A Skyline by UW – U District Development Spree Part 2

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The construction of 4220 12th Ave NE and 4126 12th Ave NE with downtown/SLU in the background. Taken right next to the U District light rail station (Photo by Author)

When we last covered highrise development in the U District, there were only eight highrise projects somewhere along the permitting and construction process. That number has doubled. Even if we exclude the projects that have seemingly stalled, quite the skyline is starting to potentially form north of the Ship Canal. Most recently, The M Seattle has joined the old Husky Tower, University Plaza Condominiums, and Graduate Seattle (Formerly the Hotel Deca). Several other towers are under construction.

The development is only possible because of the 2017 Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezoning process that reintroduced the ability to construct towers in the U District. This updated zoning allows highrises between NE 50th St and the Burke-Gilman Trail, within a narrow column of blocks that also extends to I-5 with NE 45th St. The following 2017 update extended highrise zoning into University of Washington’s West Campus, all the way down to Portage Bay.

2017 MHA rezone to U District. (Courtesy of the City of Seattle)

This article will cover all the highrise development and permitting that is going on in the U District, encompassing all the development south of NE 47th St that has happened during or after 2019. The M is barely above NE 47th St, but it’s being included because it’s the only tower to have been planned or built in the tiny chunk of highrise zoning above NE 47th St. Given the sheer amount of projects in the area, we’ll start with projects between The M and NE 45th St — the widest and most liberalized band of blocks in the neighborhood.

Highrise and others above 45th

  • 4700 Brooklyn Ave NE – The M Seattle
    • A 24-story, 227-apartment unit building with 5,623 square feet of retail space at street level. Parking for 22 vehicles is to be provided below grade.
    • Certificate of occupancy was issued on July 24, 2020. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $3.76 million.
  • 4637 21ST AVE NE – SIGMA PHI EPSILON – UW CHAPTER HOUSE
    • A three-story congregate residence with 34 sleeping rooms. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is not required.
  • 4544 20TH AVE NE – 20th avenue apartments
    • A five-story, 31-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed
    • Permits were issued on October 10, 2018. There was no MHA requirement.
  • 4536 20TH AVE NE – U20 Apartments
    • A five-story, 64-SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • Certificate of Occupancy was issued on March 6, 2019. There was no MHA requirement.
  • 4536 BROOKLYN AVE NE
    • An 11-story office (149,000 square feet) building with street-level retail (4,500 square feet). Seventy-six parking stalls in below-grade parking are proposed. (According to latest design review from February 8, 2021.)
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make a payment of more than $3 million, according to a year-old plan set, but the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections wanted numbers corrected because too much was exempted.
    • This project may include a neighborhood open space contribution, too.
  • 4525 9TH AVE NE U-District Tower
    • A 33-story, 359-unit residential apartment tower with indoor and outdoor residential amenity spaces, and neighborhood open space at grade. 235 parking stalls below grade are proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make a payment of around $6 million.
  • 4522 ROOSEVELT WAY NE – OneX Towers
    • A 24-story, 336-unit apartment building with retail, a 22-story office building, and three retail buildings. Parking for 222 vehicles is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required, but it’s too early for an MHA decision.
  • 4515 Brooklyn Ave NE
    • A 25-story, 202-unit building (162 apartments, 40 SEDUs) with retail. Parking for 77 vehicles is proposed.
    • The project is under construction. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $4.7 million.
  • 4512 11TH AVE NE – Nuovo Tower
    • A 30-floor mixed use tower development containing a hotel with approximately 170 keys in the lower section of the tower, and approximately 100 apartment units in the upper section of the tower, with retail and residential/hotel entry at the ground level. A four-level below-grade parking structure with parking for approximately 180 vehicles is proposed.
    • The process is in the permitting process, but there’s been no activity since 2019. MHA is required, but no communication on payment or performance has been made yet.
  • 1300 NE 45TH ST – B45 Tower
    • A 23-story, 342-unit mixed-use apartment building with retail. Fifty-three accessory parking spaces are proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make a payment of $4.6 million.
  • 1200 NE 45TH ST
    • A 24-story, 237-unit apartment building with retail. Parking for 91 vehicles, and 266 bike parking spaces are proposed.
    • Permits were issued on October 1, 2020. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $4.2 million.
  • 1013 NE 45TH ST  
    • A 25-story, 420-unit apartment building with retail and office. Parking for 30 vehicles is proposed. (According to Early Design Guidance information.)
    • The project is early in the permitting process and MHA is required, but it’s still too early for an MHA decision.
  • 700 NE 45TH ST – VICTORY AT THE U STUDENT RESIDENCES
    • A 23-story, 110-unit apartment building with office. Parking for 15 vehicles is proposed.
    • There will be a design review meeting on July 19, 2021. The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make an estimated payment of $4.75 million.

