Appeal clouds Cascadia Center’s ambitious solar-powered future on Madison

A neighboring landowner is appealing the City of Seattle’s decision to permit a 75-foot solar-powered building at the corner of 15th Ave and Madison.

In the appeal announced Thursday morning, lawyers representing Madison Court, the apartment building destined to find itself in the shadow of the high-profile Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, object to a lengthy list of the significant decisions made so far on the project by the city’s Department of Development and Planning including the decision to grant permission for a departure from the area’s zoning laws to allow the building to be built up to 75-feet high to meet the building’s sustainability goals.


In the appeal letter, lawyers for Miller Court are asking the city’s Hearing Examiner to either require an Environmental Impact Study for the Cascadia Center building or require it to conform to standard zoning rules for the area. The appeal hearing will be held March 29.

The move comes only weeks after the state authorized local bonds to pay for an $11 million federal energy grant awarded to the 50,000 square-foot Cascadia Center and the team behind it, The Miller Hull Partnership, Point32, Schuchart Construction and PAE Consulting Engineers.

The Cascadia Center is planned as a living building “designed to satisfy all [of] its energy, water and waste needs on-site,” according to architecture firm Miller Hull which is leading its design. The building will have an expansive set of solar panels designed produce 100% of the building’s energy needs. The building will include residential space, retail and office space and will serve as the headquarters of the Bullitt Foundation.

The project aims to meet the goals of the Living Building Challenge, a set of 20 priorities not least of which are 100% on-site waste management and renewable energy generation. The most prominent feature of the building will be a huge Photovotalic (Solar Panel) which will cover the entire roof and south side of the building. We wrote about the early plans for the project — and the challenges of solar in the Pacific Northwest — here.

We documented concerns raised at community design meetings — Madison Living Building design meeting notes: A “solar rights issue” — many of which involved the proposed height of the structure.

The Madison Court appeal letter includes nine objections to the project. Some of the objections raised will be the first challenges for the city’s Living Building Pilot Program as Madison Court contends that the Cascadia Center backers haven’t shown their project will meet the necessary requirements to be justify departures from city code.

The letter also documents the Madison Court group’s objection to the granting of the 10-foot increase in height and objections to the building’s gigantic solar panels — “The structural building overhang departure for the Madison Street stairwell and the catwalk under the south photovoltaic (“PV”) roof array unjustifiably convert public space to private use and conflict with adopted design guidelines…”

Also on the objection list: the impact on parking and traffic Madison Court says the sustainable Cascadia Center will cause. The group is also concerned that the Seattle Department of Transportation is reviewing the solar panel structure as a “skybridge.”

The Cascadia Center was originally planned to begin construction this winter. Backers said construction will take about 12 months once work begins.

The site at the intersection of Madison and 15th Ave currently stands fenced and empty after the demolition of the longtime home of CC Attle’s.

(All images: Miller Hull)

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33 thoughts on “Appeal clouds Cascadia Center’s ambitious solar-powered future on Madison

  1. Fact is, the owners of Madison Court were offered a chance to buy the property next door. They chose not to do so. And now they are fighting a new building going in because it will block their view. Cry me a river.

  2. Seems to me a recipe for disaster, the solar panel array is going to go flying down the street in any given wind storm. They should look at panels more tightly pulled to the building. This thing is just ugly. They could also look at using solar tiles that go onto the building like regular tiles but have solar conductivity panels in them. President Obama talked about those and the solar roofing tiles in the State of the Union last month.

  3. I don’t care how sustainable, green, or carbon-reducing this building is if it’s going to look this ugly and be a blight on the community. All the features of this building that seek to make it a leader in sustainable design should be packaged so that it’s attractive, too. No one is going to want one of these moving in next to them if it does nothing for street appeal.

  4. Very early plans talked about some residential, market rate space.

    Later, in final versions, it is all office space, most of which will be leased to tenants. I have attended several public meetings about the building.

    Interesting, when all state funding is drying up, somehow there are public bonds for this project, seems strange. More information please.

    Mechanical box look is not too exciting in these final drawings … but appreciate the innovation attempts with solar energy.

