20 years of community engagement set to pay off as ground breaks on Capitol Hill Station’s ‘transit oriented development’

The future view of “Building A” from Broadway (Image: Hewitt)

On Tuesday, June 19th, a celebration for the groundbreaking of the new development at Capitol Hill Station will be held at the Broadway site. The event will include live music, the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Farmers Market, and food and drinks from local businesses. The festivities, organizers say, are a way of giving back to a community that has done so much over the past two decades to make the project a reality.

Capitol Hill Station Development Groundbreaking

The idea for the development on Sound Transit’s surplus land surrounding the station first began to shape in the late 1990s when light rail was first being pitched and developed. The community didn’t want a simple brick plaza to lay in the empty space created by the station, and saw this as a way of revitalizing the Broadway corridor that had lost much of its vibrancy.

“The goal was to restore the heart of Broadway,” Cathy Hillenbrand, a longtime community advocate of the undertaking said.

The community process really picked up steam in 2011 as the Capitol Hill Light Rail Stations Site Urban Design Framework document was published, distilling information shaped over a period of years in the community. In 2013, the City Council approved a development agreement allowing developers to plan for 85-foot tall buildings along Broadway in exchange for going above minimum affordable housing requirements. Though many ask today in the midst of Seattle’s ongoing affordability crisis why the coming apartment buildings won’t be taller, even achieving 85 feet was a battle.

Of the 428 residential units in this development, 176 will be reserved for those under 60% Area Median Income. The project’s retail component will include a grocery store and a daycare facility located in Site C.

“It has completely changed the way communities work with Sound Transit, and the way Sound Transit expects to think about their station,” Brie Gyncild, of the Capitol Hill Champion, a joint community group formed to represent both the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Community Council in the development process, said.

The framework has helped empower other groups in the Seattle area to engage in the process around other light rail stations, including the one currently being constructed in the Roosevelt neighborhood that will open in 2021. In the announcement for the groundbreaking, CEO Peter Rogoff said Sound Transit hopes to facilitate similar projects. “With the Sound Transit Board’s adoption of our new TOD policy, these are the kinds of community projects that we hope to facilitate more of as we expand our light rail network,” Rogoff said.

Sound Transit opened the U-Link extension and the new station below Broadway in March 2016. In August 2016, Sound Transit signed a 99-year lease with Gerding Edlen to develop the properties it had acquired surrounding the station. The Portland-based developer is leading the project with designs from Hewitt and Schemata WorkshopCapitol Hill Housing will develop and operate the affordable housing component of the projects in Site-B North. The affordable housing will be reserved for those under 60% Area Median Income (or below $40,320 for one person; $51,840 for three people). Berger Partnership is landscape architect for the entire site and part of the design super team working on the Capitol Hill Station development project.

For years, focus groups, surveys, and advisory committees have allowed organizations involved in the project like Capitol Hill Housing to keep their ear to the street and the hopes of the locals a top priority.

Different plans were put forth early on in the planning of the station before the community arrived at this version. For example, some people wanted the project to be LGBTQ+ driven to honor Capitol Hill’s long history of promoting inclusivity and diversity of all kinds. This suggestion was incorporated with the The AMP: AIDS Memorial Pathway, a community art project that will connect the plaza at the station to neighboring Cal Anderson Park.

Settled between the four new buildings, the development’s plaza “will be available for public use” including “a weekly morning to afternoon year-round farmers market is planned for both the plaza and along Denny Way. Cal Anderson Park, located across the plaza and Denny Way is a publicly available open space,” according to planning documents.

The development’s retail component, meanwhile, has been planned to include a grocer and a daycare facility. CHS reported in March that H Mart appears to be lined up to fill the key retail component of the project.

When complete, the development will span four buildings around Capitol Hill Station. It’s planned to house 428 residential units – 41% of which (176 units) will be designated affordable housing. There will be 31,150 square feet of residential space, 216 parking stalls for cars, and 254 parking stalls for bikes. Designs for the project were finalized last October. Gerding Edlen expects the construction to take about 21 months.

The work of thousands of engaged community members allowed Capitol Hill to take a leading role in deciding how the neighborhood would look and interact.

“We’re trying to reinforce a community that talks to each other, a community that congregates, a community that cares about the neighborhood,” Hillenbrand, who was formerly the chair of the Capitol Hill Champion Steering Committee, said. “A community that understands where it is.”

The community effort, in the end, will be at the core of the development and what comes next on Broadway.

We want it to be “embraced and woven into the fabric,” Jill Sherman of lead developer Gerding Edlen said.

The project is expected to open in the second quarter of 2020.

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3 thoughts on “20 years of community engagement set to pay off as ground breaks on Capitol Hill Station’s ‘transit oriented development’

  1. It’s been what, 10 years since they’ve known the station is coming? Yet the station was surrounded by empty paved lots for over two years after opening. What a joke.

  2. Adam: I think the considerable community involvement slowed down the process: I seem to recall a previous likely developer withdrawing late in the game, because of all the constraints on the development.

    Given that the site was going to be empty for so long, it might have been prudent to make it a pay parking lot for the 2+ years it was available: it would have raked in a tidy penny that could have gone into site enhancements. (That was never going ot happen in car-arerse Seattle!).

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