Northern Midrise – U District Development Spree Part 1

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The construction site of the Safeway redevelopment, The M Seattle, and other projects popping up in the north of the U District. (Photo by Shaun Kuo)

If you still need proof that Seattle is not dying, just take a look at the development activity undergone, ongoing, and forecasted in the University District (U District, for short). There’s so much going on in this one neighborhood that this article will be part one of a three-part series on the development in and around the U District. Part one will cover the lowrise and midrise apartment development above NE 47th St, opened or in permitting from 2019 to present.

U District Station, opening on October 2nd, is the epicenter of this development spree. There’s also of course the giant University of Washington (UW) campus. The Ave (University Way NE) and the UW are the main draws of the U District. NE 45th St and Roosevelt Way NE connect the neighborhood to the wider city. I’ll be using 22nd Ave NE as the east border of the neighborhood. The topographical change and closeness of the area west of 22nd with U Village makes the sliver feel separate from the U District and a part of the U Village’s neighborhood. UW campus, I-5, and NE Ravenna Blvd will be used as the other borders for the U District for the series.

When the U District was the first neighborhood to be rezoned in 2017 and implement the Mandatory Housing Affordable (MHA) program, local opponents managed to lobby the city council to exclude The Ave and a few more blocks to the west. In 2019 and with the election of Alex Pedersen to the city council, the area was excluded again and sent off to the Office of Planning and Community Development to prepare a Supplemental EIS. Whether it was lowrise, midrise, mixed-use or residential, zones remained static in the area. Meanwhile, in the southwest highrise zoning was introduced and lowrise zoning was eliminated. Today, we can see the impact of this dynamic playing out, with a widening dichotomy between highrise and midrise/lowrise development in the neighborhood.

The “Currently proposed zoning changes” are on in pause of unknown length. (Courtesy of City of Seattle)

By only examining the development above NE 47th St, minus The M tower that kicked off the tower boom, we can capture all of the recent development and permitting in the U District’s old zoning. Also included are a few projects within new highrise zoning that opted to make their projects midrises. We’ll start with the northernmost project that didn’t get caught up in the zoning pause, you can see the tiny striped blip in the image above. Its parcel’s zoning became mixed-use midrise from single-family.

Starting with Ravenna through 52nd St

  • 1217 NE RAVENNA BLVD – Cowen Park Place
    • A four-story, 28-unit apartment building with three live-work units and a restaurant. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in permitting, undergoing corrections right now. MHA is required and payment of $318,000 is planned — expect projects choosing payment to only provide market-rate units. Dollar amounts with rounded to the nearest thousand.
  • 5639 UNIVERSITY WAY NE – 5639 University Apartments
    • A four-story, 40-unit apartment building with retail. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in permitting, but no correction activity has taken place since 2019. There is MHA requirement — expect all units without these requirements to be market-rate.
  • 5521 15TH AVE NE
    • A five-story, 18-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The building opened in 2020. There is MHA requirement.
  • 1400 NE 55TH ST
    • A five-story, 73-unit apartment building (43 small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs) and 30 apartments) with retail. No parking is proposed.
    • The master use permit was issued in 2/22/2021 and there is MHA requirement.
  • 5339 ROOSEVELT WAY NE
    • A four-story, 27-unit apartment building with retail. Parking for four vehicles is proposed.
    • The project is in permitting and there is no MHA requirement.
  • 5326 ROOSEVELT WAY NE
    • A four-story, 14-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in permitting and there is no MHA requirement.
  • 5300 ROOSEVELT WAY NE
    • A four-story, 52-unit apartment building with three live-work units and 2,590 square feet of commercial space, based on the March 10, 2017 plan set. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process, but there’s been no update since 2018. MHA does not appear to be required and no reviews have been assigned.
  • 5247 UNIVERSITY WAY NE – 5247 University Way Apartments
    • A six-story, 59-unit mixed-use apartment building with 1,488 square feet of retail at ground level. Parking for 15 vehicles is to be provided below grade.
    • The master use permit was issued June 4, 2018, but demolition of existing buildings has yet to occur. There is no MHA requirement.
  • 5234 15TH AVE NE
    • A new four-story, eight-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The permit has been renewed many times up, now until September 2021, first issued in 2015, and is near completion. There is no MHA requirement.
  • 5229 UNIVERSITY WAY NE – 5229 University Apartments
    • A six-story, 64-unit apartment building (26 SEDUs and 38 efficiency dwelling units) with retail. Parking for eight vehicles is proposed.
    • The master use permit was issued on December 20, 2020. There is no MHA requirement.
  • 5228 15TH AVE NE
    • A five-story, 58-unit apartment building (50 SEDUs and eight apartments). No parking is proposed. 
    • The permit was issued in 2021. MHA is required and the project is set to deliver four on-site performance units.

