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.
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
“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.
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.
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.”