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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