CHS Pics | A ‘rigging and rope’ view from St. James

IMG_3989IMG_3749Over the years, CHS has sent Seattle freelance photographer Alex Garland high — and we’ve sent him low. But we’ve never provided him with god’s view from way up high on St. James Cathedral, looking down on all creation — also known as First Hill.

For that, Alex needed On Sight Access and help from Ryan Daudistel’s crew of “rigging and rope” experts currently at work on the 110-year-old landmark.

Daudistel tells CHS the On Sight Access crew will be at work on the 9th Ave cathedral for the next week or so helping Nelson Electric install exterior lighting on the facades of the St. James bell towers.

“We use rope access techniques, which allows us to rappel down the sides of the towers,” Daudistel said. “It’s definitely photogenic work.”

You can learn more about On Sight Access at For more of Alex’s work, check out


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First Hill Streetcar: 300 miles or so to go

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 4.20.13 PMNow that we’ve gotten to the bottom of what, exactly, is holding up the First Hill Streetcar, the information from SDOT is starting to flow faster than a 7 MPH trolley on Broadway.

The department’s promotional team for the streetcar system has posted two hope-filled updates after months with almost no information about the long-delayed line.

“The streetcar manufacturer finished the initial ‘qualification testing’ for all six First Hill streetcars earlier this month, after taking quite a bit longer than expected,” a recent update reads. Continue reading

What’s holding up the First Hill Streetcar

"Test train." (Image: SDOT)

“Test train.” (Image: SDOT)

Testing. Specifically, a longer-than-expected fine tuning and integration of the various First Hill Streetcar systems in order to have all six cars pass the final tests needed to start taking passengers. The most recent setbacks were highlighted last week by Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly.

Adjusting and testing the streetcar software to ensure an optimal blending of the two braking systems is one of the latest issues getting attention, according to SDOT’s Ethan Melone. The problem is jerking decelerations and stops that occur as a result of the dynamic brakes, which generate electricity back into the system, and friction brakes not working in harmony.

Unlike the streetcar’s propulsion system (which also caused delays), the dual braking system is not new. Melone said the longer-than-expected testing has been a surprise to both SDOT and to Inekon.

“It’s not really a new hold up. It’s just been this process of getting all the vehicles tested.”

Several component manufacturers are now in Seattle working with Inekon, the lead manufacturer, and Pacifica Marine to iron out the kinks, Melone tells CHS.

SDOT is also waiting for two streetcars to complete the “acceptance testing” phase. That requires up to two weeks of preparation and one to two days of track testing, Melone said. Once that’s finished, the cars will still have to go through another round of testing that will require running the 2.5-mile Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square route multiple times (around 300 miles) during normal operating hours.

“It’s not really a new hold up,” Melone said. “It’s just been this process of getting all the vehicles tested.” Continue reading

‘Open items’ — First Hill Streetcar hits more delays

IMG_7702-600x400The cynics in the CHS audience may have nailed it. The long-delayed First Hill Streetcar may not begin service until 2016.

KING 5, reporting on Tuesday’s City Council transportation committee meeting, says Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly acknowledged that the system faces further delays:

Kubly says a problem with the propulsion system caused the first delays, and testing revealed “water damage in the inverters” for all seven cars. He says they’ve undergone 250 miles of testing, and six of the seven cars are currently in the area. However, one of the cars’ inverters had to be sent back to Switzerland for maintenance. There has also been a problem with a software glitch.

In a briefing provided to the committee, SDOT said testing is not complete and various “open items” remain to be solved before service begins on the ten-stop, 2.5-mile streetcar line from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way:

  • The manufacturer has completed dynamic acceptance testing on cars 1, 3 and 5 and plans to complete this for cars 2 and 4 by the end of next week. SDOT/Metro also completed traction power integrated tests last week.
  • Completion/acceptance of Car 6 is uncertain due to need for repair of water-damaged inverters
  • Various “open items” remain even on cars that have completed dynamic testing, ranging from installation of informational graphics and loading route information to the passenger information system, to correcting important features that are not functioning as required by Metro

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.27.54 PMIn August after SDOT still had not identified a start date for the line originally planned to begin service in 2014, CHS polled readers on their predictions for when the streetcar would begin carrying passengers on Broadway. The overwhelming top pick? “2016” — UPDATE: Details on the changing timelines over the years — a range from 2012 to 2016, then 2013, then 2014 —  are below in comments.

