Residents of a classic 94-year-old Capitol Hill apartment building hope to organize against a plan to gut the structure and turn its 34 apartments — some as large as four or five room spaces — into more than 100 units of microhousing.
“Everyone in the building is obviously going to be kicked out,” one resident tells CHS of the project. “This place is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen in the neighborhood and I can’t believe there aren’t any checks in place to preserve other ones like it.”
In an affordability crunch and a boom market for rents, Seattle is doing everything it can to create more homes and landlords on Capitol Hill have been particularly creative trading away parking and laundry rooms (and sometimes retail space) for more places to live.
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Plans for the Royvue building in the 600 block of Bellevue Ave E on the western slope of Capitol Hill below Broadway call for the landmark-worthy property recognized as a “Seattle Historical Site” to undergo “a substantial alteration and addition.” The 1924-built, three-story building will 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 apparently will require the U-shaped building’s signature 100×50-foot courtyard — the building is known as the Royvue Garden apartments in city records — to be built over, according to preliminary plans filed with the department of construction and inspections.
Residents say they have been told a new buyer is lined up for the building and is pursuing the redevelopment plan for the project titled Anew 615 Bellevue in the documentation filed with the city.
“The prospective buyers want to completely gut and empty the Royvue and cram it with overpriced micro studios that won’t help reduce rent prices or help homeless stop living in their cars,” a tenant said. “Apparently what this group does is take vintage buildings only, gut them and fill them with micro studios.”
According to King County records, the Royvue currently remains in the hands of a group of real estate investors that has held the property for decades. The property management company Alliance Management is listed on the construction permit along with a Seattle architect. A corporation included in the documents as the new owner behind the planned project either has not been formed yet or is not yet doing business in Washington. CHS was unable to find records for the company.
CHS’s calls to Alliance and an attorney representing the building’s existing ownership group have not been returned.
Residents are now trying to sort out what to do next. Wednesday, a group was scheduled to meet with a representative from Historic Seattle to learn more about possible preservation options. An obvious but time consuming and potentially expensive avenue is seeking landmarks protections for the building’s interior and exterior. Across Roy from the Royvue, the BelRoy was landmarked and redeveloped as a new project wrapping a modern apartment wing around the preserved but overhauled Modernist-style historic building that has stood at the corner since 1931.
The Royvue has plenty of landmark potential and does not appear to be on the city’s list (PDF) of seismically vulnerable “unreinforced masonry buildings.” A survey of potentially historic sites within Capitol Hill’s preservation district determined “this property appears to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance” in 2006:
This garden apartment building is unusual for the size of its rear garden, enclosed by the U-shaped structure. It was designed in 1924 by architect Charles Haynes for Willis and Guy Bergman, who owned the nearby La Crosse apartments. It originally had 33 apartments (later increased to 34); 26 of them are larger-than-average, with 4 or 5 rooms. It had features such as oak floors, tile baths and refrigeration. This is a particularly elegant and relatively early example of the many apartment buildings constructed in the 1920s, when Seattle experienced a major construction boom. The city’s population had increased dramatically in previous decades, and prosperity encouraged developers to meet the pent-up demand for housing. Apartments, ranging from basic housing to luxury units, were a significant factor in meeting this need, and became a major element of the streetscape in many Seattle neighborhoods.
“The West Capitol Hill had easy streetcar access to downtown and the street was lined with small apartment buildings, often using fine materials and detailing,” the survey write-up concludes. Sounds lovely.