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What the Capitol Hill auto row-inspired project planned to replace Hilltop Service Station will look like

The concept for the 523 Hilltop project (Images: Studio Meng Strazzara)

The last time this Capitol Hill developer and the architects from Studio Meng Strazzara hooked up, they created an eight-story project designed to set the standard for Pike/Pine preservation and redevelopment. On 15th Ave E, Hunters Capital won’t leave any motor car history to work with as it prepares to demolish the Hilltop Service Station and continue the work to slowly repair the soils beneath from decades of contamination — but the proposed design for its coming 523 Hilltop building is inspired by Capitol Hill’s auto row past.

Design review: 523 15th Ave E

The Hunters Capital project takes its first pass by the East Design Review Board Wednesday night.

The planned five-story, 68 or so unit, market-rate apartment building will feature a generous 5,000 square feet of 15th Ave E fronting retail space, and, because automobiles aren’t completely something of Capitol Hill’s past, underground parking for around 24 vehicles accessed via Mercer.

The new building will create “a positive and safe pedestrian experience is the design goal of the streetscape and retail areas,” the developers write. “Residents above will serve as an extra layer of ‘lights on’ security to the pedestrians on 15th Ave E.”

“Residents will also have easy access to all the amenities 15th Ave E. and Capitol Hill has to offer,” they conclude.

In January, CHS broke the news that the Capitol Hill-based developer had won the rush to acquire the property with plans to add to its major holdings in the neighborhood.

In spring of 2017, CHS reported on Hunters Capital’s $11.25 million acquisition of the block of 15th Ave E retail including the neighborhood’s QFC and large parking lot. “While redevelopment of this building is possible, current leases in place make it unlikely to happen in the near future,” a Hunters representative said at the time.

No preliminary site plans have been filed for the QFC block.

But the 15th Ave E at E Mercer project is putting the pedal to the metal. The developers say they hope to “create a new building that is designed with the history of 15th Ave E. in mind through cohesive architectural elements and appropriate scale at the street level.”

“The design is committed to using quality, long lasting materials, and an aesthetic that appeals to and blends with the character of the neighborhood,” they write.

When the property was acquired, zoning allowed 40-foot buildings on that stretch of the 15th Ave E corridor. The passage of the Mandatory Housing Affordability rezones boosted the corner to a 55-foot height limit.

UPDATE: A Hunters Capital representative says the developer hasn’t yet made a decision on whether it will incorporate affordable units in its project or pay the required in-lieu fees. “We have not make any final decisions on the MHA vs. city payment,” the rep writes. “Once under construction we’ll have a better sense of the rental market and the economics behind each direction. Designing in MHA would be the preferred choice, but being at the very beginning stages of design, this decision is 1-2 years out.”

The building’s apartment mix, like Hunters Capital’s previous mixed-use project, E Pike’s Dunn Automotive Building, is being planned as market-rate housing “to create an interactive community,” the developer writes, and with unit sizes to “provide wide (a) variety of unit types to accommodate increasing population
of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.”

At community feedback opportunities organized by the developer earlier this year under the city’s new public outreach requirements, public comment centered on concerns the project wouldn’t add to a possible canyon of three to five-story development along 15th Ave E. To help address those fears, Hunters and the architects at Studio Meng Strazzara are pushing for a design option with an auto row look and feel that also has generous upper level setbacks to help moderate some of the structure’s height.

Will the design review board give the plan the… green light? Drive by Wednesday night’s design review to find out.

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20 thoughts on “What the Capitol Hill auto row-inspired project planned to replace Hilltop Service Station will look like

    • It does, but it could be worse. It could be just another tedious stack-a-box that looks like an aquarium. This looks better to me than that, at least.

  1. If you live behind that it’s time to sell and get out. You’ll shortly be facing a giant wall of hardi panels. Would be nice is they looked to one of the Anhalt buildings for what works, not some six story tall maximum sized apt complex.

  2. Let’s be honest. There’s a lot to like about this proposal. It could be way worse and most things are, including the building right across Mercer.

    Love the brick, love the setbacks, love the landscaping, and appreciate the attention to the side adjoining Malden.

    I would also love to see them take up the advice on small retail fronts and family sized units. Great spot for affordable housing for families, although there already is quite a bit in the vicinity.

    Let’s hope the QFC redevelopment comes out as well.

  3. Better than a lot of the other crap that has been build over the past 10 years or so.

    At least they are making a little effort at design (Insert Nancy Peloci clapback here)

  4. Thank god for Hunter’s Capital and for their architect!

    I especially like the setbacks of the upper stories.

    • Hunter’s projects are probably the nicest in Capitol Hill. It’s a stark contrast with the garbage most developers build. However it would be nice if they avoided more dark gray, and used traditional red brick instead. Gray should be prohibited in this climate how depressing.

  5. Looks great! I’ve always thought the building that was built 10-15 years ago at 15th and Harrison (containing Palermo and Agora) was the perfect example of what should be built in this setting — just the right scale/bulk, setbacks of upper floors, small retail spaces. This will be similar and I love it.

  6. More Seattle ‘Urban Renewal’ crap i.e.tear down old neighborhoods and replace it with generic buildings because its good for us. Its the same 5 story over retail rectangular block that is ruining this city. These buildings take up the entire block, out of scale with the street, ruin views, and create canyons in the street. The retail will be filled with the usual corporate chains…
    Peets Coffee, Mod pizza, the usual drek you see all over town.
    We are told that the housing shortage requires this. That may be true. But the city encouraged businesses to move downtown. This is a metro area of 4 million people and and all the jobs and housing don’t need to be in the city. Funny that this jives with exactly what maximizes developers profitability. But we will be left with a McCity that looks like anywhere USA,
    with little open space and a suburban samesness. We can do better. Keep Seattle weird.