Once lined up for microhousing, Capitol Hill’s Roy Vue wins landmark status

From a plan to gut and fill in its namesake garden courtyard with microhousing apartment units to setting the groundwork for landmarks protections that will preserve its architectural features for years to come — the 94th year of existence for Capitol Hill’s Roy Vue Garden Apartments has been a big one.

In a pre-holiday vote last Wednesday, the Seattle landmarks board voted unanimously to make the Roy Vue a landmark and extend the city’s protections to the building’s exterior, central arcade, and, importantly, the site’s courtyard and elevated garden spaces.

The designation cited the Roy Vue’s embodiment of  “the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction, its presence as “an outstanding work of a designer or builder” and because “of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts” of siting, age, and scale as “an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city.”

The designation still requires a controls and incentive agreement to be worked out between the city and the property’s owners prior to an eventual City Council vote finalizing the landmarks designation status.

The owners of the property Alliance Multifamily Investments and developers Anew Apartments had an agreement and plan in place to build over the Roy Vue’s garden and overhaul the three-story building to create 147 small efficiency dwelling units in the structure.

The Save the Royvue effort was formed to organize a way to thwart the sale and stop the project. Historic Seattle and neighborhood group the Capitol Hill Historical Society joined forces to nominate the property for landmarks protections and won an early round victory in the process in October.

Eugenia Woo of Historic Seattle has praised the building’s “high level of integrity” and said it was crucial the Roy Vue be protected in its complete “garden apartment” vision “because the garden, the courtyard, and the building were integral to the whole design.” The Roy Vue has a unique flipped “U” design with a garden courtyard sited away from the street and was built by Hans Pederson, a prolific contractor who also built Washington Hall, the Ballard Bridge, the King County Courthouse, and in Olympia, the home of the state Supreme Court – The Temple of Justice. But the argument to save the Roy Vue, for many, went beyond architecture. “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.

In a city thirsty for new housing, there is still the possibility of an adaptive reuse of the building within the framework of its eventual landmarks agreement. But any future construction at the corner of Bellevue and Roy on the western slope of Capitol Hill will need to be sensitive to the building’s protected elements and its garden courtyard.

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29 thoughts on “Once lined up for microhousing, Capitol Hill’s Roy Vue wins landmark status

  1. A rare save in a city that already long lost it’s soul. Kudos to all the people who worked to get the historic designation. Seattle places very, very, very low priority on historic designation so it goes to show what great work people did achieving historic designation.

  2. Mixed feelings on this. Glad a classic building preserved and good to keep a building with larger affordable units… But we also have to stop blocking projects that will add housing. Microhousing if not for everyone, but it is an important part of the solution.

    A few years ago Seattle made a big mistake when it banned apodment style affordable housing developments. They make sense in the denser parts of the Hill. Today’s microhousing projects are not even that affordable because of the newer restrictions.

    • It is inhumane to put human beings in shoeboxes and try n’ convince them they’re lucky to live that way. You want to live in one? Go ahead. Organize your life around such a box. THere are plenty to choose from.

      • So we should ban college dorms? Or try people in Europe or Japan for human rights violations?

        Nobody should be forced to live in micro-housing. But it should be an option for people who want to make the trade-off in order to live in a really pricey area. This is particularly a good fit for recent college grads who want to continue their college lifestyle where the action is (Capitol Hill.) Those same people know they can get a lot more for the same money if they are willing to commute 1+hrs. But why do you want to take away their choices, and decrease the number of available housing units near downtown?

        I’m not saying it is the only answer for our housing problems. It’s not even one of the better answers. But it is part of a comprehensive solution for finding affordable housing for everyone.

    • It is not the “newer restrictions” that have resulted in increasing rents for the microunits…..it’s the greedy developers who only want to make money as they disfigure our neighborhood with their ugly, cheap-looking buildings. And, as you point out, the units are not all that affordable…..on a square-foot basis, they are very expensive.

      I’m not aware that there is a “ban” on apodments…..there are still many such buildings going up, but they just have a different name……”efficiency dwelling units.”

      • I can’t post links here, but google for this article from 2016 that details how affordable microhousing was regulated out of existence over a period of 4 years in favor of pricier, slightly larger units:

        sightline how-seattle-killed-micro-housing

      • The second article in the search results is a F/U from the original 2016 article. It discusses the specific concerns people have re: microhousing. I’ll include a few quotes (nothing after this written by me, all quotes from article):

        “Myth #1: Human dignity
        “A 220sf apartment is too small. Below a certain point, small housing is beneath human dignity. At a minimum, a person’s housing must accommodate conventional furnishings including a bed, table, and chairs.”

