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Broadway light rail station plan will need to meld community wants with ‘fair market value’

With the start of boring of the light rail tunnels to Capitol Hill, you can worry about sandy voids if you want to. But your energy might be better spent aiming your concerns at what is being planned above ground at the future Broadway light rail station. This Saturday, city planners and a group representing the local community council and the chamber of commerce are asking the community to gather to provide feedback on the draft of a document being positioned as a framework for the planning of the 2+ acres of prime Broadway real estate Sound Transit will develop in their construction of the light rail station. There’s just one problem. Nobody — not even Sound Transit — is saying how the agency will put the Capitol Hill Light Rail Stations Site Urban Design Framework to work.

“Before the first draft came out they said we can’t commit to something we haven’t seen before,” City of Seattle framework author Vanessa Murdoch tells CHS of discussions with Sound Transit about the UDF. 

Asked more pointedly if Sound Transit will sign off on the framework as it is shaping up, “That is not clear right now,” Murdoch said.

Nor is it required. The framework ranges from high level positioning to explicit direction for how the space on Broadway between Denny and John should be used. We examined the framework and embedded the complete document here. While much of the document is directional and aspirational, it delves into specifics on many topics like affordable housing and preferred uses of the station’s development.

Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray said representatives from his agency declined to comment specifically on the draft plan until they have had time to review it more closely. Representatives from Sound Transit have been part of the Capitol Hill Champion community group discussions and meetings that helped inform the city’s process in drafting the framework, Murdoch said. Gray said Sound Transit will provide feedback and is still on track to start its “request for qualification” process for the station’s development in 2012. Gray said the framework as well as the “results of other research” will be part of the contract that goes out.

A recurring theme in the discussions around the transit oriented development process has been Sound Transit’s requirement to achieve “fair market value” for any use of the development. Sound Transit faces legally mandated restrictions in its development plans so that its projects achieve calculated value at parity with the market.

But fair market doesn’t have to mean Burger King. One recent example where social services “penciled out” is Federal Way’s Korean Women’s Association’s senior housing project. The $18 million transit center project combines senior housing along with office space for service providers thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the King County Housing Program, the City of Federal Way Community Development Block Grant Program.

On Saturday, Murdoch said she is looking forward to a fruitful community discussion that builds and refines the original draft. “The strength of the final document lies in the comments we receive,” Murdoch said.

Capitol Hill Light Rail Station Properties
DRAFT Urban Design Framework Open House

Saturday, May 21, 2011
10:00 am – 1:00 pm 
Seattle Central Community College Atrium
1701 Broadway

E-mail comments

Murdoch said the goal is to incorporate feedback gathered Saturday and via e-mail and finalize the document in June. The City Council will recognize the completion of the framework by referencing the UDF but these documents don’t become law and part of the city code. Murdoch said it is possible that the Broadway UDF could eventually be amended to the Capitol Hill Design Guidelines used in the process to vet private development on the Hill.

The Broadway station UDF might also have another lasting legacy. It’s possible the framework could provide the basis for planning in Roosevelt, the next neighborhood to face the Sound Transit development process. Given that, Murdoch expects Sound Transit to remain actively engaged in the framework process. “We’re being very responsive to Sound Transit timelines,” she said. “I’m hoping to hear more back from them.”

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