Earlier this month, Sound Transit and Capitol Hill Station celebrated one year of service carrying thousands of riders every day on the light rail line connecting downtown to Montlake by way of Broadway. The two acres of so of pavement around the station, you might have noticed, remain empty but there are big plans. Here is what comes next after December’s first design review — and why the one-year celebration didn’t include a ribbon cutting from the project’s developer Gerding Edlen for the some 400 affordable and market-rate apartment units and 59,000 square feet of commercial and community space planned to rise around the station.
Destined to begin construction in 2018 and open for new residents late the following year, the architects behind the largest buildings and the key central plaza above Capitol Hill Station are refining plans following the project’s first step in the special streamlined design review process set up for the community-guided “transit oriented development.” As part of its application for the critical land use permit, Hewitt Architects submitted a roster of planned design changes based on feedback from the design review board for the project’s main Site A building along Broadway and the pedestrian plaza that will sit above the busy light rail station below and is hoped to create a central gathering place, a home for the Capitol Hill farmers market, and a new gateway for the adjacent Cal Anderson Park.
Here are some of the changes being planned for the next and final round of design review expected to take place this summer:
- Parking: The developer’s rep told the crowd at the December design review that there was likely to be fewer parking spots than included in the design plan. True… kind of. The big lot is down to 158 spaces: Site A was previously showing 183 parking spaces on 3 below grade parking levels. This has been reduced to 158 spaces.
- Broadway pass-through: The plan for a passageway through the development to connect Broadway through to the internal plaza will be de-cluttered and the quasi-public space will hopefully be more inviting and provide small retailers with a more active environment: The pass-through for Site A has remained at 15’-0” minimum width and all bicycle racks have been removed. The residential lobby no longer lines the entire south side of the pass-through allowing for further activation of the retail spaces. Retail is now visible at both the west and east.
- Market Hall: This appears to be a nod toward concerns about maintaining a community guideline calling for the creation of small business-friendly commercial space: The retail space in the southern portion of Site A will be blended with the residential lobby entrance off Broadway. Additional doors have been added to the perimeter of the southern retail area to provide flexibility for future tenants.
- Dead space: To address concerns about strange dead ends Sound Transit requires around its station facility inside the development area, the architects are hoping plants are the answer: At Site A, the ‘gap’ between our building and the existing Sound Transit north head house will be planted and used for bio-retention. These areas will be secured in an attractive, but proper way to keep unwanted people from entering. Sound Transit has already voiced their interest in working with us to paint the adjacent walls of the head houses to make for a more attractive space.
- No more weird bike racks: The wall hung bicycle racks have been completely removed along Broadway, E Denny Way and the pass-through at Site A. We will be moving forward with more traditional bicycle racks that are more user friendly around the entire site.
The plaza concept, meanwhile, is also getting some tweaks to improve its experience for people hanging around the area shops and markets with a better set of features including more seating, trees, and better lighting. “The plaza design has evolved to create a more distinct central gathering space and to provide a more direct relationship to Cal Anderson Park,” architects write. “The variety of spatial experiences has been maintained in the various overlooks and seating opportunities that surround the central area.” Changes include:
- Plaza edge seating has been increased and an accessible ramp has been incorporated into the plaza edge shape allowing additional space for bicycle cage parking (which is to be provided by Sound Transit between Site A and the existing transit vent shaft). Vehicular access to the plaza has been constricted on the north by the addition of trees and moving the eastern seat wall further east toward Site B South.
- Additional trees and lighting elements have been added to the east edge of the public plaza.
- Plaza edge seating has been increased and an accessible ramp has been incorporated into the plaza edge shape allowing additional space for bicycle cage parking (which is to be provided by Sound Transit between Site A and the existing transit vent shaft). Additional seating opportunities have also been added amongst the trees on the northeast edge of the plaza.
- Additional, pedestrian scaled lighting elements have been added to the plaza, which includes fixtures that are integrated with plaza elements and the surrounding architecture.
The extension of Nagle Place through to John will also be modified so the new street won’t connect all the way from John to Pine. After a review by Sound Transit and the Fire Marshal, planners agreed the maintenance access to reach the station’s vent shaft only needed to connect to John. The change should help alleviate concerns about vehicle traffic near the plaza. The design of the new maintenance portion of Nagle Place will also include the same pavers used in the main plaza to provide “a more seamless appearance” and “instead of bollards, trees will be used to help delineate vehicular and pedestrian zones where NPE meets the plaza.”
Designers are also looking for opportunities to integrate art “in and around the site as well as discussion with Sound Transit on their interest to working with us to paint the walls of the existing vent shaft to make for a more attractive space and to integrate it into the design of the plaza.” “I’d like to see some portion of this set aside for the arts, commemorating history,” or a mural of State Senator Cal Anderson like the one that used to be “on the red wall,” a public commenter said at December’s review.
