Aerial context of Yesler Terrace and the Vulcan projects.
Aerial context of Yesler Terrace and the Vulcan projects.

Vulcan Real Estate has teamed up with Runberg Architecture Group to develop plans for two central blocks in Yesler Terrace. Known as Block 2E (123 Broadway) and Block 3 (120 Broadway), the sites comprise 2.7 acres in the city’s most notable social housing community. Vulcan purchased the properties back in October from the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) with the goal of creating a vibrant mixed-income community. The news wasn’t surprising; SHA had long had Vulcan in mind as a preferred neighborhood developer. Money raised from the land sale will help SHA realize its efforts to replace aging social housing buildings and add income-restricted units to the neighborhood.

The sites are zoned as MPC – YT, a special Master Planned Community zoning for Yesler Terrace that allows a wide ranging mix of uses and building heights up to 240 feet. Vulcan has moved forward development proposals that emphasize residential use with a modest amount of ground floor retail. In total, the projects represent up to 435 apartment units and 10,500 square feet of retail space. Building heights would cap out at 7 stories.

Vulcan’s sites are in the very central core of the master planned community with ample access to Downtown Seattle (mere blocks away), social services, transit (including a new streetcar stop), employment centers, retail services, and recreational opportunities. Yet, the proposals drastically undershoot the maximum potential for development given that local zoning would permit greater density in the form of towers. Vulcan chose a smaller scale approach for their proposals because they felt it would better reflect the neighborhood character and meet the overall vision that the company has for their future tenants.

Block 2E options.
Block 2E options.

Vulcan has developed three different options for Block 2E massings. The options range from 193 to 202 residential units, 2,051 square feet and 2,773 square feet retail space, and 136 to 137 parking stalls. Each option would see retail focused on the ground floor and at the intersection of Yesler Way and Broadway.

Option A is a traditional courtyard apartment block approach. To break up the block and comply with code, the massings would be broken into two buildings and create additional permeability via a new passageway for pedestrians. Option B is a variation of Option A, but creates one structure as opposed to two, and has a courtyard open onto Broadway. Option C flips the massing of Option B toward the pedestrian alleyway. The block massing is modified to create two open courtyards and link views toward the steam tower and Downtown Seattle.

The applicants list the pros and cons of each option as follows:

Option A Option B Option C
Pros

  • Code compliant scheme
  • Plaza between two buildings

Cons

  • Poor solar exposure in courtyard
  • Substantial wall toward the 9th Ave Pedestrian Path, Epstein Opportunity Center (Steam Plant) and 820 Yesler project
  • Lack of modulation along Pedestrian Path and Broadway
  • Retail space does not relate well to the rest of the building massing
  • Fewest connections to Pedestrian Path
  • Two buildings create inefficient vertical circulation
  • Proximity of two buildings reduces access to daylight and privacy
  • Inefficient parking
Pros

  • Courtyard opens to Broadway
  • Holds corner at Yesler and Broadway

Cons

  • Substantial wall toward the 9th Ave Pedestrian Path, Epstein Opportunity Center (Steam Plant) and 820 Yesler project
  • Least amount of modulation on all sides
  • Minimal connections to Pedestrian Path at fitness and lobby spaces
  • Requires departures
Pros

  • Massing breaks down along Pedestrian Path
  • Residential courtyard faces Pedestrian Path and Epstein Opportunity Center (Steam Plant)
  • Two-story lobby at corner of Broadway and future Fir Street is well expressed and faces the future park on Block 3
  • Recessed retail space along Yesler provides additional pedestrian frontage
  • Massing relates to future Block 3 development, creating an identifiable marker for the neighborhood park and Yesler Community Center
  • Building terraces down to the south, toward views and the neighborhood park
  • Massing is the best response to site forces such as topography, views, surrounding context, and solar orientation
  • Maximizes connections to Pedestrian Path at courtyard, secondary lobby entrance and fitness space

Cons

  • Requires departures
Block 3 options.
Block 3 options.

Vulcan has developed three different options for Block 3massings. The options range from 227 to 240 residential units, 5,835 square feet and 13,023 square feet retail space, and 164 to 179 parking stalls. Each option would see retail focused on the ground floor along the Yesler Way frontage.