Down to 42nd

Notice the lack of MHA performance units in the projects. This trend is ubiquitous in the U District’s highrises. Instead of building affordability into their own buildings, the developers have opted to pay into Seattle affordable housing fund to meet their affordability requirements elsewhere. As we descend down past NE 45th St, we start to see smaller midrise and lowrise developments in the southwest of the neighborhood, which will occasionally provide on-site performance units — though the numbers are meager at best.

  • 4328 BROOKLYN AVE NE
    • A 13-story office building with at grade retail to be built over the existing below grade Sound Transit light rail station. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the planning process. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make a payment of $5.74 million, likely more based on corrections correspondence.
  • 4320 8TH AVE NE – 8th avenue apartments
    • A five-story, 19-unit apartment building (most are SEDU exact, numbers unclear). No parking is proposed.
    • The permit was issued on August 2, 2016, but it’s been renewed multiple times and there has been no construction yet. MHA is required and the project is set to deliver two on-site performance units.
  • 4311 7TH AVE NE
    • An eight-story, 52 SEDU apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • Permitting is almost done for the project. MHA is required and the project is set to deliver on-site performance units, but the exact number is unavailable.
  • 4306 8TH AVE NE
    • A six-story, 16-SEDU, and two loft apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and a payment is expected.
  • 4303 7TH AVE NE – 7th apartments  
    • A seven-story, 48-SEDU apartment building. No car parking is proposed, but the project will deliver 48 bike parking stalls.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and a payment is expected.
  • 802 NE 43rd St – DP studios
    • A six-story, 22-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • A Certificate of Occupancy was issued on October 14, 2020. MHA was required and the project delivered two on-site performance units.
  • 1415 NE 43RD ST – UTUMC STUDENT HOUSING
    • A new church facility and student housing with 244 units, and a 933-bed count. The proposed development includes a 38,440 square feet of religious facility, 324,126 square feet of residential, and 61,637 square of parking. One hundred and twenty-six parking stalls are proposed. It will have two tower components: one that is 22 stories tall and another that is 13 stories tall.
    • The project is in the permitting process, demolition has already begun. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make a payment of $7.1 million.
  • 4220 12TH AVE NE – THE STANDARD AT SEATTLE
    • Two 25-story residential towers that combined will have 402 apartment units and retail. Parking for 142 vehicles is proposed. 
    • The project is under construction. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $12 million.
  • 4212 ROOSEVELT WAY NE – Roosevelt High Rise
    • A 23-story, 220-unit apartment building with retail. Parking for 64 vehicles proposed. (According to Early Design Guidance information.)
    • The project is early in the permitting process and MHA is required, but it’s still too early for ann MHA decision.
  • 4258 7TH AVE NE
    • A seven-story, approximately 43-unit apartment building. Ten parking stalls are proposed. (According to Early Design Guidance information.)
    • The project is just starting the design review process. MHA is required, but there’s nothing information yet.
  • 4239 8TH AVE NE
    • A seven-story, 54-unit apartment building (48 SEDUs and six apartments). No parking is proposed.
    • Permits were approved on December 4, 2019. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of $457,000.

The rest in the U District

Development in the rest of the U District becomes more limited, as we collide with the jagged borders of UW’s West Campus. Down here there’s still a small pocket of highrise zoning. Closer to I-5, small and medium sized apartment buildings of all ages have become more commonplace.