Down to 50th

After we pass NE 52nd St, the recently liberalized zones and their MHA requirements start to emerge in substantial numbers. Midrise residential and mixed use are flanked by shorter mixed use midrise and residential lowrise. In the band of blocks between NE 52nd and NE 50th St, we also start to see a significant increase in development compared to the paused upzoning north of the band.

  • 5039 11TH AVE NE – University 5039
    • A seven-story, 49-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The permit was issued in 2019 and demolition is complete. MHA is required and was met through payment of $362,000 in affordable housing fees.
  • 5031 11TH AVE NE University 5031
    • A seven-story, 30-SEDU apartment building. Parking for 15 vehicles is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA review is still to be assigned and expected to be required.
  • 5020 15th AVE NE
    • A five-story, 31-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • Final inspections were completed on April 29, 2021. There is no MHA requirement
  • 5014 15TH AVE NE – Bravo Studios
    • A five-story, 30-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is under construction. There is no MHA requirement.
  • 5006 15TH AVE NE – Artisan Studios
    • A five-story, 30-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed. 
    • The project is under construction. There is no MHA requirement.
  • 5002 12th AVE NE
    • A six-story, 49-unit mixed-use apartment building with 1,250 square feet of commercial space at street level. Three parking spaces are proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the applicant is considering four or five on-site performance units.
  • 5001 Brooklyn Ave NE – The Stax
    • A seven-story, 60-unit mixed-use residential building. No parking is proposed.
    • Certificate of Occupancy was issued on June 13, 2019. MHA was required and the project has delivered four on-site performance units at 40% area median income.

Stopping at 47th St for now

The trend of increased development as we move south to the next band of blocks continues. This increase, so far, is entirely due to the lowrise upzoning directly north of the University’s NE 45th St border, which is made up of UW’s Greek Row, older single-family and multifamily homes, and now lowrise apartment buildings. The blocks between NE 50th St and NE 47th St also have some highrise zoning on them, but outside of the completed The M Seattle the projects on this span have chosen to stick with midrises.

