A pair of Seattle developers are proving that saving Capitol Hill’s unique stock of old homes doesn’t have to be a sentimental fight against the tides of demographic change. If you’re willing to embrace higher density, rethink urban communities, and move a house or two along the way, keeping character can be a profitable pursuit.
The latest project from Capitol Hill architect Brad Khouri and developer Graham Black at 122 18th Ave. E involves saving a 2,500 square-foot home built in 1903 and adding three townhouses in the back yard. To do it, Khouri and Black will be moving the existing home eight feet towards the street and cutting off the back patio and laundry room.
“It’s a hedge against risk from a development perspective,” Black said of new projects that save old homes. “In a market that has real town home scarcity, it’s not going to be the best financial return, but it will be a good financial return and we wouldn’t be doing it if there wasn’t a nice return.”
The new townhouses will be 1,600-1,700 square-feet and priced around $500,000; the existing home will be priced around $700,000. Khouri recently submitted the master drawings to the city for design review and hopes to have tenants in the old home and new town homes by the end of next year.
“It really great way to find that the balance of retaining character and historical reference, and finding that density to make Seattle an exciting, and maybe more chaotic, place to live,” Black said.
Black said the property had been on his radar for a long time, especially once discussions about changes to the city’s zoning code got underway three years ago. Khouri, who worked on the zoning code revamp for several years, said the changes put the bottom line in the black for these types of save-and-build projects.
In the new codes, existing structures don’t count against density or total floor area allowed on the parcel. Parking requirements were removed for urban areas, set backs were eased, and the new regs allow for communal space on single parcels.
“This is a great project where we can demonstrate for the development community and city how well this carrot works,” Khouri said.
Beyond the zoning changes, Black said building new structures on properties with existing homes makes sense. Turns out the bankers like it, too.
“From a bankers perspective, a large portion of their collateral is that existing house, so they don’t have to swallow quite as hard if that house is staying up,” Black said.
The architect-developer duo have collaborated on five projects in Capitol Hill. Khouri and his family now live on their second save-and-build project at 19th and Pine, where a duplex was built in the back yard.
“We could live onsite in the existing structure while working on a project in the driveway or the yard,” Khouri said. “It’s impacted in a positive way, the house is part of a community that it wasn’t before. The house loses a little bit of value, sure, but that value is attributed to a new project onsite. It’s a more sound way to speculate.”
And if your curious just how one goes about moving a 2,500 square-foot house, so were we. There are several companies in Seattle that specialize in house moving. Here’s the basic idea: Slip steel beams under the structure of the home, lift it a few feet with hydraulic house lifting jacks the size of semi trucks, slide in big rollers, pour the new foundation, roll the house over, re-brace with the jacks and lower it down.
“Brad and I are banking that it will be a pretty quick and smooth operation,” Black said. No date has been set on the house move, but Black said neighbors are welcome to come out and see it happen.