  • 4131 BROOKLYN AVE NE – Brooklyn Apartments
    • A 23-story, two garage, 229-unit apartment building. 70 parking spots are proposed. Housing type makeup of ten townhouse units, 14 three-bedroom units, 43 two-bedroom units, 172 one-bedroom units is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the applicant is expected to make a payment of $4.8 million.
  • 4126 12TH AVE NE – LAKEVIEW STUDENT RESIDENCES
    • A 21-story, 226-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The master use permit was issued on August 26, 2020. MHA was required and the applicant made a payment of nearly $5 million.
  • 4105 Brooklyn AVE NE – 4105 Brooklyn Tower
    • The project would combine lots with 4115 Brooklyn Ave NE, demolish an existing apartment building, renovate an existing unreinforced masonry apartment building, and construct a 21-story residential tower. Sixty parking spots are proposed. (From Early Design Guidance information.)
    • There has been no activity from the project since 2019, and it has not gone through design review yet.
  • 818 NE 42ND ST – 42nd St. Apartments
    • A nine-story, 44-unit apartment building (30 SEDUs and 14 apartment units). No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required and the project is set to deliver four on-site performance units.
  • 4054 7TH AVE NE – The Augustine  
    • A nine-story, 39-unit apartment building. No parking is proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required, but no decision has been made as of May 24, 2021.
  • 4048 7TH AVE NE – VIOLA Apartments
    • A seven-story, 79-unit apartment building (67 small efficiency dwelling units and 12 apartment units). Parking for ten vehicles is proposed. 
    • The permit was issued on July 31, 2020. MHA was required and the applicant will provide seven affordable units, and $12,003.16 in cash contributions. 
  • 4030 7TH AVE NE
    • A seven-story, 25 two-bedroom unit, and 15 one-bedroom unit apartment building. Ten parking spots are proposed.
    • The project is in the permitting process. MHA is required, but no decision has been made yet.
Confirmed (yellow), possible (pink), and rumored (red) development in the U District, from May 2021. (Courtesy of David Boynton)

Reflections and What’s Next

Between 47th and the University — plus The M tower — 1,563 units have been permitted, been under construction, or have been built since 2019. Over 4,411 units could be provided in the U District, if all the projects currently in permitting and south of NE 47th St are completed. Combined with Part 1, which covered the midrise and lowrise development above NE 47th St in the neighborhood, 2,839 units have been permitted, been under construction, or have been built since 2019. Over 6,000 units could be provided in the U District, if all the projects currently in permitting are fully realized — this amounts to much more than 6,000 new residents when you count individual bedrooms and all the early projects without unit numbers yet.

So far, if we just take the tower projects we know about and count the double towers individually, roughly 22 towers could make up U District’s skyline. Over 40 midrises and lowrises could be added in their orbit. Part 2 covers over $63.1 million in MHA contributions, and combined with Part 1 over $70 million from the U District projects could go to funding affordable housing. That being said, only a bit more than 28 affordable units could come from a possible 6,000-plus-unit addition to the neighborhood — plus all the new retail and office space. The Seattle Office of Housing (OH) does think that it could leverage more affordable housing with MHA payment than on-site MHA performance units by private developers. However, I do believe that the U District should get some more affordable housing inventory — no MHA investment has gone to the neighborhood. This is also why I believe Sound Transit should try to maximize housing units and affordability in their U District Transit-Oriented Development.

Next door, the University of Washington will be building 150 affordable housing units for faculty and staff earning less than 60% area median income (AMI), and no fewer than 300 for staff earning less than 80% of AMI. That housing will all have to be within a quarter-mile of light rail stations. The university will also be building tall directly below the U District in West Campus, which to reiterate is zoned for towers too. Housing won’t be the university’s focus though. Office, classrooms, research labs, and libraries are what the university finds that it needs more of. We’ll explore this and the potential highrises of west campus in Part 3 of this series.

The zoning changes that have allowed this growth only came in 2017 and 2019, there’s still plenty of lowrise and parking lots to examine. Not to mention the incoming comprehensive planning that will hopefully redouble the liberalization of zoning in the U District. The north end of the neighborhood, which is very well served by frequent transit, is still packed with single-family zoning. The Ave and other areas went untouched in 2017 and 2019 will also be under the microscope, though the City should seek to protect the communities and businesses there from displacement through new policies and programs. The U District is getting a skyline and we’re certainly just getting started.

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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.

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RON DAVIS

Great article Shaun! I live just up the street and am in the U District almost every day, on foot. It’s been so fun to watch all this develop. I appreciate you taking the time to go through each project; it’s great to see it all at once.

I agree – at least the lion’s share of those MHA funds should be spent nearby. The Northern section of the district is a bit more family friends (parks in particular; either way the elementary schools are far away). Cedar Crossing in Roosevelt is focus on families. Down in the U district, I think there’s a great opportunity for permanent supportive housing, workforce housing, and senior housing.