Published on by | Filed in Housing, Land Use and Development, Social Welfare

Article Note: This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on micro housing, see Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 as well.

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Photo, courtesy of Owen Pickford.

Thus far, the arguments in favor of micro housing have largely been informed by a free market ideology and the belief that competition between developers will improve the quality and reduce the price of units; consumers can choose where they want to live, and if micro housing doesn’t fit their standards, they’ll move elsewhere.

But we know that there are times when the free market fails and intervention is not only warranted, but a moral obligation. These are times when choice is sufficiently limited and basic needs and welfare are at stake. It’s why we have airbag requirements, licensing for doctors and lawyers, health codes, and the minimum wage.

The minimum wage came about because people were faced with a desperate choice: work for pennies or don’t work at all. The result was an unlivable wage and a standard of living so low it was a national embarrassment. Wages affect welfare at the most basic level by determining our ability to afford food, health care, housing, clothing, transportation, and the rest of our basic needs. It also affects our agency—with money comes the power to plan and determine our lives. Without it, we’re subject to the whims of those better off.

A low wage hurts everyone. It brings the entire wage ladder down. Your wage is relative to the rest of the market—if the floor of the market is lower, so is your bargaining position. We’re seeing this in Seattle, as our minimum wage creeps towards $15/hour. There is some wage compression between classes of employees, but employers know they have to reward greater responsibility with higher wages. If a manager made the same as an entry-level position, there may be little incentive for an employee to take on a more stressful position. So everyone is seeing a raise. The rising tide is lifting all boats.

We believe there should be a certain floor that ensures a standard of living to the benefit of everyone. People should be able to afford their basic needs–that means three full meals a day, health care when they’re sick, proper clothes, and reliable transportation. We also know that the market alone doesn’t providing these things, so we intervene.

The question then becomes: does micro housing warrant the same intervention as the minimum wage? To answer that, we can employ a two-prong test.

  1. Is a meaningful choice available?
  2. Is basic welfare threatened?

Choice

The first question is whether choice has been sufficiently limited. If it has, then free market dynamics break down. If choice is intact, then we can leave it to consumers to pick and choose where they want to live and trust their choice serves their interests.

Micro housing advocates may be tempted to answer this question too quickly by asserting the mere fact that people already live there shows people want to. But that circular logic assumes the answer to the question we’re asking: did they really choose to live there?

People regularly find themselves in situations as a result of limited agency and larger outside influences. Call it luck or call it fate, sometimes life is beyond our control.

The top reasons people choose micro housing are, in order: location (97%), price (86%), proximity to work/school (78%), proximity to neighborhood amenities (73%), ability to live alone (71%) and proximity to public transit (62%). Many of these decision points seem to be more about comfort than necessity. Renters can choose to live in a less attractive neighborhood; they can choose to live with roommates or family; they can endure longer commutes; and they can forego neighborhood amenities.

On the other hand, location may be a proxy for proximity to work and school for a student who struggles to balance a full credit load and a full time job; living alone may be the only option for health reasons, and living with family may not be feasible (especially for queer folks who are kicked out of their homes); and proximity to public transit may be the only affordable way to get around, as the economics of car ownership are often dubious at best.

If micro housing really is an entry point, it functions as such for those with the least agency over their lives—people with few economic resources and young people learning how to live on their own.

It seems that, to the extent people don’t have a choice in micro housing, it is because micro housing is the best solution they have. Until we are prepared to offer something better, limiting this choice will only exacerbate the problems we’re trying to solve. It will push people out of dense urban areas, farther away from friends, family, jobs, and resources. It will cost them opportunity and time as their day is eaten up by their commute. It may cost them money as they’re pushed into more expensive studio or one bedroom. And that will cost the rest of us as demand for existing units gets hotter.

Welfare

The second question is whether micro housing presents a considerable threat to welfare.

Here we can borrow heavily from the Health Argument presented in Part 3. Home should be a place to feel safe and comfortable. But micro units can feel claustrophobic, adding to crowd-related stress. Some studies suggest there is a minimum livable space between 200-375 square feet, providing grounds for minimum space requirements for all new units.