Option A uses a traditional apartment block approach with an internal courtyard. Option B is a modified version of Option A, which opens the courtyard to a park space on the corner of E Fir St and 10th Ave. Option C is modified version of Option A with a courtyard opening toward Yesler Way and the building ends flaring out diagonally.

The applicants list the pros and cons of each option as follows:

Option A Option B Option C
Pros

  • Code compliant scheme

Cons

  • Minimal solar exposure in courtyard
  • Minimal modulation toward the park
  • No gateway reference at northwest corner, along Broadway
  • Retail does not relate well to building mass above
  • Massing does not relate to Block 2E
  • Inefficient Parking
Pros

  • Potential for courtyard to open to park

Cons

  • Minimal solar exposure in park
  • Massing option located closest to north Tier 1 trees, which could impact health of trees
  • Massing option located closest to south Tier 1 Tree
  • No gateway reference at northwest corner, along Broadway
  • Massing does not relate to Block 2E
  • Two curb cuts required for two garage entries
Pros

  • Good solar access and views from residential courtyard
  • Ground Level angles toward park for visibility from major intersections
  • “Gasket” has potential to visually connect courtyard and park
  • Ground-level plaza adjacent to retail and streetcar stop creates opportunities for spill-out space from retail/cafe
  • Northwest corner creates an identifiable marker for the neighborhood park and community center
  • Modulation at north, adjacent to park
  • Massing is the best response to site forces such as topography, views, surrounding context, and solar orientation

Cons

  • Requires departures
Landscaping plan for Blocks 2E and 3.
Landscaping plan for Blocks 2E and 3.

In advance of large construction and development projects like Blocks 2E and 3, SHA and its partners have been working to improve the local infrastructure and streetscapes within Yesler Terrace. Most prominently, the City of Seattle has installed bike lanes and the First Hill Streetcar line on Broadway and Yesler Way, a hillclimb at 10th Ave S, and new pedestrian realm features like the Green Street Loop seen below.

Vulcan will further deliver quality improvements in the form of a 9th Ave Pedestrian Path, curb and gutter, planter strips and boxes, and generous sidewalks. Over three dozen new street trees will line the perimeter of proposed buildings and extensive landscaping will enhance the comfort of the pedestrian realm. North of Block 3, a small pocket park is likely to be developed in accordance with SHA’s vision for the neighborhood. Combined, these amenities will make the blocks feel leafy and green for future residents and shoppers.

Site context for Blocks 2E and 3.
Site context for Blocks 2E and 3.

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. There will be simultaneous design review sessions for the respective projects beginning promptly at 6.30pm and lasting until 9.30pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing Shelley Bolser, Project Planner, at Shelley.Bolser@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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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is ridiculous. The argument for uprooting Yesler Terrace, which is one of the few examples of public housing succeeding in the US, was that it would bring in a significant boost in density that would drive ridership on the streetcar and provide sufficient housing. What they are proposing is… well, what’s the real benefit here other than getting rid of “the poors”?

    Nothing. This is a go big or go home type of redevelopment. We are uprooting thousands of people and kicking them out of their homes and what we get for that… is this?

  2. What Vulcan is doing is just right.

    It’s building the type of low to moderate height apartments that can accommodate more people without turning neighborhoods streets into canyons between mountainous skyscrapers.

    This is what this area needs more of…not only in Seattle, but clustered near transportation focal points in the suburbs as well.

    We need Jackson Heights in Queens…not Park Avenue.

  3. What an absolute joke. A once in a lifetime chance to redevelop city owned housing and Vulcan proposes to build less than half the density allowed. Not to mention the millions of dollars spent to have the new First Hill Streetcar line swing out to YT, only to not build out to full capabilities.

    The city should force them to build to at least the minimum zoning height suggestion, as anything less is an absolute waste.

    In 20 years when there is a sea of towers that tall surrounding it, people are going to look at it and say “how out of place.”

    If the city of Seattle wants to get serious about density (which the winning proposal for the Capitol Hill Station makes me think maybe they aren’t really) then this is the perfect starting point.

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