Resident-developers bring Capitol Hill Cohousing project to 12th Ave

Some of the future residents — and current developers — of the Capitol Hill Cohousing project (Image: CHS)

Imagine if every design review for a multi-family development on Capitol Hill also included a picture of the people who will eventually live there. Wednesday night, a group of not-so-greedy, east side — of 12th Ave — developers who have come together to create an urban cohousing project that could be the first of its kind in Seattle will present their plans for a new six-story-plus mixed-use project to the East Design Review Board.

“It’s about creating the village,” Mike Mariano, principal at Schemata Workshop, the Capitol Hill architecture company he helped found with wife Grace Kim, the design firm behind the project, and the future tenant of the building’s commercial space.


The “Living Building” diagram of the cohousing project (Image: Schemata)

Mariano, Kim and their family are also future residents along with seven other committed families and individuals who are planning to live in the new building they say is built to emphasize community, collaboration and eco-efficiency. With seven of the nine planned units claimed, there is room for two more — possibly more if the project is built to its maximum thanks to Living Building bonuses that could put it at 12 living spaces.

You will be living, if Schemata’s project moves forward as planned, in a four to five-story mixed-use building designed, like Madison’s Bullitt Center, to achieve the low-energy Living Building status. Your kitchen will look out into your neighbors’ kitchens. The roof will be given over to an urban farm. There will be a communal area for meals and meetings. If you drive, you will park on the street.

Project: 1720 12th Ave  map
Review Meeting: June 13, 6:30 pm
  Seattle University Student Center 210
  901 12th Ave  map
  Multipurpose Room
Review Phase: EDG–Early Design Guidance
Project Number: 3013374 permit status | notice
Planner: Shelley Bolser

The preferred massing scheme for the project — including bonus height (Image: Schemata)

“It’s physically designed to encourage interaction but it’s about community *and* privacy,” said Sheila Hoffman, a future resident of the building and a Capitol Hill resident since 1979.

“We’re urbanites,” Hoffman said about her and her husband’s decision to be part of the project . “We’re not interested in the places where you usually find co-housing.”

Here is how Schemata describes the project in the design review packet (the full document can be found at the bottom of this post) that will be presented Wednesday night.

The property is being developed around the Danish model of “cohousing”, a term that simply applies to the concept of future residents intentionally organizing and collectively building a community. This specific group began meeting in Spring 2010 with the interest in developing a highly sustainable, urban community in a central Capitol Hill location. The physical building is very similar to any other multi-family building, with the addition of extensive common areas that provide for opportunities to create a stronger sense of community within. This occurs through a regularly occurring “supper club”, shop space, laundry room, guest room, and outdoor common areas. Future residents have already committed to sustainability at multiple levels. We believe this project will have a positive impact on Capitol Hill goals for neighborhood sustainability as a high-performance energy and water district (or, “ecodistrict”), as well as making small steps toward building strength and resiliency in our city.

The building in 1919 — the year it was built

Mariano acquired the 12th Ave property currently home to Schemata and Lucky Devil Tattoo for $975,000 in 2008 with plans to build a short-term, container-housing project at the location before eventually embarking on the much more significant cohousing project. The container-housing project has been punted and, instead, Mariano is moving forward with the cohousing project now. The 1919 building has a place in Capitol Hill’s auto row history and through the years has been used for everything from a repair shop to a magnet store. While frequently an advocate for historical preservation in the neighborhood, Mariano said the condition of the building makes it inappropriate for preservation and the structure falls a half-block outside of the Pike/Pine Conservation District making it ineligible for conservation bonuses such as extra height. Instead, the emphasis is on the Living Building opportunity.

To make way, Lucky Devil will be on the move. The nearby market and the People’s Republic of Koffee buildings will remain as-is and aren’t part of the development parcel. First, however, the Capitol Hill Cohousing project must hash out details of financing and building the structure and then renting it back to the residents. The framework makes each future resident a developer.

