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Issues and opportunities arrive with development of Capitol Hill Station

Forget Portland. Let’s be more like Spain.

Sound Transit and the Seattle City Council have a deal that will lead to the creation of 85-foot-high, 400-unit mixed-use, transit-oriented developments surrounding the light rail Capitol Hill Station at Broadway and Denny. But first they want you to sign off on it.

Or, at least, attend a public meeting on the matter Monday night at Lowell Elementary.

Capitol Hill Station public meeting

When: Monday, September 24, 2012 06:00 PM – 08:00 PM
Where: Lowell Elementary School
What: Capitol Hill Station public meeting — Do you know what will be built above the Capitol Hill Station once the Red Wall comes down? Come learn the latest thinking on the future transit-oriented development — Monday, September 24 — 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. — Lowell Elementary School — 1058 East Mercer Street — Seattle, WA 98102

If you can’t attend but have something to say in support of the plan or to help push back on an out-of-whack element, you can send your comments by email:

Email project staff:

Earlier this month, CHS documented most of the nooks and crannies of the agreement being forged between the city and the transit agency that will pave the way for Sound Transit to auction off property around the Capitol Hill light rail facility to the highest — most qualified — bidders. That qualification part is the catch. A community-driven “urban design framework” sits at the heart of the contract that will be signed by the city and Sound Transit. Those four years of community process and public input will help define what comes next for the more than 100,000 square-feet of Broadway property above the subway station. At market rates, the five sites — labeled in the diagrams presented in the plan as A, B-South, B-North, C, and D — will fetch Sound Transit upward of $40 million.

Monday night’s format is promised to be a combination of the town-hall style presentations and Q&As that Sound Transit employed early in its public process on Capitol Hill and the distributed, walk and talk “workshops” it and other civic organizations are using more and more frequently. The goal, we’re told, is to gather feedback and educate the community prior to taking the agreement to a vote of the City Council. You can expect more, higher-stakes “feedback” as the Council process plays out, too.

Here are issues and opportunities we’ll be monitoring Monday night:

  • Height: Allowing the project to go to 85 feet high on all sides will help make getting involved with the project more desirable for developers while leaving room for developments to pencil out even with space left for a market plaza and, possibly, a community center. But the change could rankle some with the possibility of opening the doors to a building 45 feet higher than what is currently legal on the 10th Ave E side. Others, meanwhile, will ask why the developments above a key transit hub can’t be built even higher.
  • Affordable housing: Of the more than 400 units planned across the five sites, the agreement currently calls for 36% to achieve the city’s affordable housing mark — 50% of the area’s median income, or around $30,000 per year for a one-person household. It’s a mix not unlike other developments in the area. But those developments were shaped by pure market opportunities. With an opportunity to more deeply define the playing field, it’s possible some will ask the city to do more.
  • Quasi-public space: The plan creates a central plaza above the station that will likely be the future home of the Broadway Farmers Market. It will be accesible, likely, via open walkways connecting through the new buildings to the surrounding streets. The plaza and the walkways will, however, be on private property. The agreement will call for the spaces to be open to the public 16 hours a day. How this is finally shaped could be the difference in the success or failure of the features as a public asset. It could also create yet another flashpoint for free speech First Amendment issues on the Hill.
  • Community center: The current agreement will award “points” in the bidding process to developers that include a plan for incorporating a community center space in their plans. But it doesn’t define what a community center is. A City of Seattle report recommended an LGBTQ center for the site. Can more be done to shape this part of the agreement with Sound Transit?
  • Retail: Does Broadway need another 45,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space? Discuss.
  • Site D: The opportunity wrapped up in Site D could be what pushes the needle for the entire mix of future projects from got-it-done to model-for-the-future. Seattle Central Community College could put the property to use a student housing tower utilizing its major institution zoning. You might want to ask about it.
  • Parking: With the station box below, there’s not much room, anyhow. But, yes, you might thank planners for an agreement that leaves some wiggle room to developers. Or not. Sound Transit policy, by the way, dictates there will be no parking for transit riders.
  • Nagle and Denny: Denny becomes a “festival street” meaning it can be blocked off and combined with the new plaza for big events. Yay for that. Nagle, on the other hand, is extended all the way to John but is being given a maintenance framework with nothing in the agreement regarding enhancing the street. Meanwhile there is a plan for giving 10th Ave E a green makeover. While its adjoining and not directly connected to the Sound Transit parcels, this agreement might be a good time for a line item helping to turn Nagle between Pine and Denny into something other than the backside of Broadway buildings it is now.