        Sightline’s Alan Durning underlined the classism of this argument three years ago: housing expectations are socially defined and rise with affluence. To say that 220sf per person is beneath human dignity is to declare unfit for habitation the housing occupied by most people around the world today and by most people throughout history. Indeed, most people in most places throughout time have had available to them less than 200sf per person. Implicit in banning such housing choices as beneath human dignity is the implication that it’s better to live in a tent or under a bridge than to be “forced” to live in a home that is moderately cramped, at least by the standards of the middle-class professionals”

        “Myth #5: Flim flammery
        “This isn’t about affordability at all. This is about micro-housing developers trying to pad their profit margins.”

        ” The implication seems to be that allowing developers to rent apartments smaller than middle-class people would choose to live in is to “let them off the hook.” Rather than seeing the economic problem of a housing shortage—spiraling land prices, rising construction costs, sclerotic permit processes, bidding wars among homebuyers, rock-bottom vacancy rates in apartment buildings, surging local population and incomes—they tend to see a morality play. Developers have gotten greedy. They should knock it off and “do the right thing,” which apparently means building conventionally sized apartments and leasing them for the prices of yesteryear. It’s an appealing argument, but it’s little more than wishful thinking—the tempting notion that you can blame housing affordability problems on a small group of black-hatted villains… The reality is more complicated…”

      • There is very little difference between “apodments” and “efficiency-dwelling units.”……only a “slightly” increased size for the latter. Both are cheap-looking and ugly, shoe-horned into small lots, block light and views for their neighbors, and provide no parking. They are a blight on our neighborhood, and will become even more so as time passes and they age poorly.

      • Microhousing goal is not to be attractive of classic. Intended to be affordable in this current market conditions.

        Huge difference between a new unit renting for $800 and $1300. The extra square feet and other requirements add a ton to the cost per unit and ultimately what they rent for.

        Read the article I mentioned. You may not agree, but IMO that means you are choosing aesthetics at the expense of more homelessness.

  3. I speak for everyone in Seattle when I say that I approve of this designation. Minimum housing unit sizes, minimum parking, and maximum rents will keep our city as livable as I remember it to be. Today we have one of these three key livability tenets in place. Kshama Sawant will see to it that we, the people, will soon have the other two. I need Seattle to be livable so that I may continue to live in it. What I don’t need is billionaire housing developers taking away my street parking and charging way too much for tiny apartments without designated parking spaces. That is not livable.

      • Kshama has already saved the Showbox and is currently saving Saba Restaurant from billionaire housing developers who only care about building expensive housing at the expense of livability. I trust that she will preserve livability for all of us. We, the residents of housing, deserve to control the size, parking, and cost of housing all around us. Do you side with residents or do you side with billionaire housing developers?

      • “We, the residents of housing, deserve to control the size, parking, and cost of housing all around us.”

        Really? “Deserve”?
        That’s amusing.
        There are a lot of people whose whole life savings and/or businesses around this issue might have just the tiniest difference of opinion.

      • Billionaire housing developers have oppressed Seattle residents for too long. Your time is up. Lower your rents, increase your unit sizes, and provide free parking. If you don’t, we’ll find someone who can make your property a positive influence on Seattle livability.

    • I absolutely side with residents, but I think you are stark, raving, crazy if you think that means backing Sawant…. If you aren’t a brownie point winning part of Seattle grunge history or a minority owned business she’d more than happily, if she could, throw you out of your home to build high rise microhousing on your lot….

      • But see, it wouldn’t be *your* lot, it would be The People’s lot, and they would “deserve” it, because….
        Well, I’m not sure WHY, exactly, but they would definitely deserve it, because Sawant says so.

    • So you want bigger apartments and more parking spots per housing unit. You want “character” preserved like back when Seattle had many fewer people and the downtown was not viewed as the most appealing place to live (so was more affordable than the suburbs, unlike today.)

      And you want home prices and rents to fall.

      Umm, I guess maybe some of that works in wide open spaces like Texas. But in Seattle (and particularly in dense places like Capitol Hill), increasing home size, parking and preserving “character” such as preserving SFH and 4 bedroom apartments means less places where people can afford to live. Which means higher home prices, higher rents, higher real estate taxes and more people forced to compete for the free affordable places that exist, and ultimately people forced into the streets.

      Seattle is very different from when my father in law bought a home on the edge of the Hill for 5K. A very different place that needs solutions to address affordability.

      • I want livability. When I come home, I expect my home to be large. A large home is livable. A small home is not. I expect to find a free parking spot right outside. That is livable. Driving around looking for a spot, then parking next to someone else’s home, is not livable. I expect that the rent to be reasonable. Paying $1,200 a month for a 5-story walk-up pod without a full kitchen is not livable.

        You probably don’t remember a time when Seattle was livable, but I do, and I will do everything in Kshama Sawant’s power to bring us to that time.

