could be directed by the private sector to help fund the public plaza, community center, subsidized local retail, wider sidewalks and of course, affordable housing. That will be an interesting equation that won’t fund everything, but will certainly help justify the upzone. surprisingly loved the iconic tower idea.


Even the panelists liked it, after initially not thinking it was the direction to go. Thus, the most vibrant and engaged community in the region may boldly support a responsible and well crafted development that is catalyzed by a significant tower that breaks all the zoning rules. Maybe we need a radical process to envision a solution that fully meets the community’s aspirations.

  • While Roewe played Dr. Density, Malone played Mr. Free Market and said too many restrictions would stifle the natural development of the neighborhood.
  • Malone on SCCC: “Looks like somebody was a brick sales person.”
  • Hillenbrand and Kim have been working together on the community TOD planning process (CHS has been attending those, too) and struck many of the same tones. For a better, more complete view of the ideas they talk about in the video above, check out this report their community group produced following a series of public meetings and a design charette seminar.
  • Haven’t mentioned one of the biggest names on the panel yet. Steffen of took a broader view through the evening, asking the audience to think of the station as a trailhead and to consider decisions on how to develop the property in terms of distributing thousands of riders into a walkable environment. In other words, he wasn’t as fun to listen to as the chatter about whether there should be a bakery or not. Sorry Steffen. It’s hard to be right.
  • We awarded only three penalties during the panel session. Malone earned one for his smackdown of the Joule building (though it got a good laugh) and Grace Kim got dinged twice: one for being the first panelist to invoke Portland as an example of what Seattle should do and a second penalty for using the word “programming” in terms of urban design.
  • Roewe again: “This neighborhood epitomizes urban living. It’s becoming the nexus of all these transit modes. This place is going to be electric.”
  • And, almost forgot, Malone cemented his maverick status when he also poo-pooed the Broadway streetcar route. “We’re just going to get another SLUT up here,” Malone said, sounding happy he got to use the line.

Miss last year’s big game? Here’s our coverage of the 2009 annual meeting panel’s discussion of 12th Ave.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

3 thoughts on “Capitol Hill light rail development panel notes: ‘This place is going to be electric’

  1. Malone at the TOD meeting: “just going to get another slut up here”

    [ Slut = aka slattern. def. shamefully promiscuous, a person of low character, (from wikipedia: “a person who lacks the ability or chooses not to exercise a power of discernment to order their affairs, such as a cad, rake, or womanizer”) ]

    A moment of blunt honesty? …is it possible he wasn’t referring to the streetcar, but certain developers’ tendancies to open their mouths/legs for money….?

    I should say though, I like Mike Malone: his proposal that the land be divided to 5000 sq ft parcels, because it would better fit in with broadway was actually full of win, despite the logistical problems that Grace brought up.

    I’d also like to see something like this AWESOME Bike Center/Station on that site:

  2. I wholly intended to go and then couldn’t at the last minute. I really wanted to be there so the video link is really appreciated!

  3. Of course he doesn’t like the Joule! He owns the Broadway building – its main competitor! I do not agree with Grace the Pearl Dist. looks like something you could find in LA