Stone Way: Still Booming

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The view of the downtown skyline looking down Stone Way with a construction site.
Stone Way has four active construction sites by our count. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

An up-and-coming neighborhood sandwiched on the border of Fremont and Wallingford has added 2,000 apartments in a decade, and another wave is on the way with eight-story projects.

The Stone Way corridor has changed a lot over the past decade. Thousands of new apartments have replaced warehouses, parking lots, and low-slung retail. Trendy new restaurants, bars, and cafes have joined the old standby dive bars and greasy spoons–and I’ve feasted on the spoils as a local resident.

I wrote about that trend in 2015 and again 2018, and the area around Stone Way just keeps booming. Active construction projects would bring hundreds more homes into existence. Within a few blocks of Stone Way, about 2,000 new apartments have went in since 2012 or are under construction. Another 650 homes are in the design review and permitting phase, give or take.

Recent proposals have taken advantage of the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones that added an extra floor or two of zoning capacity along the corridor. Three eight-story proposals have materialized. One at 3665 Stone Way would add 242 homes, replacing the old Stone Way Electric warehouse, and another eight-story proposal at 3831 Stone Way would add 146 homes and replace a garden center and parking lot. An eight-story design just north of Fremont Brewing will bring 130 apartments, mostly small efficiencies, and replace two dilapidated single family homes. Small efficiencies will allow a five-story proposal at 4009 Stone Way to provide 128 homes on a relatively modest lot.

I mapped out recent and pending projects along Stone Way below, an area I’ve referred to as “Frelingford” much to the chagrin of Seattle old-timers. The dark grey shapes are buildings completed since 2012. Orange polygons denote projects under construction, and yellow ones are proposals in design review or are awaiting construction permits.

Why Stone Way is Booming

Why Stone Way has been the focal point of growth for the surrounding neighborhoods is one part design and one part happenstance. When crafting neighborhood plans back in 1994, as the state implemented the Growth Management Act, both the Wallingford Community Council and Fremont Neighborhood Council focused their zoned capacity in their urban villages to their edges along Aurora Avenue and Stone Way, which was a warehouse district then, with some single-family and multi-family housing mixed in. By contrast, the Wallingford Urban Village is very skinny to the east, tapering to a half block on each side along N 45th Street, sparing Craftsmen homeowners on the blocks to the north or south from the thought of apartments sprouting next door. The Fremont Urban Village, meanwhile, pretends like anything north of 40th Street doesn’t exist and has generated more office development than large apartment buildings. In both cases, the largest residential buildings are zoned for the Stone Way corridor. Funneling growth to the fringe allowed the respective neighborhood groups to put less zoned capacity in their cores and still meet their growth targets on paper.

One of the benefits of the extensive multifamily growth in the Stone Way corridor is it has increased the diversity of neighborhood demographics in terms or race, age, and wealth. While the census tract to the east (the core of Wallingford) has a median age of 38.3, a median household income of almost $120,000, is 68% single family homes, and 80% White–all higher than the citywide and countywide median–the two Stone Way census tracts (50 and 54) hover just above 30 years old, about 70% apartments (or other multifamily), and a median household income that is about $15,000 lower. While Wallingford was 85% White (non-Hispanic) in the 2010 census, the Stone Way tracts were 73% and 74% White, as of the 2019 American Community Survey figures. The density is also higher: roughly 15,000 versus 10,000 residents per square mile.

While the whole neighborhood could be growing and diversifying in this way, instead much of the rest is shielded by single family zoning. For some Wallingford homeowners, restrictive zoning is not enough; they are seeking to get their single family homes listed on the National Historic Registry in an attempt to stymie attempts to repeal apartment bans and add another hurdle to redevelopment. Mike Eliason traced the lineage back to racial covenants that barred people of color from owning homes in North Seattle. Efforts to freeze Wallingford in amber inspired pro-housing activists to organize a counter-movement with a petition opposing the historic designation. That petition had more than 900 signatures at time of publication.

Stone Way’s growth in context

The growth in the Stone Way corridor is fairly dramatic, but plenty of other Seattle neighborhoods have seen similar or larger booms over the past decade. Back in 2017, Seattle in Progress tallied nearly 10,000 homes in development in Denny Triangle, more than doubling the total for the area. The U District has seen a frenzy of development activity ahead of light rail arrival, as has Roosevelt and to a lesser extent Northgate. First Hill, Belltown, Uptown, Ballard, Columbia City, Capitol Hill, the Central District, North Rainier, and Lake City look like pincushions in Seattle in Progress, given the number of proposals under construction or in the pipeline.

