Sound Transit’s Capitol Hill station marks a crucial turning point for the agency. The fruit of years of advocates pressing the agency to more robustly pursue affordable housing around its stations through the land that it has been purchasing through eminent domain, the station will be setting the model for transit-oriented development for the agency for years to come.

This fall, the agency signed a 75-year lease with the Portland developer Gerding Edlen to allow them to develop the parcels directly adjacent to the station. The deal, worth around $25 million, is a great accomplishment in that it keeps the land in public ownership rather than surplussing some of the most desirable land around one of our densest transit stations. Gerding Edlen proposes building five separate buildings on three different sites across the property, with a total of 427 residential units, as well as a substantial chunk of property for retail.

The centerpiece for the project is a central plaza, located on an extension of narrow Nagle Place between Denny Way and John Street, that will function as an extension of Cal Anderson Park and turn the Denny Way festival street into an inviting and active public gathering place.

Concepts around the central plaza. (City of Seattle)

Gerding Edlen has selected Berger Partnership, the designers of Cal Anderson park’s redesign a decade ago, as the landscape architects on the project. The Capitol Hill farmer’s market is already poised to take over the space twice a week, and additional programming is only limited by the imagination. From the Berger Partnership’s website:

The vision of making “20-minute living” a reality informed the team’s design approach and the early design renderings required of Sound Transit’s RFP process. As the light rail station opens and the development is complete it will serve as a nexus of connectivity and community, comprising low income and market rate housing, a dynamic plaza to host the Farmer’s Market, a festival street, retail, and public amenities such as a community center, childcare, and a Market Hall offering small retail spaces for local businesses.

Plaza concept rendering (City of Seattle)

Capitol Hill station is a pedestrian sink. Hundreds of people per hour walk through the station entrances. After nearly a decade of construction around the station area, the Broadway retail district is on the rebound, and Capitol Hill station’s entrances are the pivotal anchor for that district now.

But there is a crucial aspect of the design that is in conflict with the overall goals of the project. The plans call for 334 parking stalls to be constructed underneath the buildings. At the open house, I was told that the current level of residential parking calls for a ratio of 0.5 stalls per unit, or one stall for every two units. This leaves around 120 stalls planned for the retail portion of the development. These figures are not off the charts, but the question remains: if Capitol Hill station is not a place where driving is discouraged, where amenities and housing take priority over money spent on parking spaces, what will be?

Perhaps even more troublesome than the number of stalls themselves, which are similar in number to the stalls at the Broadway Market down the street (300) but with many more units of housing attached, is the number of curb cuts created by the fact that the stalls will be spread out across three separate underground garages, creating conflict zones between pedestrians and vehicles where they might not otherwise exist.

Full site plan for Gerding Edlen’s preferred alternative. (City of Seattle)

The three vehicle entrances (located in site C along Nagle Place, between Site B North and Site B South along 10th Ave E) and the main entrance and loading zone for grocery store traffic (off the Nagle Place extension in Site A) occupy valuable space and encourage traffic on every street bordering the site with the exception of Broadway. Because Broadway is considered a pedestrian overlay area, curb cuts would not be allowed off that street, thankfully.

But John Street will also have high levels of pedestrian traffic, with the eastbound bus stop directly outside the station and the westbound stop planned to be moved directly opposite in the coming years. Pedestrian improvements including new painted crosswalks and curb bulbs at 10th Ave E and (hopefully) an improved signal at Broadway from the First Hill Streetcar extension should reinforce the dominance of the pedestrian mode here. The Nagle Place extension is envisioned as an extension of the pedestrian plaza, with the walkway being treated (as you can see in the image above) in a way that indicates that the area is a mixing zone. Overhanging lights and planters will also contribute to this experience, but constantly entering and exiting car traffic would put the kibosh on this decisively and at best put pedestrians back on the margins.

At the open house last week in advance of the first design review session this week, a Gerding Edlen representative told me that the parking spaces “definitely don’t pencil out”, and that GE is not gung-ho about building them. Let’s set the tone for future transit-oriented-development around Sound Transit properties. Gerding Edlen: eliminate and consolidate some of the parking spaces planned for Capitol Hill station. Future residents of Seattle will thank you.

