If Pike/Pine is an attractive area to live for a year or a lifetime, why aren’t there more places in the neighborhood that let you stay for a night or two?
While new apartments and condos have mushroomed through Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine neighborhood, there have been no new hotels and none are in the pipeline. One noted developer says there’s a simple reason.
“The land use code is pretty much stacked up against doing it,” says Scott Shapiro, a partner behind the Melrose Market development and many other projects on the Hill including this microhousing development planned for 12th Ave.
Shapiro and others are hoping the city will revisit zoning regulations that were put in place more than a decade ago that favor residential development over strictly commercial uses.
“There have been a lot of apartments…There aren’t enough hotels in the mix,” says Shapiro. “And it’s not just hotels, it’s also office space. There are creative companies that want to be on Capitol Hill but there is not enough Class A office space.”
To illustrate the zoning double-standard, Shapiro points to a 9,000 square-foot lot for sale at the corner of Belmont Ave and E. Pike St. According to city regulations, a new residential development there could have a maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 4.75, while a commercial development is limited to a FAR of 2.
In practice, that means an apartment or condo on the site could be 4.75 times the floor area or 42,750 square feet. A hotel or office building on the same site can only be 2 times the floor area — or 18,000 square feet.
“The apartment developer has the advantage. I can’t compete against someone who can build twice as much,” said Shapiro. “We’re not asking for more height, we just want an even playing field.”
The zoning disparity dates back to the mid 1990s when the Pike/Pine Overlay District was established to address concerns that high-density commercial development would creep up the Hill from downtown. The overlay, with few exceptions, imposed limits on non-residential use, while encouraging affordable and market-rate housing.
“There’s no reason for commercial developers to look at Pike/Pine,” said Hugh Schaeffer, a principal at architecture firm S+H Works. Schaeffer says when he and his clients, including Shapiro, look at properties on Capitol Hill, “the commercial option usually goes right out the door because it’s just not going to pencil out.”
This zoning distinction applies roughly to Pike and Pine Streets (and some of Union and Olive) between I-5 and 15the Ave E. It does not extend north on Broadway — so you could see a hotel near the light rail station developments join the Silver Cloud on Broadway.
Dennis Meier, the city’s senior urban designer who oversees Pike/Pine, says it may be time to re-evaluate the regulations because they seem to have achieved the goal of increasing the residential supply. But while Meier acknowledges the value of diversity in development, he said there’s also virtue in balance.
“There is interest in preserving the neighborhood and not throw gasoline on the fire of development,” says Meier. “Any direction that you might consider going, you have to weigh the factors. Because of the character of the neighborhood, you want to be cautious.”
Shapiro, who brought up the issue at a recent meeting of the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, says he wants a balance too because a diversified mix makes for a better community.
“You want to have residential, you want to have offices, you want public spaces,” says Shapiro. “It would be nice to have the option to do what makes the most sense.”
Meanwhile, at least one intrepid developer is moving forward despite the limited environment and the likelihood she’s leaving money on the table by not pumping even more housing capacity into Pike/Pine. Liz Dunn, Shapiro’s partner on Melrose Market, has cut the apartments and unveiled her plans to build a project mixing restaurant and office space on 11th Ave behind her Piston Ring building.