A row house mini-explosion in Capitol Hill helping to transform single-family home blocks

A rowhouse development is next. "No access to existing residence, it is DANGEROUS!" the real estate listing for the old, amazing, and too-far-gone to save house at 339 16th Ave E read (Image: CHS)

A row house development is next. “No access to existing residence, it is DANGEROUS!” the real estate listing for the old, amazing, and too-far-gone to save house at 339 16th Ave E read (Image: CHS)

A small explosion of new row houses and townhome developments is in the works around Capitol Hill, and two familiar names are involved in quite a few of them. Capitol Hill architect Bradley Khouri and developer Graham Black are pairing up on at least two projects of the type on Capitol Hill, and individually involved in at least five total.

“We have seen an increase in the number of lowrise development resulting from latent demand and an improving economy in Seattle,” Khouri said in an email to CHS. “Capitol Hill is one of the more desirable locations for obvious reasons.”

Update (5:20 PM): The East District Council has added a discussion of townhome regulations to the agenda for their next meeting, which is Monday at 6 PM in the Cal Anderson Shelter House. Representatives from the Department of Planning and Development will be available to answer questions.

There are at least nine row house or townhouse projects currently planned for development in and around Capitol Hill. One of the largest will be at 16th and Harrison, slated to replace one of the most amazing (and dilapidated) houses in the neighborhood. Graham’s development company gProperties purchased the existing house for $1.3 million. King County has no record of when the house was built.

Picture 4

Project 339 (Image: workshop ad)

The new development, dubbed Project 339, is a three-story, eight unit row house complex that features a community courtyard surrounded on three sides by the development. The half-block wide project, designed by architecture firm workshop ad, will include covered parking in the rear of the building and private roof decks. The project will go in just across the alley from the back of the Bagel Deli on 15th.

Capitol Hill townhouse and rowhouse permits -- 2011 to 2013 and beyond (Source: Seattle DPD)

Capitol Hill-area townhouse and row house permits — 2011 to 2013 and beyond. A year by year look at the trend is below (Source: Seattle DPD)

Graham is teaming up with Khouri on what seems to be the duo’s specialty – shifting a house to make room for another building on the same property. Their latest project at 607 Malden Ave is a similar effort. According to the design review process for the project, the duo plan to move the existing house and build a two-unit townhouse with a basement garage.

Just around the corner on the same block Khouri and Graham are pairing up on another 6-unit row house. 1412 E Mercer will be a 6-unit row house with attached garages. Khouri and another developer have plans to demolish another house at 304 16th Ave E to make way for two, three story town houses.

Most if not all of these projects will not be required to go through a public design review process, and therefore could come as a surprise to neighbors in single-family house dominated blocks though the backlash, if any, will likely not reach the level seen with recent microhousing projects.

Two projects in the Central District, each one block off Yesler Way, are also in the works: A seven-unit town home at 17th and a new single family house + two-unit town house at 20th.

The slate of new townhouse projects comes at a time when single family homes are mostly out of reach to the average Capitol Hill resident and the condo market around Capitol Hill is in desperate need of some new blood, according to local real estate experts. Meanwhile, growth proponents hope for the Hill to build its way out of soaring rents.

A yearly look at permits for the rowhouse and townhouse developments since 2011 -- including the next wave of planned projects (Source: DPD)

A yearly look at permits for the row house and townhouse developments since 2011 — including the next wave of planned projects (Source: DPD)

47 thoughts on “A row house mini-explosion in Capitol Hill helping to transform single-family home blocks

  1. This is a welcome trend, if that’s what it is. I was afraid we were becoming an apodment-only neighborhood (kidding!…sort of). A healthy balance of housing types and affordability is best, and these townhomes will help to provide that.

    • I love the house pictured, but having restored an 1896 house myself, I can tell you that you will put in far more than the house will ever be worth and pay taxes galore which will price you out of the area eventually.

      • This house was moved to 16th. It was originally located on 15th, I can’t remember if it was the Safeway site, the bank or Group Health. There were several ornate old places in what is now the commercial area that people were trying to save even 40 years ago. This must have just been too much work.
        Regarding the townhouse: I like modern architecture but I think this rendering really doesn’t have street appeal. I live a few blocks away and often walk around here. I really like more windows , landscaping, color and set backs to give them more interest and life.

