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Paving the way for taller buildings on smaller lots, 21-story First Hill apartments will be super green and use modular construction

A rendering of the planned 901 Madison high-rise

(Image: Sustainable Living Innovations)

A new high-rise residential building along Madison Street will make use of both the city’s Living Building initiative and a new modular construction technique as it climbs above First Hill.

The land on the corner of 9th Ave and Madison is currently home to the Quarter Lounge, George’s Delicatessen, and the now-empty former home of Lotus Asian Kitchen.

The building will be demolished to make way for a 21-story residential structure, with ground floor retail, being built by Sustainable Living Innovations.

Plans call for a 176-unit building, of which 47 will be affordable units, using two housing programs — MFTE and Mandatory Housing Affordability. The building will have a mix of sizes including efficiency, and 1- and 2-bedroom units. The affordable housing component will similarly have a mix of efficiency and 1- and 2-bedroom units. Five of the 47 affordable units will be 2-bedroom units.

The developers of the 901 Madison project say they are working with the existing retail tenants, and talking with the First Hill Improvement Association to find the best fit for retail in the area for the corner across the street from neighborhood icons Vito’s and The Sorrento Hotel.


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The building will have two underground parking levels with about 40 spaces, which will enter and exit off 9th.

The developers plan to make use of the city’s Living Building incentive program. Under the program, they will be permitted two additional floors of height (without the living building, only 19 floors would have been allowed) in exchange for meeting ecologically friendly building standards.

Madison is no stranger to green building. The ultra-green Bullitt Center is a few blocks up the road at Madison and 15th. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Bertschi School on 10th also has a certified “Living Building” as a part of its campus.

The developers plan to have the building generate 105% of the power it uses through a mixture of wastewater heat recovery (using the heat from hot water that goes down the drain), efficient heat pumps and solar panels. They are also exploring the idea of using wastewater heat from other nearby buildings.

In addition to the heat, the building will use graywater treatment, where water that might otherwise go into the sewer is instead used for things like flushing toilets or irrigation.

Under program guidelines, builders are permitted to claim credit for off-site solar panels, and that is something the developer will likely do as well. They have yet to determine the layout of the on-site solar panels, so they’re not yet certain how much off-site solar will be required or where the offsite solar will be.

While not formally part of the Living Building program, developers say that their modular construction methods will be another feather in their environmentally conscious cap.

In this method, the building will be constructed in parts in a factory in Tacoma, then shipped to the site and slotted into place. This style of building helps reduce waste, and can ensure insulation is properly fitted, the developers say. The building will be the second high-rise of its kind in Seattle, after the developer’s 303 Battery, which is slated to begin construction in December 2019.

The method can also help reduce the construction time. In this case, they expect a total of 16 months, which includes demolition, site prep and construction. Developers hope to start construction in the end of 2020 or early 2021 and have the building open by the second quarter of 2022. By then, the RapidRide G “bus rapid transit” line should be fully in motion serving the corridor.

Going forward, the developers say 901 Madison’s construction technique can make erecting taller buildings on small lots economically viable across the city (in the case of 901 Madison, the site is about 8,000 square feet), meaning we could see more modular buildings sprout from redevelopment sites. First Hill, by the way, will also see an innovative construction technique that is expected to become more widespread when a “mass timber” highrise ascends at 1422 Seneca. That new project will replace a one-story 1949-built dental office with a 12-story apartment building with room for 108 small efficiency dwelling units that also might end up being Seattle’s tallest mass timber, cross-laminated wood struture.

At 901 Madison, there’s nothing on the schedule yet in terms of community meetings but the developer plans to make presentations about major design updates to the First Hill Improvement Association. And the project will also need pass through the East Design Review Board though that process has not yet been scheduled.

In the meantime, 901 Madison’s modular construction and solar arrays hopefully won’t be delayed by the same “environmental” concerns that delayed the Bullitt Center when a neighboring building used the State’s Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to fight against the structure’s vital solar infrastructure and, even more audaciously, tried to force the net zero waste building to provide more parking. In October, the Seattle City Council approved legislation to reform the use of SEPA aimed at minimizing environmental appeals.