But these studies may not take into account the creative and flexible designs employed to make micro units feel bigger; nor do they acknowledge how little living people do within the walls of their units. The buildings encourage use of large amenity spaces like communal kitchens and rooftops, and people list neighborhood amenities as a top consideration when choosing a micro unit.

The quantity of space, then, doesn’t appear to be an issue. While there are international examples of exceptionally small units, like a 40 square foot apartment in Hong Kong, the local market seems to be largely self-regulating.

Meanwhile, the quality of space is already governed by existing building codes and renters’ rights law. Together, these regulations prohibit toxic substances like asbestos and mold; ensure adequate facilities like plumbing and fire suppression systems; and give renters recourse when unsafe and unsanitary conditions arise. Micro housing is covered by all of these provisions.

Conclusion

The minimum wage is a clear example of when intervention into the free market is necessary to protect the public welfare. But micro housing does not clearly mirror the relevant characteristics of an unlivable wage.

We in Seattle work to guarantee a high quality of life. We protect our natural treasures with tough environmental regulations; we give our workers the highest minimum wage in the country; and we invest in our local non-profits to share our good fortune. It’s in our character to extend this philosophy to housing as well. But fear not, welfare warriors, our neighbors are safe in micro housing. The homes may be snug, but some of us like it that way.

In the next installment (coming Monday), I’ll compare how the arguments for/against micro housing mirror those for/against urbanism in general.

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Published on by | Filed in Plans and Policy, Transit, Transportation

NE 130th Link Staton supporters at Sound Transit, courtesy of Renee Staton.

NE 130th Link Staton supporters at Sound Transit, courtesy of Renee Staton.

The Sound Transit Board met yesterday afternoon to vote on a slate of options for the Lynnwood Link extension and a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Bellevue on East Link. Many local transit advocates were happy with the results. The Board voted in favor of Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s language for a shovel-ready NE 130th Street Station in Seattle. While the station will initially be deferred, it will eventually be formed as an infill station along the Lynnwood Link alignment.

Board preferred option for Lynnwood Link Light Rail, courtesy of Sound Transit.

Board preferred option for Lynnwood Link Light Rail, courtesy of Sound Transit.

Renee Staton sent an e-mail last night thanking the many supporters who turned out in favor of the station after her inspirational and timely advocacy for the NE 130th Street Station.

First, many thanks to all who wrote the Sound Transit Board, who attended the Board meeting today, who wrote in social media and in real media, who talked with your neighbors, and who generally supported NE 130th St Link Station. You made today a success for NE 130th St Link Station.

What happened today: The Sound Transit Board approved building Lynnwood Link (Northgate to Lynnwood) ready for NE 130th Station (thanks to the amendment shown in one of the attachments and proposed by Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien). This means it is still possible to add a station at NE 130th without redoing the site and incurring unneeded expenses. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember O’Brien, and King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski all spoke in favor of a NE 130th Street Link Station.

We will be following up with Mayor Murray and Councilmember O’Brien’s staff to find out what we need to do to help move the station toward the next steps and will keep all of you in the loop.

But it wasn’t just the NE 130th Street Station that won out on the day. The Board picked Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, 185th Street, and 145th Street as preferred intermediate stations between Northgate and Lynnwood. 145th Street Station was the only location in question after a last-minute effort by the Sierra Club and others to pick 155th Street instead. On top that, Mountlake Terrace still has a shot at a future infill station located on the west side of I-5 at 220th Street SW. The lesser-talked-about station is just south of the Lynnwood Transit Center and forms a very important employment and housing center in Southwest Snohomish County. It, too, will make a great infill station and boasts potential for significant growth as the area and light rail line mature. All totaled, Sound Transit estimates that the Northgate-Lynnwood segment will carry somewhere between 63,000 to 74,000 passengers each weekday by 2035.