The sum total is that Seattle is averaged more than 10,000 homes per year over since 2017 (though the 2020 may temper that a bit due to Covid disruptions.) It’s still not enough to keep pace with demand, but it blows away the pace of apartment construction in the suburbs. Since 2016, Bellevue has led the suburbs with 3,932 new apartments, according to RentCafé–note that they only count buildings of at least 50 units where a final certificate of occupancy has been issued. Tacoma clocked in at 1,482, Lynnwood at 1,010, Kirkland at 969, and both Everett and Bothell each had 957 apartments, using the same timeframe and parameters. Since Bellevue, Tacoma, and Everett are designated as “principal cities” rather than suburbs in the definitions RentCafé uses, Lynnwood got the headlines for “fastest growing suburb.”

Lynnwood’s 1,010 new apartments in five years, though commendable, is basically matched by this half square mile area I’ve described sandwiched between two neighborhoods known for blocking growth rather than embracing it. Overall, Seattle has added 35,783 housing units since 2015, according to the City’s Housing Growth Report, and has another 19,718 homes under construction.

Construction photo tour

While some pundits claim people are headed for the (suburban) hills and abandoning Seattle, the continued construction activity across the city suggests otherwise–at least that developers and their investors are betting otherwise. Another hot take has been that people are clamoring for more space and parking due to pandemic living, but the low parking ratios along the corridor again suggest builders have faith this isn’t the only story and dynamic at play.

I speak for myself when I say keep your garage and give me a bevy of restaurants, cafes, stunning parks, the Burke-Gilman trail all within a 10-minute walk. But it seems like plenty of other folks are ready to take that trade as well. Here are the projects rising along Stone Way as we speak.

A construction pit on a triangular plot with the new Inspire Fremont building in the background across Bridge Way.
23 apartments are under construction at 3860 Bridge Way N. The project has been permitted since January 2018 but broke ground only within the last few months. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
Four backhoes and excavators work in a pile of dirt at the corner of Stone Way and N 42nd Street.
Broadstone construction in November 2020 as they dug the underground parking garage for 59 cars. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
A four-story building with 49 apartments and 33 underground parking stalls rises at 4035 Stone Way. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
A crane sets to work on construction site at Stone Way and Allen Street.
A crane sets to work on construction site at Stone Way and Allen Place, where a four-story building with 42 apartments and 15 parking stalls is going in. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
Forty small efficiency homes are being built next to the Wallingford Post Office. The building will be three stories tall. (Photo by author)

At a glance

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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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RossB

Good article. Basically, Stone Way is growing because it is allowed to grow. That is the case for much of the city. While it is nice to see growth on Stone Way, it is not ideal from a transit standpoint. There is somewhat frequent bus service (the 62) but it is slow going for riders to downtown, or future Link stations. From a transit perspective, it would have been much better to grow along 45th. That would increase ridership (and frequency) on both the 62 and 44, while making the case for bus lanes (and eventually, hopefully a rail line) even stronger.

That is the problem with this sort of development. It is not the organic, build-everywhere construction (that existed for years before Euclid v. Ambler) which leads to lower housing costs and less auto dependence. Nor is growth focused on streets that make the most sense for transit mobility. I’m not saying that growth along Stone Way is bad, I’m just saying that we could do much, much better.

Douglas Trumm

One thing I’ve noticed during the pandemic is the 62 is fast now. Shocking I know, but the bottleneck in SLU is largely dissipated and I guess partially it’s not having to load/unload as often. Not sure how long that will last. Before I used to walk up the hill to Aurora to catch a 5/26/28 to get downtown.

I’m not sure what organic development would look like after so many years of zoning, permitting, financial distortions, and single family enshrinement. But as a bicyclist, I do prefer living on the bottom of the hill that the top of it.

We at Welcoming Wallingford fought to upzone and expand Wallingford Urban Village boundaries near the RapidRide E station at N 46th Street. Didn’t get our way, but I think it’s very worthwhile to put density near a transit node and a great and expansive park. And the City’s own policy on “Frequent Transit Nodes” would behoove it to upzone this area at the next major Comp Plan update. https://www.theurbanist.org/2018/02/28/frequent-transit-nodes-mean-urban-village-expansions/

Last edited 3 months ago by Douglas Trumm
RossB

“an area I’ve referred to as “Frelingford” much to the chagrin of Seattle old-timers”

Does anybody like that term? You are a good writer, and good writers often take a chance. But in this case, I think you swung and missed. The term “FreLard” (or “FreeLard”) is relatively new. I don’t remember it when I was younger. But it is pretty cute. It rolls off the tongue easily, and actually has another, amusing meaning (free lard — yumm). “Frelingford” is hard to say. It means nothing — it is a funky mashup. Calling the area “Stone Way” is much better.

Douglas Trumm

Call it what you want and I will continue to do the same. It is my neighborhood after all 🙂

AJ

The desire to push density to ‘somewhere else’ in the Fremont and Wallingford neighborhood plans has channeled enough new development along Stone Way to create a coherent node and, eventually, a new neighborhood!

I really hope that Frelingford and Frelard are ultimately accepted as Seattle neighborhoods. Keep fighting the good fight, Doug!