CHS Year in Review 2017 | Steps toward affordability in the year in Capitol Hill development

Did 2017 even happen or was it just an extension of 2016? Seattle’s housing market remains the “hottest” in the nation. Yay for existing homeowners. Sorry for renters and everybody else. Capitol Hill’s population is pushing 34,000 and, unfortunately, there is likely continuity in the mood around affordability and housing. In our review of 2016 development, more than 40% of respondents said they were less optimistic about the future of Capitol Hill — and renters were even more pessimistic.

Fortunately, 2017’s year in development around Capitol Hill was marked by small steps forward to address the affordability crisis while some of the last big remaining chunks of not-so-recently redeveloped blocks finally hit the market and found new buyers with new plans for six — and, maybe soon, seven — stories. Some buyers, however, were happy to keep things the way they are. For now.

Meanwhile in the Central District, tensions rose over the pangs of investment, change, and gentrification before settling into a different kind of march toward what seems like progress. It was a busy, fast moving year.

Below are the top stories CHS reported on in the year in development. Maybe this year, the future of the Hill will look a little brighter.

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Year in Review — Development
CHS YIR 2016 — Plans to build our way out of it
CHS YIR 2015 — Our first look at the new Capitol Hill
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

  • Giant organizations put their weight behind affordable and challenged housing on Capitol Hill. Sound Transit and Seattle Central — of all people — worked out a three-way trade with nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing to begin planning on an expansion of the Broadway college and a homeless youth facility and housing project at Broadway and Pine.
  • Wait. Here’s Sound Transit, again. And Capitol Hill Housing, again. Along with master developer Gerding Edlen — of Portland, of all places — the final reviews and approvals were completed on the four seven-story buildings set to finally begin construction in 2018 around Capitol Hill Station. The apartments will be spread across the four project sites, combining to make 428 new units. 176 of those will be affordable. The affordable housing will be reserved for those under 60% Area Median Income (or below $40,320 for one person; $51,840 for three people). The development’s retail component, meanwhile, is planned to include a grocer and a daycare facility.
  • Somebody at City Hall will be fighting for you. In 2017, Seattle’s City Council approved the nation’s first Renters’ Commission. Capitol Hill renter advocates like Zachary DeWolf of the Capitol Hill Community Council were leaders in the push for the creation of the commission. You’re welcome.
  • Still can’t afford to live on Capitol Hill? The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda process finally brought proposals for zoning changes around Capitol Hill’s core including 75-foot height limits on Broadway. NIMBY forces — mostly off Hill — immediately returned fire. We’ll find out in 2018 if they’re successful.
  • 2017 also had time for a small sequel featuring one of the last big chunks of Broadway available for redevelopment. The Bonney Watson funeral home and parking lot properties hit the market and were snapped up by market-rate developer Mill Creek Residential. Before it was all said and done, the landmarks board said the “depressing” old funeral home is definitively not a landmark and the design review board got its chance to say, nope, you’ll have to do better in 2018.
  • No more ugly buildings starting in 2018. In 2017, advocates started the process of reshaping the Capitol Hill design review process.
  • Things got rough in the Central District though 2017 ends with progress toward inclusive if not wholly affordable housing at 23rd and Union. Market-rate developer Lake Union Partners stepped in with $23.25M to pull together a project on the key block for Central District redevelopment. Africatown in partnership with sustainability nonprofit turned in-city housing developer Forterra will be part of inclusive development component in the plan. But the path to get there was a tough one. 2017 began with the design review board rejecting the previous plan for the Midtown Center block. Things soon got worse as the entire deal fell off the table. Tensions over gentrification and social equity came to a head — and got heated with a standoff over the eviction of a longtime figure in 23rd and Union gentrification battles. But by May, the Lake Union Partners deal was in place and Africatown had a seat at the table. The community nonprofit is also hard at work helping plan Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank building at 24th and Union which finally broke ground in 2017.
  • Everything is for sale. But not all acquisitions in 2017 led to worries about what comes next. In February, we learned that the Capitol Hill classic Odd Fellows building at Pine and 10th had been purchased by a Las Vegas developer with, gasp, plans to keep it exactly the same. Capitol Hill-based and preservation-focused developer Hunters Capital followed by putting the neighboring Ford building up for sale. As the home of Elliott Bay Book Company, such a move might normally have caused a Capitol Hill freakout. But by May, a new $14M buyer had emerged with plans to keep it exactly the same. What did Hunters do with all that cash? CHS broke the news in May that the firm had plunked down $11.25M for the block of somewhat sleepy 15th Ave E that includes QFC. Its plans? Keep it exactly the same.
  • Somehow, food and development end up tied together. 2017 finally brought the First Hill McDonald’s tumbling down to make way for a 17-story mixed-use building. Another Madison 17-story tower continued its construction and Whole Foods reiterated its commitment to the neighborhood despite economic issues. The Piecora’s project finally broke ground. And the Redwood finally said goodbye to make way for long-expected, long-put off redevelopment. Meanwhile, Broadway newbie Albacha showed how its done on Capitol Hill, thumbing its nose at the impending doom of its Broadway and Denny building with an October 2017 opening.
  • In 2017, they finally tore down the old Value Village and preserved the thin, masonry facade of the old Kelly Springfield Motor Truck building to incorporate in a coming mixed-use office project set to grace the future 11th Ave.

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