Bellevue also managed to sneak its way into the mix during the Board meeting. The Board officially approved its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Bellevue on Sound Transit’s East Link expansion. The MOU revises a previous agreement between the two governments from 2011, which will save the City of Bellevue $60 million in costs for the construction of a Downtown Bellevue light rail tunnel. Unfortunately, this revision will further hurt the walkshed of the Downtown Bellevue station and utility of the light rail alignment. On the flipside, it does give Sound Transit the go-ahead to construct their maintenance facility and begin permitting for civil construction of the light rail system in the city.

Now the focus for Sound Transit moves toward funding and passing a Sound Transit 3 (aka ST3) ballot measure. In a statement yesterday, Dow Constantine, King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair, noted that this next phase begins in June:

Sound Transit will kick off a month-long process to hear from the public about what projects should be studied as candidates for a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure. Meanwhile, we will continue working to secure the funding authority the Legislature must grant us to move forward with a public vote in November 2016.

The Board will examine public comment to determine what will end up in the final project list for a public ballot measure. However, early reactions came yesterday by many prominent transit advocates after a Sound Transit staffer covered some of the potential ST3 projects alternatives. During the discussion, there was a lack of popular routing and operational choices that local transit advocates have long-pushed for–like a grade-separated alignment from Ballard to Downtown Seattle. Jonathan Hopkins, Seattle Subway Political Director, shared his organization’s position on the initial project list:

Not only are all options presented unacceptable to us, we feel they are unacceptable to voters – including the thousands of local residents we’ve spoken to over the last three years. This appears to be planning focused on appeasing the ST board of directors rather than focusing on serving the public and providing good transit. We need options that are worthy of this once-in-a-lifetime transit investment.  We will work to ensure Seattle gets the fast, grade separated transit it desperately needs; anything else is a surrender to gridlock and is deterrent to job growth in our region.

We expect to hear more about this from the transit advocacy community in the coming weeks.

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Published on by | Filed in Housing, Land Use and Development, Parks and Recreation, Social Welfare, Transportation

Article Note: This is the third installment of a five-part series on micro housing, see Part 1 and Part 2 as well.

12th Avenue (Capitol Hill) micro housing, courtesy of Owen Pickford.

The argument against micro housing can be summarized as follows: greedy developers shoehorn downtown-style living into single-family neighborhoods and rip off residents with luxury-level premiums for borderline inhumane housing. That’s a lot to take in, so I’ll address each point one by one.

The Bad Value Argument

Micro housing may seem cheap, but per square foot, developers are charging premium prices—up to 25% more than mid-sized units (600-1000 sq. ft.) and 48% more than large units (1000+ sq. ft.). Young and desperate renters are duped into thinking they’re getting a good deal while developers make bank.

There are two reasons developers are able to charge so much more.

First, they’re selling a hot new product. Prices will remain high as supply catches up with demand. With more units entering the market, developers will compete for renters and this competition will naturally lower prices. Builders are also refining their designs, wrestling with how to provide appropriately sized and priced fixtures, appliances, and furniture that fit the novel needs of smaller units. Major US suppliers make systems that are too big, so developers are experimenting with prefabricated and modular kitchens.

Flexible furniture like this movable island are becoming popular in micro units. Photo by the author.

Second, micro units are expensive to build and maintain, averaging 5-10% more than conventional units. Fixed expenses associated with kitchens and bathrooms can’t be diluted across large living areas. And the amenities like common kitchens and rooftop decks used to compensate for these smaller private quarters further distort the equation by adding cost to the building but not square footage to each unit.

As micro units continue to expand, we should expect prices to fall. But we should also recognize that value is not the only measure of affordability. Lower absolute prices act as entry points for young and low-income people who are willing to sacrifice space for affordable rents.

The Affordable Housing Argument

Portraying micro housing as a solution to the affordability crisis is misguided. We need units that work for more than just single millennials with a taste for minimalism. They may be good entry points, but they’re not sustainable solutions for established residents and families who need more space.

This argument misunderstands or misportrays the role of micro housing in creating an affordable city. Micro units have not, are not, and will never be the only tool in the toolbox. Rather, they are a tailored solution for a population that is categorically underserved by the current system.