  5. Uh, so apartment buildings or property owners should have to buy up all the property surrounding their property? That doesn’t make any sense.
    Their complaints seem pretty reasonable. Why should one building get an exception to zoning rules simply because they’re sustainable? And their point about the gigantic solar panel converting public space into private space seems it might have merit. A huge panel extending past the boundary of your building creates a larger shadow and sight blockage. Basically, maybe they’re taking up air space that isn’t really their’s.

  6. All I’ve got to say is that the Madison Court should really be careful when pointing fingers at design proposals. Have you seen that thing! Quite possibly the ugliest building within a five block radius and there are a lot of ugly structures to count up there.

  7. I agree completely! The Madison Court has SO much potential, but it is a rotting hulk of what it could be. I’ve been inside and I can guarantee that there is no “owner pride” invested here. Also, if they’re complaining about building height, look at the monstrosity that they built on top of their own building, probably in the 70s, to create some kind of post-modern concrete block with a penthouse apartment. Fugly AND destroys the architectural integrity of the building. As for traffic–well, um, you’re on Madison. What do you expect?

  8. Why don’t they just make the building smaller so they aren’t extending out into the street? Then they wouldn’t need as much energy.

    The solar panel does look incredibly obnoxious. Was this an afterthought?

  9. Why NO setbacks? Why are buildings in Seattle now built to the extreme corners of the property in all directions.

    Seattle gets the award for the complete lack of any design awards for any building in years. This is becoming ugly-town!!! This has got to stop!

  10. Little noted in these plans is a non connect to the sewer system. All human waste from the 50-60 people working in the building is expected to be “composted” in some fashion, to be spread on a garden somewhere.

    Yes, human waste. I think this is a bit to far into the new, or, maybe a bit to far going backwards. Sewer systems were invented in ancient times, for so many reasons, the list is long.

    The city needs to take a long, long look at this part of the plan … Justin, follow the story … deep breath.

  11. @Evan – time to play catch up. Both you and Seattle. As usual many places including Portland are way ahead of us here in sleepy Seattle. I toured the Port of Portland’s new headquarters at PDX last summer and it was amazing. An indoor garden in the lobby treated ALL water from the building to a level that allowed it to be reused to flush toilets and water landscaping. Run off from the green roof, and all the toilet/sink/shower water from the buildings 450 office workers is treated on site right in the lobby with NO discharge to the sewer system. No smell at all in the lobby and it was beautiful. Works so well that in the dry summer months they actually have to add water to the system.
    http://www.livingmachines.com/portfolio/detail/port_of_portl

  12. Hey, not sure having a modern version of the outhouse is catching up. and rain water issues are far from disposing of feces issues.

    The rain water diversion thing has been done in this area for decades, not new at all, just new in in eyes of the newly green.

    I don’t think the city wide sanitary sewer system is obsolete, the one powered by water flow that deals with tons of pathogens and bacteria.

    Course I know, to quote my dad, “some people think their shit does’nt stink”.

    I don’t like the idea of abandoning city wide by ordinance – that 100 per cent of toilets are flushing to a universal sewer system.

    On another note – the solar collector game is changing very fast – are these in the drawings outdated already??

  13. The solar panels look like a bad comb-over.

    Either an afterthought, or just poor design execution.
    (Plus, are solar panels really effective at this scale in Seattle, given the inconsistency of direct sunight we get most of the year?)

    A building like this only helps the argument against sustainable design: expensive, bulky, eyesore.

    We can do better. It’s 2011, not 1998.

  14. horribly horribly ugly. It reeks of arrogance on the part of the Bullitt foundation. They think they get to do as they please because they’re doing something sustainable.

    These arrogant folks are building a tall ugly behemoth that’s going to shadow the building to the east. an OLD poorly sealed poorly insulated building. There will be no opportunity for the sun to warm the units or provide light to them. That means those folks will be using their heat and lights far more than now. Great job on the sustainability argument.

    Build your building, fine. Just do it someplace more suited like the water front where the tourists can see it.

