Lake City on the Rise with Hundreds of Apartments

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Shoring and excavation at Polaris at Lake City site. (Photo by author)

Long predominantly flanked by auto dealerships and auto shops, parking lots, and single-family homes, Lake City Way is seeing an influx of multifamily development. This corridor links the Lake City hub urban village with Roosevelt and Seattle’s northeastern suburbs. Upzoned in 2019 when Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) went citywide save for single-family zones, the City now allows the vast majority of the corridor to develop taller residential and commercial buildings.

The Lake City Way corridor zoning map or Cheeto if I may. (City of Seattle)

Three segments of the corridor can be identified by the extent of their zoning. Between exiting I-5 on to Lake City Way and to the border of the Lake City urban village, here you find the most conservative and anemic zoning on the corridor. Next and as the name suggests, the Lake City hub urban village is home to the widest and more liberal zoning on the corridor. Lastly, after we leave the urban village and before leaving Seattle there exists zoning that looks like a middle ground between the first two segments. Development along these segments is proportional with the zoning, with development slow as we start in the south.

A slow lead up to the Lake City Urban Village

Only one significant multifamily construction has taken place on the southern portion of the Lake City Way corridor. Completed in 2018, Sedona apartments’ construction at 8500 20th Ave NE added a six-story 215-unit mixed-use building to the city. Sixteen townhouses, live/work units, and three boarding houses were also a part of the scope of the project. Even with the limited zoning on this part of the corridor, Sedona should be joined be other tall multifamily buildings. Multiple car dealerships, parking lots, and old buildings on the segment share Sedona’s C1-75 (M) zoning designation. At 10516 Lake City Way NE, there are substantial alterations to a retail store that would convert it into an 18-unit apartment building that is currently under inspection.

Sedona Apartments with townhouse development right behind it. (Photo by Author)

While non-lowrise multifamily is taking time to pop up on the segment, townhouses sure have been proliferating. Hard not to spot in the past few years was the construction of 87 townhouses at the Ravenna88 site — located at the intersection of Lake City Way NE and NE 88th St — that wrapped up in 2020. Just east of Sedona, 24 townhouses are near completion or complete. At 8617 20th Ave NE, seven are proposed to replace an old and small apartment building. Other small unit developments include three live/work units proposed at 8251 Lake City Way NE, and an auto repair shop to brewery conversion is proposed at 1409 NE 80th St.

Urban Village Construction Booms

True to its “hub” designation, the Lake City urban village is the epicenter of construction activity on the corridor. The urban village has been seeing its share of multifamily development in the past few decades, but permitting and construction activity has picked up. Based on the liberal zoning, there’s still plenty of underutilized space to alleviate our housing crisis with.

  • The latest additions to Lake City urban village’s multifamily buildings and proposed additions, sorted south to north, include:
  • 12311 32nd Ave NE – Origin Apartments: a seven-story 144-unit mixed-use building with nine live/work units, and parking for 154.5 vehicles. Completed in 2017.
  • 12320 32nd Ave NE – A six-story 100-unit apartment building with two commercial units. In permitting process, no ground broken or demolition of existing building.
  • 12328 33rd Ave NE – A four-story 46-small unit apartment with 50 bicycle parking spaces. In permitting process.
  • 12337 30th Ave NE – Amalfi Apartments: a seven-story 130-units apartment with 51 parking spaces and 117 bicycle parking spaces. In permitting process, recently called back for additional design review.
  • 12350 33rd Ave NE – A four-story 23-units apartment building. Completed in 2015.
  • 3300 NE 125th St – A six-story congregate residence with 150 bedrooms, 2,222 square feet of retail space, 1,985 square feed of live/work units, and 51 parking spaces. Under construction.
  • 12548 Lake City Way NE – Polaris at Lake City: A two, six-story apartment building (257 low-income family units total) with 68 park spaces proposed, 276 bicycle parking spaces, office, and retail. Under construction.
  • 2820 NE 127th Street – The Tony Lee: a six-story 70-unit (69 affordable) mixed-use project, with commercial space dedicated to a preschool. Completed in 2018.
  • 12706 33rd Ave NE – The Artisan Apartments: a seven-story 159-unit mixed-use apartment building with five commercial spaces, and up to two of those five can be used as live/work units. In permitting process.
  • 12727 30th Ave NE – The Caspian: a seven-story, 210-unit congregate residence for the neuro-diverse with 78 bicycles parking spaces. In permitting process.
  • 3025 NE 130th St – Mysa Lake City Apartments: a seven-story 118-unit with 82 parking stalls. Completed in 2019 with five townhouses as a part of the project.

