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It will be affordable and environmentally innovative but here’s why a neighbor is fighting plans for the cross-laminated timber Heartwood Apartments

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

The fate of a proposed affordable housing development on Capitol Hill that will also help trailblaze the construction of “mass timber” buildings in Seattle should be known in the next few days after an appeal from a neighbor put would looks like a temporary kink in the plans.

Community Roots Housingformerly known as Capitol Hill Housing – has planned to build an 8-story apartment building on what is now a parking lot on the corner of 14th Ave E and E Union, diagonally across from Skillet Diner. The new Heartwood Apartments would include some ground floor retail, and 126 units. Rents in the new building would be designed to be affordable to people with an income level between 60% and 100% of the area median. The building would include no parking.

The city had approved the construction of the building, but that decision was appealed by Naomi Ruden, a resident of the adjacent Helen V apartments.

Developments in the area — and the city — have faced these kinds of appeals with regularity even as City Hall has looked to rein in the use of tools like landmarking or the State Environmental Policy Act to slow or stop approved projects.

The Heartwood case came before the Hearing Examiner January 26th. Hearing Examiners fill a quasi-judicial role and are meant to provide an impartial decision reviewing city decisions.

In the appeal filed December 1st, Ruden noted that the existing parking lot is used by resident of the Helen V. Ruden is one of several residents of the Helen V who require handicapped parking access provided in the lot, she said. She was concerned that that access would be lost, and there are no plans to replace the spots for those in need.


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Beyond that, Ruden cited more than a dozen ways she thought the city’s process was deficient when it approved construction of the building. She argued the new building would block public views of the Helen V, which she said meets the eligibility requirements to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and also to be named a City of Seattle landmark. The building is on neither the national nor the local register. As of the hearing, no nomination is currently pending to place it on either of those registers.

There was a laundry list of other concerns about the project, ranging from construction plans not meeting Covid protocols, to technical requirements under federal, state and local regulations she said the building fails to meet.

The vast majority of Ruden’s concerns were dropped prior to the hearing. The hearing examiner, for example, does not have jurisdiction over federal or state laws. Many of the city-related complaints revolved around issues for which the appeal period had passed.

In the end, only two issues were left: the potential blockage of public views of the building and the impacts that would be created by construction of the building.

During the hearing, a recording of which is available online along with supporting documents, Ruden said the city code protects not only buildings that are historic landmarks, but also buildings which are eligible to be named landmarks. The Helen V, she said seems to meet the eligibility requirements for listing on the federal register.

The most basic requirements for inclusion on the federal register state the building must be at least 50 years old and look generally like it did when it was built. Beyond that, the building must have some other type of significance. For example, it can be an excellent example of a particular style of architecture, or work by a well-known architect. Or it can be a location where something historic happened or have a tie to a famous or historically important person. The Helen V, was built in 1909 (so it’s well more than 50 years old) and does, generally, look like it did then. Whether or not it meets the other requirements is open to interpretation.

Ruden argued that the city should have sought more information about the potential historic value of the building before it approved construction.

Later in the hearing, Brandon Cummings, a planner with the city, noted that while the Seattle code protects buildings which have been named landmarks, this building has not. The city, Cummings said, lacks the authority to demand a building go through the process to become a federal landmark. Moreover, city policies do not allow for the city to require developers to mitigate impacts to buildings which may be eligible, only for buildings that are formally on the landmark list.

One aspect of the new project apparently not at issue is the Heartwood Apartments construction material of choice — timber. CHS reported here a year ago on the plans for the “mass timber” building after a 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 wood 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. An 18-story mass timber project is also in the works on Seneca on First Hill.

While timber is apparently not a problem, the appellant claims impacts from the construction will be. In her argument, Ruden said plans for the Heartwood don’t do enough to help people navigate the site during construction. She said there are nine residents of the Helen V with mobility impairments. The project, during construction, would make it more difficult for all residents, including those with impairments, to get to E Union and to E Madison, where they would be able to access transit to get to stores or medical appointments.

The new building would also be going up immediately adjacent to the Helen V, and would therefore have noise impacts during the construction, Ruden said.

