A new triangular shaped six-story apartment building at dusk.
The new Alexan apartment building in Shoreline's Aurora Avenue corridor. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Outside its light rail station areas, Shoreline has seen a noticeable bump in apartment planning, permitting, and construction in the past few years. Upwards of 5,000 new apartments are either in the works or have been built in last couple of years. As prescribed by the suburban city’s zoning laws, this multifamily development is only happening in the Aurora Avenue corridor and a few clusters. Just like its southern neighbor and the wider region, single-family home zoning dominates the rest of the city. Nevertheless, a surge in development is bringing new housing inventory served by frequent transit, albeit most of it in a frequent bus corridor rather than near Shoreline’s two Lynnwood Link light rail stations set to open in 2024.

Most of these developments will be or are taking advantage of Shoreline’s Multifamily Property Tax Exemptions (MFTE) that landlords can qualify for if a fifth of a project’s units are committed to “affordable” rates and set aside for qualifying tenants. Those rates don’t target the deepest affordability, as studios and one bedroom units have to be affordable to those earning 70% of the King County area median income (AMI) and two bedrooms or larger units must be affordable to those earning 80% of AMI. Seattle ran into the same issue with its own MFTE program since the median income in King County is high and rising steadily, which has led to spikes in restricted rent in the MFTE program. While those 20% of units might not be that “affordable,” the new housing inventory spurred in part by the incentive should impact the high cost of housing in the region.

The Aurora Corridor

Aurora Avenue is the site of the most multifamily development in Shoreline, as the city’s portion of SR-99 has designated a mix of R-48, Mixed Business, and Town Center zones that allow for multifamily and mixed use mid-rises. While the zoning stretches the entirety of Shoreline’s segment of Aurora, the width fails to match even a ten minute walkshed that Rapid Ride E should serve. On some segments of Aurora, single-family zoning is stone’s throw away. That being said, a lot of development on the corridor is happening. There’s plenty of room to grow, even considering the underwhelming zoning.

Shoreline’s zoning of their segment of SR-99. 145th to 244th, from left to right. Purple is Mixed Business, Gold is Town Center, Brown is R-48. (Credit: City of Shoreline)

We’ll start the tour at the Shoreline Place Community Renewal Area on the west side of Aurora from N 155th Street to N 160th Street, on the map above it’s the Mixed Business zoning on the left that juts out the most. The renewal area is currently home to two projects, the Alexan Shoreline on the triangle parcel adjacent to the Interurban Trail, and Merlone Geier’s Shoreline Place redevelopment on the old 17-arce Sears property. The Alexan Shoreline at 15560 Westminster Way N began construction in Spring 2019 and Graham expects to complete the apartment building in July. The six-story building with 330 homes, 302 parking stalls, and 206 bike parking spaces is owned by Trammel Crow Residential.

The Alexan on Westminster Ave N in Shoreline. (Photo by Author)

The biggest change to the renewal area is happening on the 17-acre site north of the Alexan. On September 9, 2019, Shoreline adopted the Development Agreement with Merlone Geier Partners for the Sears site. Merlone Geier Partners is planning a four-phase development plan that will introduce around 1,350 apartment homes, 75,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, and open green spaces to the city. Phase one entails 17,000 square feet of retail, phase two offers around 630 apartments, phase three introduces mixed-use buildings with around 360 homes and 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of restaurants and retail, and phase four continues that trend with around 340 homes, and 27,000 square feet of retail. The Shoreline Place project is expected to take a decade or two to fully transform the shopping center.

The four phases of Shoreline Place redevelopment. (Credit: Merlone Feier Partners)

As we continue north on Aurora, construction calms down until you hit 180th Street N.

  • 17990 Midvale Ave N – Geo I: 163-unit 141 parking stall seven-story apartment building with 3,000 square feet of commercial space. Finished in 2020.
  • 18004 Midvale Ave N – Geo II: 215-unit, 184-parking stall, and seven-story apartment building. Under construction.
  • 18110 Midvale Ave N – Midvale Ave apartments: 210-unit and 212-parking stall six-story apartment building. Under review.
  • 18551 Aurora Ave N – Phase two of Shea development: 161-unit seven-story apartment building with two levels of parking. Under review.
  • 18557 Firlands Way N – High Hill apartments: 33-unit apartment building. Completed in 2019.
  • 18815 Aurora Ave N – Phase one of Shea development: 315-unit and 289-parking stall seven-story apartment building. Under construction.
  • 19022 Aurora Ave N – Crux: 241-unit, 210-parking stall seven-story apartment building with 9,500 square feet of commercial space. Permit ready to issue.

