Mill Creek Residential and the architects at Weber Thompson are readying plans for two six-story buildings to flank Cal Anderson Park atop the site currently home to the soon to be dearly departed Bonney Watson funeral home, extending a pulse of “transit oriented development” south from Capitol Hill Station.
The companies plan to unveil the initiative publicly Monday night at the monthly meeting of the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council — “In order to smooth the process, the applicant will be providing light snacks and beverages” — as the second most significant new development lined up for Broadway moves toward a November 1st start of the public design review process.
Here is how the developers describe the ambitious project:
The Broadway Commercial Corridor is recognized as both Seattle’s longest continuous pedestrian commercial street and most vibrant and interesting commercial street. The blocks adjacent to the project site have the highest pedestrian volumes in the neighborhood due to proximity to SCCC, the Park, and Station. Broadway is noted for activity day and night thanks to its eclectic mix of shops and services as well as its prominent gay, eclectic, and street youth cultures. Redeveloping the existing parking lot and two story commercial structure with a variety of commercial uses and housing for a diverse demographic, with likely participation in the MFTE program, will stitch together a gap in the existing urban fabric. The positioning between these neighborhood features provides an opportunity to enhance the entry corridor of East Howell Street and create an inviting pedestrian gateway experience oriented toward the Park. Critical components to creating this gateway include; a strong massing for gateway identification at the larger neighborhood context with better activating the current inactive pedestrian experience with porosity and eyes on the street at ground level for safe vibrant pedestrian-oriented streets.
The project’s two buildings will rise on the funeral home site and its parking lot, bisected by Howell. The larger north building will rise 65 feet and include 134 apartment units, with 5,500 square feet of commercial space and underground parking for 114 vehicles. Its southern counterpart destined for the funeral home site will also reach 65 feet with 87 new apartments, 3,000 square feet of retail, plus parking for 23.
UPDATE 10/17/2017: The interaction with Cal Anderson Park will be the “most critical opportunity” at the site, Sean Hyatt, managing director for Mill Creek’s West Coast operations, said following Monday night’s meeting with community representatives.
Hyatt, who said he believes the meeting went very well, said that his company is focused on the plan for 65-foot buildings and not banking on any changes in zoning under the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. “HALA is very complicated and very politicized,” Hyatt said, adding that developers like Mill Creek are “phenomenally incentivized to avoid” investing in that kind of environment. He also agreed that higher construction costs associated with different styles of construction that would come into play with building higher are prohibitive.
Hyatt also told CHS that the Bonney Watson parcels might be one of the last current opportunities on Capitol Hill for a large developer. “We need a certain size deal to (create) an economically feasible environment,” Hyatt said. On Capitol Hill, “those deals are fewer and farther between.”
But Hyatt said, with its proximity to downtown, the neighborhood should expect new generations of large projects in the future. “The short answer is Capitol Hill has a 160 year plus history so there is always something going on,” Hyatt said. “There will absolutely be opportunity up there. It’s like a forest. It’s evergreen. Its location, with transit, lidding I-5… Capitol Hill will just get better.”
As for the current development, Hyatt said one very unique element for the project compared to other area construction will be the “pretty aggressive plan for reconfiguring Howell.” The street will remain open to traffic but the developers hope to create a stronger pedestrian connection to Cal Anderson’s western entrance with lots of landscaping, pavement reconfiguration, and a more “meandering” approach to the park. There will even be “festival lighting” running between the buildings at some point if plans play out.
The developers say, though the structures will be separated by a public street, they intend for the building’s design and management to bridge the gap:
Although development will occur on two separate parcels the buildings will be designed to create one cohesive resident community with shared management, ample resident amenities and outdoor space. Design will incorporate opportunities for maximizing light and views to the apartment homes, creating overlooks and encouraging people-watching. The buildings will work together toward a shared design concept with similar massing, materials and detailing in support of creating a vibrant transit-oriented development.
This new pulse of big design review activity in the core of Broadway follows last week’s final approval of the designs for four buildings to surround Capitol Hill Station. Developer Gerding Edlen leads that project with designs from Hewitt and Schemata Workshop. Capitol Hill Housing will develop and operate affordable housing component of the project. Apartments will be spread across the four project sites, combining to make 428 new units. 176 of those will be affordable housing reserved for those under 60% Area Median Income (or below $40,320 for one person; $51,840 for three people). The station’s development’s retail component is planned to include a grocer and a daycare facility.
For the funeral home land and its rare surface parking lot, the emergence of the plans this summer for the Broadway property ended a bout of intrigue after the Bonney Watson property — touted as one of the artery’s last “key development opportunities” — hit the market in early 2017. Bonney-Watson’s Seattle history dates to 1868. In 2013, CHS talked with CEO Cameron Smock about the history — and future — of the Capitol Hill funeral home. When Smock joined Bonney-Watson as a funeral director and embalmer nearly 30 years ago, the company handled about 600 deaths annually at its Broadway location. In recent years, that number had dropped to around 350, he told CHS, as demographics shifted and traditions changed. A higher percentage of services also shifted to cremation, a lower cost alternative, “This neighborhood has changed dramatically,” Smock told CHS at the time. “Our business was built on the families who built their families on Capitol Hill. Many of them have left.”
In taking a route toward 65-foot heights and the typical five floors of residential above ground-floor commercial, Mill Creek is forging ahead with waiting for possible zoning changes from Seattle affordability initiatives. Under HALA proposals, both sides of Broadway between Howell and E Roy could be slated for upzoning that would allow for seven story buildings with commercial use throughout the entire building.
Mill Creek and Weber Thompson, meanwhile, have been active in the neighborhood. The Portland-headquartered Mill Creek Residential recently opened the Modera to fill in a Tetris-shaped set of open parcels on 11th Ave. Mill Creek’s agreed on price tag for the Bonney Watson property and parking lot is not yet publicly available but a trust associated with the company is listed on paperwork as the contract purchaser of the property. The monolithic 1962-era building that stands on the site is now destined for demolition.