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Capitol Hill Community Post | An open letter on Capitol Hill Station development

commentfigurescaphillstationedgBy Andrew Haas

There have been many large commercial projects on Capitol Hill over the last decade, but none have the power to shape the neighborhood’s future more than the redevelopment of the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station. As the project heads for Early Design Guidance on Wednesday, now is the last real opportunity for the Capitol Hill community to shape the project. Let the East Design Review Board, Capitol Hill Champion and Gerding Edlen, the developer, hear your input.

While Gerding Edlen has an excellent team and their early design proposal is strong, five design issues need to be addressed to make this a great project for the neighborhood.

  1. Make the Market Hall the heart of the development. Expand the European-style Market Hall to include all of Site A South as was outlined in Gerding Edlen’s winning bid. Reject the current preferred massing for Site A South, which is inconsistent with the original project proposal. The location of the residential lobby and leasing center in Site A South reduces the area of the Market Hall by over one-third and disconnects it from other retail spaces. It was already smaller than is optimal, and this change is unacceptable. Move the residential lobby to the middle of Site A North along Broadway and reduce its footprint by 50%. Activate the pass-through between Site A North and Site A South with market stalls that open directly onto it from both sides. Carry the Market Hall concept across the festival street to Site C. Stalls should be smaller than what is identified in the proposal (200-300 ft2) so there is room for more small businesses and a critical mass of original shops to make the Market Hall a true destination. The Market Hall should have a mix of local farm produce, specialty food shops, and local artist stands. The Market Hall should provide a 7-day-a-week anchor for the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market, which will occur in the plaza once or twice a week. We should look to Pike Place Market and the many beautiful markets in European cities such as London, St Petersburg, Istanbul, Paris, Helsinki, Florence as precedent.
  2. Add café space along Cal Anderson Park. Putting eyes on Cal Anderson Park to increase public safety is a goal for the Capitol Hill Council and the Capitol Hill Ecodistrict. It should be a priority of this project as well. The entire south side of the ground floor of Site B should be a cafe facing the park. This will require removing the two ground-floor lofts facing the park from along the south side of Site B. Site C should also have a cafe facing Cal Anderson Park. This is the approximate historic location of Café Vivace. It would be great to see it return. Seattle has far fewer cafes/restaurants in or adjacent to parks than other cities. It would be a missed opportunity to not activate the park side of this development.
  3. Work with Sound Transit to integrate new construction seamlessly with Sound Transit Light Rail buildings to avoid gaps and dead ends. The gaps and dead ends between the proposed new buildings and the Sound Transit buildings are bad design, dangerous and unacceptable. Sound Transit does not need access to maintain a cinder block wall. All parties should push Sound Transit to remedy the situation.
  4. Hold the developer to their commitment to include a grocery store. Gerding Edlen’s winning bid included a grocery store as part of the site plan. Madison Market and New Seasons have expressed interest in the space. At the design open house, the developer indicated that they are considering non-grocer tenants. If City People’s Garden Store wants to move up from Madison Valley, I support it.  If the developer want’s to extend the Market Hall into Site A North, I support it. Otherwise, unless both grocery stores pull their names out of considerations, we should hold Gerding Edlen to their commitment.
  5. Require the use of high quality finishing materials. This new development will be the gateway to Capitol Hill for many and should have a high bar for design and finishing materials. The design guidelines for the adjacent Pike Pine neighborhood specify preferred finishing materials are brick, masonry, concrete, wood and metal. No cement board please.

Many will argue that the building should also be taller or that it should contain more affordable housing units and fewer parking spaces. While I agree with the sentiment, this train has already left the station. Focus on what can be changed through design review. Send your comments to the East Design Review Board ( and Capitol Hill Champion ( by December 14th.

Design review: 118 Broadway E — Capitol Hill Station development

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9 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Community Post | An open letter on Capitol Hill Station development

  1. I’ve reviewed the most recent plans and participated in the Dec 10 open house to discuss my concerns. I fully endorse the recommendations and rationale offered by Mr. Haas, and forwarded these comments to the PRC and Capitol Hill TOD.

    Eyes-on-the-park through ground-level cafes is an excellent recommendation, as is a daily presence of smaller-scale market stalls made more feasible by an expanded footprint of the Market Hall concept; and the concept for activating the connecting space between Site A North/South would also contribute to making this a daily destination for both local residents and visitors who find their way to Capitol Hill via light rail. A recent Seattle Times article promoting a “light-rail tour” of communities along the route shows how this site might serve as a magnet for the Broadway commercial corridor and Cal Anderson Park.

