Proposed five-story development gets cold reception from 13th Ave E neighbors

Plans for 13th Ave E

Plans for 13th Ave E

The future view on 13th north of Mercer

The future view on 13th north of Mercer

It takes a brave person to develop a five-story building on 13th Ave E between a landmark 1910-built cooperative and a $1 million home. Many neighbors are looking forward to meeting him Wednesday night at the latest gathering of the East Design Review Board. Meanwhile, First Hill’s famous pavement parks will soon have more residents to enjoy them as a triangular lot where Union meets University is reviewed for a six-story, mixed-use addition to the neighborhood.

13th Ave E
The historic cooperative The Maryland on 13th Ave E just north of E Mercer has 20 units. Residents in most if not all of them have already written to the review board to lodge their complaints about the project’s height, bulk, and scale in this quiet patch of Capitol Hill between the Broadway corridor and 15th Ave’s commercial district.

There are also concerns about the loss of sunlight and the leafy lot where behind an old garage where the project is planned:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 5.16.41 PM

A view of the preferred design from above. That’s The Maryland next door.

Planned for the space is a five-story apartment building, with 20 market-rate units, no parking, and no commercial component from the lot’s real estate investor owner Robert Hardy and Bradley Khouri’s prolific Capitol Hill-area development architecture firm b9. The developers say their preferred design has done everything possible to take the landmark neighbor and 13th Ave E streetscape into account:

Alternative 3 provides the most effective design solution to the site. it strikes a unique balance of referencing precedent and innovating upon the rich architectural context, creating a contemporary iteration of the vintage buildings that define the neighborhood.
The scheme is also preferred for it’s reduced impact on the site. this is most evident in the narrower building volume at the street and the larger setback to the north, in deference and respect of the Maryland Apartments landmark.
Lastly, the design speaks to engagement and encourages community within the project and streetscape. An articulated entry establishes a strong relationship to the street. the shared courtyard is connected to the entry path, providing an opportunity for engagement and generation of community from within.

“Each of the three proposed schemes speaks to goals of relating to context, design innovation, and enhancement of community — Alternative 3 achieves them most successfully and with the least impact to the site and neighborhood,” the design team writes.

Wednesday night, the review board will take the first steps in determining if that is true.

614 13th Ave E

Design Review Early Design Guidance to allow a five-story building consisting of 20 residential units. Existing structure to be demolished. / View Design Proposal  (9 MB)    

Review Meeting
March 9, 2016 6:30pm

Seattle University, 901 12th Ave, PIGT- Pigott 306 Classroom
Review Phase: EDG–Early Design Guidance  
Project Number: 3021532  View Permit Status  |  View Land Use Notice
Planner: Magda Hogness

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 5.20.41 PM1320 University
Many fewer letters of complaint have been filed for this project on the edge of First Hill just above Broadway — in fact, there is at least one letter of full support for the project on file that also notes how great it will be to see more people in one of the nearby pavement parks on Union.

The six-story, mixed-use building proposed for the current site of Sayre Law Offices is planned to include 4,000 square feet of commercial space below 36 market-rate residential units, with underground parking for 14 vehicles. The development team includes Cyzner Properties, the Berger Partnership, and Grouparchitect.

Here’s how they describe their plan:

Located on a uniquely configured triangular corner lot within the First Hill Urban Center Village, the site borders a newly indicated urban green space which occupies the ROW intersection of E Union St and University St. The project will be compromised of a mixed use structure with below-grade parking, a retail level, and 6 levels of residential market-rate apartments above.

1320 University St

Design Review Early Design Guidance application proposing a 6-story mixed-use building containing 4,000 sq ft of retail space, 36 residential units, and parking for 14 vehicles provided below grade. Existing structure to be demolished. / View Design Proposal  (14 MB)    

Review Meeting
March 9, 2016 8:00pm

Seattle University, 901 12th Ave, PIGT- Pigott 306 Classroom
Review Phase: EDG–Early Design Guidance  
Project Number: 3022715  View Permit Status  |  View Land Use Notice
Planner: Crystal Torres


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50 thoughts on “Proposed five-story development gets cold reception from 13th Ave E neighbors

  1. Classic NIMBY-ism. Trying to prevent development of someone else’s property solely because it impacts the view from their window. I bet their objections would be the same even if a second Maryland building were built next door that also blocked sunlight and took away the cats’ favorite tree.

