The transformation of Capitol Hill continued in 2015 as a core set of projects in the latest development wave either opened or were finally preparing to after years of planning and development. The result was a year full of revelations about the kinds of tenants — residents and new businesses — the redevelopment of Central Seattle’s neighborhoods will bring. In the meantime, groundwork was set for City Hall’s attempt to push against market forces seemingly aligned around a more expensive, less diverse Seattle. Capitol Hill and the Central District served as the backdrop for many of Seattle’s biggest headlines in affordable housing policy and projects, including bold proposals from City Hall and transit oriented housing. Meanwhile, change never rests.
CHS YIR 2014 — More than supply and demand
CHS YIR 2013 — Capitol Hill development and the quest for affordability
CHS YIR 2012 — The re-development of Capitol Hill
As usual with development, 2015’s story was also prelude. At least 600 new apartment units were expected to open on greater Capitol Hill with even more on the way in 2016, according to analysis from Dupre+Scott Apartment Advisors. In the short term, the continued housing boom seemed to have little effect on demand. Vacancy rates in the region were still declining to historical lows and rents throughout the region rose by 7.4%.
Still, developers had to wait months longer than just a few years ago to get projects through the City Hall permitting pipeline. Construction permit backlogs reached unprecedented levels at Seattle prepared to split up the Department of Planning and Development to better serve the city’s construction needs. Meanwhile, real estate giants from around the country made huge investments in the neighborhood over the past year, while familiar Capitol Hill area developers expanded their reach.
Affordability, big and small
The 2015 election put affordability at the forefront of local politics and Capitol Hill’s elected officials played a major role in getting it there. Mayor Ed Murray unveiled his plan to create 20,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade during a media event on First Hill.
Earlier in the year, Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee hammered out 65+ recommendations that laid the groundwork for City Council’s affordability work in 2016. Two programs will be key in meeting Murray’s goals:
A commercial linkage fee to require all new commercial development to pay into an affordable housing fund or create an equivalent amount of housing at another site.
Mandatory inclusionary housing to require all new multifamily buildings to make 5-8% of their units affordable to those making 60% of the area median income or require developers to pay into an affordable housing fund.
Backing down from a surge of slow growth opposition, Murray dropped recommended changes to single family homes zones that could have opened 94% of those areas to more multi-family style development. It was one of the most controversial — and possibly widely impactful — elements of HALA’s recommendations.
In one of the most anticipated project plans of the year, we got our first look at the proposal for the four-site housing, commercial, and community space development that will surround the Capitol Hill light rail station. Initial designs from Gerding Edlen include a space for the Broadway Farmers Market and community space, two of the many additions advocated for by th Capitol Hill Champion group.
Affordable housing will be a major component of the project, poised to become one of Broadway’s defining features once completed in 2018. Nonprofit affordable housing provider Capitol Hill Housing was tabbed to develop, own, and operate a seven story, 86-unit building on the site.
2015 also brought the start of Paul Allen-backed Vulcan‘s first foray into mixed use development in Yesler Terrace replacing the old two-story apartment buildings that provide low-income housing as part of Seattle Housing Authority’s original, 1940s-built Yesler Terrace development.
Developers continued find ways to create “small efficiency dwelling units” as City Council members tweaked zoning rules to scale back the projects around single family home areas.
An overhaul of The Summit Inn will include adding a slew of the tiny apartments while another SEDU project is slated to rise at the location of District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant’s former campaign headquarters. Two new Capitol Hill projects with apartments in the 350-450 square foot range all got off the ground in 2015. Meanwhile, the Seattle’s Multifamily Tax Exemption Program continued to provide affordable housing, like The Local 422 “below market” project that opened on Summit Ave E.
CHH will also develop an affordable housing property in the heart of the Central District where the historic Liberty Bank building once stood. An effort to preserve the building failed this year, but CHH promised to honor the legacy of the African American owned institution.
Across the street from Liberty Bank, owners of the sprawling Midtown Center put the 23rd and Union property up for sale, calling it “one of the last remaining large developable sites” in Seattle. As Lake Union Partners continued to build on the southwest corner of 23rd and Union, the developer advanced plans for its “missing tooth” building at the intersection’s northwest corner.
Big changes were also put in motion around 23rd and Jackson this year as Vulcan announced its plans to evaluate a purchase of the Promenade 23 property, including anchor businesses like Walgreens, Starbucks, AutoZone and Red Apple. Earlier in the year, neighborhood activists fought for a pedestrian designation for the section of Jackson.
Capitol Hill big developments
Following up on her successes with Melrose Market, Capitol Hill developer Liz Dunn celebrated the grand opening of Chophouse Row in June — an open marketplace and office project 11th and E Pike. Developers for Pike Motorworks all but wrapped up work on their large mixed-use project in 2015, along with the announcement that Red Hook Brewery would move in as the project’s anchor retail tenant.
— jseattle (@jseattle) December 2, 2015
The Pike Motorworks block — boarded by E Pike, E Pine, Boylston, and Harvard — is poised for even more change in 2016. In what could be one of the first projects of its kind, developers advanced preservation development plans for the 95 Slide building using incentives offered under the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay program.
With the Broadway Post Office ready to make its move a few blocks north, plans moved forward to develop a six-story, mixed-use building at the corner of Broadway and Denny. Further down Broadway at E Madison, developers unveiled plans for a massive 265-unit development slated to rise above a new Whole Foods as another tower to replace the First Hill McDonald’s property also advanced through design review.
Hands down the most expensive project CHS covered in 2015 was the $1.4 billion Washington State Convention Center expansion planned just across I-5 at the footsteps of Capitol Hill where King County Metro’s soon to be defunct Convention Place Station is located today. The expansion will be a massive project adding thousands of square feet of exhibition space, facilities, and new retail as well as parking for around 800 vehicles. WSCC developers Pine Street Group are also planning to complete a “codevelopment” process to design “a 30-story building with 428 housing units and a 16-story building with 595,000 square feet of office space” just north of the project. And look out for more developments in 2016 on a revived push to lid I-5 near the the new convention center.
The mix of preservation and development on Capitol Hill continued to produce mixed reaction around the neighborhood. Fans of preserving Capitol Hill’s auto-row era buildings scored a win with landmark status awarded to two iconic buildings at 11th and E Pine. The decisions paved the way for The Stranger to keep its home in Pike/Pine, but sadly Value Village wasn’t able to hold on.
The Harvard Exit took its final curtain call at the end of 2014, ending the movie theater’s 46-year run to make way for an office and restaurant preservation development. Plans for another Capitol Hill institution to return fell through in 2015 when Bauhaus and all its sister businesses abruptly folded. On the bright side, 2015 saw the return of Bill’s Off Broadway in new development and plans for the Hugo House to open in a brand new writing center part of the mixed-use development set to replace its more than 100-year-old home on 11th Ave.