A $4.6 million land deal at the corner of 13th and Pike will kick off a race to build the first new condominium project on Capitol Hill in… a really long time.
Developer Solterra slapped down the cold, hard cash in a transaction reported to the county Monday for the former Fran’s Chocolates building and a 2016-approved plan to build Capitol Hill’s (and Seattle’s) first Passive House-certified mixed-use project at 13th and Pike.
The new wrinkle in the uber-green project? Condos. Here’s how the developer is describing the planned Solis project:
At the heart of SOLIS, Capitol Hill residents and visitors will find corner retail with decorative steel surrounds that open to fully connect the street with café seating. Moving upward, the roof will feature a sun deck, green roof and dog run with views of Seattle’s Skyline. Sustainable sun-inspired touches will be added throughout the project, including sun-glazed Spanish tiles, Mediterranean lighting elements and a 6-story art wall. Community-oriented and eco-conscious!
With an already approved design by Weber Thompson, Solis is planned to create 45 new condominium homes — Studio, 1-Bedroom & 2-Bedroom Homes Pricing from the mid-$400,000’s, the marketing site says — above 3,300 square feet of commercial space and, you might be surprised to learn given the project’s green bonafides, underground parking for 13 motor vehicles. Demolition for the old Fran’s building has already been approved — construction is expected to begin in time for an “early 2020” opening for the new project.
That would put Solis on track to be the first new condo building to open on Capitol Hill in years. Last month, CHS wrote about the warming Hill condo development landscape and another project hoped to debut later in 2020 — a Bellevue Ave E project designed to be more affordable by keeping its 44 units small and priced around each. The Build Urban project’s units are expected to start at $250,000 and could run a little less than $400,000 for the higher end units.
The price of condominiums has surged alongside the costs of every housing type in the Seattle area but the supply hasn’t been added to at the same pace as rental units for a variety of reasons.
For one, the rental market has been so strong, developers would rather target tenants than buyers. New condo projects also face a significant financial hurdle: the Washington Condominium Act basically guarantees a developer will face litigation over each and every project. Legislation to ease the act died in Olympia this winter under opposition including Capitol Hill’s Sen. Jamie Pedersen.
In 2016, CHS wrote about expectations for condo developments to return to favor and the likelihood of more conversions of existing apartment buildings into condos. As far as conversions go, the 2008 housing market crash appears to have had a stifling effect. In 2007 1,626 Seattle apartments were converted into condos in 79 different buildings. In 2009 only 19 units were converted in two buildings. Covenants on most new buildings prevent condo conversions for five years. The covenants allow developers to avoid the costly additional layer of inspections that goes along with new condo construction.
Maria Barrientos, the original developer of the 13th and Pike project and owner of the property, started the ball rolling on the move to condos earlier this year. In May, her company reached an agreement on a condominium covenant for the property with the city.
Demolition of the Fran’s building and the new construction will be part of a ripple of change on the block. CHS reported in June that Doghouse Leathers had decided to move off of the changing block for a new home lower on E Pike near Saint John’s and Babeland. At the corner of 14th and Pike, the former appliance repair shop has been replaced by a new Windermere real estate office. Madrona Real Estate Investors owns much of the remainder of the block and the developer has been working for years, according to court documents, to acquire one of the last puzzle pieces of land it needs for a large development — the mid-block parking lot next to its Old School Frozen Custard building.
The parking lot was once the site of a longtime laundry business and has been the focus of costly contaminated soil clean-up for years. A 2013 court decision ruled that future clean-up costs in the area would need to be split 85/15 with Madrona picking up the smaller chunk vs the bulk of the costs being the responsibility of the estate of the family that once owned the laundry and still owns the parking lot land. As of Monday, that ownership situation hadn’t changed but, when it does, future condo-owning neighbors can expect more development to join Solis on the block.
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