Seattle’s recent major overhaul of its zoning laws is bringing change to the neighborhood surrounding 11th and Republican. In a packed meeting of the Capitol Hill Design Board last Wednesday night, the board sent a plan to create a new apartment building abutting the future FedRep park at 11th and Republican through to the next stage of the design approval process despite near unanimous opposition from community members who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“Of course we need density,” said one resident who held up a diagram he created showing what a four-story building would like rising above the future park. “Broadway has met that requirement.”
Despite the audience’s applause, the design board didn’t have much to say about the new “Lowrise 3” designation assigned to the area in the update to Seattle’s multifamily code spearheaded by City Council member Sally Clark and approved by full Council this past winter. “The board can’t really change size allowed by zoning,” said new board chair Evan Bourquard. “We can’t just make this a single family development.”
Deliberating after the public comment period, the board decided to pass the project to the next phase of the design process and advised the developers to go ahead with their application for a Master Use Permit, according to Department of Planing and Development planner Shelley Bolser.
In addition to being smack in the middle of a wide area of the Hill qualifying for the “L3” zoning, the future light rail line will run directly below the development planned by Nicholson Kovalchick Architects and be only a few blocks from the Broadway station filling the blocks from John past Denny. The apartment building is likely a sign of things to come with the increased potential for growth in the area boosted by increased transit options and other economic incentives offered by living in more walkable environments close to services and employment.
A view of Capitol Hill’s land use zones. See the City’s full map here (pdf) (Image: Nicholson Kovalchick)
That didn’t mean most of the assembled neighbors were ready to welcome the project. CHS will summarize: Most said they felt the building was too damn big for the neighborhood. But there were also granular issues related to sunlight at the park and the character of 11th Ave. Here is a selection of comments from the public portion of the meeting:
- “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should,” one woman said. “The park and the community need to be valued. The massiveness [of Broadway] is just overwhelming.”
- ” I love the concept of saving the house but [the project is] contradictory to design guidelines for the neighborhood.”
- “East/west streets are how you get to the arterials. The number streets are where people live.”
- “… a 4-story building would put the park in shade full-time.”
- “If this allowed, will the next one be allowed?”
- “You’re protecting this neighborhood, making sure whatever gets built is appropriate for the neighborhood.”
Not everybody who spoke made comments against the project. One supporter was the author of the Seattle Land Use Code Blog who wrote about his experience attending the meeting:
People are starting to get the idea, as someone pointed out, the “density is coming.” But I asked folks at the meeting “where will it go? If not here, where?” I pointed out that the Pantages project on E Denny and Harvard works (I am writing this on my phone so I can’t link now). I told people “you’re going to love this project when it’s done!”
The chair chastised me as he did others to “address comments to the chair.” But this is “frontlash” plain and simple. People prefer the known to the unknown. And there was audible eye rolling when the developer said the smaller the building the less money there would be to preserve the house–an example of our knee jerk suspiscion that everyone is lying to us in public process. The developer is right, the more pressure to reduce the size of the project the less money there is to do what the neighborhood wants done with the house.
Despite its inability to address the greater issues around scale and appropriateness in relation to existing housing in the area, the Board did make suggestions related to making the development mesh better with the single family homes on 11th Ave and doing more to reduce the height of the structure to better relate to the nearby park. The Board asked Nicholson Kovalchick to continue working on their preferred design with these community-inspired modifications:
- Moving the proposed building from near the north property line
- Dropping the west building one story (perhaps by removing the proposed parking)
- Carving back the upper floor of the west building to allow more light and air to the Park
During the Wednesday night session, Nicholson Kovalchick said it was already considering dropping the building’s unit count significantly and building larger units that would be more likely to attract families. While it wouldn’t change the building size significantly, it’s one modification that would help the design achieve the parameters set by the design board.
More notes from the board’s deliberation provided to us by Bolser:
* The Board is open to possible departures to make the space between the new and existing building on site narrower, and open to reducing the south and east setbacks to make more room at the north and west property lines.
o The space at the interior of the site should be carefully detailed to tie the overall design of the two buildings and create an amenity for residents.
* The Board would not be amenable to departures to reduce the setback at the north and west sides.
* The overall site design should reference the pattern of development along 11th Ave E (one way to achieve this is to place the existing ‘house’ close to the east property line and not add new buildings on either side of it).
* Maximize light and air to the Park.
* The design should be done to carefully reference historic elements such as building mass, building proportion, scale, articulation, materials, decks, sunshades, etc. It’s possible to do this well with a modern design, but the Board noted that the preliminary sketches don’t appear to do that yet.
* The landscaping should relate to the proposed Park design. The applicant should demonstrate how the landscaping and hardscape will relate to the design of the new retaining wall at the west property line and the Park beyond.