A new public plaza space in Eastlake has gotten its blessing from the Seattle City Council. Constructed by a private developer, the 4,573-square foot plaza occupies a small 23-foot wide strip of public right-of-way on E Howe St. The plaza space provides the beginnings of a functional pedestrian connection from Eastlake Ave E to the Fairview Ave E. Future development will fully bridge the gap in the connection to provide an important downhill pedestrian corridor. Prior to the development, E Howe St west of Eastlake Ave E was unopened public right-of-way.

A three-dimensional diagram of the plaza, underground street vacation, and new building. (City of Seattle / Bushnaq Studio Architecture + Design)
A three-dimensional diagram of the plaza, underground street vacation, and new building. (City of Seattle / Bushnaq Studio Architecture + Design)

In December 2014, the City granted a subterranean street vacation of E Howe St to the developer so that a connected underground parking garage could be built. As a condition of the street vacation, a public benefits program from the developer was required. The developer chose to satisfy that condition by creating a unique public street that includes public artwork, pedestrian-oriented lighting and seating, and landscaping along E Howe St. At the confluence of Yale Pl E and Eastlake Ave E stands a sculpture by Mike Phifer called “Renuion.”

The developer had to seek a street use permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and approval from the City Council, which was granted for an initial 10-year term. Conditions of the street use permit put the onus for street maintenance and repair on Greystar (the property owner) for as long as the permit exists. The public benefits of this should be obvious, but there are also some small monetary benefits to the City, too.

A recent image of the plaza and new development. (City of Seattle)
A recent image of the plaza and new development. (City of Seattle)

The annual fee for the street use permit is approximately $5,100. SDOT bases the annual fee on assessed value of right-of-way to be used. Other inputs in the permit fee calculation include how much right-of-way impact that the use would pose (known as “alienation”) and an 8% rate of return. In this case, that’s estimated to be $140 per square foot at a 10% right-of-way alienation–a relatively small right-of-way impact.

While the plaza will serve the wider public, it also provides direct benefit to two new four-story mixed-use buildings flanking it. The new structures are oriented toward the pedestrian street and even include building entrances that open onto it. Nearly 100 new dwelling units–a mix of live/work and apartment units–are interspersed throughout the buildings. And two ground floor retail spaces are located at the confluence of Yale Pl E and Eastlake Ave E.

A rendering of the Yale Pl E building elevation of East Howe Steps apartments. (City of Seattle / Bushnaq Studio Architecture + Design)
A rendering of the Yale Pl E building elevation of East Howe Steps apartments. (City of Seattle / Bushnaq Studio Architecture + Design)

Together with the plaza, this type of infill development shows how creative and fine-grained design can deliver valuable community goods.

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