    • Why, that would be just silly, wouldn’t it? Discussion of preserving features of the neighborhood does not proclude new development or the need for making concessions on both sides. Interesting though how you say “solely because it impacts the view from their window,” as the article clearly outlines perspectives of many people (both residents of the maryland and not), and from my reading of the article I gathered they had more to say than that which is related to the view obstruction.

  2. And this is how housing shortages manifest. Asking entrenched land owners for permission to develop near them is always doomed to fail.

    • Thankfully we are not asking permission. We are getting public comment on certain elements of the building design. This will not be a repeat performance of Pioneer Square.

    • They’re questioning the project itself. One even said that removing the trees will displace neighborhood cats and hummingbirds and therefore this project would be rejected. And I don’t blame them – if I were a sociopath like they are, then I too would use every process to halt and stop development around me. Glad I’m not a sociopath, though.

  3. I definitely understand some of the concerns, particularly the front setback which blocks the view of the Maryland. BUT- the residents are not going about their comments in an effective way. Cat habitat is not a reason to block or reduce a scale of a building. The complaints come across as fairly immature and ignorant of market realities. Unfortunately, it comes across as anti-renter as well; this development will not magically price out current owners in the Maryland and having renters will not magically disrupt the lives of others (many of whom in the surrounding areas are renters as well).

    • Hey DJSC,

      Thea here- I laughed when I read the article this morning because the paragraph taken from my letter was hilariously chosen as it was the most personal one of the 15 paragraphs written. I can absolutely see how given out of the greater context, the cat inhabitant line reads! Just to give a little additional perspective, we were asked to write our letters based on how the project proposal will impact each of us personally and that was one minor element amidst many more points both personal, and based on careful research and wide discussion. I am choosing to embrace it, and I am glad to read that you have seen past some of those more minor aspects to see the more relevant issues i.e. the setbacks. As for the anti-renter, I am sad to hear how this too comes across. I love my neighbors and I have been a renter most of my life. Our requests in regards to renting are to include 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units in the new building instead of just single bedroom units so that there could be MORE, not less, options for individuals and families who want to rent in this neighborhood. If you would like to read all of the details of the project as well as each letter submitted, you can find them here:

    • Well, thea, you should be congratulated for coming up with the most ridiculous sounding excuse to not gain new neighbors ever.

      the removal of the tree coverage will affect nearly a dozen neighboring cats

      I knew that nimbys didn’t care about other humans’ lives and opportunities, but trying to Think Of The Cats takes the cake of anti-human activism.

      • Hi Zach,

        As I said above, I laughed when I read the part of my letter that was selected for this article as well. I agree, it is quite ridiculous on its own. The letters were meant to be personal about how the design directly impacts us each individually so having the line in reference to the cats in the neighborhood selected instead of the 15 other sections definitely comes across as quite anti-human. I am agreeing with you there. However, “I knew that nimbys didn’t care about other humans’ lives and opportunities” couldn’t be farther from reality. I work as a behavioral therapist for special needs kids and make $22k/year. I am in full support of the creation of a project that brings in affordable housing! What I am proposing is to not demolish the greenery along the edges of the property as they provide homes for hummingbirds, swallows, songbirds, squirrels, and yes, neighborhood cats. Unless you have read the project in full, don’t ascertain to know anything about the residents of the Maryland, or the Fair Homes (an apartment building), as the requests we are making are in the interests of the existing neighbors as well as the new neighbors we hope to gain from this project.

        Well, thea, you should be congratulated for coming up with the most ridiculous sounding excuse to not gain new neighbors ever.

        the removal of the tree coverage will affect nearly a dozen neighboring cats

        I knew that nimbys didn’t care about other humans’ lives and opportunities, but trying to Think Of The Cats takes the cake of anti-human activism.

    • Thea, you are mistaken if you think this project will be “affordable housing.” As it says in the article, rents will be market rate, which means $1500 and up/month currently, and who knows what when the project is finished.

  4. This isn’t about NIMBY, this is about developing a property that is properly scaled and placed. There will be almost zero breathing room between buildings. There is no alley or anything to buffer the buildings. We may end up with a cluster of 4-5 story buildings built wall to wall.