Healthy cities provide a broad array of housing typologies in every size and price range to fit the needs of a diverse population. That means townhomes and row houses for those who like to be close to their neighbors, luxury condos for the wealthy, dorms for students, studios and apartments for those not ready or interested in buying, and single-family homes for young families.

Micro housing isn’t the golden ticket to universal affordability. But without it, demand for studios and one-bedroom apartments is artificially high from people who don’t want or need the extra space. High demand leads to high prices that reverberate across the rest of the rental market. Expanding options to appropriately house people at the right price and right size is good housing policy.

The Undesirability Argument

People don’t actually want to live in such cramped spaces that would be better labeled as “shelter” than “housing.” As many as 58% of renters agree, saying they probably or definitely are not interested in renting micro units. They cite concerns like the lack of a separate bedroom, less storage space, and less living/dining space as top reasons they’ll look elsewhere.

The flipside is that 24% renters in conventional apartments report that they are interested in micro units. And the majority of current micro unit renters weren’t intentionally looking for one in the first place—but they report satisfaction rates on par with conventional units (with the exception of perceived value of rent, which they consider an exchange for living alone in a desirable neighborhood).

Those surveyed also stayed for shorter periods, averaging just a year or two. But as discussed previously, these units are entry points for people in transitional points of life—including recent graduates, divorcees, and new residents.

The Health Argument

Healthy cities need need minimum acceptable living standards. Micro units are an average 150 square feet—meaning there are many units even smaller. That’s not healthy, mentally or physically, and there’s research to back it up.

Home needs to be a place people can relax and unwind. It’s important for our mental health to have a place we can feel at ease. Tiny spaces make that difficult. They clutter quickly—a few dirty dishes can overwhelm a kitchenette—and flexible furniture like murphy beds and folding chairs quickly turn from novelty to nuisance.

They’re also bad for couples and families. Small spaces can feel claustrophobic. That creates crowd-related stress, which is correlated with higher rates of domestic violence and substance abuse.

If micro units sound bad, the alternative is even worse. Without micro units, people have to live farther from their friends and their work. Longer commutes are correlated with an increased risk of obesity, divorce, stress, worry, loneliness, and sleeplessness. They also make us eat worse and exercise less. That’s a recipe for misery.

Micro units aren’t a fit for everyone—squeezing a family into 150 square feet brings flashbacks to infamous summer family road trips. Which is why families don’t rent micro units—young and single people do.

Developers are learning how to bring out the best in small spaces. Large windows and high ceilings are two key design elements, along with flexible furniture, built-in storage, and movable kitchen islands.

Research indicates that minimum livable space may be between 200 and 375 square feet. But those studies may not take into account just how little living people are doing at home. Many renters spend their days out at work or school. They see their unit as a home base and the city as their playground. Coming home to clean and maintain a 700 square foot apartment may be overwhelming. The simplicity of a small space can be exactly what they need.

The Bad Neighbor Argument

If micro housing has been good for renters, it certainly hasn’t been for neighbors. Towering six-story buildings pop up next to modest single-family homes, bringing 50 new residents who, by the account of micro unit advocates, are often in transitioning periods, limiting any loyalty towards the neighborhood’s condition and character.

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This aPodment complex on Capitol Hill stands tall next to a single-family home. Though, admittedly it was hard to find a complex that wasn’t in close proximity to existing apartment structures. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

This argument is NIMBYism at its core—but it gets something right. The way micro housing was introduced to the city was disruptive. Developers came in through the back door without regard for current residents. They snuck past design reviews that other apartment buildings are rightly subject to—reviews that give the public a voice in ensuring good, quality design that fits the surroundings. Waking up to 50 new neighbors is enough to put a strain on any relationship. The sudden uptick in density also strains infrastructure, from public transit only just recovering from recession-era cuts to crowded corner parks.

