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Capitol Hill Station development: 10 questions (and answers) from the crowd — UPDATE

City Council member Richard Conlin at Monday’s meeting. A council hearing on the station development is tentatively scheduled for the evening of December 3rd (Image: CHS)

Earlier this week, with the hometown Seahawks sneaking off with an improbable victory on Monday Night Football, the gymnasium of Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary was packed with a different sort of 12th Man and Woman. The crowd was there to cheer on, as it were, the community process that has helped to shape the development plan for Capitol Hill Station. And to ask some pretty good questions about the pages of details in the term sheet the City of Seattle is preparing to sign with Sound Transit to start the process of selling off the land around the future light rail station to the highest paying, most qualified bidders.

CHS reported on the proposed agreement earlier this month that calls for apartment and commercial buildings as tall as 85-feet and a new market plaza above the subway station by the time service begins in 2016. We also outlined some of the issues and opportunities with the plan.

Below are many of the questions raised by the audience Monday night. We’ve included some of the answers provided by city and Sound Transit staff that night as well as several follow-ups we’ve asked for in the days following. Other questions we’ll follow up on as soon as we can. Officials are asking that you provide feedback on the agreement by October 3rd — the term sheet is currently slated to be signed on the 5th.

Email project staff:

We’ll also be following up on two issues raised so far in the process that will require more time to dig into. First, we plan to check in on the group hoping to create a community center as part of the development. Second, Seattle Central’s role in the site near their campus — Site D — could open up that part of the development to soar to 105 feet. More on that soon.

Questions from the crowd — Questions in most cases are abbreviated and edited for clarity. Answers from the City or Sound Transit are highlighted.

  • Any thought given to keeping it public land? 

The City is not in position to buy this property…

  • Why use Multi-family Tax Exempt 12-year limit for the affordable housing portion of the agreement? Why not require keeping it affordable longer?
The Multi Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program is an existing program that provides some tax savings to a market rate developer who ensures 20% of the total number of residential units are affordable to households earning 80% or less of Area Median Income for a 12 year period. The program is voluntary, but in the case of the redevelopment on the TOD sites participation would be required. Using an existing program that developers have used before makes the affordable housing requirement less risky to a potential developer, as there is precedent in the market place. The 12 year duration of the affordability requirement is part of the State program and cannot be altered by the City.

In terms of the MFTE program, I have some additional details and a clarification:

The Urban Design Framework states “Incentive Programs and subsidies are not anticipated to enable developers to reach the overall affordability goals. Covenants could be placed on property that require affordable rents or sales process for at least 50 years—agreements would vary by sub-parcel, but together would help reach the overall affordable housing goals.”  Currently, the City’s MFTE program is voluntary and a developer participating in the program may choose to end their participation at any point during the twelve year period of the program.  Sound Transit is placing twelve year encumbrances on the properties targeted for private development to ensure developer participation for the full twelve years in which the tax exemption is available.  Sound Transit is not placing encumbrances for longer than twelve years because there is no tax incentive for the developers to help offset the difference in revenue between restricted and market rate rents. An encumbrance with no source of offsetting savings or subsidy could potentially reduce the value of the land and Sound Transit’s ability to sell the property at fair market value.

However, through the RFQ/RFP process developers will be provided bonus points for housing proposals that extend the term of affordability to 50 years and/or provide deeper levels of affordability.

The Multi Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program provides some tax savings to a developer who ensures 20% of the total number of residential units are affordable to low and moderate income households, with the level of affordability related to the unit type; at or below 65% of median for studio units, at or below 75% of median for 1-bedroom units, and at or below 85% of median for 2-bedroom and larger units.

  •  Are there plans to incorporate bus stops on Broadway in addition to what is planned on John?
Will get back to you on this – SDOT staff have been working with Metro regarding future service planning, I just don’t have the specific details
  • Are there any requirements for diversity of unit sizes for the housing component?
Waiting for Office of Housing staff for a correct and complete response.

The term sheet does not specify any particular mix of unit sizes or specific populations served.  However it is the City’s intent to encourage the developers through the RFQ/P process to propose development of larger family sized units in site B North which we are committed to funding.  We will also encourage through the RFQ/P process, housing in the market rate buildings that meets the housing needs and guidance stated in the Urban Design Framework:

  • There is a need for more affordable housing that meets the needs of seniors, families and artists in the neighborhood.
  • Townhome style units with individual unit entries facing the 10th Ave. E. side of Site B could be an appropriate location for affordable family sized units as well as incorporating design features to better transition to the L3 zoned block to the east.
  • Activity generating uses should face the Plaza on the ground floor. Should these uses be housing, active live/work units should be considered.
  •  How will developers be encouraged to attract local businesses as tenants?
One of the site –specific design guidelines is to consider designing flexible retail spaces that could accommodate a range of uses – from those requiring more square footage to those requiring a smaller than average amount of space. While there is not a direct incentive to attract local businesses, the Urban Design Framework clearly recommends that local businesses be accommodated and encouraged to locate in this redevelopment.
  • What will happen in plaza when market isn’t there? Entity be formed to “program” that plaza. Can you tell us more about what needs to happen here?
The plaza will be privately owned and publicly accessible. It will be up to the owner of the plaza to determine how best to program the space. Part of this programming will be dependent on the adjacent uses and how those uses might spill out onto the plaza on non market days. The Urban Design Framework has strong recommendations regarding the desirability of an entity to program the plaza with scheduled as well as impromptu activities.
  • There was some community desire that the roof of Site A be required to be publicly accessible but the “recommendation” is not in term sheet. Why not?
Future developers may certainly include a publicly accessible rooftop deck as recommended in the UDF. The term sheet lays out recommended requirements of the future developers as well as the recommended flexibility in certain development standards. The term sheet represents the negotiated balance between these two.
  • Why not build a span across the station box instead of an empty plaza?

It’s too cost prohibitive. You’d have to spend $4 to get back $1 in real estate value.


  • Are there shadow studies of the proposed layout?
We are preparing studies and will post then on our project website when complete
  • What about places for cabs and cars to drop off light rail riders?

There will no “kiss and ride” space per se but the new one-way Denny will have pull-outs people could use for drop-offs.


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9 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Station development: 10 questions (and answers) from the crowd — UPDATE

  1. Thank you for providing access to this vital information for those of us who can’t get to the meetings. You beat the Seattle Times “reporting” all to h*ll.

  2. I understand why private ownership of the buildings is desired, but public ownership of the plaza area, perhaps by some kind of junior taxing district, would guarantee that the plaza reflects community needs and wants, rather than making it subject to some corporate bottom line.

  3. I would suggest that “Ownership” of the plaza is less important than “Programming” of the plaza. With Cal Anderson steps away, do we really need more publicly owned space? By making this a privately owned space, it requires the developer to think about how the space will be utilized and connected to the other uses on the site. If we want it to be as lively as possible, then we should work with groups, like the Farmer’s Market, and others, to ensure that activity happens in the space. It is activity that makes these kinds of spaces lively, not the type of ownership, necessarily.

  4. A rooftop deck sounds like a hangout for the less savory and a public plaza sounds like a neglected (taxes?!) plaza. I’ll take the plaza and deck if they come with full rights and no responsibilities.

  5. ONE COMPLETE BUILDING SITE will be dedicated to permanently affordable housing bulit by a non-profit affordable housing developer – The unit count will vary depending on the unit size mix – this will be affordable at 60% or below AMI (area median income) – To acheive a greater % of affordable housing units across the entire set of parcels, potential developers are being MANDATED to use the MFTE tax exemption for 20% of all other units to be built on the site, and are being MANDATED to provide affordability for the full 12 years of the program. This is a state of Washington program which cannot be altered by the City or Sound Transit. There will be bonus points in the RFQ/P for market-rate developers who are willing to increase either the % count of affordable units in their projects, or to increase the affordablility of the units up to 50 years. The neighborhood goals for affordability as stated in the Urban Design Framework (UDF) are for 50% of ALL units to be affordable long-term. It has been a complex negotiation for Sound Transit to agree to mandate affordability on these parcels, and to figure out how the affordable housing will be paid for.

    Sound Transit is willing to put encumbrances on the property to acheive many of the community goals expressed in the UDF. The encumbrances require reducing buildable footprint on these parcels – Crafting an agreement which meets commuity goals and presents opportunities which developers are willing to bid on has been a long and involved process. It would be a shame if the station were built and no one was interested in building on top of it with these requirements for community benefits.

  6. Rights always come with responsibilities. That is one of the problems facing the entire country now, that some people believe that rights mean no responsibility. Private ownership (rights) on a public plaza mean that the public plaza is not public at all. With public ownership such amenities as a roof could be created with tax-deductible donations. Also, there would be no likelihood that a private owner would set rents so high that the famers market would be priced out of the space.

  7. As one of the Blitz art walk organizers, I frequently get questions from artists asking if there is a designated area where they can set up a table or display for vending during the Capitol Hill art walk, such as what Occidental Square offers on First Thursday in Pioneer Square.
    Besides having the plaza available for the Farmers Market, the plaza would be put to good community use by also being the designated spot for art vending pop-ups during Capitol Hill’s Blitz Art Walk. Having an art market would be awesome!