CHS first wrote about the project back in 2010 as Mariano and Kim began a series of workshops designed to inform about the possibilities of creating cohousing in the city — and recruit. Several of the residents came to the project through the workshops and, indirectly, CHS. We also have a solid tie to Schemata — John Feit, an architect with the firm, is the author of the CHS Schemata posts.

The ties that connect us all are a big part of the project and while they won’t, necessarily, be part of Wednesday night’s design review, they’re a critical element.

Kristina Stoneberg said a key decision in helping bring the group together has been training in conflict resolution and communication. “We’ve done so much work internally — it’s just helped our marriage and everything,” Stoneberg said. Stoneberg, her husband Jared and son, JJ, came to the project after an attempt to set up a cohousing situation with friends fell through.

A conceptual rendering of the future 12th Ave (Image: Schemata)

Cohousing, it seems, is the kind of thing that might sound appealing until the logistics come into play. Mariano said a best friend he grew up with was considering being part of the project before deciding it was simply too much work.

Charles Heaney said the effort is worth it and the demographic mix has him looking forward to having children in his life. “So many older folks are isolated,” he said. “I don’t see that happening here.”

Mariano said there aren’t many projects in this country seeking a vision of cohousing on the level of what will be attempted on 12th Ave but that the values behind it are already powering market forces in the housing industry. Developments are starting to include softer versions of the concepts like “supper clubs” and, at times, more communal space.

What are these projects, then, trying to build in addition to putting a roof over our heads? “We don’t have family here — I sometimes feel like I’m missing the wisdom of my parents,” Stoneberg said.

“It used to be that people stay put,” future resident Hoffman added. “People move now. They move often for work. They have to intentionally build their tribe or they don’t have one.”

24 thoughts on “Resident-developers bring Capitol Hill Cohousing project to 12th Ave

  1. I think most people on Capitol Hill will be very supportive of the co housing element. That doesn’t mean people might not have legitimate and worthwhile things to say about the building. I’m happy about it but I will also miss the Lucky Devil building.

  2. Every car on 13th Ave in front of my apartment had a bright yellow flyer opposing this project. It’s main point was that not including parking was essentially a war on cars. It was a bunch of NIMBY hyperbole, but I didn’t know anything about this project until after reading this piece.

    Now that I know more about the project, I’m more pissed about the yellow flyers. This is almost the perfect a development for the neighborhood.

    -Green, “living” building – Check
    -Small building that fits the neighborhood rather than cookie cutter mega block project – Check
    -Co-housing for people who already work on site – Check

    Jesus H Christ, why would someone oppose this?

  3. I think this is a very cool idea and IN KEEPING WITH THE NEIGHBORHOOD; as opposed to last month’s caphill zoning thing. That seems a very cool way to do community. I’ve seen the suburb version of this; for a high-density city, this is pretty unique. Kudos!

  4. More power to ‘em for trying something new, although it’s certainly not for everyone. Would be interesting to see how the more “utopian” elements actually pan out.

    Also, what is with the rabid car-centrism around these parts? Bums me out.

  5. I really appreciate all the great information, and the project seems like a really well thought out and considerate one. Scheme 2 seems to be a good fit for the neighborhood (less looming), but maybe not as dense as they may need? I hope they continue to work with the neighbors; this project looks like it could be a really interesting, innovative building full of people who actually care about the Hill.

  6. I know at least two of the families involved in this – they will be wonderful neighbors. I do lament the loss of the old building – can it be re-cycled, up-cycled into the new building? This is a great project to be bringing to the proposed eco-district on Capitol Hill – Thank you Schemata, and thank you for not doing the container project! This will be way cooler, so to speak

  7. Cool project, and so exciting to see co-housing in our neck of the woods! Just to be clear, however, this is not a Living Building project. The way the diagram is labeled and the comparison to the Bullitt project is misleading.