  15. Have a heard time believing Madison Court is doing this for the “people”. Ron Danz/ Northwest Commercial are slum lords who love to stick it to their renters. They are ONLY concerned with not being able to get the exorbitant rents they charge once this building blocks their view…

  16. This building isn’t just “sustainable.” It would be one of the most forward thinking green buildings in the world. It is targeting the Living Building Challenge, and could be the first building of this size (again in the world) to be completed under the challenge (it’s in competition with a project in Portland). The point is to keep Seattle on the cutting edge of sustainable design, especially as the challenge, which is getting play worldwide, was developed locally.

    As part of the challenge, buildings must produce all their own energy on an annual basis. The giant solar panels helps it meet this incredibly difficult goal. Solar energy has been part of the plan from the beginning. The goal for buildings under the challenge to be totally off the grid and self sufficient.

    Composting toilets have been used many times before and aren’t new technology. Waste will be dealt with in the basement. Plenty of examples where this works successfully.

  17. “so apartment buildings or property owners should have to buy up all the property surrounding their property?”
    If they want protected views, yes.

  18. There is a fine Native Plant demonstration garden planted surrounding the Audubon Society offices in Wedgewood. It is a fine opportunity to see how one can have a beautiful yard and also be a benevolent presence in our shared universe. This sustainable building will serve our community and the world as a demonstration of how it is we might address the unsustainable way in which we currently inhabit our home. Though matters of style are difficult to argue it is easy to see that this building is a true departure from what we are accustomed to seeing. If it makes you pause or revolt, that seems really accurate. In that pause or moment of revulsion I think a lot of the really thoughtful people living in the city, concerned with how we might address increasingly pressing and difficult issues concerning our ultimate ability to be, will also consider what it is that the building is demonstrating. Perhaps a new esthetic sense will surface where beauty can be defined, at least in part, by the way an object forwards the survival of humanity while minimizing humanity’s impact on the non-human universe.

    Also: I like to try and read and immediately dismiss the views of anonymous non-registered commenters. It seems a powerful way to distill a true sense of the voices and opinions surrounding issues put forth in public forums such as this (awesome) blog.

  19. Whatever you are coasting on, I want some.

    There are no gardens of any merit associated with this project. Seattle has vast tracts of magnificent gardens, vast, public and private, Eden? So?

    I feel the debate and opinions of the community are very important. Good neighbor is not just a PR slogan, and thus far, this project has spent a small fortune on PR.

    I thought my own reaction to the design might be my own. Delighted to see many people think it is an ugly box … and somewhat out of scale.

    By the way, the grid they are going to try to get off is hydro electricity, clean and non polluting. The system, publicly owned, is called City Light, for 50 years or more, and will be thus for many more. They just like all the public money they are getting for a private project. Bullit Found. will be landlords…. private enterprise well at work, not public interests at all, just office space for rent.

  20. I don’t get it . . . the sun moves as an arc across the sky and we have
    this monstrosity with solar panels at 90 degree angles. Can’t these things and the building be more curvier with more efficient absorption of solar energy? I thought architects were particularly hard hit by the financial downturn and this is what the still working cream of the crop can come up with?
    Good lord, this is a disgrace!

  21. Sure it works, slow and natural, we all know the rural outhouse was this exact system. This is not a rural property, pretend all you want, and 50 – 60 people is a fair volume of urine and feces, every day, every hour.

    I think it is a dangerous precedent. Public sanitary systems exist to protect the public health. And as such should be universal. Experiments in human waste – shit and urine – should be done elsewhere.

    The building is trying to do too many things. A good test site for solar panels is great, call the folks in China, rushing full speed ahead of America.

    There should be no exemption for connecting to the sewer system, public health policy needs to be universal in this regard.

  22. Can someone explain or figure out why they demoed CCs when the project (even without this appeal) wouldn’t be under construction for about a year? The building permit is a long way’s away after Design Review Board approval. Now we all have to look at an ugly fence and building remains?

  23. FYI, not everyone thinks this building is ugly.
    Just the vocal ones here are the haters.

    I for one think it is an interesting, technology-forward, urban building that I welcome on Madison. I will see it everyday on the bus and say Hallelujah to the PV!

  24. Let it be built! What’s the freaking fuss! so the fussy neighbors will loose some view, the solar panels will fly off in a wind storm, think not! so what! The bldg is awesome and sustainable which is a positive solution to the environment. Come on people! it’s time for change in the way we think. BOO! HOO! on all you negative self righteous pills.