    I’m all for density but we need responsible density. Density that will allow for urban foliage and sunlight. This is why we need taller, slender buildings sporadically placed on Capitol Hill so we’re not stuck with wall to wall stubby buildings where we can shake the hands of our neighbors from our bedroom windows.

    • Most of the greatest, most livable cities in the world – copenhagen, berlin, boston, brooklyn – have zero space between buildings.

      Who’s to say what kind of breathing room is “proper?”

      Also – this seems like the kind of debate that should really be hashed out in the context of zoning and setback laws, rather than having a fight each time a developer proposes a new building.

      Ultimately, it seems like the city government/DPD have a vision for the urban form in this part of the city that doesn’t align with that of at least a good number of residents.

    • btwn, buildings in those cities are more than meets the eye. Yes, they are side by side but often open in the back to courtyards and have corridors for light and fresh air. The 13th Ave E proposal places that courtyard on the south side sticking its big ugly rear in the faces of its neighbors.

      This proposal has zero harmony with its neighbors, unlike those in the cities you’ve referenced.

    • This IS about NIMBY.

      “There will be almost zero breathing room between buildings”

      Hyperbole, much? The proposed development is set back FURTHER from the lot line than the EXISTING building.

      What do you mean by “responsible density”? Fewer units that only the wealthiest tech employees can afford?

    • Breathing room means the space between two buildings, sides and back (virtually zero in this proposal). Not necessarily the setback from the street. This is responsible density. It can be done without reducing the number of units that become available in our city. Remember, there is more to Seattle than Capitol Hill.

      If you think these will be affordable housing, you’re kidding yourself, NIMBY.

    • ‘I’m all for density but we need responsible density. ‘

      well said. I think this represents the view of the neighbors to the proposed development.

  5. Agree with Timmy73- it’s about responsible development. I am 100% behind increasing density but it’s about smart, sensible density, not exploiting every loophole without regard to context. I am thrilled with the transportation progress Seattle is making and am personally going to be able to live without a car once the light rail opens. It’s great!

    This street transitions to single family zoning two properties to the north. The width of the street barely accommodates two lanes. With one exception south of this property (deeper into LR3 zoning), the entire West side of the street is 100% single family homes. This side of the street is elevated already. Picture a 5 story building across from single family homes, with 1.5 lanes separating. It’s just not the right plan for this street.

    Couple that with the architectural/aesthetic beauty of this street- the Maryland was designed by the same architect who designed the Neptune, and on the other side there is a strip of one story, lovely brick cottages.

    I would love to see a 2-3 story building with inclusion of green space, especially a setback/patio flush with the rest of the block. The current property is dilapidated and will become an eyesore if it just sits there.

    It seems most people have strong knee jerk reactions at either end of the spectrum. I am hoping a balanced and realistic approach is embraced in the end.

    • What you wrote: “I would love to see a 2-3 story building with inclusion of green space”

      What you mean: “I would love to drive up the cost of development and not allow more of “those people” to live here”

      Your sense of entitlement is why we have an affordability crisis.

    • … and there’s the knee jerk reaction. Listen, it’s not black and white. You may find it interesting to look up the “Capitol Hill Design Guidelines”; a semi-public green space is strongly encouraged and would fit right into this block to make density much more palatable on what is essentially a single family block, with the exception of a beautiful historical landmark building.

      I think it’s reactionary and inhibits thoughtful discussion to label this NIMBYism. Anyway, just attempting to have civil discussion with neighbors.

    • Actually…

      It is black and white. This is about privileged owners fighting any and all development. This is why we have an affordability crisis.

      What is “thoughtful” about trying to reduce the scope of a project in half so it is infeasible and doesn’t get built? Where is your concern for the struggling tenants who would be displaced or have upward pressure on their rents by the people who didn’t get into this building because NIMBYs like you worked to delay and stop it.

      Some neighbor!

    • NIMBY, I wouldn’t call those who live in the The Maryland co op privileged. Also, the Fairhome is actually an apartment building. These folks rent their homes, do not own them.

      And they are not fighting any and all development. They are fighting irresponsible development.

      Please do not skew reality. Thanks!