Townhouses aren’t a unique development to the Mysa Lake City Apartment in the urban village, namely a project proposing 43 townhouses at 3500 NW 125th St is making its way through permitting. Smaller townhouse projects are also progressing, with examples like 12036 33rd Ave NE, 12541/12547 35th Ave NE, and 12554 A 35th Ave NE. Uncommon to the city is an eight-unit rowhouse development under construction at 12004 31st Ave NE that is also happening in the urban village.

On our way out of Seattle

Leaving the urban village and heading farther north, we finally begin to approach a future transit project of the likes that we should expect running along a corridor like Lake City Way, which doubles as SR-522. Instead of staying on SR-522, the SR-522/NE 145th Stride bus rapid transit (BRT), as its current name suggests, will turn on NE 145th St rather than continue onto Lake City’s portion of SR-522. Nevertheless, some of the projects on the northernmost segment of Lake City Way will have easy access to the future BRT line that will also connect the area to the future NE 148th St light rail station.

The handful of projects on this segment include:

  • 3031 NE 137th St – The Chameleon Apartments: nine units added with interior alteration within existing apartment. Completed in 2019.
  • 14005 Lake City Way NE – A seven-story, 81-unit apartment building with one retail unit, 51 parking spots, and 73 bicycle parking spots. Permit issued.
  • 14038/14040 Lake City Way NE – A six-story, 124-unit mixed-use building with two live/work units, one commercial unit, a rooftop greenhouse, 118 bicycle parking spots, and 28 car parking spots. In permitting process.
  • 14315 Lake City Way NE – Sacred Medicine House: five-stories and 125 units of permanent supportive housing by Chief Seattle Club. 10 parking spots are being considered. In permitting, initially projected for late 2021 completion by Chief Seattle Club.
  • 14337 32nd Ave NE – Lake City Apartments: a six-story, 71-unit — split between 42 small efficiency dwelling and 29 apartment — multifamily building with 25 parking spaces. Under construction.

What next for Lake City

With roughly 600 multifamily units constructed in the past few years and around 1,600 multifamily units/bedrooms either under construction and making their way through permitting, the Lake City Way corridor is certainly making a contribution to the city’s housing supply. It’s clear that this contribution is being constrained by the bottleneck that exists south of the urban village, where most of the corridor is terribly limited by constricted and conservative zoning. The sheer amount of townhouse development on the corridor is also contributing to the housing supply, but it could also be seen through the lens of locking in lowrise and low-density housing on the corridor for generations. My concern is especially heightened when that kind of housing is locked in on parts of the southernmost parts of the corridor.

That being said, townhouses are a type of missing middle housing — housing development that falls between single-family homes and mid-rise buildings — that the corridor could use next to its apartment building development. Aforementioned live/work and rowhouse developments also fall into that definition, further increase housing affordability, and diversify the housing options from just apartments and single family homes. To allow these housing types, the City should look to expand zoning on the corridor to allow lowrise missing middle housing within a 15-minute walkshed of Lake City Way. With increased housing supply, there would also be more impetus — as if the need didn’t already exist — to transform the road from a car-centic highway corridor toward a walkable street safe for pedestrians and better served by transit.

SR-522/NE 145th BRT (Courtesy of Sound Transit)

While several Metro routes run through the corridor, it’s rather clear that corridor would benefit from a major transit development to connect the new housing with the wider city. Shoreline’s apartment development is built around light rail and BRT, yet Lake City has neither aside from the stop on 145th that it’ll get from the SR-522 BRT. The neighborhood does trade Route 41 for a compelling Route 20 and light rail connections in the Northgate Link extension bus restructure, but this only really benefits the urban village. The outer segments will still suffer from limited transit service. Considering the zoning, the northernmost segment has the worst balance of increased housing supply and sparse transportation options. Whether it be the Lynnwood Link extension bus restructure or more proactive action, more transit service should be secured for the neighborhood.

With the pairing of being in North Seattle and a highway, the corridor also has very weak pedestrian infrastructure and safety conditions with its patchy sidewalk network and proximity to higher speed traffic. Consistent with transit service, pedestrian infrastructure also falls off north and south of the urban village. To encourage existing and new residents on the corridor walk to their neighbor amenities, basic pedestrian safety improvements and infrastructure like a complete sidewalk network should be pursued. Decreased speed limits, and more crosswalks would also be rudimentary improvements to encourage more trips to take place outside of cars.

Lake City Way is a symbol of car-centrism in Seattle with its many car dealerships, vast parking lots, and auto services. This is clearly changing, as old auto spaces are slowly being replaced with spaces for people. This change can be accelerated with liberalized zoning and transit/pedestrian investments, we just need the political will to make these investments.

