Seattle’s endorsement of rapidly adding thousands of efficiency sized housing units to the cityscape has some residents in Capitol Hill unconvinced that one size fits all. Tenant-led group Save the Royvue has escalated its effort to keep the 94-year-old building from succumbing to development plans that would significantly reduce apartment size. The growing assembly of advocates says the Royvue Apartments is fine the way it is and now seeks landmark protections to keep it that way.
Eugenia Woo with Historic Seattle is consulting with the group and shares their worry that “the city is losing its identity.”
“This city has always been known for its character and that distinguishes us. It’s ok to have good new designs but unfortunately most of what’s being built is not so great,” she said.
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The 1924-built, three-story building is planned to be overhauled to create 147 small efficiency dwelling units. Each microhousing unit “must have a minimum room size of 150 square feet and a full kitchen or kitchenette” to meet city standards. The plans will require the U-shaped building’s signature landscaped courtyard to be built over, according to plans.
Residents were surprised to find out the Royvue was being vetted for sale after they say they were misled by the owners of the building until earlier this month. One resident recruited the expertise of Historic Seattle and the Capitol Hill Historical Society to help stop the sale, beginning with a letter to notify Anew and the property owners of their intentions to Save the Royvue.
The activists argue that the building is one of the few apartment structures left in the area where families can comfortably live, and the building isn’t in need of improvements. “One thing about this building is that it has been well maintained by all the previous owners,” said Woo.
Georgian revival style brick with a Tudor Style arched entrance defines the edifice of the Royvue, designed by Charles Haynes in 1924. A courtyard and garden lay hidden within the 34-unit U-shaped structure. Spanning half an acre of land, the Royvue is expansive with individual garages for tenants but what the space lacks in housing density it makes up for with its beauty and family sized units, according to residents. The Royvue was one of Haynes’s defining career accomplishments according to his obituary.
Ryan Darcey pays $2,500 a month for one of four two-bedroom units over 1,000 square feet. A recent transplant from San Francisco, Darcey works in the tech industry and says he gets it. “I’m not trying to be a hypocrite but there is a more judicious way to increase affordable housing,” he said.
“There’s got to be a more judicious way for determining which buildings to tear down. The increase in rent per square foot stands to be around three times as high if you look at similar projects from Anew Apartments,” Darcey said. “When you crunch the numbers, this proposal just doesn’t seem to be adding more affordable housing.”
The Capitol Hill Historical Society’s Tom Heuser has begun drafting the nomination of the Royvue for landmark status and protections in a process which could take months to complete. The nomination process could cause Anew to delay their proposed project until after a decision from the landmarks board has been rendered, otherwise they risk buying a property they can’t redevelop.
“Once it’s gone it’s gone forever. I don’t understand how the city would even allow this plan to be proposed,” said one three-year resident who declined to be identified out of concerns about retaliation from her landlord.
Other Haynes designed buildings have undergone interior reconstruction for retail, such as Broadway Market and the Broadway East Pike Street building where You Frame It resides. “The Royvue is an exceptional example of both the builder Hans Pederson and the architect Charles Haynes both of whom were quite prolific throughout the early 20th century and played a significant role in shaping the built environment of Capitol Hill and Seattle as a whole,” says Heuser.
The building’s current ownership and the prospective new developers have not responded to our messages about the Royvue.
The development company, Anew Apartments, is led by Brad and Lauren Padden. The married duo has made a name for themselves by buying and converting vintage buildings to bear up to four times the capacity with micro units. Padden has said he aims to maintain neighborhood character while increasing affordable housing by retrofitting the inside of heritage buildings and leaving their façade intact. The Royvue residents however, are not convinced.
“They act like they’re the second coming of Christ,” said the three-year resident.
The building owners have not notified tenants of any plans to sell the building but the group isn’t waiting around. An online petition to Save the Royvue has gathered 1,300 signatures. Neither the development company nor the owners of the building have responded to the announcement to pursue historic designation of the Royvue. Their savetheroyvue.com site has become a rallying point for the cause.
According to Woo, the Royvue should fare well in the landmarking process. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods previously determined the Royvue matches the profile of other historic properties. Of course, landmarks status is only part of the battle — preserving the building for the longterm depends on what protections can be put in place and ongoing defense of the property.
Save the Royvue, meanwhile, says there are wider implications of allowing developers to convert any building they want. “Why does Seattle hate their buildings?” said the three-year resident. “I’m really scared to see what the Seattle landscape will look like in 10 to 15 years.”
This post has been updated to clarify the quote from resident Ryan Darcey and provide more details from our conversation with him. We appreciate his willingness to talk about the complicated situation.