Following the September 24th community meeting, a host of public process follows including a possible series of public hearings on the agreement before the City Council can give the deal its stamp of approval. The “request for qualifications” call is planned to go out to start the new year. Further into the future, the public process will start again with a simplified design review allowing community input on the designs brought forward by winning bidders. The near-term schedule is below. For all of the fine print and nuts and bolts, this time, we’ve embedded the 15-page Draft Term Sheet. You can review all the Capitol Hill Station transit oriented development documents here.

The goal is to have deals locked up by 2014 so construction can start in time to have the new buildings open for the start of light rail service on the new line when planned operations begin in late 2016.


Draft Term Sheet

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11 thoughts on “Issues and opportunities arrive with development of Capitol Hill Station

  1. Justin: your coverage of the details here is impeccable! Thank you. My major question in all of this is why we would need a LGBQT center? As a young-ish lesbian, I honestly can’t see it’s usefulness, unless all the gay related organizations on the hill were to move there. And even then, office space, meh. How quickly people forget the old center which could barely pay its rent and closed down a while back. What organization will pay the bills for a space like this? If it doesn’t come naturally out of a strong queer organization, then does it make sense? Given all the queer youth space hubbub, it also really makes me wonder if this is something that would be desired from the younger queer community? Can someone who is familiar with the space San Fran built comment here on whether it was a success?

  2. The photo at the top of this post is of “La Boqueria” market in Barcelona….it’s a fabulous space, but does not include any housing or other types of retail. However, it would be great if some of its elements were incorporated into the Capitol Hill Station, such as the wonderful art work canopy above the entrance.

    I’m very surprised to read that Nagle Place will be extended northwards to E John St…does this mean that all vehicular traffic will be allowed to drive through the middle of this development? NOT a good idea!

    I am excited that this will be a permanent home for the farmer’s market, but suspect it will have to still be just one (or maybe two) day a week. There are probably not enough vendors who could be there every day, year-around, as they go to other neighborhood markets other days of the week.

  3. Having lived in SF for many years, I’m familiar with the LGBT Center there. Its struggled financially since its opened, and relied heavily on government funding to keep its doors open. This article a few years ago gives a good flavor of their struggles:

    Generally speaking, my impression is that the younger queer community in SF doesn’t make much use (or have much use for) the center.

  4. One wonders why Denny would have to be opened up as a street again anyway? Why not make that an open, public plaza instead of the “quasi” public afterthought between buildings.

    And I second the comment on Nagle. I can understand needing the ability to move deliveries or maintenance vehicles in and out as needed, but surely we can do better than an alley.

  5. Justin: The affordability levels are a little different than what you are saying. The total number of affordable units is 158 or 36% of the housing, but 86 or 20% are affordable at 60% or less of area median income (AMI) and 72 or 16% are affordable at 80% AMI. Also, this is fewer units than the stated goal in the urban design framework (UDF) of 25% affordable at 60% AMI and 25% affordable at 80% AMI though the terms sheet currently requires bonus points be given to developers that make proposals closer to the UDF goal.

  6. Thanks for this info. I certainly hope Seattle looks to San Fran for lessons learned if they move forward with this idea. I presume San Fran has a much larger gay (and monied) population, so if they are struggling I am worried.

    I just feel like this is the idea of some older gays who want a bricks and mortar space to solidify the history of the Hill as a gay hood. In the age of social media (as gathering space) and more fluid identity politics (queer vs. gay or lesbian) I am just really worried about this concept. For it to be successful, it HAS to involve young queer people, period.

  7. Many large “public market” spaces in Europe have gone the way of trinkets, brokered produce, low quality fish, and tourists. Our excellent network of neighborhood Farmers Markets here in Seattle supports actual local farmers who bring Seattleites exceptional produce, artisan cheeses, free range eggs and poultry and pastured meats. Add to that vendor mix local flowers, baked goods and cottage street foods… and you’ve got some of the best “farmers” markets in the country. The Capitol Hill community can easily support a centrally located (Sound Transit station)year-round farmers market and an additional weekday market…or two at the same site – given the new influx of riders and residents. New farmers will join the ranks of direct market farming when new urban market opportunities arise. Captitol Hill is ripe for this type of harvest…

  8. Seattle should look to SF for what-not-to-do transit ideas as well. I now live in SF, and Muni goes everywhere, but there are a few caveats.

    1. It’s slow. In fact, Muni is the slowest transit agency in the country. The average speed for vehicles (buses or trains) is 8 mph.