    In addition to his other recommendations, I am concerned about two other issues.
    1 – The space between Site B North and the station, which serves mainly as an alley, with a blank station wall on one side and residential facade on the other. It is a long walk through what might end up as a place to loiter.
    2 – The potential for wind tunnel effects which will discourage the use of the public plaza spaces in all but the most optimal weather scenarios. This issue should factor into the design of the building facades, where smooth unbroken surfaces amplify wind at ground level. The number of adjacent mid-rise buildings concentrated around an open plaza makes this a likely factor for discouraging the kind of year-round vibrancy the developers espouse.

    • I’m curious why everyone wants taller buildings. it won’t decrease rents, if anything it increases it.

      Building taller buildings increases the land value, meaning renting/buying it costs more. It increases building costs, again raising the cost of the final product, and encourages developers to only build higher end units to help protect the profit line. Combine this with teh fact that housing prices are set by the upper end of what people are willing to pay ( in this case mostly techies coming in from elsewhere), building high rises won’t change that at all.

      I am also wondering what is going to happen in another 10-15 years when we no longer have a large influx of new companies and all the young singles who are coming in now are now married with kids and don’t want to be living in a tiny 1 bedroom anymore.

      For note, my real question about all this is where is the parking for all the people who come up to the hill for dinner and shopping? I know they drive up here and park because every evening from 4:30-9:30 weekdays and about noon till 2:00am weekends it is nearly impossible for me to find parking close enough to my apartment (I and about 6 others who live here are all disabled), which is 2 blocks from the lightrail.

    • JK, if your theory were true, then single family houses, the lowest amnt of floors, would be the cheapest housing option – but we know that it’s not. We know from a plethora of studies that reducing zoning constraints increases affordability – the fact that some question this is mind blowing.

      As for your other question, someone it’s not that big of a deal in other cities in the country and world. Plenty of people with families live in apartments in cities throughout the world. And if there’s some fantastic demand for different styles of housing, then the market will create those units assuming the government allows it!

    • Actually, single family homes ARE the cheapest to construct. what they don’t have is as high a profit margin as apartments. It actually has been proven in many other cities, from San Fransisco to New York, the higher density housing does not affect housing costs much at all.

      As far as the second part, families around the world may all be fine liveing in one bedroom apartments, but very few in US want to or are willing to. And saying we will just build new building for them in 10-15 years is stupid. There really is not a housing shortage in this city., there is an AFFORDABLE housing shortage. Building new housing later is wasteful and will again do nothing to actually reduce prices. There are plenty of empty homes and apartments, it is just that the costs are so high that most people cannot afford them.

  2. Does anyone know why such low rise buildings are being developed on such a potentially dense urban hub? Cheap construction costs? NIMBY? Jane Jacobs?

    • I wrote this here just for you:

      We often hear drive-by comments on Twitter and Facebook from urbanists after every post about Capitol Hill Station development lamenting that the buildings around a key transit asset in the densely packed neighborhood will only stand seven stories tall. The 85-foot heights faced opposition through the public process. Would 110-foot heights also finally have been pushed through? 160? We don’t know. But this train has left the station. A better question for the Twitter urbanists might be why are heights under the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda plan — a plan still being formed in the midst of a clear housing affordability crisis in the city — only being pushed to seven stories in the Hill’s core?

  3. Mr. Haas’s critique is spot on and hopefully ST will take these remarks seriously. I too was at the first presentation by GE and unfortunately ST was nowhere to be found, at least as far as I could tell. The market hall has always been a favorite of mine to include in this project and it needs to be done correctly. The concept of cafes facing Cal Anderson is also an outstanding idea. Many people at the forum also spoke of safety concerns in the dark and hidden areas, this should be addressed in the final design.

    As for this issue of building height. Where have the people advocating this been these past 10-plus years? I don’t recall anyone going to the charettes and hearings asking for Hong Kong or Vancouver on Capitol Hill. If you weren’t living here 10 years ago then you don’t know that it practically took an act of God to get the height limits to the present level. This has been feverishly contested by the Cap Hill community and as jSeattle said, ”That train has left the station”, so move on to better issues.

    Let’s put this in perspective, where the station is now used to be one and two story commercial along BWay and some multilevel apartments along 10th and Denny, etc. Far more residences will be there now than were there before. As for other parts of Broadway? Where the Lyric is located used to be a parking lot and some run down one story buildings, one of which was our beloved Septieme (hopefully it will reincarnate some day). Where the Joule is situated was a QFC, Bartell Drugs and a Taco Bell. Where the Brix is now located was a crappy Safeway. We have added a tremendous amount of density and are continuing to do so. Just look at Harvard and Thomas and the Pike\Pine corridor. Where once was little-to-nothing is now density. We’re just not Tokyo density, more like Copenhagen.

    So there.

    • Thank you, Carla. I agree completely, and have been trying to make the same point on this blog for some months, but you have articulated my opinion much better than I have done.