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20 thoughts on “Paving the way for taller buildings on smaller lots, 21-story First Hill apartments will be super green and use modular construction

  1. Interesting development. I read and re-scanned this article hoping to find the developer named, all I could find reference to is ‘the developer’. Did I miss it? Is the developer anybody we have heard of?

  2. What does “working with the existing retail tenants” mean exactly? I love density, but George’s and Quarter Lounge can’t go away. They can’t!

    • Do you know if the Quarter Lounge is in the former spot of the Terry Tavern. I am really dating myself, but when my dad used to work on First Hill, that was were he would go for beers before I would pick him up. If it is, I am really sad to see it go. Oh well, time marches on.

    • No, it shouldn’t. Development must serve greater numbers of people, not cars. We are already at our limit for cars in terms of traffic congestion and CO2 levels.

    • There would be plenty of parking on and around First Hill on weekdays if you took away all the fakers’ disabled placards. It’s amazing how many able-bodied hospital staff take full advantage of the lax rules and laws to get free, unlimited parking near their work every day. Presumably, they take advantage of easy access to doctors’ scripts for placards… placards which number in the hundreds of thousands in Washington State.

    • Why not let the developers do the math for themselves? They’re not going to leave money on the table; they will build as many parking spaces as people will pay for. If you demand that they include surplus parking space, that will artificially depress the price of parking, effectively forcing non-driving residents to subsidize their auto-enabled neighbors.

  3. Can we get some green space at street level? Walking around SLU, I’ve been struck by the landscaping around these behemoths. You can already see the impact of the plantings. In 20 years, it’ll be gorgeous. On the other hand, Capitol Hill and First Hill have been losing trees at a record pace. No amount of rooftop gardening will improve the street level experience for the rest of us in the neighborhood.

    • This is an 8000sf lot. There is no room for more “green space” at street level. And from the photo it looks like this will provide more greenery at street level than currently exists. As for parking, they would have to dig very deep to provide more parking on such a small lot. The ratio of parking ramp to parking spaces is low in such small spaces which means each parking level could accommodate fewer than twenty cars. That costs lots of money, of course, which would make providing affordable housing more difficult. And why would more parking be appropriate for such an urban location?

      Why not celebrate the high number of affordable units and the mix of unit sizes? Isnt this what people say they want for these types of locations?

  4. This construction will be a nightmare for the neighborhood. The streets are so cramped and squeezed already due to other high rises going up. The vibrations from construction vehicles and work are causing my apartment building to literally crumble, and now this will be on the same block. The parking situation is already a nightmare for anyone with a car. And what will happen to George’s and Quarter Lounge?! Glad to be getting out of First Hill come January…

  5. Being that I work nearby and live a little bit away, more off street parking is needed. Off street parking provides more pedestrian friendly walking areas as well as provides more space for transit and moving vehicles. Not providing parking does not reduce the number of vehicles in the neighborhood. It just increases the number of vehicles always on the street.

  6. I am super excited about this project! Great to have a developer actually building affordable units in place rather than just taking the option to pay a fee. And the living building aspects are really great too – using wastewater heat, solar panels, graywater, the efficient construction method – all of it. And regarding parking — I’d be fine with zero parking spaces to make it even more affordable for the builder which they can pass on to tenants. This is a super dense, transit-rich neighborhood. People who live there will absolutely be able to live car-free if they choose to do so.

    • I agree…..except…..you are naive to think that the developer would pass on any savings (from no parking) on to the tenants. He/she would likely pocket the savings. That’s why developers are delighted that the city is allowing new buildings without any parking in areas where street parking is already scarce.

      • It can cost up to $100,000 per stall to build. If a developer is foolish enough to sell parking-less units with $100,000 tacked on, they will not sell very many units.

    • Because some parking (not 1:1 unit:parking space) is considerate of the surrounding neighborhood, some of whose residents rely on street parking. But developers don’t give a damn about the surrounding neighborhood…only their bottom line.

      • Because some parking (not 1:1 unit:parking space) is considerate of the surrounding neighborhood, some of whose residents rely on street parking.

        Street parking in this area is already at 100% capacity, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

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