William Silva, who works for the construction company, spoke under questioning from Jessica Clawson, attorney for the developer, saying that during construction, the builder has plans to keep a path clear for residents of the Helen V, and that that path will meet federal standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said that at times, sidewalks closures may be required, but that when they do, construction officials will endeavor to warn residents of the Helen V before they happen.

As for the noise issues, Silva said they are going to operate during fewer hours than city regulations would allow. Additionally, they plan to use items such as prefabricated beams which will be prepared off site, and should lessen the amount of cutting and drilling typically required by construction projects.

Cummings, not under questioning, offered that the area is in a city-designated construction hub and as such will be actively managed by the city to try and lessen construction impacts.

During closing arguments, Ruden again asserted that the city should have asked for more information about the potential historic value of the building, and that the city is not doing enough to ensure the development lessens potential impacts from construction.

Clawson, the lawyer for the developer, pointed out again that the building is not recognized as a landmark, and that no one has sought has sought such recognition. She also noted that the person making the appeal has the burden of proof, and she said that Ruden has presented no actual evidence showing impacts, just her opinions about what may happen.

The hearing examiner, Susan Drummond, said she will issue her written opinion within 10 business days of the hearing, meaning we should know what comes next by February 9th.


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Bruce Nourish
Bruce Nourish
3 months ago

Yep, these obstructionists, and the process that enables them, are the problem with this city. I hope this nonsense is quickly dismissed by the examiner.

Caphiller
Caphiller
3 months ago

This looks like a great project. I hope the developers can come to a reasonable arrangement with the resident. I feel for her losing a handicapped parking space, but we can’t let one person’s special situation prevent building much-needed housing on surface parking lots.

Nicholas Hansen
Nicholas Hansen
3 months ago
Reply to  Caphiller

Her thought process, that her parking spot is more important than 126 units of affordable housing, in incredibly self centered.

Ol Pappy
Ol Pappy
3 months ago

It’s not clear to me why the article does not mentions that Community Roots also owns the Helen V, which is exclusively for very low income people with disabilities and Seniors…..

Jonathan Reslinger
Jonathan Reslinger
3 months ago
Reply to  Ol Pappy

Affordable housing residents fighting the construction of affordable housing! I have seen it all. How sad she can’t understand others are in the same boat!

Gpete
Gpete
3 months ago

I really hope they add a “garage” for bicycles, e-bikes, e-scooters on the ground floor or basement with charging station power outlets…this is the future of city transit…

Nicholas Hansen
Nicholas Hansen
3 months ago

Hope this complaint goes right where it belongs, in the garbage can. I am so sick of NIMBY complaints slowing new developments and keeping rent extremely high in the city.

Jonathan Reslinger
Jonathan Reslinger
3 months ago

Selfish nonsense. Seattle needs affordable housing! Fast!

B S
B S
3 months ago

This is outrageous. With as many private developers buying up every corner in this neighborhood please go knock on their doors and not a public housing project! Sounds pretty classist to me. Also no one gets to keep their “views” anymore so suck it up buttercup- housing for ALL

RWK
RWK
3 months ago

If that render is at all accurate, this building will be yet another ugly box, devoid of any character. We are sacrificing urban aesthetics on the altar of density/affordable housing.

Caphiller
Caphiller
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

As opposed to the character-ful parking lot the building is replacing?

mixtefeelings
mixtefeelings
3 months ago

The DOT allows people who have ADA permits to request on-street parking spots. All of the folks who live in that building who need such spots can ask for them today. I am pretty certain that the DOT is pretty quick about installing the signs and making the designation, so there is a very good chance they could have on-street spaces in a matter of weeks or months, before construction even starts.

LinkRider
LinkRider
3 months ago

Ideally, a building like the Heartwood Apartments would be required to have a loading zone for deliveries and rideshare dropoffs, and this could improve accessibility for the neighbors too.

If any multifamily developments were required to put in a loading zone (and the residents were not allowed to get residential parking zone passes), development would naturally gravitate toward areas that are close to frequent public transportation, there might be a small amount of paid parking (or shared car parking) at each building, people would pay less rent if they didn’t need a car, and there would probably be a lot less pushback from the neighbors.