1400 Madison St could host affordable housing if Sound Transit agrees to give the land away. (Google Maps)

First Hill dreams of a Link station went up in flames, but Sound Transit still owns a 21,600-square-foot lot at the northeast corner of Madison Street and Boylston Avenue that could benefit neighborhood. The First Hill Improvement Association is pushing Sound Transit to gift the site to non-profit housing developers so that the site can host a 13-story tower with 100% affordable homes.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors will likely decide the fate of the project at its November meeting this afternoon. Will the board vote to release the land for free or are they seeing dollar signs for the parcel, which is valued at $8.64 million?

Bellwether Housing and Plymouth Housing have teamed up for the proposal which would jointly provide 308 apartments. If the land is gifted, Bellwether promises to build 197 units for households making between 30% and 60% of area median income–30 of those would be family-sized. Plymouth Housing, meanwhile, has planned 111 units for people making 30% of area median income, with a focus on senior residents coming out of homelessness.

The proposal includes two retail spaces at ground level as well as a community rooms for residents and the public. No parking is proposed, which is sure to warm the hearts of urbanists and climate activists alike. Excluding land cost, Bellwether and Plymouth anticipate a nearly $92 million budget for the project. For watchdogs following along at home, that works out to a cost of $298,701 per unit, quite respectable for a Seattle highrise.

New Opportunities in Highrise Affordability

Affordable housing providers have focused on the midrise and lowrise sectors in recent decades due to cheaper construction costs and the greater amount of land zoned as such in Seattle. In fact, Capitol Hill Times reported the project would be the first affordable highrise building in Seattle in more than 50 years. Given the highrise boom in Seattle, affordable housing providers might want to get back in the habit of building highrises in order to get the most benefit from their land acquisitions. The neighborhoods of the University District, Northgate, and Mount Baker join the Downtown Core in offering highrise zoning, which is loosely defined as starting at 12 stories tall.

1400 Madison Street could host affordable housing if Sound Transit agrees to give the land away. (Google Maps)

Transit Orientation

While the project won’t be near a light rail station, it will greatly benefit from the Madison bus rapid transit project, now known as the RapidRide G Line, which promises to open in 2019. The G Line will stop at Boylston Avenue adjacent to the site and offer speedy service to Downtown. The First Hill Streetcar, Sound Transit’s consolation prize to First Hill for failing the light rail sweepstakes, also stops just a block and a half southeast of the site. The streetcar offers connections north to Capitol Hill or south to Pioneer Square, and it’ll soon extend to Downtown, Pike Place Market, and South Lake Union when the Center City Connector is completed in 2020.

If the 1400 Madison Street project goes ahead, the site would see quite the turnaround in uses. The existing one-story building hosts a payday loan purveyor (preying on the poor) while the proposed 13-story tower would have 308 affordable homes dedicated to low-income folks.

FHIA Call to Action

The First Hill Improvement Association has asked people to attend the 1pm Sound Transit Board of Directors meeting at Union Station with the following call to action:

Attend the Sound Transit Board meeting on Thursday, November 16th at 1pm (details and agenda here) and give public testimony supporting the no-cost transfer of the 1400 Madison parcel to support the communities priorities and ensure First Hill stays affordable to all people for the long haul.Write the Sound Transit Board and urge them to support Motion No. M2017-144. A few points you may wish to include:

This proposal supports the communities priority to build affordable housing in our dense, transit-oriented neighborhood and ensures First Hill remains accessible to people at all income levels for the long-haul.

A no-cost transfer of land ensures that precious affordable housing dollars are spent building units. Providing the land at no-cost will allow Plymouth/Bellwether to create an impact in creating more affordability in the First Hill community.  Land costs mean they will not be able to provide as much housing, particularly for the homeless seniors that Plymouth will serve.

You can send one email to the entire board at EmailTheBoard@soundtransit.org or find individual board member’s email addresses here

Sound Transit’s parcel could make an equitable transit-oriented development dream come true–if not the light rail dream–if the Sound Transit Board votes to gift the land to Plymouth and Bellwether Housing at its November meeting this afternoon.

The First Hill Improvement Association’s Executive Director Alex Hudson also serves on The Urbanist’s Board of Directors.

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Doug Trumm is publisher 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 in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.