Construction on the rails and the line’s accompanying bikeway have been complete since late 2014 and the streets impacted by the construction have seen all of the work and changes but few of the intended benefits of the new transit option.

Issues around the trolleys manufactured by Inekon have lead to delays and contractual financial penalties that have reached $750,000 for the Czech firm. The unique power system being deployed in the First Hill line has been a big issue. Heading from Pioneer Square to Broadway, the First Hill Streetcar will operate on electrical power provided by a single overhead wire “which receives electricity provided by four traction power substations strategically located along the 2.5 mile route.” On the return trip downhill, new hybrid batteries will provide the streetcars power “generated through its regenerative braking along the inbound route, much of it downhill.”

When service begins, the new streetcars will arrive at the 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays. The trains will share traffic lanes with motor vehicles. The streetcar’s current northern terminus will deliver riders to Broadway and Denny — across the street from future light rail service at Capitol Hill Station. Planning to extend the streetcar and its accompanying bikeway north on Broadway to Roy by 2017 is also underway.

A race, of sorts is shaping up, Capitol Hill Station and the 3.1-mile light rail extension connecting downtown to Husky Stadium via Broadway is set to open in early 2016. Will the Sound Transit-financed, SDOT-built $132 million First Hill Streetcar to meet it?

UPDATE: A statement on the delay from Mayor Ed Murray has been posted to the Seattle Transit Blog:

I share the public’s frustration that the First Hill streetcar has yet to enter service. We continue to focus on fixing the problems this administration inherited. SDOT renegotiated the penalties for late delivery to make the delays more painful for the manufacturer, which now owes the City nearly $800,000 for failure to meet deadlines. This delay is unacceptable. If these higher penalties are not successful in motivating the contractor to complete its work, we will be forced to consider other alternatives.

Sound Transit weighs options on First Hill property amid calls for new affordable housing

(Image: Sound Transit)

The First Hill properties are part of Sound Transit’s “transit orientated development” surplus holdings. (Image: Sound Transit)

First Hill won’t have a stop on the University Link Light Rail extension when it starts running in 2016, but it could still get a housing + retail + community space “transit orientated development” project like the one planned for Capitol Hill — albeit one that’s significantly smaller.

The First Hill Streetcar is one of the most well known outcomes of the Central Link Locally Preferred Alternative — the plan that would’ve put a light rail stop on First Hill. The streetcar was drawn up as a compromise to serve the neighborhood with rapid transit after the light rail stop was deemed unfeasible.

A lesser known component of the plan includes two surplus properties Sound Transit owns on First Hill, purchased in 2001 in anticipation of building a station near Madison and Boylston.

A new development will likely rise behind the Whole Foods project (shown in brown) on E Madison (Image by Tiscareno Associates)

A new development will someday rise at the Sound Transit properties behind the future Whole Foods project (shown in brown) on E Madison. (Image by Tiscareno Associates)

Today, Sound Transit leases 1400 Madison to a Moneytree payday loans store and 1014 Boylston as medical office space. The future of the properties remains up in air, but City officials are calling on the transit agency to commit to using the site for affordable housing.

Sound Transit is known for being conservative when it comes to purchasing, developing, and selling its properties. Turning a profit on First Hill shouldn’t be difficult. Developers planning a Whole Foods and 16-story apartment tower on the same block paid $21 million for the site in 2008, according to King County property records. According to Sound Transit, its 21,000 square foot site is zoned for a 160 foot tall building, either mixed use or office or residential. Several residential towers planned on nearby blocks will range from 275 to 300 units each. (Interestingly, Wells Fargo purchased the Moneytree property in 1999 for just $444,000 and sold it to Sound Transit two years later for $2.2 million). Continue reading

With historic Exeter House for sale, First Hill seniors ‘relocating’ to Capitol Hill

(Image: City of Seattle)

(Image: City of Seattle)

More than 100 senior residents of First Hill’s Exeter House retirement community will be on the move in coming months as the 1926-built, landmark-worthy apartment building is being put up for sale, according to a company letter passed on to CHS by the First Hill Improvement Association.

Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest has announced it is “relocating the Exeter House community of residents” to Capitol Hill’s Fred Lind Manor on 17th Ave.

A letter from CEO Torsten Hirche followed meetings Wednesday to notify residents of the coming changes:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 2.45.45 PM

“We recognize that change is hard and that moving will be a challenge, especially for some of our residents and team members that have been at Exeter House for many years,” the statement from Hirche reads. “But we also know that this is the right decision: one that is critical to continue our mission to celebrate and enrich the lives of seniors for decades to come, and one that is fully supported by the management at both Exeter House and Fred Lind Manor.”

9th Ave’s Exeter is listed as having 110 units in county records. Fred Lind Manor is listed as having 82.

The company, which describes itself as the only “multi-site, not-for-profit senior living organization in Seattle,” says it is preparing to assist residents with the transition — including “financial support” —

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 2.55.22 PM

Company officials have not yet returned CHS’s calls for more information about the announcement and the sale. UPDATE: A PRCN spokesperson tells CHS that they are planning for a gradual transition for residents at both facilities and expect that the demand for units at Fred Lind Manor can be managed based on residents “naturally coming in and out” of the communities while some will also choose to live in a new retirement community.  The spokesperson said financial assistance will include full moving assistance and some help for residents who paid for improvements in their Exeter House units.

In the statement PRCN says it expects the transition will take up to 12 months and that the historic building “will be turned over to a new owner only after all of the residents have been relocated.”

The roaring ’20s building is listed among Seattle’s historical sites as qualifying for national and local recognition:

This ten-story building is of concrete construction, clad in brownish brick with extensive terra cotta ornamentation. The center entry bay and two other bays on the main (south) façade, as well as a bay on each side elevation, are all completely clad with cream-colored terra cotta with a variety of Tudor-inspired motifs. Terra cotta medallions also adorn the gabled parapet and the top-floor spandrels. A very wide belt course and water table delineate the first floor. A narrow string course at the base of the parapet is highlighted with patterned brickwork and decorative tiles. The front of the building is further enhanced with three projecting bays of terra cotta, one above the entry. The elegant entry has the name “Exeter” incised between two shields. Windows are newer metal sash.

PRCN acquired the grand Exeter Hotel in 1962 and converted it to the retirement community. The sale of the property on the edge of Freeway Park across from Town Hall Seattle will bring its holdings down to three locations.

In addition to the construction waves that continue to pulse through the city, acquisition and redevelopment of existing old apartment buildings has also been a booming business — with residents sometimes being left behind in the wake. In September 2014, the $73.9 million purchase of First Hill’s Panorama House left many residents — including many senior First Hillers — looking at the prospect of significantly jacked-up rents.

Mayor Murray set to unveil affordable housing legislation as Capitol Hill rent climb hasn’t quit — UPDATE


Murray unveils new affordable housing legislation on First Hill (Photo: CHS)

Murray unveils new affordable housing legislation on First Hill (Photo: CHS)


Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 2.35.31 PMIt’s time for the rubber to meet the road at City Hall where officials are aiming to create 20,000 new units of affordable housing in Seattle over the next decade. Mayor Ed Murray and City Council member Mike O’Brien were set to announce new housing legislation Tuesday that will create 6,000 of those units over ten years.

UPDATE 12:50 PM: One way or another, all new development in Seattle over the next decade will contribute to affordable housing. That was the message from Murray and O’Brien as they unveiled two pieces of proposed legislation (PDF) Tuesday afternoon at First Hill’s Cascade Court Apartments.

The first measure, known as mandatory inclusionary housing, would require all new multifamily buildings to make 5-8% of their units affordable to those making 60% of the area median income or require developers to pay into an affordable housing fund. In 2013, Seattle households at 60% AMI took in $40,487. The plan calls for affordability to be calculated at 30% of income, meaning affordable units would be rent restricted to around $1,000 a month.

