‘Pike-Pine Renaissance’ below, upzoning Capitol Hill ‘single-family’ neighborhoods up top

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.43.21 AMUp here, we call it Pike/Pine. But Wednesday morning in downtown Seattle, they were calling the lower reaches of the two critically important connective streets a golden opportunity for reinventing — and redesigning — the city’s central core.

The Downtown Seattle Association hosted business and community leaders at the unveiling of its Pike-Pine Renaissance initiative to rethink and better structure the public spaces and infrastructure of downtown. Many of the concepts would find a welcome home up the Hill, too. Clean, safe-to-walk through alleyways, anyone?

The initiative vision is described in surprisingly urbanist language: “To move Downtown incrementally toward higher quality, more consistent pedestrian space through upgraded standards for sidewalks and intersections.”

The Seattle Times notes that the area’s recent attempts at reinvention haven’t met with much success:

The area’s last major transformation was in the 1990s, when developer Matt Griffin and a group of investors raised $175 million to create Pacific Place at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Pine Street. Griffin and his partners also struck a deal to have Nordstrom open its flagship store in the historic Frederick & Nelson building next door.

Since then, despite numerous studies and piecemeal efforts, the Pike-Pine area’s streets and buildings have yet to blossom into a coherent, harmonious whole. There are blocks of prominent retail space such as Pacific Place and the renovated Westlake Center followed by blocks of mediocrity.

While the design initiative may inspire projects off the Hill, some see a growing connection between the opportunities and problems in the downtown core and Capitol Hill. East Precinct officials have publicly acknowledged that crime issues around Cal Anderson, for example, increasingly mirror those found downtown. It follows, then, that some of the public infrastructure discussions and initiatives could drift up the Hill.

Meanwhile, with less fanfare than Wednesday’s focus on the most urban of Seattle’s spaces, another “urbanist vision” unveiled on the day presents a look at possible change for Capitol Hill’s single-family home dominated areas:

The real meat of the report, though, is an overall recommendation to up-zone Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods.  This is controversial, but important.  Discussions of where new development should go tend to be narrowly constrained to a few urban villages, while the vast majority of Seattle – something like 2/3 of the land – is considered off-limits (the yellow stuff in the map at right). So we argue about whether to allow 5 stories or 6 in a narrow sliver of Capitol Hill, meanwhile acres and acres of the city’s neighborhoods remain locked at absurdly low density levels.

To add insult to injury, as single family houses get more expensive, they become even more out of reach to larger families, resulting in a spiral whereby only small, wealthy families can afford them, thereby decreasing density even further.

The City of Seattle hosts its affordable housing public forum on Thursday.

The full Pike-Pine Renaissance design report is below. 

24 thoughts on “‘Pike-Pine Renaissance’ below, upzoning Capitol Hill ‘single-family’ neighborhoods up top

  1. I really like this plan; the caveat is that if you’re going to reduce priority to cars and turn your attention to pedestrians, you MUST keep up with public transit and implement it in a way that makes it the best and most obvious choice, otherwise the [now prettier, more uniform] streets will clog. There’s a large number of people who work downtown but live outside of Seattle; how do we get them to ditch their cars?

        • Oh yeah, ride share. That libertarian dream of having a taxi service with no business regulation whatsoever. And the dream made possible by simple semantics, taxi plus pink mustache equals ride share.

      • The City Council is not seeking to “destroy” rideshare…..they want to regulate it so that it is safer for customers and fairer to existing taxi drivers. The plan is to issue 300 new licenses for rideshare, and 150 new ones for taxis. Sounds reasonable to me. If the changes drive rideshare companies out of business, so be it…..they have gotten a free ride (so to speak) so far, and they must now be required to be more responsible.

      • You mean Uber and the other one with the pink mustache? Naw, the council just thinks calling taxi services “ride share” doesn’t actually make them not taxi services so they need to be properly regulated like their competitors. You know, all that good stuff like safety and professionalism and all that.

        If you really want “ride share” then maybe try car pooling? It’s certainly a lot cheaper.

  2. I’d like to see some sort of commitment from the city council and mayor to make these types of improvements to downtown ASAP. It really has deteriorated and requires some radical change. Instead of pumping billions into these struggling megaprojects, putting some money into these types of improvements could go a long way. Third Avenue is horrendous.

    • I would much rather see the City invest in neighborhoods first. We spend so much money downtown where we already have great sidewalks and public spaces. If the DSA and property owners will foot the bill, great. Otherwise, we have unmet needs across the city that need attention as well.

      On a side note: there is no way people will be spending more time downtown until the drug issues of 1st Ave to 4th Ave are address. Better trees is not going to solve that problem.

  3. I think this a good start.
    Some of the photos were pretty entertaining. ‘Here is the way it is today, now imagine it with people there. And a really bright green tree!’

  4. It is alarming that people are proposing upzoning in single-family, purely residential areas. These are the backbone of our neighborhoods. How would you like it if a 5-6 story apartment went in next to your 2-story home?

    If this proposal goes forward, there will be a lot of very vocal opposition. The microhousing/apodment battle will seem like child’s play.

    • Personally, as a single-family home owner, I would be OK with more density in my neighborhood. This is my second home, and is an area with only single-family homes. My last home was in a corner of the central district where there is much more density than there is where I am now, and I thought it was just fine.

      Of course you are right there will be a monstrous backlash, but I think the counsel should take all that with a grain of salt. Whenever I listen to those people they really do seem to have a a skewed point of view, and an incredibly outsized sense of entitlement that to me seems harmful to our city (no, having nothing change on your street is not a civil right).

      If the city were to take less of that kind of nonsense, I think people would settle down and accept changes better. After all, growth is not only inevitable, it is a net positive for all of us.

      • It would be totally workable even in most single-family neighborhoods if there was some limited scale to it. For example, maybe opening up to tri- or quad-plexes, and some design review so the architecture could better blend in with the existing homes? Who needs a 5-story aquarium squashed in next to a single-family bungalow from the 20’s? At least they could make the new construction more aesthetically similar.

        • Thanks Jim. Even I would be OK with the kind of development you describe. But the upzoning would have to be done very carefully to avoid the kind of ugly, out-of-scale apodments were are now seeing all over Capitol Hill.

    • What I would like to see is the restrictions on backyard cottages lifted – a great way to add small-scale, non-disruptive density, and potentially an excellent source of extra income for homeowners. Right now, city code requires off-site parking if you want to add a small mother-in-law apartment to your backyard, which means not many can do it.

    • have you read this report? or the Climate Action Plan? by my reading, neither propose complete rezones of single family areas to multifamily but instead would allow slightly more flexibility in single family zones to allow a light hint more density rather than 5-6 story apartment buildings. The major reason SPC, among others, are calling for SF zones to be considered as potential locations for more housings is (1) it’s a significant portion of our land (2) or zoning code defines single family housing more narrowly than other comparable cities, (3) Seattle’s households are significantly different than the rest of King County & comparable cities in terms of # of children and racial diversity.

      Do we really want to be a city where only white collar folks can afford to live? Our single family neighborhoods are only affordable to the most wealthy households in the region. My preferred vision of Seattle’s future is NOT one where only households earning well over $100K/year can afford housing.

  5. not to mention the incredible idea of changing the priority of traffic from avenues to hill streets. think crossing the street is already dangerous? imagine people flying up and down hill streets. they want to turn every hill street into the madness that is denny and madison.

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