18-Acre Laurelhurst Parcel Is Ripe For Midrise

Talaris Conference Center. (Joe Mabel)

Mike Rosenberg reported yesterday on the pending sale of the Talaris campus–18 acres of prime real estate adjacent to Seattle Children’s Hospital in Laurelhurst. While Rosenberg calculates the land could be worth more than $60 million dollars if developed as 80 to 90 detached single-family homes, the land is clearly well suited to urban mixed-use development rather than suburban-style McMansions. It’s right next to the University of Washington, after all. Here’s how Rosenberg described the plot:

In built-out Seattle, a huge pocket of undeveloped private land is going up for sale in a prime neighborhood, with the rare potential to build a big batch of single-family homes or a research center — but only if the buyer can overcome concerns from the city and neighbors.

The parklike Talaris campus in Laurelhurst spans 17.8 acres between the University of Washington and the hospital complex of Seattle Children’s. Originally built for Battelle Memorial Institute in the 1960s, it later became home to the Talaris Research Institute, an organization that was sold off in 2012.

Talaris Campus is shrouded in a forest. (Google Maps)

Unfortunately, a vocal group of Laurelhurst homeowners appear poised to block development as they’ve blocked expansions of Seattle Children’s Hospital and an earlier effort to redevelop the site. Perhaps the City is finally at a place where it can put common good above parochial concerns?

Unhappy neighbors succeeded in getting the city Landmarks Preservation Board to deem the site an official city landmark, which could limit development options. (The campus was designed by Richard Haag, who also designed Gas Works and Victor Steinbrueck parks.)

The owner’s previous effort to rezone the area to allow for as many as 300 apartments also failed, as did prior redevelopment attempts by other owners.

Pehl said the exact limitations on development remain to be worked out between the new owners and the city. He said the value of the land comes with not only its unusually large size but its single-family zoning — residential neighborhoods that are, by and large, already built to the max in Seattle. He expects to find a buyer within about two months.

Jeannie Hale, president of the Laurelwood Community Club, said the neighborhood would be willing to support development “if there’s a good proposal.”

She said past ideas for major development, like to build 200-foot-tall residential towers, were a no-go among residents of the low-slung neighborhood — they also previously helped block taller buildings planned by Seattle Children’s — but she’d be open to something with a smaller impact like single-family homes.

The Talaris campus is zoned Single Family with 5000 square foot lots. That should change. (City of Seattle)

The City should rezone this land to support mid-rise apartments. Just to the north, land is zoned LR3 which seems a logical baseline for rezoning Talaris. While Hale might like seeing coyotes while she parks her car at the campus, many of us would prefer to see human beings on the site, preferably at a mix of incomes. Luckily, the City’s Mandatory Affordability Program would ensure perhaps upwards of 10% of the units would be affordable (pegged below 60% of area median income). That’s a big improvement for a neighborhood overwhelmingly consumed by million-dollar homes.

OPCD illustration of LR3 zoning, which has a 50-foot height limit and 2.2 floor area ratio under MHA. (City of Seattle)

And while a scheme to replace the campus with 80 detached single-family homes would surely see most if not all of the site’s mature trees chopped down (local landscaping and tree ordinances would require some replacement), a few mid-rise apartment buildings could fit even more people into the lot while saving a big chunk of it as a community park. That’s a significant community benefit. No one wants to see the trees go, but we have to make room for people in our booming city; Laurelhurst is a great place to put them with its easy access to the University of Washington and frequent bus access with the 65, 75, and 78 providing quick connections to Link light rail a mile and a half away.

The featured image is by Joe Mabel via Wikipedia Commons.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. 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.

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Any discussion of this being bought for public use? A large lot like this could be great for a middle or high school?

If local neighbors make it difficult to fully develope this parcels, would it be advantageous to do a land swap? Convert this parcel to a public park and develope an equivalent lot somewhere else, perhaps carving out a chunk of Jackson park by the future 135th station for high quality TOD?

Mike Carr

There is a good reason SF houses in Seattle has seen a dramatic increase in value and prices. People value and have created a high demand to live in houses. That has always been true in Seattle and will continue to be. They prefer living in houses than apartments or renting condos. People living in apartments are trying to buy houses where they would prefer to live. Creating more apartments will not decrease the demand for single family houses. The Talaris property would be better suited for new single family housing which the residents of Seattle are demanding.


I have no doubt that building 80 houses on this piece of land would be very profitable – in fact, I expect single-family homes in such a convenient location would fetch over $1 million without trouble.

But I have to take issue with your comment that “people are living in apartments are trying to buy houses where they want to live”. Do you seriously think a single Seattle apartment dweller would ever have a shot at these homes?! You and I both know every one of them would go to wealthy transplants, or perhaps even foreign investors.

The residents of Seattle – of which I am one – are going to have to accept the geographic limitations of the city they live in sooner or later: not everyone can have a 3-bedroom SFH with a big yard and room for two or three parked cars and expect to get to work without crippling gridlock. If they don’t accept it, if they scream and howl and block every other option from being built, their very next economic stumble will sweep them from Seattle altogether.

I agree with Doug: it would be a cinch to fit two or three times as many people on the same land if they built luxury apartments/condos/rowhouses, and they could keep a portion of the land green and beautiful as a park to boot. Not to mention that the very wealthiest might just turn up their noses, leaving a slim hope for some apartment-renting local residents to get their forever homes. It’s the obvious better solution and one can only hope that Laurelhurst residents are not the nasty NIMBYs they are setting themself up to be here…

Tim F

Are our aging parents all going to be forced to hire lawn services to maintain the lawns when they aren’t able to garden anymore? Navigate many levels of stairs to get in, out and around a too-big house? Will they have to move across town over by Aurora or up to Juanita? Downtown maybe. Or give up on home-ownership entirely and rent their retirement away.

Mid-rise buildings are incredibly scarce in NE Seattle. Let’s have some viable options in the area please. It would also go a long way as a better starter home option for young families instead of having to renovate a tiny collapsing craftsman or spending their entire incomes (both of them) on a million dollar house.

Joseph Wolf

My mom was forced to move from her “only SF homes allowed” neighborhood when she developed macular degeneration and could no longer drive. If there had been an option that could have worked for her in the neighborhood she loved … but no. The move to a different area with decent transit service broke her heart.

I wonder if folks like Mike Carr ever look beyond the end of their noses. Or care about anyone but themselves.

Cristofer Horbelt

There is a bad reason SF houses have seen a dramatic increase in price (value, not so much) as well – the GMA which artificially restricted buildable land. Seattle’s zoning laws don’t help either: http://www.seattletimes.com/business/uw-study-rules-add-200000-to-seattle-house-price/