121 Boren Ave N project. (Via)

At a site next to The Seattle Times‘ headquarters a 41-story tower at 121 Boren Ave N could rise bringing 436 apartments to market if its proposal gets approved tonight at its design review meeting. The project includes 1,800 square feet of retail at ground level and 244 parking stalls in seven levels below grade.

The 121 Boren tower will rise from the northwest corner of the site. (Via)
Seattle H5 Capital’s tower will rise from the corner of their site, with The Seattle Times Building remaining. (Via Architecture)

The tower will rise from the northeast corner of the site replacing the restaurant 13 Coins. Most of the Seattle H5 Capital site will continue to be occupied by The Seattle Times Building:

The existing 1000 Denny Way Seattle Times Building, which inhabits over 60% of the site area, is located in the center of property and includes the original 1929 structure, which is 5 to 8 stories tall, as well as a lower 1965 addition on the southeast corner. The building was substantially improved and seismically retrofitted in 2003, and will remain in place. The building houses office on Level 5 (Boren Avenue North) through 8, including the current offices of the Seattle Times newspaper. The three floors below Boren Avenue North contain some of the most intensive and critical datacenters in the Northwest.

Seattle H5 Capital may consider adding office development on top of The Seattle Times Building at a later date. To be clear this is The Seattle Times’ current, not its old building kitty-corner across Boren—sections of that building are protected under city landmark status.

The new 41 story tower would rise above the existing Seattle Times office. (Via)
The new 41-story tower would rise above the existing Seattle Times offices. (Via)

A Tower Spacing Compromise

The Mack Urban tower is the gray massing in the background. (Via)
The Mack Urban tower would be 46 feet north. (H5 Capital0
121 Boren Ave N would have a close neighbor. (Via)

The Daily Journal of Commerce reports that the tower’s developer, Seattle H5 Capital, is working with neighbor Mack Urban to seek an exemption to tower spacing rules: “The two towers would be separated by just 33 feet from approximately the fourth through seventh floors, and by 46 feet above that level.” Municipal code stipulates 60 feet between towers here, but the two developers have asked the City for an exemption.

The rationale driving the towers closer together is a desire for the Mack Urban tower to not limit views of the Space Needle down the John Street corridor. Setting back the Mack Urban tower pushed it closer to the 121 Boren Ave N tower, so the architects came up with this compromise. The departure would allow a better relationship and increased public benefit for the proposed hillclimb and plaza, Mack Urban argued. The packet reports that the West Design Review Board supported this departure at the 1001 John St design recommendation meeting.

Anton Babadjanov recently provided some in-depth analysis on tower spacing—in which he argued city planning needs to take natural light into account for energy efficiency and urban health. It does appear apartments will be oriented to maximize views not and minimize peeping westward into the Mack Urban tower. “[T]he majority of the units in the 121 Boren Ave N tower have been oriented to the north or south, so as to take advantage of the unimpeded views in those directions, and not be focused on the adjacent tower,” the design packet states. The towers will also be offset by thirty feet with the Boren tower extending father south and the John tower farther north, improving the view corridor of each.

The tower placement options considered. (Via)
The tower placement options considered. (Via)
Here's what Mack Urban's design for 1001 John St looks like. (Mack Urban)
Here’s what Mack Urban’s design for 1001 John St looks like. (Mack Urban)

A Neighborhood Climbing Upward

The blocks surrounding the Mack Urban and Seattle H5 Capital towers will also see large projects. Vancouver-based developer Onni Group owns two full blocks to the east and is planning 1,179 apartments. Last year, The Urbanist covered the design for a westward neighbor: a 40-story tower at 970 Denny Way, which is now under construction. And I wrote about the creative wavy twin tower design at 1200 Stewart with honorable mention to the undulating tower at 2014 Fairview Ave just across the way.

None of the blocks these developments are occurring on have minimum parking requirements; however, the three towers proposed for the block north of Denny Way between Fairview and Westlake would add 2,541 stalls in total to the neighborhood. The question of when South Lake Union will reach peak parking—a neighborhood slated to add two Link stations in ST3—is still unanswered. Perhaps maximum parking limits are in order. This Boren tower’s 0.56 parking to apartment ratio is better than some, but still leaves a lot to be desired for such a transit rich area. Meanwhile, Onni Group’s proposed 1.24 ratio and massive 1,461-stall cavern is indefensible.

Pedestrian Plans

Seattle H5 Capital has big dreams for the pedestrian realm. (Via)
Seattle H5 Capital has big dreams for the pedestrian realm. (Via)

The proposal references plans to pedestrianize streets in the vicinity. John Street is envisioned as a green street, whereas Terry Avenue is a festival street. Skeptics might argue “festival street” or “green street” are too often fancy names for streets with only marginally improved design. In John Street’s case, though, the lack of through connection for cars should serve to calm the street and help actualize green street dreams. Mack Urban will build a pedestrian hillclimb on John Street right of way just to the west, while Onni proposes a woonerf to the east. John Street could be an excellent street for pedestrians if all these plans fit together well.

Terry Avenue might host a pretty mean festival. (Via)
Terry Avenue might host a pretty mean festival. (Via)

Terry Avenue’s future meanwhile seems less certain but sidewalks that alternate between 23 feet and 31 feet are a good start, and plans to accommodate food trucks and vendors will also further festival fancies.

How To Comment

At 6.30pm at the Queen Anne Community Center, the West Design Review Board will review the Seattle H5 Capital’s proposal for a tower at 121 Boren Ave N and potentially issue a recommendation. Public comment will be accepted to start the meeting. Interested parties can also submit comment electronically to the project’s assigned planner Beth Hartwick at beth.hartwick@seattle.gov.

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Executive Director | Website

Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.