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Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

18 Comments
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RossB

In terms of transit, Lake City is much better than average. It is a natural convergence, so it has several different bus routes. You have the 41, 65, 75, 372 running all day, along with peak oriented buses like the 64, 309, 312 and 522. The combination of buses often lead to very good frequencies during rush hour, and good frequencies the rest of the day. For example, the 65, 75 and 372 all ran to the UW, for a combined 14 buses an hour in the middle of the day. Even some secondary destinations (like the U-Village and Children’s Hospital) had a combined 10 buses an hour.

Like in much of the city, the big weakness was in crosstown service. It is extremely difficult to get over to Aurora, or to Greenwood. Often it takes three buses, and around an hour. Metro initially suggested fixing the problem (with the 61) but abandoned that approach, and put the money into peak-only service to downtown, mimicking Link (but taking a slightly different route, like through South Lake Union). As a result, transit service in Lake City will take a step back — it will get a little bit better in some ways (more frequent service towards Roosevelt) and a little bit worse in others (less frequent towards Northgate).

The 522 Stride line you referenced (calling it BRT) won’t be especially frequent. At best it will run every 10 minutes. My guess is that will be during rush hour only, with maybe 15 minute service the rest of the day (not as good as the old 65). It is not something to aspire to.

The biggest thing Lake City needs is for the 130th station to open with Lynnwood Link. That would allow Metro to provide both cross-town service and connect riders to Link (from both Bitter Lake and Lake City). As it is the fastest cross-town corridor in the area, with solid stops along the way, it would be a very cost effective way to tie the neighborhood together with frequent service. Other changes should also occur, but they may take a while.

In short, there is no reason to assume that a RapidRide or Stride is what is best for Lake City. What the area needs is the 130th station, along with a good network of buses so that people can go every direction quickly and easily.

RossB

Obsession with building heights is misguided (height doesn’t equal density). Feel free to do a more detailed analysis as to why our low rise development is not as dense as other cities, but assuming that only six story buildings (which often contain big lobbies, setbacks, and all sorts of things that prevent them from having more units) is the best way to grow is overly simplistic.

Then you have issues like retail, as well as walkability. You can build a big building, but if it isn’t a place where people want to live, you are just jam packing poor people next to a big road (an approach this city has taken in the past). The wealthy get to live in a nice neighborhood (away from the busy street) while the poor don’t.

The city needs to allow low-rise development everywhere. If you can build a house 30 feet high, you should be able to build an apartment that high as well. Get rid of density limits. Get rid of parking limits. The only limits should be on heights. Allow subdivisions, so that you can build row houses. Allow these houses to be built right to the edge of a skinny lot, so that future row houses can be built. Allow the row houses to be multi-family, or owned by one family, like they are in Brooklyn, Montreal, San Fransisco and other very attractive cities. These are very dense cities — a lot more dense than we are. They achieved it not with huge buildings, but with lots and lots of attractive small buildings, right next to each other.

This is the only way that housing will ever be affordable in this city. You can see that here. For example, 12320 32nd Ave NE has existing small apartments. Thus you are tearing down medium density (relatively cheap) apartments to put up a bigger apartment building. This is not a great use of land, and will only occur if rent is extremely expensive (which it is). In contrast, a few blocks away there are big lots with nothing on them but one house. They are being subdivided into slightly smaller, but still very big lots (e. g. 8,000 square feet) and new McMansions are being placed there. This “urban villages” approach is not unique, and it leads to high prices, and urban areas that most urbanists don’t want to live in, if they can afford it.

RossB

Much of the land along Lake City Way is owned by the Pierre family (of Bill Pierre fame). That is why it hasn’t developed. Here is an update on the property: http://www.pinehurstseattle.org/2021/04/02/bill-pierre-properties-update/

According to “Seattle in Progress”, the property at 12706 33rd Ave NE (“The Artisan Apartments”) was approved in 2018. It has sat as a blighted empty lot for a very long time. Any idea what is going on there?

Jon Morgan

1409 NE 8th St is clearly not a street address in or near Lake City.

“Other small unit developments include three live/work units proposed at 8251 Lake City Way NE, and an auto repair shop to brewery conversion is proposed at 1409 NE 8th St.”

Ott Toomet

I’d like to put bike lines on Lake City Way. It is a fairly flat (well, call it “Seattle Flat”) and direct route between Bothell, UDistrict, and downtown (via Roosevelt/Eastlake). Burke-Gilman is great in many ways, but it does not help those with business in the Lake City Way area. Heading south, one can take Ravenna for U District, or climb till Roosevelt and head down toward University Bridge. On the way north, both of these streets offer much gentler slopes (and shorter distance) than climbing uphill from B-K trail. There are very few alternative North-South connections in the area.