  • 4751 21ST AVE NE
    • A four-story, 54-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed, 58 bike parking spaces will be provided.
    • The project is in planning. MHA is required, but no decision around payment or performance has been made yet.
  • 4750 15th AVE NE – Arbora Court Apartments
    • A seven-story, 133-unit apartment building with 1,404 square feet of commercial space. Parking for 113 vehicles has been provided.
    • Final Inspections were completed on November 22, 2019. There was no MHA requirement.
  • 4749 20TH AVE NE
    • A six-story, six-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the planning process. MHA is required and the payment option is planned.
  • 4746 20th Ave NE
    • A six-story, 33-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The permit was issued on May 11, 2021. There was no MHA requirement.
  • 4732 BROOKLYN AVE NE – The Safeway redevelopment
    • A seven-story, 180-unit apartment building with retail. Parking for 195 vehicles is planned.
    • The project is under construction. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $4.6 million.
  • 4731 15TH AVE NE – THEORY U-DISTRICT
    • A six-story, 171-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed, 150 bike parking spaces will be provided.
    • The permit was issued at the end 2020. There was no MHA requirement.
  • 4730 19TH AVE NE
    • A five-story, 78-unit apartment building (70 SEDUs and eight apartment units). No parking is proposed.
    • The permit was issued on April 15, 2021. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $426,000.
  • 4727 12TH AVE NE – University 4727
    • A seven-story, 66-unit apartment building (59 small efficiency dwelling units, and seven apartment units). No parking is proposed.
    • The permit was issued on May 30, 2019. MHA was required and the applicant made payment of $504,000.
  • 4726 15TH AVE NE – Rhythm apartments
    • A project that requested Council Land Use Action to rezone a portion of land (4728 15th Ave NE) from Lowrise 3 to Neighborhood Commercial 2 with 65-foot height limit. The project includes a seven-story, 127-unit apartment building with retail space. Forty-one parking stalls and 65 bicycle stalls are proposed.  
    • The permit was issued on February 11, 2020. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $342,000.
  • 2126 NE 47TH ST
    • A five-story, eight-unit addition to an existing apartment building
    • The permit was issued on January 14, 2020. There was no MHA requirement.
  • 4709 ROOSEVELT WAY NE
    • A proposed six-story multifamily project. The project is early in permitting, information pending submission as of this month.

Unsurprisingly, students appear to be the target market for the developers. The housing type of SEDUs dominates the projects built, building, and potentially to be built in the U District. Small apartments are becoming commonplace in the neighborhood. In total, 1,276 units have been permitted, been under construction, or have been built since 2019 north of NE 47th St alone. At least 1,576 units could be provided in U District midrises and lowrises north of NE 47th St, if all the projects currently in permitting eventuate into apartment buildings.

On increasing housing supply, the neighborhood has no issue providing its share of housing. On affordability, the U District appears to struggle with only up to 13 on-site performance units from MHA requirements proposed so far. That’s 13 units out of 1,576 possible units, we’re not even breaking a percentage point of truly affordable units in the listed projects. Sure, SEDUs could be considered affordable and are a valuable type of housing to add to the supply. It’s just hard to consider the dollar to square footage ratio truly affordable, when SEDUs are made market-rate. This is not to say that these projects are not helping us address the affordability crisis. Just look at the projected MHA payments: even in the swathes of non-MHA zones in the northern half of the U District, over $6.5 millions dollars are being paid into MHA, which will pay for affordable housing. I would just be more heartened if more developers provided affordable options on their properties and widely distributed the affordable options.

MHA payments and investments (Courtesy of the Office of Housing)

Looking south to the rest of the U District, highrises loom and the MHA contributions loom even larger — a magnitude larger. Sound Transit’s transit-oriented development site is also there, and the agency appears to be pitting affordability against maximizing density — at least in an early survey. Based on a 2020 Incentive Zoning-Mandatory Housing Affordability Report by the Office of Housing, affordable housing investment into the neighborhood is missing. Meanwhile, the neighborhood pays the most into the program. While it may be cheaper to develop affordable housing in other neighborhoods, we shouldn’t just let a monoculture of market-rate housing thrive in a single neighborhood.

Part two will feature the highrise development in the U District and the continued transformation. We’ll also have a small aside to discuss the U District TOD conundrum.

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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.

3 Comments
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Ron Davis

We shouldn’t assume funds go to other neighborhoods. More important, the cash gets multiplied by other sources, and this allows us to build s substantially larger number of affordable units overall.

asdf2

All of this new supply coming online should eventually drive market rents down, or at least keep them from going up further, once all these new buildings open. This is the scalable way to make housing more affordable, not ever increasing taxes to fund way-below-market rent for a few lucky individuals.

Dperson

Detailed work. Thanks for the summary of what’s going on in the U District.