The re-development of Seattle’s Capitol Hill continues. 2012 saw the completion of a handful of huge apartment buildings and the start of construction on a handful more. The demand for a place to live in the city — especially within its walkable core — is growing. At one point in the year, CHS counted more than 30 projects underway around the Hill. But Capitol Hill’s year in development stretched far beyond 300-unit apartment buildings. 2012 brought projects that redefined the way the neighborhood is shaping preservation of the final vestiges of its auto row past as well as how the wave of re-development is spreading into the neighborhood’s edges. In between, there is a renewed activism — some hoping to slow the relentless development, some seeking measured growth, some confident the market should guide it all — to shape the future of Capitol Hill.
It is difficult to find a more signature moment in the Capitol Hill year in development than CHS’s initial report on the plans for the stretch of E Pine at Melrose home to the beloved Bauhaus cafe. Simultaneously a freak-out over the loss of yet another Hill icon and disbelief at the scope of the project, the moment slowly transitioned to a calmer acceptance as the developer responded to the controversy by releasing more information about its plans and its effort to incorporate Bauhaus into them. The design and its preservation elements at the corner of Pine and Melrose became nearly an afterthought.
But that push for preservation in Pike/Pine was a major theme through the year as the people responsible for implementing the city’s design process grappled with how best to deploy the incentives that grant developers extra building height in exchange for preserving or re-building historical facades and maintaining at least a spirit of the incorporated old buildings. Some of the grappling occasionally came to a head as community groups made a stand and demanded more from project plans that sought to take advantage of these incentives. Call it facadism if you will but the preservation will define the next generation of what is built along E Pike and E Pine. The projects — o Sunset Electric, o the old BMW campus, o the Mercedes dealership and more — are cued up and either already under construction or nearly ready to begin.
Not all are giant (though most are!) — the Bill’s building will preserve the restaurant’s street level and be downright modest at only 90 or so units in its planned seven stories.
Not a landmark
As an embodiment of this new form of preservation by development, look at the city’s landmark process as it played out on Capitol Hill in 2012. This 122-year-old 18th Ave house? Not a landmark. Landmark rejection also paved the way for this four-story apartment project planned for 14th and John. There were plenty more. Of course, not everything can or should be “saved.” As funky as it was, the Undrearms moved forward into a more useful future and the charred, graffiti covered Marion Apartments finally came down.
Shaping this activity was a renewed energy for community activism. While it occasionally manifested itself more as frustration than productive change, anger for some over the loopholes allowing aPodment-style buildings in the midst of residential streets became a rallying point. With city officials sticking to “wait and see” approaches, community groups like the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council sought to shed old contrivances of the NIMBY approach to neighborhood development activism and actually get a few things done. Some of this new-era NIMBYism was surprisingly effective and could be a component as the city moves toward a mayoral election in 2013.
Some of the most important stories in development for Capitol Hill’s 2012 also provided inspiration for the future. Plans are being pounded out for a massive investment in Broadway with the rise of Capitol Hill Station and the surrounding — and possibly 85-feet high — “transit oriented development” that will overhaul the neighborhood’s Broadway core. There are fantastic hopes for the changes — and some (slightly) more realistic ones, too. It’s enough energy to bring even the most dedicated long-term property owners into the neighborhood’s next wave of development.
On 12th Ave, a plan to transform a barbed-wire ringed SPD parking lot mired in more than a decade of inaction finally took shape. 2012 brought a concrete plan, a design and funding for Capitol Hill Housing’s 12th Ave Arts theater and housing project.
Meanwhile, on E Madison at 15th, a peculiar glass building with a crown of photovoltaic panels rises and nears completion. The opening of the Bullitt Center will be a story for the coming year but the building rose in structure and global stature in 2012 providing a great big giant zero-energy building of dreams to help us prepare for what comes next.