It’s not often that the backers behind a big time project in Seattle ask to be slowed by another review. But the project to redevelop Midtown Center and a city fully city block at 23rd and Union is complicated.
The East Design Review Board agreed Wednesday night that the project planned for 2301 E Union should, indeed, return for a second Early Design Guidance meeting.
Brad Reisinger with Lennar Multifamily Communities, one of the site developers along with Regency Centers, requested a second EDG because the project is complicated due to the block-sized site and the pending agreement with the Africatown nonprofit.
An agreement between developers to sell Africatown about 20% of the 2.4-acre property at 23rd and Union to give the nonprofit an ownership stake is still being finalized. Regency is currently under contract to purchase the block.
CHS looked at the history of the block, its importance in the Black community, and the long road to redevelopment for Midtown here. Capitol Hill Housing, meanwhile, is developing the Liberty Bank Building across the street from Midtown Center under a community agreement with partners including Africatown that will be fully affordable and is hoped to become a template for inclusive development in Seattle.
Plans from Encore Architects for the Midtown Center project propose two seven-story buildings with 355 units in one and 120 in the other. In the larger building, 10% of the units and a to be determined portion of the units in the second would be affordable. Plans also include a large local grocery store, pharmacy, smaller retail spaces and 482 parking spaces. CHS looked at the design here earlier this week.
“The overall mass and scale seem kind of grotesque in my mind,” one neighbor on 24th Ave said. Many commenters raised similar concerns and the board referred to the proposed development as “massive.”
Board member Christina Orr-Cahall requested Encore come up with two more designs, potentially with more, smaller buildings as suggested by members of the public and the board. Even if the smaller buildings don’t work, it would be nice to see why they don’t, Orr-Cahall said.
Some commenters and board members expressed concerns that the 30,000 square foot yet-to-be-announced grocery store chain could be driving much of the design.
“I agree that the scale of the grocery store seems out of line,” board member Barbara Busett said.
Some commenters liked the thought of having another grocery store in the neighborhood, but most others thought it was too large or that there are many nearby grocers already.
Another concern for the board in the preferred design is the pedestrian walkway planned to run between the two buildings. The members considered it to be too narrow, don’t think it will be very active and could be a security issue.
The development also calls for the underground parking entrance to be located on 24th Ave across from single family homes.
“That’s a neighborhood,” resident Samara Louton said. “That’s not a thoroughfare. That’s not an arterial.”
Tami Garrett, the city planner on the project, said the conversation about the parking entrance is ongoing, but, under current zoning, an entrance isn’t allowed on 23rd or Union.
Among its requests, the board also asked the architect and developer to include African American and neighborhood culture and history in the design, citing the planned nearby Liberty Bank Building as example.
The development also hinges on Central District zoning changes planned as part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda — or a special rezone will be required. The early designs call for the seven-story building to be 70-feet tall, below the 85-foot threshold that could be allowed in the area eventually under HALA.
While Lennar is still working with Africatown on the agreement, the goal is to build on the site as one project. The developers hope to start construction in the first half of 2018 with the first units opening in 2020.
600 E Howell
Earlier in the evening, the board voted to move the project slated to replace a Capitol Hill diver bar with seven stories of microhousing forward. The E Howell property currently houses two duplex structures and two single-level commercial buildings, one of which is the Redwood.
The Redwood and other buildings on the site are set to be replaced by a seven-story, mixed-use building that will create 73 “Small Efficiency Dwelling Units,” and four studio apartments atop 1,500 square feet of commercial space.
In August, CHS talked with owner Lisa Brooke about the dive bar’s limbo status as the project planned for the block moved slowly forward. Earlier, Brooke said she hoped to get another six-month lease in October to stay open through May 2017.
Neighbors to the proposed development by S+H Works and owner Blueprint Howell noted that it has been a spot for drug use and other criminal behavior and the design should try to deter that from continuing.
“You’ll want to enclose whatever open space there is,” one man said. “… People will use any open space you leave available for nefarious activity.”
The board agreed that security at some areas of the development, particularly at the bike storage, is a concern that should be considered further by the developer.
Another commenter raised concerns about ensuring quality materials are used, noting that a nearby building has had to be resided twice in a relatively short time period.
“It’s amazing to me that we’re allowed to put up buildings that disintegrate in 15 years,” he said.
The board requested that quality and simple materials be used and was pleased with the overall massing of the building.
“I feel like in general, they’ve done a really great job at articulating every facade,” said one board member.