    2. The underground station designs for both Muni and BART have failed massively. BART 16th and 24th Street stations are prime examples. They have huge open plazas, but not actually connection to the businesses around them. They just open to the street, and anyone who’s studied planning can tell you that this does nothing to add to the community.

    Seattle is on the right track with streetcar construction and with the massive public input campaign for University Link. I really hope to see a fully integrated station area when I move back. This concept has been done all over the place (my favorite station in France had mezzanine level retail and opened up to a semi permanent farmers market).

    So as the caption under the station photo about says ” forget Portland” also forget SF. Look straight to amazing European towns and cities for inspiration. All over France, Spain, and the Netherlands are good examples.

    Good luck Seattle!

  9. @oiseau

    Best stop in the city, el farralito – how local are you?.Even I know about that and I no longer live there. It’s functional and logical – you end up on one side of street or the other. It opens into a plaza, skaters hang out etc. Mission is sketchy in general, so your not going to find classic art work in undergrounds in that area.

    Now, if we want to talk design, I like the european style, having grown up there.

  10. To the folks asking, “what is the point about including an LGBTQ Center at the Capitol Hill Station”, please do not think that what we would like to create is the sad old version of the former center we had here in Seattle or even one that still exists and is struggling in San Francisco. These centers were built on an old premise, a reaction to need, that does not work anymore. They were built from an underdeveloped concept, in a vacuum that lacked real organizational collaboration, and relied only on an unsustainable local donor base as a means of primary support. These places were built in reaction to our community being pushed back in the closet, being disenfranchised, discriminated against, and worse shown indifference toward the deaths of people dying from what was then described as the “gay cancer”. People came together to build these places because we were in desperate need of sanctuaries, places to find other people like ourselves so that we could just be!

    Yes, times have changed and thanks to the struggles of many people who came before us, young folks today do not face the same challenges that we faced yesterday. Relevance is personal and you need to look deeply, to ask yourself, “how am I connected to others?” before discounting a greater need for something like a community center. The protections that we enjoy by living in Seattle are still only surface deep. Today, in fact, are fighting just to love the people we love with the same respect and dignity and protections that “marriage” provides. This is a social contract that we don’t yet enjoy. It was only 2006 when we gained the right statewide to not be fired from our jobs, be kicked out of housing, or be refused public accommodation simply for being or perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or because of gender identity. This is not the case everywhere. Seattle is a destination for LGBTQ folks escaping from rural areas around the Northwest and beyond. We do have the 2nd largest LGBT population per capita in the country, we can do better here. Our comfort has responsibilities to fight injustice elsewhere, speak for those who can’t, and provide a welcoming, safe harbor for those in need.

    Also as mentioned, while technology is wonderful and the advent of social media has broken down many barriers of historic gathering and the younger generation has embraced it, there is no replacement for personal conversations and connection. No matter how advanced technology gets, we live with our human condition. People will always need a place to meet face-to-face. There are also many needs that our community still faces and will for the foreseeable future. There drug addictions, there are identity issues, and there is still discrimination and abuse. 40% of the homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQ. This is a huge problem with little to no resources. We also have an aging LGBT baby boomer population, who does not want to go to traditional retirement conditions. They have lived their lives as out people and the last thing want is to go back into the closet to enjoy retirement living. These problems can’t just be ignored. We know that from the Snapshot Seattle report created by Seattle’s LGBT Commission, that a community center is a great need for our community. This is not to say that all of these issues will go away or need to be addressed onsite at a new community center that could be located at the new Capitol Hill Station, but that is the conversations we are having. We need a backbone organization that can connect the dots of resources and opportunities that are available through the amazing work of our existing organizations in supporting the LGBTQ community. That is what we have created with Seattle LGBTQ Community Development. We want the voices of our community involved in this process. Help us break through the negativity of why we cannot do this and help explain what we need and why it is so important! is our website.

    We are looking to create something totally different and new here. We’re very fortunate in Seattle that we as a collective minority community can come together from (now) a place of strength, where we have a voice to say that, we do want a place for ourselves, a place that is unique to us, that will shine with the best that we have to offer. Our concept is multifaceted, iconic, activated by 24/7 use, a place where people want to be, that is a destination for young and old alike, locals and travelers of all identities welcome. We want this to be a place that showcases and embraces art, culture, history, health, enrichment, sports, and most of all a place for personal connection to community. Specifically, we want to create a place for the unique culture of our LGBTQ community, with our rich history and stake in the fabric of what makes Seattle such an incredible place to live, to work, and thrive!