  6. The architect already took a balanced and realistic approach to filling the lot while taking into account the building next door. If you review the design plans, alternatives 1 and 2 are not as accommodating as the preferred alternative. Perhaps they should have just started with alternative 1 so you’d think alternative 3 was great.

    • That 1 and 2 are worse proposals than 3 doesn’t mean 3 is a good proposal, or even average. If they were from three competing architects, it might mean that, but from one architect working for one client it can mean “scare them with the first two and snow them with the third”.

  7. Hmm. Out of scale? It matches the roofline of the neighboring historic building! It has setbacks to allow for light and air to move between buildings! Your arguments are so easily pulled apart and they fall flat once again. Just admit that you are against change and only care how it impacts YOU. Never mind the housing affordability crisis we face. Never mind that people desperately want to live in this beautiful and dynamic neighborhood, but have few choices. We can become the open, accessible community that we should be. Or we can be like San Francisco and lock ourselves in amber until the average home is over 1 million dollars. The death of a city by a thousand cuts.

    • Hi Timmy,

      The drawings that the builders have submitted are actually out of scale. The Maryland is 4 stories tall, the proposed building is 5 stories plus a rooftop balcony. Without the rooftop balcony it hits the max height for the zone, so we are asking for the rooftop balcony to be waved in order to reduce noise for ALL of the surrounding neighbors. Additionally, their drawing shows The Maryland as being right up to the sidewalk whereas in reality there is a garden and recessed front porch before the bulk of the building. According to zoning laws you can build touching the sidewalk where there are storefronts etc, but in residential neighborhoods there is supposed to be greater setback. We are just asking that they adhere to those standards by receeding as far back as the rest of the houses on the block.

    • Agreed that this is starting to feel like SF. Didn’t we also see similar NIMBYism just recently over that Poineer Square parking garage?

      New buildings are going to be taller – and they should be. If the neighbors want the lot to remain vacant, they should buy it! Just because they’ve been getting free light and greenery doesn’t mean they are entitled to it – it’s not their space.

      Noise from the rooftop balcony, hummingbird habitats, and “historic character” – come on.

      The reality is these single family homes are increasingly not in keeping with the character of a growing city and those residents are trying to use their entrenched position to prevent inevitable change.

      I wish design boards were up to independent reviewers. There’s clearly too much of a conflict of interest when the neighbors are involved, and these complaints shouldn’t even pass the straight-face-test for legitimate issues.

    • Michael, please explain how this proposed building…..with its expensive, market-rate rents….will somehow magically impact the “housing affordability crisis.”

      • I would be happy to Bob. Regardless of the rents that these units charge they will create more units for people to choose from. We gained approx 70,000 new residents in the past two years and that is not going to stop anytime soon. So where should those people go? We need to keep building new units as fast as possible to accommodate those new residents. If we do nothing then they will all be competing for the same older/existing units regardless of price. If enough demand is there then the landlords will raise the rent until everyday people can’t afford them any longer.

        So, even if these are high end units, they will depreciate over time and add to our housing stock. What was once a brand new unit becomes just another apartment over decades of time as newer and fancier apartments/condos are added to our housing stock. It’s quite simple actually.

        If we just decided to lock out all new development then what do you think would happen? We will sprawl worse than phoenix. We will destroy the true value of our region which is the Cascade mountains. We will build over our farm land which provides food and export value for all of us. And we will create a city so spread out that it is impossible to build efficient and affordable infrastructure to cover everyones needs in a sprawling nightmare of a region.

        If you would like an example of how those economic and housing policies are playing out please do some reading on our fair city to the south. San Francisco is the best example for us and we can learn a lot from their mistakes. To not do so would be to our own detriment and the definition of stupidity!

        I hope I answered your question! Thanks for asking.

    • Michael and Hutch: thanks for your comments and for educating me on this issue. I guess you are both looking at this via a very extended time-line, which is fair enough. But I don’t think rampant building is going to do anything to moderate rents in the next 10-15 years. To do that, we need to build more truly-affordable housing, including more public housing units.

  8. I am just hoping that the designers make some effort to incorporate the building design into the style of the block. It looks like it will be one of those horrible box buildings that are being constructed all over the Hill. This will look even worse next to the beautiful brick work of the surrounding buildings. Fingers crossed for at least some of that fake brick.

