Photos of the changing Brooklyn block, courtesy of DPD.
Photos of the changing Brooklyn block, courtesy of DPD.

A new residential development, named The Parsonage, is coming to the heart of the University District. Barrientos, LLC is planning to construct an 84-unit residential apartment building on the east side of Brooklyn Ave NE, just south of the intersection of NE 42nd St and Brooklyn Ave NE. The project proposal includes an L-shaped building that would preserve an on-site historic structure. The new apartment building would be up to 7 stories high and would contain no parking, which is common for many new residential buildings in the University District.

Option 3 plan view of the site, courtesy of DPD.
Option 3 plan view of the site, courtesy of DPD.

Locals to the area may be familiar with the quirky, historic church situated on the primary corner of the block. Constructed in 1906, this building has changed hands a number of times and now houses the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church and two Asian restaurants. (Talk about mixed uses!) The new development, however, is proposed to take place on three lots to the south, which includes the lesser-known neighbor to the church, known as the Parsonage (from which the development takes its name). The two residences that currently exist at 4128 and 4132 Brooklyn Ave NE would be demolished.

The Parsonage forms an important part of the development proposal because that building is a protected structure. The building was constructed in 1907 and used as the rectory by the church’s successive pastors, until it passed into private hands. Its quality of character and connection to the church gives the Parsonage a very high protection status. And, as part of any development, the Parsonage must remain intact on the site.

As you may have noted from the first image above, the Parsonage is entirely invisible from the street. A series of bushes and large trees have walled off the structure from public view of the street. The developers have been careful in devising alternative plans that would honor and enhance the historic structure. Each alternative option proposes to bring this structure back to the forefront of the property so that all can enjoy the architectural integrity. But more than that, this will help the developer maximize the property for development.

The developers are hoping to the bring the historic Parsonage back to life as amenity space for residents. The developer wants to encourage social gatherings and opportunities for group studying in the building. The developer’s preliminary proposals have already been vetted by the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) of the Landmarks Preservation Board with the ARC coming out in support of Option 3.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 18.35.42Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 18.34.16

Under the preferred option (Option 3), the developer says that they want to achieve a number of different goals like increased site circulation, reduced bulk, open space, and reduced setbacks. The developer plans to establish a pathway along the north property line. By doing this, it would help let additional light into the church and increase site circulation. The street-side building height would drop by one floor under Option 3 in order to reduce the perceived change in height between the historic Parsonage and the new apartment building. To some, the scale proposed as it is may seem quite dramatic even with this subtle softening in height. Departures from the Land Use Code are proposed for alleyway and sideyard setbacks. These are minor in nature and seek to maximize development of the residential units. The developer also hopes to create a courtyard to serve the residents.

Ultimately, the developer hopes to use a contemporary look on the new apartment building. But at this stage, only rough schematics are provided, which appear very bulky in comparison to the humble Craftsman Parsonage. Hopefully in the next Design Review phase, the developers will identify materials, modulations, and other architectural techniques–beyond those discussed–to directly enhance the quality of the two historic structures surrounding the future apartment block. This kind of complementary construction with historic structures is not new to Seattle — it’s been done well dozens of times — and the architects note several examples in their Design Review package.

Examples of compatible new construction with historic structures, courtesy of DPD.
Examples of compatible new construction with historic structures, courtesy of DPD.

For all the good that this project will bring, there may be a significant, missed opportunity at hand. The University District is very likely to see significant zoning changes in the coming year. Under the maximum rezoning plans, buildings on this site could soar to heights of up to 320 feet with more than twice the density of residential space. However, the properties are set to be redeveloped under the current MR-RC zoning (Midrise Multifamily Residential and Residential Commercial).

This zoning allows for lowrise structures of up to 60 feet in height, and 75 feet when incentives are used (i.e. 6 or 7 stories in height). Commensurate maximum Floor Area Ratios of 3.20 and 4.25 control the form of site development by requiring some open, uncovered areas of the site. Commercial uses are also allowed onsite, but they are geared toward smaller commercial uses like convenience stores, restaurants, and retail sales with square footage maximums for individual tenants. In this instance, the developer has settled on a 7-story structure which will receive a bonus story by taking advantage of the City’s Housing Incentive Bonus Program.

Whatever the case, The Parsonage will still be a welcome addition to the University District, giving more housing options to students and long-term residents alike.

Massing and zoning, courtesy of DPD.
Massing and zoning, courtesy of DPD.