These aren’t problems with micro housing per se. Disruption is a natural occurrence as innovative new products enter the market and systems adapt. Many sharing-economy services like Uber and Airbnb were similarly disruptive. But now many can’t imagine life without them. The role of regulation isn’t to shut them down, but to acknowledge the need they serve while facilitating a smooth entrance into an evolving market.

Over 60% of city land is zoned for single-family housing. In one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, that can’t last. Increasing density is the only way to accommodate our growth without exacerbating the dreadful effects of urban sprawl and rising housing costs. That means neighborhoods will continue to experience change—as they always have and always will.

The Parking Argument

A subset of the Bad Neighbor Argument, many neighbors complain that they must compete for limited parking with 50 new neighbors. The problem is exacerbated by the reality that many new micro unit buildings don’t include their own parking. That leaves long-time residents without access to an amenity they’ve grown to depend on.

This argument doesn’t square with reality. According to one developer, only 10% of micro housing tenants have cars. And the profile of a typical tenant supports that claim—they’re typically young, low-income people looking for dense, walkable neighborhoods. They rate transit access as one of the top considerations when choosing a micro unit. Buses and bikes are replacing cars in these communities as many millennials go carless.

Simply put, street parking does not belong to anyone. It is a public amenity. Those who need a dependable place to park their car can pay for a unit with dedicated parking or buy a spot in a parking garage. It is not the obligation of the city to provide residents with their own private spots in the public right-of-way.

Conclusion

As with any other housing typology, micro units have their drawbacks. But residents balance these drawbacks with the unique advantages and choose their homes accordingly.

In the next installment, I’ll examine an analogy between micro housing and the minimum wage.

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Published on by | Filed in Plans and Policy, Transit, Transportation

Lynnwood Link extension alternatives, courtesy of Sound Transit.

Lynnwood Link extension alternatives, courtesy of Sound Transit.

The Sound Transit Board is meeting this afternoon to make final decisions on the Lynnwood Link Light Rail extension. Renee Staton wrote a great case for why this alignment needs a NE 130 Street Station. But she’s not the only one with Seattle Transit Blog, Seattle Subway, Seattle Light Rail Review Panel (LRRP), and others joining the chorus. In fact, the LRRP recently summarized their points to the Sound Transit Board saying that:

The LRRP supports locating a station at NE 130th St rather than stations only at Northgate and NE 145th St for the following reasons:

1. Compared to the station under construction at Northgate or the proposed station at NE 145th St, a station at NE 130th St better serves the neighborhoods in and around Bitter Lake and Lake City, two growing hub urban villages that offer affordable housing options and have transit-dependent populations.

2. Because of its lower traffic volumes, planned bicycle facilities, and opportunity for bus route restructuring, NE 130th St is a superior location than Northgate and NE 145th St for connecting non-automobile modes with light rail.

3. A station at NE 130th St offers the potential for greater increased ridership than captured in the FEIS. This and other benefits outweigh the one-minute increase in travel times.

Luckily, the Sound Transit Board has already proposed language that accommodates a future NE 130th Street Station. The amended resolution (R2015-05) of Section 1.A. currently is proposed to read as:

The route will begin on elevated guideway at the terminus of the Northgate LinkExtension. It will cross over 1st Avenue NE and enter Interstate 5 right-of-way just north of the NE 107th Street on-ramp to northbound I-5 and continue on elevated guideway over NE Northgate Way adjacent to the east side of I-5, and then transition to a combination of retained cut, retained fill and elevated structures. The route will continue along the east side of I-5, partially in interstate right-of-way and partially on adjacent properties, to NE 145th Street. , crossing over NE 130th Street on elevated structure. Low cost infrastructure improvements that are both consistent with the ST2 plan and necessary to avoid substantial disruption of future light-rail operations will be made to facilitate construction of an elevated station near NE 130th Street if approved. The NE 130th Street bridge over I-5 will be replaced, and 5th Avenue NE and the northbound I-5 off-ramp near the bridge will be reconfigured, to accommodate retained cut light rail guideway through this area.

