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A ‘kick start’ for Capitol Hill Station as light rail development process takes shape

The construction gate for the future Capitol Hill Station site (Image: CHS)

This is a big week for the future of Broadway. This Thursday, Sound Transit will reveal the tentative terms sheet for the development of its properties adjacent to the Capitol Hill Station

“We’ve really been on the outside for the past three or four months since DPD and (Sound Transit) have been working on this terms sheet confidentially,” said Cathy Hillenbrand,  community leader of the Capitol Hill Champion group. “This meeting on Thursday will get us closer to the center and finally kick start the progress again.” 

The Champion group is a joint effort of the Capitol Hill Community Council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

The terms sheet, developed in conjunction by Sound Transit and City Hall, “is intended to provide certainty to the community and developers who worked hard to put the Urban Design Framework (UDF) together,” said Brooke Belman of Sound Transit.

The framework was intended to distill information shaped over a period of years in the community process around the future transit center and adjacent development organized last year in a series of workshops designed to establish guiding principles by which the two-acre Sound Transit-owned site will be developed before the station becomes operational in 2016. The terms sheet, which will be revealed for the first time on Thursday, will outline how much of the design framework the city and Sound Transit plan to incorporate into the development. 

“The terms sheet will inform the development agreements, regulatory standards, design standards and investment policies for the station,” Belman said. “A large piece of this has been balancing community desires with the regulatory realities the city needs to see from the project.” 

While Sound Transit and DPD have provided the Champion group check-ins, the upcoming meeting is the first step in opening up Champion’s input again.

A rough timeline for the future for the development is starting to take shape:

  • On June 21, DPD and Sound Transit reveal the tentative terms sheet in a private meeting with the Champion group. 
  • July 11, a second briefing will take place in which the Champion group hammers out details with DPD and Sound Transit after having reviewed the initial terms sheet.
  • In late July or early August, the Champion group will open up a public meeting for the community to come and discuss the terms sheet in full, hosting a forum to further shape policy to reflect community desire.
  • In November, after the terms sheet has received everyone’s stamp of approval, it will finally go up for vote in front of City Council.

A major issue on the table is whether or not the station will be divided up into parcels for development between many groups, or overseen by one larger group. Seattle Central Community College will get first dibs on developing the parcel of land on the west side of Broadway if they so choose, because that area will technically fall within its property zoning—but everything else is up in the air. (CLARIFICATION: We’ve updated this to reflect that SCCC does not yet own the land)

“Having one master developer oversee the station would make things more cohesive and simpler I think — if these building sites are sold off separately I think it would be harder to meet community desires, but ultimately its up to Sound Transit,” Hillenbrand said. “There are lots of logistical issues at hand in the decision, and the best we can do is try to educate Sound Transit why we think a master development plan would be favorable.”

A future station entrance on the west side of Broadway

The Champion group was also invited to co-host the the Request for Qualification (RFQ) and Request for Proposal (RFP) process, which is essentially the way developers will go about applying to build in the station. The RFQ is the first vetting process, which evaluates whether designer applicants are qualified to build. “Things like, have you ever done mixed-developments before? Have you ever dealt in transit oriented development? How is what you’re doing going to benefit the community? How will your design fit in with the community? Essentially making sure the developers are right for us,” Hillenbrand said. The RFPs are the second stage, which collects those who made it past the RFQ and submits the final proposal to Sound Transit for approval. 

There had been hope that Sound Transit would issue the RFQs last fall, but the process was delayed. “The RFQs have really slipped — but I think more time isn’t a bad thing,” Hillenbrand said. “There are all these pieces flying in the mix and I think taking the time to grab the right pieces and put them together is really important.”

Michael Wells of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is also represented by the Champion community group. He said the RFQ will hopefully go out in the fall, but the date for release is ultimately up to whether or not Sound Transit decides to choose a master developer or parcel it out to multiple developers. With one developer, the RFQs could be released at the same time. With multiple developers, the RFQs would see a staggered release, making oversight from the Champion group more difficult and complicated. 

In May, CHS reported that a group formed to help create a LGBT community center as part of the development won a grant from the city, and, according to Wells, Sound Transit has already decided that a plaza in the station will be made a home for the Broadway Farmer’s Market, with the possibility it could be year round or bi-weekly like the UW farmers market. 

“The idea is to make it a great retail plaza, really foodie central,” Wells said.

The issue facing the plaza is its location right over the station box where the light rail line will be. Sound Transit has been exploring stability issues with having the market over the box, but agrees that the space needs to be active and energized.

“Sound Transit has been really great at talking to us about balance between financial responsibilities, regulatory realities, and that community desire,” Wells said, “they have been really supportive.”

Meanwhile, another component of the station’s future seems to have solidified. Last week’s Sound Transit’s capital committee pa
ssed on its recommendations for station names for the future light rail lines. 73% of you agreed with the committee. Here are the recommended names:

  • Capitol Hill Station
  • University of Washington Station
  • U District Station
  • Roosevelt Station
  • Maple Leaf Portal
  • Northgate Station

The executive board will finalize things later this month and, we hope, do away with this Maple Leaf silliness.

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