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HALA Capitol Hill: The dense want it denser — the not so dense, not so much

While the young urbanists of Capitol Hill might be disappointed the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda zoning change proposals for Broadway probably won’t create three-hundred-foot apartment towers, Seattle officials are ready to face opposition in other parts of the neighborhood where even relatively modest height boosts are planned,

Generally speaking, Jesseca Brand with the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods said, residents in already dense areas, especially on Capitol Hill and First Hill are more accepting and see the proposed changes being pounded out through 2017 as a good thing. Areas on Eastern Capitol Hill, to the south, and in the Central District where single-family streets are more common are more apprehensive and are concerned about “cultural and economic displacement.”

“Our hope is that the community feels they can shape this program neighborhood by neighborhood,” Brand said at last week’s HALA open house organized by city planners in a more fun than you would expect for this kind of session venue — Capitol Hill’s Optimism Brewing. Sometimes a drink is required when discussing the future of Seattle’s central neighborhoods.

Most of the affected zones in urban centers and villages across the city would get the standard “HALA bump” — a one story increase in allowable building height along with new “mandatory housing affordability” requirements for all new residential construction. As part of Seattle’s “Grand Bargain,” MHA will link the creation of affordable housing with market-rate development by requiring new multifamily buildings to make 7 to 11% of units affordable — below 60% of the area median income — or require developers to pay into an affordable housing fund.mha_draft_zoning_changes_first_hill_capitol_hill mha_draft_zoning_changes_first_hill_capitol_hill2

For the Capitol Hill core around Broadway and Pike/Pine where redevelopment has already been heavy, the proposed changes are actually a little boring. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the plan would bring changes to both sides of Broadway between Howell and E Roy where an up-zone that would allow for seven story buildings with commercial use throughout the entire building. Currently, commercial uses are only allowed in the first four stories. That could bring a large office project or (another?) hotel to a part of Capitol Hill many say is in desperate need of daytime activity. Capitol Hill’s proposals include plenty of 7% and 10% affordability areas, but no 11% requirements as the current plans lack any up-zones dramatic enough to trigger the highest level of affordability requirements (one 11% requirement, for example, will be placed in an area transitioning from a single family home zone to a neighborhood commercial zone).

The real HALA magic around Capitol Hill is being proposed for areas on the eastern edge of the neighborhood around the Miller Park area, the Madison corridor, and 23rd and Union.mha_draft_zoning_changes_madison_miller mha_draft_zoning_changes_madison_miller_2

Zoning along Madison between 14th and 23rd is proposed to be pushed to 75-feet for mixed use with 7% affordability. Starting near 23rd and E Pine, there are several blocks of single family zones that are slated to become new low-rise zones, allowing for medium-sized apartment projects.The map also proposes the mixed use area of 15th Ave be zoned to 55 feet and 7% affordability. The area surrounding TT Minor Playground and the Seattle World School is proposed to get a max height of 40 feet with 7% affordability.

Chief among the HALA principles is that denser housing should be built around major transit centers. Several low-rise zoned blocks east of the Capitol Hill Station would go to midrise zones and be required to have a second-tier (M1) level of affordability. But Madison’s isn’t slated for a similar up-zone even with plans for a new Madison Bus Rapid Transit line. Currently, the low-rise zones just off Madison are only slated for the standard HALA bump instead of an M1 level of affordability. “Please upzone as many places as possible, (especially) near transit,” one written comment posted at the HALA open house read.

HALA principles also call for more housing options around parks and other neighborhood assets. The area around the Miller Community Center is slated for a boost to mostly 40-feet for townhouses, row houses or apartments with 7 to 10% affordability. Near the southeast corner of the Miller Playfield a 50-foot zone and 11% affordability is proposed.

Jay Cliffe, a Central District resident who attended the HALA session, told CHS he found it interesting that the city’s zoning plans covered buildings’ heights but not their square-footage. He pointed to a 30,000 square-foot grocery store currently planned for the proposed development at 23rd and Union and said that seemed like a destination store and not a neighborhood shop. “30,000 (square feet) seems freaking huge,” he said.

“The city should let historic neighborhoods be historic,” another commenter wrote in the open house’s post-it notes about the Central District, adding that everything is going to end up a “generic development.” Another person told CHS that tearing up single-family homes for apartments in the Central District is a “travesty.”

Meanwhile, not ever Capitol Hill resident in attendance was ready to bang the pro-development drum. “I’d like to see the neighborhood preserved,” Dennis Saxman, Capitol Hill resident and open and frequent opposer of dense development told CHS. He believes the density should be pushed downtown.

Some might argue that the HALA proposals are doing what Saxman is asking for — kind of. One person’s written feedback at the open house asked why “rich neighborhoods” were being preserved.

For her part, the city’s Brand says she has been “pleasantly surprised” that comments and discussions at have been balanced. She says she’s also pleased that there has been a good cross-section from most neighborhoods. One of the main interests people have, according to Brand, is, “What will this growth mean?”

More meetings on HALA are planned for February and online comments will continue to be collected at through April or May. Officials hope the final proposal for the rezoning will be finished in June.

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18 thoughts on “HALA Capitol Hill: The dense want it denser — the not so dense, not so much

  1. Do the yellow areas on the map that the legend says have “no affordable housing contribution” also have no change to their existing zoning? I think that’s the intent of the maps, but am not 100% sure. Also, does anyone know how the boundaries between a yellow area and a colored zone actually work?. For example, on the Madison/Miller map, E. Olive near MLK is light green to the north and yellow to the south. Does that mean that just the lots on the north side on E. Olive will have the zoning change?