The decade-long community community process was documented in 2011 as the Capitol Hill Light Rail Stations Site Urban Design Framework document was published, distilling information shaped over a period of years in the community. In 2013, the City Councilapproved a development agreement allowing developers to plan for 85-foot tall buildings along Broadway in exchange for going above minimum affordable housing requirements. Overall, the “transit oriented development” plans call for 444 apartments with 38% of units to rent for below market rate for 12 years and Site-B North’s 110 units designated for “permanent affordable housing.” A quarter of the units will have at least two bedrooms.
After presenting a winning proposal to be the project’s master developer, Gerding Edlen and Sound Transit signed a deal for a $17 million land lease in August 2016. Instead of paying a regular rent for the duration of the lease, Gerding will pay a lump sum of $17,435,000 after it sells the project or no later than 2033. Until then, Gerding will pay an annual rent of $222,350. As part of the deal, Sound Transit retains a $4.8 million stake in the three properties. Seattle Central College has been given a right of first refusal to develop a fifth parcel, Site D on the west side of Broadway, next to the school’s Broadway promenade. Capitol Hill Housing will operate Site B-North and its 110 “permanently” affordable apartment units.
Under the agreement forged between Sound Transit and the City Council, Gerding Edlen faces a streamlined design review process. Even then, it will have been a twelve to thirteen year turnaround from the first community meetings when the projects finally open in late 2019 or early 2020.
Site A, Main Station Block, 118 Broadway E
- 7-story apartment structure containing 152 units and ground level retail
- 46,487square feet
- Mixed-use required
- Minimum residential unit count–132 including MFTE requirement￼
Site B-North, Main Station Block, 923 E John
- 7-story apartment structure containing 110 units and a community room at ground level
- 15,878 square feet
- Affordable housing restricted, 100% total units
- Minimum residential unit count–86
- No retail
Site B-South, Main Station Block, 123 10th Ave E
- 7-story apartment structure containing 73 units and ground level retail
- 15,459 square feet
- Minimum residential unit count–85 including MFTE requirement
- No retail
Site C, South Station Entrance, 1830 Broadway
- 7-story apartment structure containing 92 units, ground level child care facility, retail
- 17,683 square-feet
- Mixed-use required
- Minimum residential unit count–94 including MFTE requirement
Sound Transit says the long process moved as quickly as possible and there was no way to have started it in time to have coordinated the opening of housing with the opening of the popular light rail station:
The Capitol Hill TOD outreach process began in 2008, which represented the start of exploring how the agency should approach transit-oriented development as a whole (across the region, not just on Capitol Hill) and what the opportunities might be post U-Link opening. This conceptual process took time to work through at the staff and Board level, with the goal of developing an approach to TOD that could work across the three-county Sound Transit District.
Meanwhile, the City of Seattle began updating its Urban Design Framework in 2010 because the City, too, felt that it should have a focused community process around what should happen at the station. That process also took time. In 2011, the City and ST staff began using results of the updated Urban Design Framework as a guide to negotiating a development agreement on the Capitol Hill TOD sites. That agreement took more than a year to negotiate, but it laid out very important roles for the City and Sound Transit, and provided clear, well-defined direction to potential developers. It also provided the framework and impetus for creating a development agreement (DA) between Sound Transit and the City that was adopted in 2013. Following adoption of the DA, Sound Transit staff began design of a public offering (Request for Qualifications or RFQ) for the TOD sites. Due to the complex nature of the site, Sound Transit chose a two-part offering.
More than 30 developers submitted responses to the RFQ. Sound Transit reviewed and evaluated each response and from that initial batch of thirty selected a shortlist of nine developers to submit for further Request for Proposal (RFP) that Sound Transit issued after selecting the shortlist of developers. We gave developers two months to respond. All nine developers provided detailed responses that Sound Transit spend more than a month evaluating.
In April 2015, Sound Transit selected a developer and entered into the agency’s first long-term ground lease negotiation for TOD. It was precedent setting in many respects and required more than a year to complete. In July 2016, the lease and sale for one of the four sites was presented to the Sound Transit Board for approval. Since that time the development team has been hard at work in collaboration with Sound Transit staff on design and permitting elements. The sites are anticipated to be complete in Fall of 2019.
“Capitol Hill was Sound Transit’s first major TOD project,” Sound Transit’s explanation on the long road to construction concludes. “As described above, Sound Transit began work on the Capitol Hill opportunity before the Board had completed its TOD deliberations and codified in 2012 its direction for what is now the agency’s TOD Plan. This process for Capitol Hill also established a framework for working/collaborating/partnering with the City that will inform future TOD projects for this and other jurisdictions.”
So, that’s why those apartments aren’t available yet and the likely retail occupants of a major grocery store and a daycare facility aren’t in business yet. Why isn’t the whole thing taller? Anybody lamenting that the buildings around a key transit asset in the densely packed neighborhood will only stand seven stories tall has a point. But even the 85-foot heights faced opposition through the public process. Check out this episode involving the Capitol Hill Community Council from 2013 for a look at how the fight over 85 feet shaped up. Would 110-foot heights also finally have been pushed through? 160? We don’t know. Probably depends on how long you were willing to wait.