Charming, safe, green, and clean — What CHS heard at the 15th Ave E design workshop

Ross Kling owner of Rainbow Remedies considers issues of bulk and scale on 15th Ave (Images: CHS)

If 15th Ave E business owners and neighbors really can get their community priorities out in front a coming wave of redevelopment, these are the people who will help get it done.

The scene at Saturday’s design workshop and community input session for 15th Ave E was a veritable cast party of the neighborhood’s major players. Organized by the street’s resident designers at Board and Vellum and Environmental Works, neighbors, business owners, and quite a few architects assembled at the Summit on E Pike — maybe another community priority for 15th Ave E should be a large community meeting space — over the weekend to start the process of making their preferences known and documenting the design priorities ahead of planned development on 15th Ave E.

Board and Vellum’s Brian Baker said a vibrant and active streetscape will help keep the neighborhood safe, but measures should be taken to ensure small businesses won’t be left in the dust of large commercial development.

“I’m working on the Capitol Hill design guidelines and one of the things we are writing is to encourage flexible floorplans at ground level that can be reused, that can be adaptable and allow for smaller spaces for unique businesses to exist,” he said. Baker is also part of the design review guideline program for Capitol Hill.

With blocks already lined up for redevelopment on 15th Ave E and no telling exactly when, residents of the “quieter side” of Capitol Hill made visual and written record of a collective wish list which included dozens more trees, murals, and wider sidewalks as a reference for designers and developers who want to build in the area. The Hilltop gas station, Shop Rite and QFC could be moving on soon and with a $400 million renovation planned for Kaiser Permanente, it’s safe to say this stretch of 15th Ave is getting a makeover one way or another.

A 2-D mock up of the streetscape spread atop three long tables let the group of 30 play architect, placing chits for trees, play areas, bike parking and exercise equipment along the avenue in an interactive exercise. Art supplies were on hand for participants to write in their utopian vision, draw, and use tracing paper overlays. Trees and pedestrian spaces were filled in all along the way by participants who negotiated the finer points of landscape architecture and reminisced about the old days. To gather a sense of style, dot stickers were given to attendees to place on their favorites among dozens of streetscape stock images. The visual voting, community planning and suggestion wall allowed the group to bring ideas out of the abstract and into consensus.

Citywide issues like affordable housing weren’t necessarily at the top of the community agenda. One resident suggested developers work with the Department of Health to take some of the burden off the homeowners and renters who deal with rats looking for a new home every time a new development gets underway. While other social issues like increased drug use and panhandlers were discussed, attendees of the two hour workshop mainly sought design solutions to envision and/or maintain the small commercial village of their dreams.

“A lot of 15th Ave E has a feel like an alley with all the blank walls and we need a lot more trash cans,” said one resident.

Many of the participants expressed a wish to preserve the quaint and quirky vibe on 15th, while others wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of new and plentiful commerce on the street.

The gathering was largely made up of business stakeholders such as the owner of Uncle Ike’s cannabis shop, Ian Eisenberg, design review board members, and Michael Burke, who owns the Hilltop gas station. Noticeably absent from the event were 20-something residents and a solid representation of the diversity on the Hill. While the organizers have no immediate plans for future meetings, the design input will be on their website and available for review.

Shannon Carrico, a designer with Environmental Works asked the group to imagine their best ideas for 15th Ave E, resulting in an abundance of suggestions ranging from better storefront facades and fitness equipment in front of the old firehouse, to outlawing panhandlers and keeping the buildings at relatively low elevations. Once written, illustrated, and voted, the suggestions mostly boiled down to this: Let’s make sure 15th Avenue East stays charming, safe, green, and clean. On a busy commercial street in a booming neighborhood in a booming city, it’s a vision that faces some major challenges.

You can learn more and get involved at 15thaveeastworkshop.com.


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7 thoughts on “Charming, safe, green, and clean — What CHS heard at the 15th Ave E design workshop

  1. Oh FFS! Could you give an example of a place on 15th where you would regularly see 20 something’s? Is there evidence that there is a meaningfuly sized group of 20 something residents in the immediate area of 15th? Not every part of the neighborhood is the same and that’s fine. It’s good! Healthy, even!!

  2. Agree. 15th should be distinct from Broadway or Pike and Pine if it wants to thrive. The neighborhood it serves is comparatively older and has a lot more families.

    It makes sense that each retail corridor should try and fit a niche that fits its neighborhood dynamics. So when people talk about a focus on safety, it partly comes from the fact that the walkshed of 15th has a lot more families with young children when compared to the “busier” side of the Hill. This is even more the case with 19th, which seems to be finally growing.

  3. Please let this process not be dominated by the typical “old fogies” whose attitude is that any change of any kind is unacceptable.

    E 15th needs height, we need more and better retail, we need housing.

    What we don’t need is to have the process of development dominated by the usual suspects, which seems to be what is happening here…as usual.

  4. In fact, if anything, I think the areas from 15th-20th should focus on increased density and affordability for families, since this would fit with make-up of the area. While on the “busier side” of the Hill target increased density and affordability with units that serve 1-2 people.

    That way you work towards your goals while maintaining the overall neighborhood vibes. IMO, much of the push towards affordability has been microhousing. And that makes sense for areas that cater towards single 20’s. While areas that currently have lots of families should be pushing towards affordable housing for families… which is a lot harder to incentivize though current schemes like allowing for additional height in an commercial district building.

  5. Agree. Affordable housing for families is a great fit for 15th. There are actually already a few affordable buildings on 15th – above Palermo and above the Canterbury – and I wonder how many people even know that.

    More height and density is fine and can be done well. Many of the slated changes can be big improvements if done thoughtfully. The street should stay focused on small businesses and the family-friendly character should be maintained and improved. Losing the surface parking lots is no big loss and will make the street safer for pedestrians.

    There’s no reason increased height can’t go hand in hand with those things, but we need to ensure that it does.

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