Other clusters

In the North City Business District, where the MFTE applies, two apartment buildings have been completed with a third finishing soon.

  • 17233 15th Ave NE – The Postmark brings 243 units and 267 parking stalls in a five-story apartment building. Completed in 2020.
  • 17567 15th Ave NE – Trad Apartments: 124 units and 107 parking stalls in a five-story apartment building. Completing this spring.
  • 1221 NE 180th St – Arabella 2: 81-unit six-story apartment building. Completed in 2019.
  • 17743 12th Ave NE – Nine-unit three-story apartment building. Permit ready to issue.
  • 17712 12th Ave NE – 42-unit mixed-use apartment building. Under review.

On the Ballinger Way NE commercial area, the 20057/20022 Ballinger Way NE Quinn by affordable housing developer Vintage Housing project is under construction. It’ll contain 227 apartments, 297 parking stalls, and seven stories. Across the street, the 72-unit The 205 apartments at 1795 NE 205th St completed in 2018. Pulte Homes of Washington applied for a permit to demolish an existing church structure and construct a 48-unit lowrise multifamily building and 36 townhome units across eight separate buildings at 14550 Westminster Way N. This application is under review and outside MFTE zones. Also scattered throughout Shoreline are 2001 NE 195th St where a four-story apartment is under review, 1514 NE 146th St where an 18-unit five-story apartment building is under review, and 3108 NE 145th St where a 16-unit three-story apartment building was completed in 2020.

While activity has picked up for multifamily development in other underdeveloped zones, the two light rail station subareas have only recently seen permit pre-applications trickle in for mixed-use multifamily development. What has taken off in the subareas has been townhouse development. Especially in the 185th station subarea, there has been no shortage of subdivisions and townhouse construction. Shoreline’s two light rail stations provided the impetus to upzone the subareas away from single-family housing, hopefully by the time the two stations are completed in 2024 there’ll be a fair amount of multifamily completed nearby. So far only a 15-unit apartment building at 1719 N 185th St has been approved in the subareas. Below is a list of light rail subarea projects under review — most have only completed pre-application — by the City:

  • 2152 N 185th St: 22-unit apartment building;
  • 304 NE 152nd St: 35-unit seven-story apartment building;
  • 2300 N 147th St: 299 units over four apartment buildings;
  • 18807 8th Ave NE: 266-unit residential and commercial building;
  • 14802 5th Ave NE: 164-unit apartment building;
  • 103 NE 147th St: 482-unit apartment building;
  • 1702 N 185th St: 48-unit apartment building;
  • 305 NE 152nd St: 115-unit apartment building;
  • 19232 5th Ave NE: 11-unit apartment building;
  • 321 NE 149 St: 213-unit apartment building;
  • 132 NE 145th St: 209-unit apartment building;
  • 516 NE 145th St: 10-unit five-story apartment building; and
  • 731 NE 185th St: six-story apartment building.
One set of a fair number of townhouses being built in the 185th station subarea.

Shoreline did pass rezones of the two station areas–Shoreline North-185 Street Station in 2015 and Shoreline South 148th Street Station in 2016 — but much ground hasn’t been broken with light rail still three years out. Both station area plans included phased rezoning — three phases for Shoreline North and two for Shoreline South — with a mix of mid-rise and low-rise zones. A second phase of the 185th rezoning was unlocked in 2021 so perhaps that will be a further incentive. The final phase for both rezones, which target areas farthest from the station, will go into effect in 2033.

Zoning map showing a cluster of multifamily in a sea of canary yellow single family zoning.
The zoning map Shoreline adopted in 2016 for its south light rail station area. (Shoreline)

Shoreline’s population grew from about 53,000 to about 57,000 between 2010 and 2020. Shoreline’s 7.5% growth rate appears anemic next to Seattle’s 25% growth and Bellevue’s 21% growth over the same decade, but that will change in future decades. In the past few years, eight apartment buildings have been completed or will completed in the next few months, four are under construction, and more than 20 projects are making their way through the planning and permitting process. In a couple of months, over a thousand units will have been added to Shoreline’s housing supply in the past few years. If the rest all pans out, around another 5,000 apartments will rise in Shoreline. With compact transit-oriented development replacing sprawl, Shoreline appears set to join the region’s urban renaissance.

Article Author

Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW Tacoma Master of Arts in Community Planning. He is a urban planner at the Puget Sound Regional Council and a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.