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Capitol Hill Housing planning mass timber apartment building on E Union

An early concept for the planned mass timber project (Image: Atelier Jones)

For years, prime real estate neighboring the brick Helen V apartment building on Union has hosted a surface parking lot used by a few local residents and Capitol Hill Housing vehicles.

On its face, a new eight-story, affordable project set to rise there doesn’t seem much different than the many sprouting on Capitol Hill but there is one major difference. The new building will have a mass timber structural system, which Atelier Jones principal architect Susan Jones says allows for more density. She said that the shift to timber away from concrete or steel made a 114-unit goal for the affordable project possible. Standard construction would have produced only 88.

Mass timber buildings like these are a trend in the Pacific Northwest, Jones says.

In 2017, the nonprofit developer of affordable projects applied to Seattle’s Office of Housing to use the land on the corner of 14th and Union for its affordable housing development specifically for LGBTQ+ elders, but the city rejected the location according to Veronica Guenther of CHH. That development has since shifted to Broadway where seniors would be closer to needed services.

Now CHH is in the early stages of developing workforce housing on the 14th and Union plot targeting an affordability range between 60% and 100% area median income. The current plan envisions an eight-story apartment building to house 114 units and a ground floor retail space, like a coffee shop or bakery. Most of the units would be studios or one-bedroom apartments.

60% area median income for a Seattle family of two was $48,150 in 2018, according to the city’s Office of Housing.

The adjacent Helen V apartment building would be separated by a courtyard and Guenther said that some current residents there seemed interested in applying to live in the new development.

An April code change opened the door for cross-laminated timber buildings to more easily win city approval. Cross-laminated timber is fire resistant and can replace materials such as concrete. Thanks to changes in state building code, mass timber cross-laminated would buildings up to 18 stories can be built in Washington. Seattle is seen as an ideal market for the building type that is incredibly strong, and requires less energy to produce. A 12-story mass timber project is also in the works on Seneca on First Hill. 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 structure.

The Seattle Times reported in September that there was just one house and one classroom made of cross-laminated timber in the city, lagging far behind other Washington metros, like Tacoma and Spokane.

Jones, who designed the first cross-laminated timber house in Madison Park for her family, told the Times that living in such a house was like being “inside a spa.” She hopes it becomes more of a trend locally.

Not only does timber allow for more density, it also lowers the carbon footprint of its buildings. Compared to a concrete high-rise, construction on a cross-laminated timber project emits about 25% less carbon dioxide, according to a University of Washington study.

And timber buildings also have the ability to store carbon from the trees used to build them. Furthermore, greenhouse gases are isolated as the forest land is replaced and newer trees absorb the carbon dioxide.

But Capitol Hill residents have some time to wait before seeing this unique project come to fruition. CHH will be going through permitting and design until March of next year, which is when Guenther and Jones expect the year-long construction process to begin. They predicted it being finished in March 2022, 26 months from now.

It doesn’t seem that far, however, for CHH, an organization that, according to Jones, has talked internally about developing the under-utilized lot for years.

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16 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Housing planning mass timber apartment building on E Union” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

    • I don’t see anything neat or fantastic about it myself, but then, I’m a local Seattleite, and we traditionally cared more about our environment than whether a cool building was going up near our home. Where do you think this timber will come from? Deforestation is a contributor to global warming.

      • That’s the old Seattle. Welcome to the new Seattle, where we see if we can cram a hundred apartments into a 30-car parking lot and charge $3000 a month each for them.

        Who cares about the environment? There’s money to be made!

  1. It allows for “more density” through a change in construction type. Type III building construction is allowed additional stories in the building code over Type V, which wood framing.

    But it really is a mis-understanding of the building code to state that a shift from “concrete or steel”, which is Type I and Type II respectfully, to “mass timber”, which is Type III, is what allowed for more density. It only allowed different calculations in the building height.

    It’s sad if this was a deliberate attempt to use lack of knowledge and information to push a certain narrative.

  2. I’m surprised that Northwesterners are applauding this shift to timber construction; haven’t our forests been decimated enough? This narrative about emitting less carbon dioxide ignores the catastrophic global warming that the planet is suffering; it’s a carefully-chosen narrative, which, I have no doubt, owes much to the powerful timber lobby. Increased flooding, decimation of species, loss of native plants are all the result of deforestation. Once, Seattleites actually looked beyond esthetics and phony narratives, cared about preserving our dwindling resources.

    • You know what’s cool about forests? They grow back!

      Have you ever tried rock gardening? They can look cool but they don’t grow after planting! What a fraud!

  3. A code change is making it easier to build huge breadbox buildings with generic facades, no setbacks and no character. Hooray?

    • Building code is not zoning code. If you have problems with generic facades, no setbacks, and no character, you need to direct your complaints to the zoning code, which is 100% Seattle City Council’s purview.

  4. This is a sleazy proposition. Capitol Hill Housing is trying to weasel their way out of the restrictive land use contracts signed with the Washington State Finance Commission that specify that the land use is for low-income purposes. So not only have they received public funding from the LIHTCP, but now they’re going to build close to a market rate building in return. Great misuse of public funding. Also this is of great harm to the residents of the Helen V Building- 75% of which are disabled and the loss of parking will render their homes unaccessible. The most vulnerable and poor are easy targets for such land theft.

  5. Capitol Hill Housing lost their non-profit status years ago. They are entirely for-profit now, and they know there’s big money in gentrification.

    I guess the people currently using that parking lot will have to use our already overcrowded street parking, along with the cars from the 114 people in the new building, and however many more are coming to that other monstrosity they’re currently building on Union.

    But hey, hooray for gentrification. At least they’re making buttloads of money by trashing our neighborhood.

    • A copy paste reply from what I said to your similar comment on different post — Organized for profit and operations paid for by nonprofit foundation, right? What’s your issue?