Developers would have the option to build an additional story, but they must pay-or-play regardless if that story is built. The rate at which developers would pay into the fund has not yet been determined. The fund will prioritize building housing within the same neighborhood from which the fees are generated, O’Brien said.

The second measure, known as the commercial linkage fee, would require all new commercial development to pay $5-$17 per square foot into an affordable housing fund. The option to build additional floor area will be included to help builders offset the fee. Developers would also have the option of providing an equivalent amount of housing offsite.

“This is a bold, progressive proposal where growth itself will support affordable and environmentally sustainable neighborhoods,” Murray said.

O’Brien said the bills will be introduced at City Council next week. A public hearing on the proposals will be held September 9th at 5:30 PM at City Hall. Continue reading

CHS Crowd Wisdom Poll — When will First Hill Streetcar service begin?

Last we heard in July, SDOT said “the start date is still not fixed.” There’s not much to go on but small clues here and there — an uptick in social media activity, for one — indicate we just might finally maybe be getting close. CHS kind of forgets why we were excited about the new connection to the International District and Pioneer Square in the first place. Now it’s mostly just about finally getting the trams out of the barn. So let’s turn it over to the collective wisdom of CHS readers — when, indeed, will First Hill Streetcar service begin?

Create your own user feedback survey
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We’ve also asked SDOT, of course. We’ll let you know what we hear back. UPDATE 8/28/2015 8:45 AM: We haven’t heard back.

UPDATE 8/31/2015 9:30 AM: Bad news — 43% of the crowd says 2016:Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.33.39 AM

Another parking rate increase coming for Capitol Hill as First Hill extends metered hours

IMG_20150413_133712-614x1024-600x1001New parking rates rolling out this fall on Capitol Hill reflect what many in the neighborhood already know: paid parking is relatively easy to find in the morning while parking for dinner is still practically impossible.

Following its annual parking occupancy count, the Seattle Department of Transportation is planning to lower the morning parking rate in one Capitol Hill zone and increase evening and all-day rates across the neighborhood.

First Hill is also poised for a major change as metered parking rates will extend from 6 PM to 8PM. SDOT found 99% of parking spaces were occupied in the area at 7 PM. The new rates will start to go into effect this month.

The “Capitol Hill North” zone, which covers north Broadway, will be the first parking area in the neighborhood to hit $4 an hour from 5 PM-8 PM as occupancy rates reached 100% this year. Meanwhile, morning parking along the corridor remains below the target occupancy range of 70%-85%. The morning rate will drop to $3 an hour.north capitol hill

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First Hill unveils its first ‘pavement to parks’ open spaces for community and ‘a little fun’

Two prototype parks part of the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan were unveiled Saturday afternoon by Mayor Ed Murray, officials from city agencies, and community group representatives.

Murray lead a ribbon cutting ceremony and gave a speech praising the project. He told CHS that these small parks would give residents of First Hill a place to call their own.

“As we continue to grow, we need to create open space,” Murray told CHS. “We don’t have blocks and blocks to create parks like we did with Cal Anderson Park over a decade ago, but underutilized spaces like this are one of the ways we can give people a chance to be outside, have open space, to share community with their neighbors, have a little fun.”

Located at the three-way intersection of University, Union and Boylston and at Ninth and University, the two parks were built on what the city said were underutilized right of way spaces after Seattle Parks was unable to purchase land for a traditional park due to high costs in the high density neighborhood.

Murray noted that similar “pavement to parks” projects have succeeded in other cities in Europe and the U.S. and said that he was confident it would be successful in Seattle.

Susan McLaughlin of the Seattle Department of Transportation said that safety was a top priority in constructing the parks.

“We’ve been thoughtful in terms of the edge lines and the barriers and the color selection so that it’s really easy for drivers to understand that this isn’t a roadway anymore,” she said. SDOT worked with Seattle Parks and the First Hill Improvement Association on the project.

Alex Hudson, a coordinator at the First Hill Improvement Association, said the parks had “overwhelming support” from the community. Her organization will do programing at each of the parks, supported by a grant from the Department of Neighborhoods. The next event is a trivia night on August 25th at Ninth and University.