How To Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project, you can do so tonight. The Northeast Design Review Board will meet at the University Heights Community Center in Room 209, located at 5031 University Way NE. The Parsonage design review meeting begins at 6.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing Lindsay King, Project Planner, at and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) at

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

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  1. Back to policy, the one thing that I think needs to go when it comes to regulating big buildings is the Floor Area Ratio nonsense. I really don’t think it accomplishes anything. It leads to boring, ugly architecture, along with the preservation of parking lots. In this case, it’s not too bad, because it leads to a nice courtyard that shows off the historic house. But most places aren’t so lucky. There is really nothing to show off. People just build lower than they would, or build a silly “two step” structure that adds nothing to the neighborhood. Just look at the building I mentioned below (which I link to at the bottom of the page). Now what could possibly be gained by making that shorter, or pushing it back away from the street, or building it with multiple levels?

    Speaking of silly restrictions, I think it is crazy that they have to get a variance to build a little closer to the alley. Why, exactly, do alleyways have to be so wide (by default). Alleys are for trucks, and as long as a truck can get through, there is no need to make it wider. A view from the sky of the neighborhood shows that the biggest problem with Brooklyn is too many parking lots. FAR and setbacks — useless setbacks — only contribute to this. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see the point.

    All those silly regulations just push up the cost of rent. The parking lots remain in the area, while the owners of the parking lot make decent money, knowing that they can’t maximize the use of the property (you can’t build a big building, like the one I mentioned). But this building gets built, and will help a little. But they are tearing down two houses, with about a dozen units. This new building will certainly add a lot more housing space, so it is a big net win. But this sort of project only makes sense when rent is sky high (and it is). The one thing I would like to see in the building (other than it being nice to look at) is ground floor retail. Brooklyn really should have a lot more. But the folks making this building have had to do plenty when it comes to this project (all of this paperwork and design) while adhering to overly restrictive rules. I really don’t feel like tacking on a simple request (ground floor retail, at least on the street facing side) because I know that it would ultimately add to the high cost of rent.

    • I’m not sure what is wrong with the inline linking. If you copy and paste that link it works just fine. But the picture shown in the comment above is obviously not what I’m talking about. Is there a way to turn off that “feature”?

        • Yeah, if there was a way to turn it off, I would. It automatically takes the link, resolves it, then renders it inline. Most of the time, I find it a bother (which is why I have to move my links to the end). In this case, it weirdly links to the wrong part of town (I’m sure tracking that down will be a really big pain). I personally wouldn’t focus on that unless it happens again, but if there is the possibility of turning off the auto-rendering of links, I would appreciate that.

          Thanks for looking into this.

  2. Great article. I find this type of article very interesting. I don’t know much about architecture, or architectural regulation, but I love articles like this because it gives me a little glimpse into the planning world.

    A few thoughts. First off, I really like that old church. I remember when there was a coffee shop back there in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This was well before Starbucks (and similar places) so coffee shops were rare (about as common as video stores are now). There was an interesting vibe — a callback to the beatnik era (when coffee shops were popular). I remember sipping tea and playing Go. Most of the U-District was made up of used records stores and head shops (and no chain stores or restaurants). Seeing that building and knowing it will be preserved is nice to hear.

    The church building itself it quite striking, especially from the north. I really don’t think they should worry too much about “fitting in” when it comes to the style. You can’t really, unless you build nothing but big wooden houses next to it (and that would be silly). Besides, the neighborhood is made up of lots of different styles. A big, bulky six story brick building, built with no setbacks and no worries about massing would be just fine, if it is a nice building. Look around the neighborhood and you can see that those are the prettiest buildings (in my opinion). The Stanford across the street is nice. Up the street you have a marvelous building. I don’t know what it is called, but it is on the corner, just southeast of 43rd and Brooklyn. I think it is 8 stories high. If this team makes something half as good looking at that, they should be proud. They really shouldn’t worry about whether it matches or dominates the church, or even the house — you could put the Chrysler Building behind that church and the first thing people would say is “Hey, look at the cool church. Oh yeah, that building behind it is really cool, too”.

    I agree that materials make a big difference. Like I said, I would prefer a traditional brick look, although they won’t do that. If they want to go modern, then the two examples cited provide quite a contrast, to my eyes. I really don’t like the Pantages much, not because it takes away from the house (again, you really can’t take away too much from a house that interesting) but mainly because it just isn’t very interesting. The materials and mix of style seem bland and confused. Alley 24 is a lot nicer, but not nearly as nice as the building across the street (The Oregonian, I believe it is called). The curved corner (matching the sidewalk) is marvelous, as is the criss-cross wood pattern. That is a gem in my opinion.

    But I think that is really hard to pull off. A modern style with a lot of wood is far more likely to be bland or confused, in my opinion, but if they manage to pull it off, I would be delighted. Personally I would go for a retro brick style. The UW campus if full of fantastic examples of old Gothic style buildings built well after that style had become passe, but the folks who built them did a great job. I guess I would like to see a building like the one I mentioned on 43rd and Brooklyn. Throw in a few gargoyles — that would actually fit in with the neighbors really well (the folks who used to hang out there sipping espresso would have totally dug it).

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