All of Gerding Edlen’s Capitol Hill station properties go before the design review board this Wednesday at 6:30pm, at the Seattle University Admissions & Alumni Comm Bldg, Stuart T Rolfe Room (824 12th Ave). Interested parties can also submit comments to Garry Papers, the City planner tasked with the project, at garry.papers@seattle.gov.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Sure, virtually all the tenants in those buildings will be using transit for their daily commute, but many of them will still have an automobile for after-work trips that are too difficult to make any other way. A parking ratio of about 50 percent seems about right.

    • Residents who plan to live on top of a grocery store and subway station will most definitely be the types who do not own cars. Why would we spend $35,000 per stall to continue to subsidize car drivers. There should be far less than 50%, that is antiquated thinking.

      • Nobody know who will live in the proposed buildings and nobody knows if they will have 0, 1, or more cars. Having no parking available guarantees their will be no parking available. Streets on Capitol hill will become even harder to find parking. That you can guarantee. Just another way for developers to save on money and make more profit.

        • You are not in touch with developers costs. Parking hurts the developer and hurts the renter. There are a number of options where you can live and park 2 cars if you would like at other developments. There is no reason we should be subsidizing drivers at the cost of rental prices. The city has removed parking requirements at these locations for a reason.

          • Yes, but some of the reasons are not in the community’s interests, and some of them are simply specious. Particularly the notion of the carless person, as someone you can build to. A couple years ago car dealers were worried that younger generations had abandoned car ownership, but the economy shifted gears a little and their worries evaporated. You can’t assume that someone who moves into a no-parking building will never acquire a car while he or she lives there. If that’s important, you have to make it a requirement. If it’s a key assumption in your parking study that says an N-unit building at a certain location with no parking will have no significant impact, then you have to make it a requirement. I don’t know Capitol Hill, but in the areas in my neighborhood where no parking is required, a development that started out with that in mind was persuaded to have a parking study done, and some parking eventually was added to the design after the study showed, in effect, that the reasons the city has removed parking requirements at this location weren’t entirely valid.

          • The millenial car buying studies making the rounds in Wallingford are pretty weak. Check out this article for a rebuttal:
            http://cityobservatory.org/on-the-road-again-2/.

            “Auto industry analysts at the National Automobile Dealer’s Association—who have a very strong stake in the outcome—are pretty glum about sales prospects of the Millennial generation. NADA’s economist Steven Szakaly predicts it will take four Millennials to equal the sales impact of a single Boomer. This is due to a combination of factors, including Millennials’ weaker income and job prospects, and lower propensity to drive and own cars. Its also the case that waiting longer to buy one’s first car means that one is likely to own fewer cars over a lifetime, and as with housing there’s no evidence that young adults are catching up to previous generations as they age.”

            We don’t have to require parking in urban neighborhoods. Builders can make their own informed decision and the public–especially when it’s a publicly funded building like this–should speak up to make their case to them, and the winning case here I think is that we are investing too much in cars at the expense of people.

          • Maybe I need to clarify what points I intended to make, there.
            – I’m not here to make prognostications about who’s going to buy or not buy a car. The point is that “carless person” is not a permanent condition, it’s a result of a lot of transient factors like money, family status, employment and other commitments, etc. People living in your building change.
            – The antecedent to “make it a requirement” was “no car” – if you want building standards that assume no car, then you have to enforce “no car”. That would resolve a lot of the conflict over this issue, maybe something to think about?
            – Seattle’s null requirement for urban villages does not always stand up to analysis in actual cases. It’s shabby policy for reasons already discussed and because of cheap-o GIS planning that assumes there is such thing as an “urban village” with the same policy issues from one to the next. It may be fine for this part of Capitol Hill.

          • “if you want building standards that assume no car, then you have to enforce “no car”

            Hm then all my single family neighbors who don’t have driveways and constantly complain about street parking would have to give up their cars…

            I might be able to go for that!

        • There are plenty of market-rate privately owned/operated parking garages within an easy walk of the station. Plenty of empty spaces in garages and lots all over the neighborhood; a recent city study put Capitol Hill’s parking utilization under 50%. Renters who want to keep their car close at hand already have the tools to do so, no need to keep adding spaces that the free market does not want.

        • Having no parking stacks the deck quite heavily in favor of future residents self-selecting as people who don’t have cars. It can’t both be true that parking on the Hill without an owned space is really a hassle and people will go out of their way to *pay a premium* to live right on top of a transit space while also having 1 or more cars.

