Change is about to accelerate on Broadway’s central strip. After several years of planning and negotiation, all eyes are about to turn to potential developers for the land around Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail Capitol Hill Station, and the Capitol Hill Champion group, a player in the development process since 2010, is wasting no time preparing to shift its focus.
Champion steering committee member John Akamatsu presented an update of the Champion group’s most recent efforts—the group advocates to secure the inclusion of what they have identified as features beneficial to the community in future developments on the land—at the January Capitol Hill Community Council meeting last Thursday night. Akamatsu is also vice president of the Community Council.
“We want Sound Transit to hear the community,” Akamatsu said about the Champion group’s planned efforts to influence Sound Transit’s developer selection process. The group — a joint venture between the Capitol Hill Community Council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce — will also be working to influence the developers making a bid for a parcel of Sound Transit’s prime real estate.
With the Development Agreement unanimously signed by Sound Transit and the City of Seattle in September of 2013, and approved by the Champion group, Sound Transit is now expected to release a “request for qualifications” (RFQ) for developers interested in one or more of the parcels above the Station within two to six weeks. The RFQ is expected to be followed by a ‘request for proposals’ (RFP) sometime in the
fall spring. In total, more than 100,000 square feet of some of the most central Capitol Hill real estate imaginable, split in to six parcels or “sites,” will be offered at determined market value by Sound Transit, and will eventually go to the developers deemed mostly suitable through the selection committee’s application process.
The Champion group will not be able to play a direct role in the developer selection process, but Sound Transit has agreed to allow Champion occasions of special access to both members of the developer selection committee and to potential developers, Akamatsu said. “The Champion will be able to brief the selection committee members and say why the Farmer’s Market is so important, why the whole retail element is important,” he said. The group is pushing to secure a “permanent home” for the Broadway Farmer’s Market in a public plaza that the Development Agreement stipulates will be included in the development of Site A-South. “We want them to understand the importance of the affordable housing element,” he offered as another example, “Not just to always look at plain accounting numbers.”
Last summer, CHS reported on the Champion’s push to gain support from Seattle’s City Council in making sure community priorities were met in the development of the land surrounding the station.
Akamatsu notes that the influence of conversations the Champion group has with selection committee members will be tempered by the fact that the developer selections will be at least in part determined by a weighted point system that apparently already incorporates many of the Champion group’s recommendations in to the equation. Developers will be rewarded a various number of points for certain community benefit elements they might include in their plan — the criteria may vary by the specific requirements of the parcel the developer is applying for — and the points will influence which developers are chosen.
In addition to talking with selection committee members, Sound Transit has also agreed to allow the Champion group to hold a meeting between potential developers and the public, Akamatsu said. This meeting would happen later this year sometime between the release of the RFQ and the RFP, Cathy Hillenbrand, chair of the Champion group’s steering committee, said. Hillenbrand says the Champion group would moderate the discussion at the meeting, and says she hopes at least one of the forums will happen. “Hopefully the interaction will be instructive to Sound Transit in their selection of the developer,” she said. “We don’t want to co-host a big public meeting if it’s just for window dressing,” she said.
The Champion group is also trying to reach out to developers through a “Developer Portal” on its website, added last week, where the group will post more information soon. “We are making sure prospective developers understand some of the key things the community has impending,” Hillenbrand said of the Developer Portal. At the community council meeting last week, Akamatsu said that Champion members are putting together one page clarifications of community priorities that were not addressed in the development agreement, and that the group will post these “clarifications” to the Developer Portal. The priorities to be clarified for developers include provisions for programming in the plaza that will connect to Cal Anderson Park, a “permanent home” for the Broadway Farmer’s Market in the plaza and guidelines for the kind of retail outlets that buildings in the developments will lease to.
Sound Transit is not looking for a “master planner” to develop all the real estate on top of the station together, which would have been the Champion group’s preference, Hillenbrand said. However, developers can apply for more than one parcel, and a project could feasibly be designed to span multiple parcels as long as it meets the requirements stipulated for each site individually, she said. Hillenbrand is also on the board of Capitol Hill Housing.
Seattle Central Community College will have ‘right of first refusal’ to purchase and develop Site-D, on the west side of Broadway adjacent to the campus. However, Hillenbrand says it is not clear if the school will be able to come up with funding to take advantage of the opportunity. Site-D allows for structures of up to 105 feet tall, while the other sites have height restrictions of 75 to 85 feet.
Through tactics have included, above all, “talking to people,” including Sound Transit and City of Seattle staff, and elected officials who have been able to put pressure on people and organizations involved in the development process—including especially in the past Richard Conlin and Sally Clarke, among many others—Hillenbrand said, the Champion group has been able to secure the inclusion of several their identified community priorities in any developments that go up on top of the station. This was perhaps mostly powerfully accomplished by influencing stipulations that were included in the Development Agreement.
Community priorities in the agreement include provisions for low-income housing, including the stipulation that all of the housing in an entire parcel, Site B-North, must be priced for low-income residents, and that 20% of the units in developments on the rest of the parcels must be priced for low-income residents for at least twelve years. Other ‘gets’ the Champion has racked up include the inclusion of the publicly-accessible, but privately-owned, plaza behind Site A-South that will connect to the north-west corner of Cal Anderson Park, and in which the Group wants to guarantee a home for the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market, as previously mentioned; parking stalls for 266 bicycles; residential “stoops/courtyards” along 10th Avenue and the guarantee that a sidewalk awning will be included on buildings running along Broadway.
“How do you balance community benefits and the dollar value of the land?” Hillenbrand asked rhetorically in a conversation with CHS. The sometimes fine line between financial and social or cultural vitality is just one complexity the group has traversed as it has used research, surveys and other methods to come up with the “community priorities” it advocates to see included at the Capitol Hill “Transit Oriented Development” (TOD) site. Hillenbrand says she keeps in mind that developers will still have to be able maintain a healthy revenue as they implement any of the recommendations. She also notes that the recommendations will not be found acceptable if they render the property to be worth less than market value, as Sound Transit legally must receive that amount for the properties.
Nobody outside of Sound Transit, including the Champion group, has access to specifics about the weighted point system that will be used in the selection process and that was apparently heavily influenced by the Champion group’s research and recommendations, Akamatsu said. He says the idea behind keeping the system under wraps probably involves reducing the odds a developer might attain details about the point system and use the information to skew their chances of being selected. Though Hillenbrand says she wishes the Champion group could review the point system, she still expressed optimism about the rubric. “Hopefully it’s going be structured in such a way to that the real divider is going to be the community benefits the developer is going to bring,” she said.
At the meeting, Akamatsu also announced the results of a recent survey conducted by the Champion group and said the survey showed the community is ‘consistent’ in its prioritization of goals identified and also prioritized by the Champion group. The survey results will be posted on the Champion group’s website soon, Akamatsu said. Akamatsu also mentioned a recent meeting between some members of the Champion group and Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, who now has a seat on the Sound Transit Board.
The Capitol Hill Champion group takes its unique name from a line in a report on the TOD process that included community recommendations, and that acted the catalyst for the group’s formation, Hillenbrand said. “You have to ‘champion the vision. Take your seat at the table,’” Hillenbrand said, quoting the document.