    • Ugh yes, good point. Perhaps a compromise can be made around the finish materials! There is a good-looking building on Mercer and 14th (?), that while hulking, at least has decent modulation along the street and a brick facade.

  9. At first glance it looks like the roofline does match; however there is a longitudinal section in the proposed plans that show that the SHORTEST portion of the building is taller than the front facade, and the easterly portion is indeed taller.

    Seattle has been rightly compared with SF and consistently praised for at least doing *something* about the density issues. SF sees very few high rise new builds for their tech employees- Seattle is accommodating this beautifully in SLU which was previously a no-man’s land, and in commercial parts of Capitol Hill. This won’t be the last single family lot to be knocked down to build multi family housing. There are many, many opportunities within our urban neighborhoods that we should continue to look at.

    The zoning here transitions to single family just two properties north, and it feels first and foremost like a residential street; as I mentioned above, it functions almost like a one lane. Two pickup trucks can’t pass one another without one pulling over.

    To piggyback on btwn, I think that the zoning laws are causing a lot of frustration here. Developers are always going to exploit every loophole to make as much money as they can. And I don’t blame them. If there was some way to take into consideration the “grey area” zones like these and transition into the single family zone in context with the neighborhood, it would prevent a lot of the uproar. The red tape is already a headache but in a perfect world there would be consideration for these things.

  10. Looking at the proposal the designs really aren’t too bad and it appears the developer does take into account the Maryland.

    I’m guessing that anything short of a vacant lot and the owners will complain.

    And what’s with this “out of scale” nonsense – the proposed building is the same height as the Maryland!

    • We were actually relieved to see that something along the lines of option 3 was even presented, to be honest. The lot should be developed as it’s abandoned at the moment and would be dilapidated.

      The roof of the proposal would be a full story higher though…

    • Ray – agree it should be developed, but to clarify, it is not abandoned. The developer who bought it last summer has tenants (with two cars) living in the house until it is demolished.

  11. Its been noted in some of the posts but the illustrations in this article which show height and scale are all out of scale.

    This proposal is 5 stories while it is surrounded by buildings that are 1 and a half, 2, 3 and 4 stories. This would be the highest building on the block but the illustrations are not to scale.

    I like appropriately placed tall buildings. I also like illustrations that represent reality.

    • I do agree with you, but would like to note that new construction does not have the wonderful high ceilings that I assume the Maynard has. Still, 4 stories would be better.


    This shows the height objectively. All of the 3d models do as well, but your eye isn’t interpreting them as you think it ought to. Keep in mind as well, that floors don’t have to be the same height in all buildings built ever. A 70 and 80 story tower could easily be the same overall height.

    In any case, one half of the building is one half of a story taller than the adjacent one, which has happily been coexisting with its neighbors (which it’s several stories taller than) for decades. Calling that out of scale and inappropriate is hyperbole and disingenuous.

    Perhaps if people have a problem with the NIMBY label, we can go with NIMSY (side yard) label to be more fair.

    • According the documents shown in the article, many units of the Maryland receive light *only* from the South side, exactly where the new building is planned. It makes sense to require that they have livable conditions.

      The review panel can and should ask for a detailed shadowing study and make an informed decision from that.

      The 3D rendering is in fact misleading. The new development is SOUTH of the Maryland. So the Maryland gets shadowed by it, not viceversa.

    • So what Fabio is stating is that because the present owners in the southern units of the Maryland failed to anticipate future development, they should get a massive subsidy paid for by the owners of the soon to be developed lot. Oh Lordy. That’s hilarious.

      These owners are not entitled to daylight because they have enjoyed at expense of their under built neighbor. Perhaps instead, people like Fabio should contemplate why the original owner, developer, architect of the Maryland were so greedy that they failed to provide enough of a side yard to ensure future development wouldn’t shade units.

      If you wonder why rents are increasing so dramatically- it’s largely because of selfish wing nuts. Like these.

    • No they don’t Bill.

      It’s OK for the Maryland to be taller than it’s neighbor, but not the other way. That’s the only fair thing.

      And please everyone…let’s not forget about the cats.

      Is there anywhere to submit public comments? I’d like to write a letter of support.