        • My dad used to own this house when it was on 15th, using it for the offices of his ad agency. I believe Group Health bought it and agreed to move it and keep it preserved as a landmark building. It was originally owned by the vice president of the Eastern Pacific Railroad, if I remember correctly.

          • The Degaldo’s (sellers, public record) did say the property was moved here, but from Belltown, not 15th. And no one has put an ounce in to preserving this house in the 10 years I have lived on 16th and Harrison.

  2. I agree with the comments above that it’s good these will be larger units, but I wonder whether the proposed super modern look of these units will compliment the brick apartments and craftsmen homes that make the hill such a treasure. Super modern seems to be the new trend and I’m afraid the hill will lose something precious if it prevails.

    • No kidding. I’m not against modern design (particularly in its more sustainable incarnation), but when it exists as a giant F-you to the surrounding neighborhood, when developers don’t even make a half-hearted attempt to fit in with the feel of a place – it’s just awful.

      • soon enough those craftsman houses will be in the minority and eventually extinct, and the brick apartment buildings will be the exception. I’ve given up – the new, cheap looking modern style IS the feel of cap hill now.

        • Don’t give up, people probably thought the ugly 70s buildings with the exposed aggregate concrete were going to last when they showed up to. Sure enough something even cheaper/worse will come along and in 20 years we’ll be longing for these ugly boxes.

        • It’s going to be a VERY long time before the modern look prevails, because a lot of people value the older homes/buildings and will continue to maintain them….thank goodness for that!

  3. This seems much more in keeping with the neighborhood’s character than something like the apodments on 23rd that have been built in the last few years. I don’t think that some sort of super-density should be crammed into our neighborhoods on Capitol Hill, buildings like this will fit in much better. As far as the modern look not fitting in with the brick buildings, give it a few years and the shiny look will wear off and the new will become part of the old.

  4. There is way too much ripping out the old and interesting and replacing with large and bland. I think it is important to note that most of the houses that have gotten to the point the house on 16th Ave E has been reduced to, got that way because owners are sitting on the houses awaiting a mega-sale. They put no money into the upkeep which bypasses a discussion on historic designation. This neglect should not be rewarded with no design review. The last decade of design review in Seattle has been a joke.

    • I have to agree with Stephen & Brian. While I would love to see more row & brownstone-type houses for childless families on the Hill, the townhouse architecture in Seattle has just been hideously depressed and drab-looking. I mean, these look like the the kind of home you’d find in the Eastern Bloc.

      I was hoping for something more along the lines of the cute row houses in Amsterdam or brownstones in NYC or Boston.

      • I couldn’t agree more! Why can’t developers take more inspiration from the neighborhood and try to create something timeless and charming? I’m getting so tired of seeing ‘new and modern’, it’s a complete clash with the neighborhood and really takes away from the character. Before we know if the Hill is going to look like SLU, bland and sterile.

      • I’m so with you guys on this sentiment. I’m all for the concept of townhomes, but very few of them manage to look nice (the ones on the NE corner of 18th & John are the exception) and have you been inside the standard Seattle townhome? It feels like living in a three-story chimney, basically a series of tiny rooms, endless stairs, and bathrooms on each floor. I had some friends with a very small townhome that had THREE BATHROOMS… but barely enough room for a bed in the bedrooms. So I’m all for townhomes… but wow, I wish they weren’t so ugly outside and poorly-thought inside.

  5. Do people feel that we could have some influence over this, if we got together. Jane Jacobs is one of my all time heros, and I so believe in protecting what we have, as she did in New York. People have mentioned amazing examples of what we could have here, and what we all deserve to have.

    Is anyone interested in talking about how to change the course of this property development?

    • Lisa, I’m interested. It seems like a no-brainer that we can try to change the process that allows these developers to skip public design reviews in such neighborhoods. Why wasn’t that required? I’m also wondering whether there are already any relevant local groups or meetings that just need more voices.

        • @Scooter, I believe that, I’m not familiar with the 16th Ave project in particular. This is more of a general concern – the article does say “Most if not all of these projects will not be required to go through a public design review process.” I had a brush with this issue over the summer, when I was forced to move because the house I lived in was scooped up by modern townhome developers (who of course are demolishing it). There was a “review” period in which you could mail comments, and it was very brief (shorter than 2 weeks from the original notice date if I recall). There was no public “meeting” (that was announced at least), which I think people with concerns probably feel would be more effective.