  2. While a 30,000 sf grocery store may seem “freakin huge”, the area needs it. The stretch of 23rd Ave from Union to Madison is experiencing some pretty amazing densification; from 2016 to 2019 there will be over 1,400 new apartments added along it or within one block of it. Put another way, that’s around 1,800 new residents added to the neighborhood who need to buy food. Safeway is the only true grocer in the around here and it is already reaching max capacity. Yes there is Grocery Outlet, Trader Joe’s, and Red Apple in the area but each one of those places is a compromise from a combination of product selection, store hours, and parking (looking at you TJ’s). IMO what the neighborhood needs is another full grocer to serve this substantial influx of people and not just a smallish “market” style store like what’s being planned at the old 76 gas station site.

    Ok, hopping off my soap box.

  3. I really don’t understand the capping of heights around the Light Rail on Broadway at 7 stories. 12-15 stories would offer great opportunity for additional housing while taking pressure off of some of the more single family zones around Capitol Hill and the Central District.

    I think we should also think higher down the West side of the Hill in what has already become a very dense area.

    Why do we cap our construction so low while screaming we have a housing crisis?

  4. The author reports that “One person’s written feedback at the open house asked why “rich neighborhoods” were being preserved.” While that’s a fair observation, what’s more troubling is that the historical “red line” of E Roy Street is the northern boundary of the Madison-Miller Residential Urban Village.

    It was interesting to see the MHA hosts talking about how the up-zoning is intended to prevent displacement, while it creates an incentive for developers to begin acquiring and developing property and driving middle class families out. We’ve already begun to see this turnover with an ADU built on our block driving neighbors out of the neighborhood.

    • How is an ADU driving out neighbors? My understanding is that ADU’s are built in backyards as small standalone buildings or are typically converted basements.

      Is it what you are saying that new construction is making neighbors nervous about change? I could see larger developments displacing people, especially when it’s multiple lots acquired and grouped for a large project but not a single ADU.

    • Brian, I’m interested in learning more about the “red line” of E Roy. Is there a book or source you recommend to learn more about the neighborhood history?

    • Hey Alonso, it all depends on how the ADU is sized, designed, and situated on the block. In this case, it is a large white cube two stories high with a flat roof and style that’s unrelated to the architecture of the house it’s connected to.

      The size of the ADU was calculated by including square footage of the adjacent alleyway (I think 4 feet into the ally for the width of the block) as through it was the property owner’s land, allowing the ADU to be as large as is humanly possible. In fact, they had to foreshorten a garage on the block to make the math for the large ADU work.

      The neighbor to the north has a very large deck that they live on during the warmer months, a key feature of their home and yard. The ADU’s size and placement towers over the deck and entirely blocks their southern sun. That impacted neighbor is planning to move as a result.

      To be clear, I think ADU’s are a good idea, but getting the design and scale of them right for good neighborhood fit is something that needs more focus. The garage on our property fell down before we moved in, so when we replaced it we went to the effort of designing it to look like it was built at the same time as the house. That’s a balance that ADU’s need to strive for also.

    • We all know why rich neighborhoods aren’t affected. If properties north of Roy was proposed to go to LR1, those residents would band together, raise $25,000 and file a lawsuit or EIS appeal or whatever. Planners know this, and don’t want to risk their work being delayed for a year or more or scuttled. Queen Anne did as much for a much more benign ADU proposal.

      It’s too bad, since that area is very well served by transit to both the univeristy and to downtown.

  5. Sad that more areas outside urban villages aren’t being considered for “Residential Small Lot” zoning. Maintains character while adding more families.

  6. They can build all they want but if office workers, college professors, city employees, small business owners, coffee shop assistant managers, a reasonably employed single mom, a recent graduate of color with their first real job etc can’t afford to live in the area then it is still just making Seattle a one class city only available to those in high salary tech.

    • Just wondering, did you even read the article?

      I’ll give you a hint: “MHA will link the creation of affordable housing with market-rate development by requiring new multifamily buildings to make 7 to 11% of units affordable — below 60% of the area median income — or require developers to pay into an affordable housing fund.”

    • The plan is better than nothing, but requiring only 7-11% affordable units will not add a very significant number of such units to our housing stock…..the vast majority of new apartments will be affordable only for those with higher incomes. We need much more government-built and managed new buildings (Seattle Housing and Seattle Senior Housing) to make a dent in the long waiting lists for those programs. The private sector is doing its part (Capitol Hill Housing, Bellweather, etc) but their rents are quite a bit higher than the government-owned buildings.

  7. It’s very dumb that there are no high rises set to be build next to the light rail station. We spent billions of dollars on this thing. Whatever justification exists for keeping things at mid rise, it’s not good enough when you consider the taxpayer investment made in that neighborhood.

  8. to Reality Broker,

    the 7-10% affordability requirement is an attractive lie to push these profit-able and destructive plans thru. in order to not have to sacrifice their profit, developers all have the option to pay a small fine into a “fund” that will be designated as an “affordability fund” for “future” housing. and they all gladly pay it. units that were promised to go for $450 go for $900 instead. it is abundantly clear that the housing in these areas will neither be affordable nor encourage diversity. it will be an amazon et al campus, pure and simple.