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Vulcan shares an early view of the redevelopment of 23rd and Jackson — UPDATE

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By Ross Armstrong, UW News Lab / Special to CHS

Community members packed the Seattle Central Wood Technology Center Thursday night (Image: Ross Armstrong)

Community members packed the Seattle Central Wood Technology Center Thursday night (Image: Ross Armstrong)

Vulcan’s plans for the southeast corner of 23rd and Jackson appear to be on a fast track following a set of community meetings in the Central District last week. The developer said it is gearing up for a design review process from a project with some 570 apartment units to begin — perhaps — as early as next month. Meanwhile, attendees at one of the community meetings unsurprisingly expressed concerns about the real estate giant’s development plans and the rapid change coming to the area.

UPDATE 2/17/2016 5:30 PM: The deal is done:

Vulcan Real Estate today announced it has purchased two retail properties at 23rd & Jackson from Weingarten Realty. The property includes approximately six acres on the north and south sides of South Jackson Street, on the east side of 23rd Avenue South. The purchase price is $30.9 million.

Central District residents turned out in droves Thursday night to see early design concepts for a new apartment complex in the neighborhood from Vulcan and Runberg Architecture Group. Much of the community focus was on affordability and whether the project’s planned mix of units was right for the neighborhood. One mother spoke up about her two sons who had decent paying jobs but had to move away due to the costs.
Plans submitted to the city describe a complex of two five-story buildings and two seven-story buildings, interconnected around a courtyard. In all 570 units are planned in the 693,000 square-foot project. The project does not yet appear on the Design Review Board schedule but Vulcan representatives said they plan to begin the public process in March.

The Central Area Land Use Review Committee facilitated last week’s public meeting, which opened with a presentation by Vulcan and the design team and provided a platform for the community to ask questions and voice concerns about the project.

The main community concerns were the affordability of the apartments for the neighborhood and the impact the apartments would have on traffic and parking. Other concerns were having cultural destinations accessible in the apartment complex, access to a grocery store and the timeliness of the project.

Vulcan, a company created by Paul Allen, has a history of large, mixed-use real estate projects in the Seattle area, most notably in South Lake Union. Architects Brian Runberg of Runberg Architecture Group and Kris Snider of Hewitt kicked off Thursday’s public meeting with a summary of the project and the initial design concepts.

“The train has just left the station on our designs,” said Snider, “Nothing is close to being final.”

While the developer hasn’t yet publicly announced a closure of the deal, CHS first reported in December on Vulcan’s evaluation agreement to purchase six acres on both sides of Jackson. The discussion of redevelopment so far has been focused on the land to the south. Meanwhile, the neighborhood is also awaiting word on what will come next for another large 23rd Ave redevelopment target at Union.

Occupying the southeast corner of the 23rd Ave S and S Jackson, the apartment complex made up of five and seven-story buildings will also include underground parking, a large internal courtyard, and street-level commercial space.

Vulcan is planning for the review process to wrap up by September with construction starting by June of 2017. Construction is expected to last about two years. The June timing would put the project into motion around the planned groundbreaking of the second phase of the 23rd Ave corridor improvements currently causing smaller merchants a few headaches around 23rd and Cherry. Jackson, meanwhile, has also been envisioned for pedestrian and safety improvements.

“We have been very proactive in a community dialogue,” said Runberg, as he outlined their five community priorities for the project:

  1. A destination with a unique identity
  2. Connected people and community
  3. A great business community
  4. Livable streets for all
  5. A place that supports a healthy & stable community

After the design concept presentation, the floor was opened to the community for questions. One of the most common: Will the new apartments be affordable for current neighborhood residents?

Pete Aparico, a real estate development manager for Vulcan, said that Vulcan plans to utilize the Multi-Family Tax Exemption program and make 20% of the project’s units affordable. Price points for the units have not been reached according to Aparico.

However, multiple community members said Thursday night that the Central District does not reflect the planned income range for the project. Some said they felt that rental costs should be available to people earning closer to 30 to 40% of average in the area.

Multiple community members also said they were worried about adding traffic to the neighborhood, especially in light of adding 570 new units to an already busy intersection. For some, nearby Washington Middle School was also a concern for increased traffic, and meeting participants said they wanted to know how the project would accommodate pedestrian zones for students.

Others said they hoped a grocery store would remain part of the commercial make-up in the development.

“We are optimistic we can incorporate a grocery store,” said Aparico.

But the message from the developers, despite the relatively aggressive planned review schedule, was to hang tight as details emerge.