    • Jane Jacobs encouraged density with eyes on the street. Density seems to be what most commenters here are opposing. It’s Cap Hill. It must densify unless you plan to live in a mansion. Get over it!

    • Lisa, this public process is already in motion…at least as far as apodments are concerned. DPD has proposed new regulations for them…requiring design review is one of them (see other threads on CHS)…so hopefully in the near future there will be less interest in building them, or at least that they will be more attractive and less intrusive to their neighbors. I would prefer a total ban, as there already are enough, but that probably will not happen, so the DPD proposals are the next best thing. We can thank councilman Tom Rasmussen that this is happening.

  6. I agree it would be great if instead of building more “modern” townhomes, developers in Seattle could build rowhomes with the brownstone look of cities on the east coast. However – and I may be mistaken – but my (limited) understanding about why this doesn’t happen is that it has something to do with earthquakes.

    • OK, I’m about to get all technical here, I apologize:
      It’s not that brick is necessarily ‘earthquake unfriendly’ per se but the material itself is more costly per lineal foot to buy than say, Hardi Plank. (Hardi Plank is very common on these projects, cheap and easy to install esp compared to brick). On top of that, the labor costs more…think about it…building brick by brick takes a lot longer than slapping up siding. Plus, you are looking at a more skilled and limited labor group (not as many masons out there as there used to be) so time, labor and materials = all more expensive. Then you have to make sure everything else is running smoothly on thepermitting/construction side – what if something doesn’t happen in time in order for your masonry crew to do their job and they have to move on to the next job… OOPS. With hardi plank or even just wood, just hire some other random framing crew, no sweat. On top of that, brick is heavier than other traditional materials – more weight means that more engineering type stuff is involved in order for the structure to be up to code versus a lighter, more flexible building all wood building which doesn’t require as much ‘stuff’ for it to meet code. (Trust me, you will want your building to meet code regardless of what it’s built of when we get the next earthquake). Building with brick veneer panels mitigates some of these issues BUT don’t forget, brick has a thickness to it… so on top of your 2×6 stud walls you are adding an additional six inches to your building on either side on your already tight small urban lot. Now, imagine that you are a developer and one of the biggest assets to selling your new fancy townhouse over the other fellow down the street is that your house has “X” square feet more than that loser who built that fancy brick townhouse that cost more to build…plus the amount of money you can make/charge also based on total SF and by building with brick you’ve (a) dramatically increased costs and (b) decreased salable SF…

      What would you do?? (And, no, I’m not a developer but am very familiar with the industry).

      That being said, I’d like to see more brick AND thoughtful design…and less worship of the g***d*** almighty dollar at all costs…

  7. The architectural charm of Capitol Hill has always been its mixture of single family homes and 3 and 4 story brick faced apartment buildings. This type of architecture will be so dated so quickly and certainly not last as long as that lovely old scary building they are tearing down.

    The architects are just plain lazy! They can do a much better job.

    • And the developers are cheap bastards (most are barely one level up from a used car salesman) and don’t want to pay those lazy architects any more than they have to! Would your work hard for a client that just didn’t care and wanted to pay you peanuts for your intellectual goods?
      I mean, if the city didn’t have any rules and regulations these developers would build not just ugly crap but unsafe buildings too! If only we got rid of the expensive and useless architects, with all of their fancy ideas and wanting things to be pretty.
      /sarcasm
      *that being said, there are plenty of not-so-good architects out there, like any profession.

  8. I was just reading about the Coin Street community builders in South London, which pushed back againt modern tower housing and built stuff people wanted more. The pictures I can find are clearly modern building, but not modernist:

    http://www.coinstreet.org/developments/palm.html

    and this is more modernist but built around gardens:

    http://www.coinstreet.org/developments/iroko.html

    I can’t tell how much of the London co-op design is different because the people responsible for planning expect to be paying for maintenance. I don’t think much US building plans for operating costs very well.

  9. Show up to the design review board meetings and voice your opinions. The few meetings I’ve attended have shown those opposing the project or design elements outnumbered by the developers, the architects and their ‘capitol hill resident’ friends who are fed the community responses the design review board needs to hear.

  10. Could be worse, could be better. I love that house but as others have pointed out, it’s a money pit and would never be restored except by some miracle gift of a mil and a half or so.

    If you look closely the proposed residence isn’t crappy metal or whatever it is half the new apartments are made of but painted wood, which is better. Still, I say why paint it, get decent wood and own it, it’s made out of wood, what’s the problem?

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