  8. Groovy idea, but very sad to see a cozy building torn down only to be replaced by yet another lifeless, boxy people container, apparently devoid of any visual interest in its design. Have we now completely lost the ability to design beautiful architecture? Points for the green/agro roof though!

  9. It doesn’t help that the text of this article says, “if you drive, you will park on the street.” How about: “if you own a vehicle, you’ll have to pay the marginal cost for parking by renting a parking space at a building whose garage or surface lot is undersubscribed.”

  10. Why will the roof be “given over” to an urban farm? Wouldn’t the inhabitants want to use their green space?

    Having a green space is the only reason I moved out of a condo and into a house.

  11. Why oppose. I can think of a couple of reasons:

    - doesn’t follow zoning laws that limit construction in the neighborhood to 4 stories. The recommended proposal here is 6 stories.
    - will have a number of impacts on our neighborhood including further strangling street parking, blocking views, not respecting the neighborhood topography and culture, raising rents and taxes, increasing pressure on civil infrastructure (e.g. these projects are not being met with increased maintenance of Cal Anderson park or funding for neighborhood schools), and setting a bad precedent for future construction.

  12. It seems that the point of parking on the street was to emphasize that there isn’t room for a car and they are not making a place for one. Not that they intend to crowd the streets with more cars. Cohousers prefer to be less dependent on cars, which is why they gravitate to walkable sites.

    I too would prefer to see the building blend with the architecture of the neighborhood, at least from ground level. I believe the beautiful old buildings are one of the attractions that brings people back to the city. The character of the unique old architecture is what make each city special. Without that they all just look like any other city full of bland boxes. That is one reason why big box stores offend the senses of many people. Boxes don’t have to be historic, but it would be nice if they were special and have character. But costs always play a major factor, sad to say.

  13. Consider the following bits of text from the real Living Building Challenge, trademarked by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). ILFI’s program is not to be confused with the City of Seattle’s program with a disturbingly similar name, which has been repudiated by ILFI as a watered-down sham:

    •From ILFI’s “Equity Petal”:

    “We need to aggressively challenge the notion that property ownership somehow implies that we can do whatever we like, even externalize the negative environmental impacts of our actions onto others… When a building towers over another structure, its shadow diminishes that structure’s ability to generate clean and renewable energy, thereby impeding the rights to energy independence. We all deserve access to sunlight and clean air, water and soil.”

    •From ILFI’s “Rights to Nature” Petal:

    “The project may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments… The project may not block sunlight to adjacent building façades and rooftops…”*

    The Schemata project on 12th Ave will, if built as proposed, be capped by a rooftop elevator penthouse reaching a height of about 70′ above the grade directly below it on the north side. At 9:30 a.m. on the winter solstice, its shadow will extend to the northwest for a distance of over 375′ (about the distance of a city block). At solar noon on the same day, its shadow will extend to the north for a bit over 200′, or about half a city block. Neighbors to the north will be unable to effectively use solar-powered devices for much of the year. Their garden spaces will be far less productive. They will be more dependent on external power sources to heat and illuminate their homes.

    On warn summer days, Schemata’s building will block the cooling northerly breezes to its neighbors to the south. Its largely blank and unarticulated south-facing wall will become a massive heat sink, radiating heat out in the direction of its neighbors to the south.

    So I think it’s fair to say that the project’s developers are not going to meet these parts of the Challenge. By this standard alone, they are disqualified from using ILFI’s trademarked “Living Building” label, so I would hope they’re not trying to attain the “Intellectual Honesty” Petal.

    *Worth noting in this context that Schemata’s principals appear, by their own admission, to have been actively involved in (successfully) lobbying the City of Seattle to have the neighborhood upzoned to allow the construction of ever-taller buildings like the ones they seem to favor. Nothing illegal about that, of course. But considering the developer-friendly nature of Seattle’s power structure, I’m not too sure that gets you the “Peace, Love and Grooviness” Petal.