      • There are lots of affordable cites in this country. Seattle is just not one of them. To many people moved here, and to CA, and NY, DC and all of the other expensive cities out there. You can’t have 1980’s Seattle unless you deport everyone who has moved here since 1980. And while your at it, you will have to remove all of the appealing things that have been added to Capitol Hill since the 80’s, like lower crime, more small businesses like shops and restaurants, more available jobs close at hand in the city, light rail, increased bus service…

        But since we live in the present and not the past… Do YOU deserve all of the the things you are used to if the expense is that 2 other people are homeless because you get to keep things the way they used to be? Because if you want to live in a large home with parking and “character” than that is at the expense of driving affordability out of reach for those who are not luck enough to have gotten in on the housing market back when things were cheap.

      • tktk, there is one thing you’re missing here in your equation:

        When many people bought their homes, they were not “cheap”. They cost less than they do now, but *at the time* they were not “cheap”. I count myself as one of these. I saw lots of houses that I loved but I couldn’t ever buy them, because they were too expensive. We earned FAR less money then, and the houses cost too much for us to afford them. What did we do? We bought a smaller house, we bought a house in a shitty neighborhood, we looked elsewhere, or all of the above. Our neighborhoods grew or improved around us. We didn’t sit back and wait for somebody to build us cheaper housing or expect subsidies or rent control. We put on our big-boy or big-girl pants and we saved our money and we lived within our means and we had one, or even 2 roommates, for years, just to afford our homes.

        I remember seeing 900sq ft houses in Ballard that cost $150,000 and thinking “they cost too much”, and I couldn’t afford them on what I made. Another time, I saw a condo in an absolutely beautiful Anhalt building on Capitol Hill with a fireplace big enough to stand in. I was sad because I couldn’t buy it, because the condo was $195k, and it was simply way out of my price range. It was magnificent, and 22 yrs later, I still wish I could’ve bought it. But the money wasn’t coming from anywhere but me. Now a $195k condo sounds like a joke, but I assure you at the time it was expensive.

        People need to stop with all this entitlement. They don’t “deserve” to live just anywhere they think is fabulous just because they like it. They’re not entitled to live in a really nice place just because they like it, and expect accommodations to be made so everyone can live where they want. It’s never been that way. Never.

        What we have the RIGHT to expect is for favorable zoning to make affordable housing available in plenty of the open space in Seattle, so those neighborhoods grow and develop into nice places to live too; and we DESERVE access to good transit to/from work centers, if they’re not in our neighborhoods, so all the city’s amenities aren’t sqaushed into a couple of areas. This quest everyone seems to be focused on to make affordable housing plentiful in EVER now-desirable neighborhood, whether it’s CH or Queen Ann or Downtown, or wherever, is joke. It’s not gonna happen. There will always be lots of people with WAY more money than you or me who can live wherever they want. And I can want to live anywhere I want, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen. Sawant isn’t doing anybody (except herself) any favors filling up everbody’s head with promises of ponies for everybody. You know the old saying– “wish in one hand, and…..”

      • Jim98122x, you raise a lot of good points. I think MHA, although far from perfect, addresses some of this, but both encouraging affordable units mixed in with market rate, or at least generating money for affordable housing by allowing developers to pay for variances.

        As for prior affordability, areas like North Capitol Hill and Montlake have always been comparatively pricey. But other areas like Madison Valley and rentals near Broadway and Pike/Pine used to be affordable back in the 70’s and 80’s. It was just a very different place back then, and those neighborhoods were viewed differently (tracing back racist practices like redlining in some cases.)

        Regardless, the present realities of the greater Capitol Hill area require action to address today, and not be focused on the past. And a broader policy shift on zoning in all Seattle neighborhoods is desperately needed. As things stand, the “urban villages” are doing all of the development, and it is making them even less affordable.

      • Thank you, Jim! You have nicely summarized the feelings and opinions that many of us have about the current state of affairs on Capitol Hill and other areas of Seattle.

    • @No more micros – do you have a choice of what flavor Kool-Aid you consume at Sawant/Socialist Alternative meetings or… what am I thinking, of course there is no choice.

      Just like you don’t want hordes of supposed “billionaire developers” determining the fate of this city, I think most folk do not want the future of the city in the hands of Kool-Aid drinking “socialist” autonotoms.

      I think my favorite part is “I expect to find a free parking spot right outside” my large equals livable home… which I also expect. That is hilarious. Please show me what socialist utopia supplies its proletariat with free guaranteed publicly funded parking in front of their large homes.

      Know what I expect? I expect that we can live in a world where children are not bombed, burned out of their homes, starved, and murdered like we have in Yemen and Myanmar. You know what, I never really concerned myself with how large the homes of refugees and dead were and if they had convenient, out-front parking… until now.

      Your profoundly stated “I expect” and “I deserve” are laughable a best. I’m sure it feels great to be part of “something”… but I’m old enough that robotic groupthink just makes me think of Jonestown.

      Good luck with your demands Comrade.

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