But Mike O’Brien, Seattle Councilmember and Sound Transit Board Member, wants to go further. His proposal would strike the last sentence of the subsection. In other words, there would be no future requirement to replace the NE 130th Street bridge or reconfigure the off-ramp. It’s easy to understand why this language would be removed. With an elevated crossing, bridge replacement and off-ramp reconfiguration become entirely unnecessary. Together, the Boards’ proposal and O’Brien’s are solid for NE 130th Street. But this isn’t just about NE 130th Street; the Board has also proposed making 220th Street SW in Snohomish County a possibility in the future, too.

Earlier this week, the Sierra Club entered the fold to build upon the Lynnwood Link Light Rail extension advocacy efforts. The Sierra Club not only supports NE 130th Street Station, but argues that Sound Transit Board should move the NE 145th Street Station to NE 155th Street instead and fully fund the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge. We agree with their approach which seeks to have a light rail station that:

  • Has a safer location for transit riders;
  • Emphasizes local bus transfers and kiss & ride;
  • Has more dependable local access and minimizes conflict and delay from congested traffic; and
  • Eliminates an expensive and incompatible parking garage.

It’s not too late to influence the Sound Transit Board. Contact the Board or fill out the Sierra Club’s message to let the Board know that you support superior station options for the Lynnwood Link Light Rail extension. Better yet, if can make the Board meeting this afternoon, please show up and make your voice heard.

Thursday, April 23
1:30-4:00pm
Union Station, Ruth Fisher Boardroom
401 S. Jackson Street
Seattle

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Published on by | Filed in Architecture, Land Use and Development

First Hill McDonalds slated for redevelopment, courtesy of Google Maps.

First Hill McDonalds slated for redevelopment, courtesy of Google Maps.

For nearly six decades, McDonald’s has called the northwest corner of Madison Street and Minor Avenue home. But all that is soon to change. Development company Holland Partner Group has teamed up with Ankrom Moison Architects, Inc. to redevelop the 15,360 square foot lot. Holland has a vision for 17-story mixed-use building that will tower over the heart of Pill Hill. The project, known as 1001 Minor Avenue, will be a welcome addition the neighborhood and local streetscapes by filling in a big gap.

Rendering of 1001 Minor Ave tower, courtesy of DPD.

Rendering of 1001 Minor Ave tower, courtesy of DPD.

The McDonald’s building was first constructed in 1956 as a one-story, drive-through restaurant–a common fixture of suburban development of the time. Despite the rapid growth and redevelopment of First Hill a dense neighborhood, this site has managed to stand the test of time with little change since. The site sits at a major crossroads of First Hill’s medical district. Swedish Medical Center and Virginia Mason both call the surrounding blocks home with thousands of staff and even more daily patients and visitors. More than that, this neighborhood is highly desireable for residents, and the diverse, dense population reflects that. This comes as little surprise given First Hill’s amazing foot-oriented infrastructure, historic character, and proximity to large employment centers and services.

Holland hopes to capitalize on these neighborhood features by constructing 16 floors of residential over one floor of retail and lobby space, and 3 floors of underground parking. The type of residential units haven’t be disclosed yet, but Holland intends to create at least 200 units. A further 5,200 square feet will be dedicated to the commercial and retail space at the ground floor. The architects have designed the commercial space to front primarily along Madison Street. The intention here is to get the most public exposure of the retail spaces from the busier street while also directing and generating more activity on it–a real win-win. Minor Avenue will also be addressed by the retail space, but to a much lesser degree. The residential entrance and parking garage will instead form the majority of the Minor Avenue frontage.

Options for the project, courtesy of DPD.

Options for the project, courtesy of DPD.

Holland has is analyzing three different design options that they’re calling “stacking”, “interlocking”, and “verticality” in their first round of Design Review Early Design Guidance. Verticality is the preferred option and appears to have the most potential for visual interest from the public realm. Of course, in the massing stage, it is always difficult to imagine how materials and other features might further shape a building.

Stacy Mansion stepback, courtesy of DPD.

Stacy Mansion stepback, courtesy of DPD.