          The sweet spot of appeal for a place like this would be folks who want to arbitrage the premium they pay for a prime location in order to reap the savings of not having a car. Making the building carry as little “car cost” as possible opens the door to more folks with lower budgets.

    • But they could easily sell/rent all of those units if there was no parking built. It’s just that the people who would choose to live there would be those without cars. Now you’re going to attract car owners to a site that doesn’t need them.

  2. Is GE required to build those spots? If the rep you talked to says they don’t pencil out, why are they building them?

    • Because there is so much hostility towards parking in the neighborhood from people…even those commenting on this thread. Parking only makes sense to bring in retail tenants but is not required by the City on most parts of Capitol Hill.

  3. I’m less concerned about the parking for residents, it’s largely going to be car storage and less for daily use (though why spend the huge cost to provide it), but I expect minimal car traffic from residents. What really concerns me is the retail parking which is really going to be intrusive with cars coming in and out of the garage every few seconds especially at rush hour. This will hugely impact Nagle place which is supposed to be a “woonerf” and worst of all, where John Street and Nagle intersect. Cars will be blocking the sidewalk trying to get out especially to see past the busy bus stop in front of the station. Cars will also be cutting in front of the buses to access the garage. This will greatly harm the pedestrian access to the station and the critical bus transfer. And why? Because some retailers with a suburban mentality regarding parking and their customers want to locate at the most urban and transit oriented locations in the Western half of the US.

    • Little need to fear “cars coming in and out of the garage every few seconds,” in this location. This isn’t Northgate at Christmastime. Auto access here will clearly secondary, and few motorists are dumb enough to make this a rush-hour destination.

      • Groceries stores are typically busiest at rush hour because people often shop after work. Some people avoid the busy times, others don’t have much choice if they aim to cook dinner at home that night.

        If the retail section of the garages have space for 120 cars and we don’t expect it to be heavily used at rush hour–typically the busiest grocery shopping time–why are we building that big?

      • For the purposes of design review parking or lack their of thankfully does not matter and they will not consider it. It should be brought up in the Master Use Permit/SEPA phase. The thing design review can address is auto access and curb cuts.

        • The surest way to prevent the curb cuts from disrupting sidewalks is to eliminate the parking ramps in one or both of the smaller buildings, leaving only the larger ramp in site A. Comments could focus on that aspect and remain germane IMHO.

  4. The anchor commercial tenant is planned to be a natural foods market, hopefully a co-op. Despite the proximity to transit, some people must still drive to get their groceries home. Lack of parking would eliminate the possibility of a grocery at the station.

    • I’m sympathetic to wanting some car parking for the grocery store, but we should push back on the notion that it’s absolutely necessary. It’s quite common for grocery stores in dense European cities not to have car parking.

    • Just want to point out that the half-dozen or so other major grocery retailers in the neighborhood, which include a Co-op and Trader Joes (Central Co-op is 5 minute drive tops) have abundant and free parking. Can we maybe have *one* without adding to the glut?

    • There has been a large drop in car ownership on Capitol Hill. The trend is downward, and access to Car2Go, Reachnow, Uber, Lyft and light rail are all catalysts for this trend.

  5. I fully support the city decision to eliminate parking requirements. I also support a developer right to include parking at a reasonable ratio if they choose to and as far as I can tell no one is forcing them to provide it, except the market they serve. There are numerous building that have been built near the station with zero parking, having one with some parking will not be the end of Capitol Hill. We are a diverse community with different needs and life styles. Some people live day to day by foot, bike and transit but have a car for getting out of the city. Some people have kids or are old or whatever. I don’t think this is an issue that calls for black or white view. What is a legit call is making sure that auto access to and from the site ensures the safety of bikers and pedestrians.

  6. In general, developers should be able to provide whatever parking they think the market demands. However, since this is capitol hill’s only subway station, built at enormous expense by taxpayers, I do feel like the public ought to get a little more say.

    Generally, that section of capitol hill ought to be pedestrian focused and as affordable as possible. Any parking will raise rents significantly. So, arguably parking isn’t in keeping with the neighborhood character.

    Maybe they need a small amount of parking for the grocery store (mainly for the staff and deliveries), but they should cut it from the apartments.

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