“We are in the schematic design phase giving early design guidance for the project,” said Aparico. “It’s hard to know and plan the exact dynamics at this stage. I’m not going to quote a range of solutions, but we are going to be responsive to demand.”

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17 thoughts on “Vulcan shares an early view of the redevelopment of 23rd and Jackson — UPDATE

  1. When the developer (Vulcan) says they plan on making 20% of the units “affordable,” what exactly does that mean? It’s one thing to include units for people with, say, 30-40% of median income, and another thing for those with 70-80% median income. The devil is in the details.

    • If 20% of the units will be affordable, does that mean the other 80% will be unaffordable? It’s not just the developers, but also the advocates who make this error. Affordability is a relative term, and if it can’t be explicitly defined, it needs to go away.

      • Right now there are zero apartments on that site. They are not removing any ‘affordable’ housing stock from the market with this project.

        I believe the only independent businesses currently on the site (including the site across the street) are the tiny, tiny bike shop the size of a closet and and the African import shop… there is also the city community office. All the other businesses are chains.

        It seems the main community benefit of the existing development is a grocery, a pharmacy, and the Starbucks which is a huge community hub.

        Preserve those existing functions and make sure the traffic is managed.

  2. This was an incredibly poorly-run public meeting by Vulcan and Runberg. I know they don’t *have* to do something like this at this stage (they aren’t even owners yet!), it was really an embarrassment for Vulcan and developers in general.

    Extremely pandering at times, buzz words thrown around, seemingly no knowledge of community needs or history (despite previous stakeholder meetings), and incompetent meeting leaders. No one cares about the green features in the building at this point. Seemed very out of touch and impersonal. Though some community members seemed to be there only to stir the pot, many did express disdain at the lack of research done by the team (not one could explain what Area Median Income was or what that figure was for the 23rd and Jackson area). Also, if you’re going to run 15+ minutes over your allotted time, don’t keep saying you’re on the last slide; they lost a lot of credibility there as well.

    I’m excited to see this project move forward, and I even personally like their concept, but good god that was really a trainwreck to watch.

    • I thought the meeting was well run. A little short on details but they are in the early stages. Adding 570 units of housing to a lot that has none seems like a huge win for the neighborhood. That lot is so underutilized right now. My only concern is about the super friendly employees of Red Apple and East African Imports.

      • Like I said, I think it’s a huge win too. The neighborhood desperately needs housing, and even 20% affordable up from 0 total units is huge.

        Basically, I think they were short on details that mattered to the attendees of the meeting and had too many details of hypothetical designs. Designers often tend to get lost in the design and can come across as out-of-touch. Even things like meeting location really matter when it comes down to public perception; the room was way too small, it was hard to hear, etc.

  3. A significant problem with the current method of calculating affordability under the Multifamily Tax Exmption (MFTE) program and others is that it does not take a fine grained accounting of the “area” in Area Median Income (AMI). At worst, these figures aggregate all of King county. Even a smaller sample would result in a distorted snapshot of reality if one includes, for example, the Central District, waterfront Leschi and Madrona, and Madison Park.

    • Another challenge with MFTE is that the 20% of affordable units need to be in proportion to the range of type of units for the “market rate” apts. meaning, if 90% of market rate are 1-bedroom, then 90% of affordable units also have to be 1-bedroom. Thus, given that developers make more $/unit on studios and 1-bedrooms than family-sized units, it is unlikely that these apts will have many affordable family housing units— something that our community needs.

      There is easily accessible information and data available on # and type of units MFTE program created and it’s primarily studio and 1-bedroom.

      • The family issue came up and they basically said that the 3 beds they’ve done in the past just don’t really lease. Probably a function of cost and square footage.

        That said, 0,1, and 2 beds are being considered and they’re taking feedback on what would be best there. So probably no go on the pipe dream of a hundred new 3 bedroom units with nice living rooms that will be readily available and not require a household making 50k to spend more than 30% on rent. That’s unfortunates, but the economics on that are really tough anyway.

  4. Dear Vulcan,

    Thank you for listening to community concerns. Please:

    1) Keep a grocery store here to anchor the neighborhood.
    2) Encourage minority owned small business entrepreneurship.
    3) Incorporate housing that is affordable for people being priced out the neighborhood.
    4) Create pedestrian oriented businesses and streets.

  5. Where did the site plan accompanying this story come from? It is not at all what Vulcan/Runberg showed at the meeting, or their open house 2 days before.