Holland’s architects have carefully considered the towering Gainsborough residential building to the north and the Stacy Mansion to the west in the project design. While neither building is a registered historic structure, they both appear to qualify as such. Ankrom Moison has worked to ensure that the proposed tower will give the adjacent buildings ample breathing room to take their place in the public realm while maximizing the remaining development site. For instance, in the verticality option, Ankrom Moison would stepback the tower above the first floor adjacent the Stacy Mansion while taking advantage of the rest of the potential building envelope under code.

Elevation and floor plans of the development site, courtesy of DPD.

Elevation and floor plans of the development site, courtesy of DPD.

Holland wants to achieve a high quality design that will garner the prestigious LEED certification for sustainable engineering and construction. Certification comes in four forms with projects achieving the highest certification under Platinum guidelines. Holland says that they’re planning to shoot for the basic level of Certified. However, despite the desire to be green, the building will have a fairly high parking ratio of 0.63 stalls per dwelling unit. In total, 126 parking stalls will be provided while 34 to 37 bike parking spaces will be accommodated on the site.

Retail and streetscape sections, courtesy of DPD.

Retail and streetscape sections, courtesy of DPD.

Streetscape improvements will be made to both Madison Street and Minor Avenue. To give pedestrians more room to walk along Madison Street and access the building, the building will be setback a little more generously than today’s McDonald’s. In total, 11.5 feet of sidewalk space will be provided on this frontage while Minor Avenue will have a much deeper setback of 17 feet–despite being the less active street. This may seem like the exact opposite of what should be, but it is in keeping the with the local streetscapes as they are today. The Madison Street right-of-way is tighter than Minor Avenue only because of its priority and orientation to arterial car-based traffic while Minor Avenue acts as a local residential street. Both streets have the same amount of right-of-way (66 feet), but the allocation of space is what ultimately sets them apart.

Bike parking and access, courtesy of DPD.

Bike parking and access, courtesy of DPD.

A feature worth noting is the bike parking incorporated into the proposed tower. Holland wants to provide some semblance of security and ease of access to residents with bikes. Using the same entryway as the parking garage, residents will be able to access a secured bike room located on the west side of the ground floor with storage available for up to 25 bikes. Access to this space will also be possible from the residential elevator/lobby area and retail corridors, which should bring bikes on a more equal footing to cars.

Holland is requesting three separate departures from the land use code regarding amenity space, setbacks to adjacent buildings, and additional residential use on the ground floor. The applicant makes very compelling arguments for the Design Review Board and DPD staff to consider. The applicant proposes to place more than half of the requirement amenity space indoors so as to give residents a place to effectively recreate. Indeed, the majority of the rooftop will have green and open space, but the land use code still requires a considerable amount of amenity space above and beyond this. Therefore, the applicants are requesting a departure for more than 50% of the amenity space to be enclosed.

A second departure has been requested for setbacks of floors above 40 feet. Under the land use code, a 2-foot setback would have to be provided for every additional 10 feet of height above the initial 40 feet. This would dramatically reduce the development potential by creating a 27-foot setback on the most upper floor. The final departure requests to allow a greater amount of residential-oriented uses on the ground floor. The proposed residential lobby and leasing area count toward this and would exceed the 20% maximum under code. The applicant argues that this use along the frontage would enhance security and safety while also responding to the quieter nature of Minor Avenue.

Besides the requested departures, the project itself conforms to the general land use code requirements, which permit structures up to 160 feet in height (the site is zoned NC3P-160). The project will have its first Design Review meeting tonight with further refinements taking shape in the coming months in response to the East Design Review Board’s recommendations and comments.

How To Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project, you can do so tonight. The East Design Review Board will meet at Seattle University in the Admissions & Alumni Community Building, located at 824 12th Avenue. The design review meeting begin promptly at 6.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing BreAnne McConkie, Project Planner, at BreAnne.McConkie@seattle.gov and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at PRC@seattle.gov.

For more design review materials and upcoming meetings, see DPD’s design review page.

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