As trains swiftly carry thousands of passengers through Capitol Hill’s subway station every day, the process to develop the area above ground continues to inch forward.
Next week, the Sound Transit Board is expected to approve a sale agreement for one parcel, known as Site B-North. The vote during the July 28th meeting will pave the way for Capitol Hill Housing to start designing and building an 86-unit affordable housing project. In August, the board is expected to approve land leases for the three other sites so developer Gerding Edlen can move forward with its plan to build 100,000 square feet of commercial, housing, and community space.
Sound Transit has not yet publicly released the lease agreements or the preliminary agreements signed earlier this month, saying that it may compromise negotiations with other developers should the Gerding deal fall through. The agency, which purchased the Broadway sites between E Denny Way and E John and demolished them in 2009 to build the underground station, has previously said the parcels were worth around $25 million and that Gerding was aiming for a 75-year deal to lease the properties.
Members of the Capitol Hill Champion group have been planning and anticipating the milestone for years after helping to forge a development agreement that included community benefits like space for a farmers market and affordable housing. “It’s exciting we’re finally getting to this point,” said Champion co-chair Brie Gyncild
While the Champion has not seen the specifics of the final land lease with Capitol Hill Housing, Gyncild said the group wants the deal to move forward. “Affordable housing is one of the Champion’s top priorities, so it’s kind of a no brainier,” she said. Gyncild is urging residents to offer their thoughts to the board during the meeting or in writing.
A Gerding representative told CHS the developer plans to start the design and entitlement process in August. Gerding will then begin the process of taking its projects through design and environmental review, putting it on track to break ground spring 2018 and finish fall 2019.
Prior to getting to design review, Gerding has also agreed to hold two community input meetings sometime this fall.
To further involve Capitol Hill in the project, the Champion is seeking residents to take part in one of four focus groups that will steer the next round of community input on the TOD sites. To sign up for the fall focus groups, the Champion is asking those interested to complete a short questionnaire.
Focus Group #1: Seniors, Families with small children, People with accessibility or mobility challenges
Focus Group #2: Artists, Students, Nightlife Community
Focus Group #3: Small business owners, Workers – esp. Service Industry
Focus Group #4: Social Service professionals, Members of the homeless community
While many community priorities will be included in the project as part of the development agreement hammered out by the Champion over several years, Gyncild said there is still room to improve development. “We just want to make sure there aren’t critical perspectives we have overlooked,” she said.
How a “community space” will be put to use is one issue that developers are seeking more direction from the neighborhood. “It’s been incredibly vague and contentious in the community of what that space is,” Gyncild said.
In the meantime, the Champion is starting to kick around ideas for how it may be able to “activate” the fenced off sites during the 18 months before construction starts. Sound Transit and Gerding Edlen had previously said the paved over areas would remain off-limits until construction was complete, but Gyncild said there may be an opportunity to open some of it to the public. “At the very least we think we can get something cool up on the fences,” she said.
The Champion, meanwhile, is also drumming up community support for its push to convince the Seattle Department of Transportation to officially designate the E Denny Way between Broadway and 10th for future festival purposes.
Seattle Central College has been given a right of first refusal to develop a fifth parcel, Site D, due to the site’s location directly next to the school’s Broadway promenade. SCC officials have previously said they are interested in building faculty housing on the site, but no formal plans have been announced.
The Champion has supported an effort to have Sound Transit donate the land to Seattle Central. 43rd District representatives Brady Walkinshaw and House Speaker Frank Chopp have also backed the idea, Gyncild said.
The opening of UW Station and Capitol Hill Station has boosted light rail’s popularity to new highs as average weekday ridership estimates near 60,000 daily riders. The light rail station and the 3.1-mile U-Link subway line between downtown and the University of Washington via Broadway opened in March.