Jon Morgan

Sidewalks and safe crossings before bike lanes. And fix Ravenna & LCW for the southbound 372.

rdpence

Interesting. A huge increase in MF development in Lake City, all without upzoning traditional SF neighborhoods. Maybe we don’t need to eliminate SF zoning after all.

RossB

Right, and you can put a fire out by spitting at it.

CHRISTOPHER H BURKE

There have been some stops and starts, but I thought the big townhouse project at 3500 NE (not NW) 125th St got its permits a year ago.

Excellent job of tracking down recent and current development. I suggest follow-up. Inquiring minds want to know which of these are ownership options and which are rentals. For example, Habitat for Humanity is building a 16-unit rowhouse development in the 13000 block of 35th NE for low-income homeowners with incomes <80% of Area Media Income. There are a number of small condos being built which provide units in the $400-$500k range, which is below the Seattle condo average.

In terms of affordable rentals, how many of those units are SEDUs? Lake City is in danger of being overrun with them, despite the lousy transit options and distance from jobs and the UW. This will result in more people with cars trying to park on the same overcrowded streets.

Thank you for the shout-out for sidewalks. Other than Lake City Way, NE 125th and 35th Ave. NE, we have almost none. The City must prioritize a walkable sidewalk network for a 10-minute walkshed before it expands this to a 15-minute walkshed. Many of us have been advocating concurrent infrastructure before this growth spurt. For example, NE 125th and 33rd Ave. NE has experienced significant floods and drainage problems in the past. It’s unclear if the old storm drains can carry increased runoff from increased hardscape, or if our salmon-bearing Thornton Creek will suffer more pollution from runoff.

I certainly agree with you about the need for sidewalks. It seems like every week someone in The Urbanist proposes no parking at the new light rail stations, while all the stations from Northgate north are in largely sidewalk-free neighborhoods. Building a light rail station with no parking and no sidewalks seems pretty foolish.

Jon Morgan

Even the sidewalks that do exist in the Northgate station area, you’ll find that many are blocked by large utility poles right in the middle, heaved up by tree roots, or missing ramps and other features needed by people with disabilities. We need a Sidewalks for All levy to fill the sidewalk (and other pedestrian infrastructure) backlog citywide.

RossB

lousy transit options and distance from jobs and the UW

Huh? Lake City has very good transit options, especially to the UW. It is far better than, say, Greenwood. It lacks good east-west service, but that is a true of the entire region (north of the 44).

Sarajane Siegfriedt

Lake City will be bypassed by the #522 BRT when the 145th St. Station opens. The #41 will be terminated this October and will no longer serve downtown. Lake City will have substantially worse service.

RossB

For Lake City, it will largely be a shift from all-day service to peak-hour service. The peak-hour service will go to downtown(ish) locations, like First Hill, South Lake Union and Belltown. Outside of peak, riders will transfer to Link to get downtown. The 41 will be replaced by the 75. It isn’t clear if frequency will be as good as it was before — a lot depends on how quickly we recover (economically) from the pandemic, and if Seattle augments service with additional funding (the new levy that passed didn’t allocate as much money as the old levy).

Overall, Lake City will still be one of the better communities. The 522 will connect to Roosevelt, and do so throughout the day at a reasonably good frequency (15 minutes?). That will make it much easier to get to Link, for trips to downtown and Capitol Hill. It will also make it easier to get to the U-District (with a bus or train transfer). Overall, for all-day service should be about the same, it is just that it won’t be nearly as good as should be. They could have put money into a real network (with buses like the 61) and increased frequency overall, instead of focusing on the silly express buses, that largely mimic Link.

Yes, the future 522 BRT will bypass Lake City. Who cares? The Stride 522 is supposed to run every ten minutes at best. This means that it will likely run only ever 15 minutes in the middle of the day. Metro should backfill the Lake City area with frequent transit, especially since that is where it gets the bulk of its riders (and way more riders per hour of service). Whether Metro will do that, or drop the ball remains a mystery.

The big addition that is needed is the 130th station. That would be a huge improvement in transit for Lake City. Not only would that speed up the trip to Link, but it would finally connect the north end. Trips from Bitter Lake to Lake City would be fast and frequent, which means transfers (to Aurora, Greenwood/Phinney Ridge) would be much better.

Arash Akbar

That particular project has been in various stages of having permits approved, then back in design review, then approved again, etc since I moved here in 2014. I’ve given up hope that they can get anything done anytime soon. Meanwhile the property continues to look more decrepit every year. If the townhomes do get built they will look very nice and be a huge improvement for that vital intersection.