Monday, October 22, 2018

A Unique Downtown Street Corner Could Be Future Home To ‘121 Stewart’

Aerial rendering of 121 Stewart, courtesy of DPD.
Aerial rendering of 121 Stewart, courtesy of DPD.

A half block of Second Avenue could soon be home to a new mixed-use high-rise skyscraper called 121 Stewart.  This new tower proposal is nestled on the southwest corner of Second Avenue and Stewart Street, two short blocks from the heart of Pike Place Market. The current site has a two-story commercial structure called the MJA Building, which pours out to the street in modest style: multiple spaces are partitioned on the ground floor with a prominent corner entry; a classic transom rounds the first floor windows to frame the structure; and a plain parapet tops off the building roofline, typical of 1910s masonry construction. Adjacent to this building towers a mixed-use neighbor, the Broadacres Building, which is planned to remain.

Context for MJA Building
Context of existing MJA Building, courtesy of DPD.

The surrounding vicinity is already busy with development. On the other side of Second Avenue, another tower will be constructed under the project name 2nd and Pine. Site excavation is well underway on the project with building construction soon to follow. The site previously served as a surface parking lot, but those days are mostly gone. Meanwhile, a project kitty-corner to 121 Stewart just started site excavation on the northeast corner of First Avenue and Stewart Street, named 1900 1st Avenue. This building will be of a smaller scale; the residential block will rise 11 stories. Like 2nd and Pine, it was previously a surface parking lot.

121 Stewart will rise to 400 feet–or 39 stories–which is the maximum height for the DMC 240/290-400 zone. While the structure is intended to be mixed-use, there is a strong emphasis on residential space. Approximately 230 residential units are planned to be built within the tower. Retail space will occupy a mere 1,000 square feet on the ground floor. But, a whopping 140 parkings stalls will be located below and above ground. Despite the fact that the building will be market rate, the applicant plans to provide affordable housing through fee in-lieu payments to the City.

The applicant hopes to capitalize on the unique features of the site. Because of the changing nature of the Seattle grid here, the streets run into each at angles to create a trapezoid-like shape for the block. At the same time, the property is located at a high point in this area of Downtown, with the slope quickly descending along Stewart Street to the waterfront. This all combines to create an opportunity for an iconic building, and that’s just what Hewitt Architects hope to achieve in their tower design for the applicant.

121 Stewart Concept
Concept alternatives for 121 Stewart, courtesy of DPD.


Here’s how they describe the site context and preferred tower option:

Stewart Street is pedestrian-scaled and has a strong visual relationship to the Market and Elliot Bay beyond. Second Avenue is a broad, north to south, heavily-used city connector for vehicles, bicycles, and King County Metro and Sound Transit bus services. Each street is highly active but unique in character. The design responds with an entry on Stewart that is pedestrian-scaled and highlights the water/market connection, while the Second Avenue frontage offers a tall, transparent public face to the tower. A visible elevator lobby entry and double height space anchors the corner. The facade and street edge intends to facilitate the heavily used transit stop.

The upper level massing of the structure uses the shifted geometries of the street grid to reduce scale and gesture to the surrounding environment. Massing is stepped back to respect the Broadacres Building. The elevator core at the edge of the building mass is flanked by residential units and wraps around the above-grade parking, reducing undesirable inactive portions of the facades. The roof, a common recreation program, and elevator penthouse provide a unique and signature merging of the structure and skyline. This allows occupants to connect with dramatic urban and natural vistas.

Perspective rendering of 121 Stewart, courtesy of DPD.
Perspective rendering of 121 Stewart, courtesy of DPD.

Materials for the proposed tower are a clever mixture of steel, glass, and stone cladding. The core of the building is intended to feature a stone material that is paneled from top to bottom. Occasionally, this paneling includes recessed and projected stone to keep the linear column of the core interesting. Meanwhile, the tower will be laced together with steel and translucent glass. The superstructure and individual units should be clearly seen from the street level.

Modulation of the facade and structure further helps to keep the tower visually interesting. The architects are playing with an option to open up the southeast corner of the building through the creation of a gap mid-structure. Floors above the gap would overhang not only the gap, but a portion of the Broadacres Building. The gap will open additional views that otherwise would not be possible with a linear tower column wall. Other modulations will be provided throughout the building facades to keep the structure flowing and striking. Ultimately, it seems like the architects will achieve a very iconic building design for this location.

Preferred alternative use plan, courtesy of DPD.
Preferred alternative use plan, courtesy of DPD.

One issue that needs to be resolved with the project is the ground floor commercial space. The applicants hope that the City will grant them relief through a code departure. City code requires that 75% of each street frontage–where street level active uses are required–must consist of street level active uses. The applicant has two such frontages: Second Avenue and Stewart Street. The applicant is arguing two points under their departure request:

  1. The leasing space should be considered a street level active use; and
  2. The street level active use calculation should consider the entire frontage of project (Stewart St, Second Ave, and Pine St).

The first argument is on very shaky ground. Generally, leasing area–which is effectively office space–is not considered an active use, especially on the ground floor of such a high trafficked area. The applicant is hoping that the City will categorize this as “general sales and services” under the Land Use Code. If the City doesn’t, it puts the project as proposed in serious doubt for approval because it’s predicated on the second point. The structure on its own, even if the leasing area were counted as “general sales and services” couldn’t meet the code requirement.

The applicant is further hoping that the three frontages of the Broadacres Building and 121 Stewart will be considered together through averaging of the street level active use calculations. By doing so, the applicant would be able to exceed the 75% minimum of active street level frontages if the leasing area is deemed a “general sales and services” use. In such a scenario, 87% of the frontages would be categorized as an active use with the remainder providing internal services like residential entry space and elevator shafts.

The crux of the problem of why the applicant even has to request a departure is that so much space has been given over to parking. Three or four floors above the ground floor could be just parking space. Instead of placing the office-oriented leasing area above ground, the applicant has forced themselves into providing it on the ground floor. The parking further exacerbates opportunities for active street level uses because ground floor space must still be provided just to service building residents through elevators, stairs, lobby, and building maintenance uses.

How To Get Involved

If you’re interested in attending the community design review meeting for this project (or the other Downtown project), you can do so tonight. The Downtown Design Review Board will convene their meeting at City Hall in Room L280, located at 600 Fifth Avenue. The 2200 7th Ave meeting begins at 5.30pm while the 121 Stewart (aka 1613 2nd Ave) meeting will begin at 7pm. Alternatively, if you wish submit comments in written form, you can do so by e-mailing DPD at

For more design review materials and upcoming meetings, see DPD’s design review page.

This Week: Three Chances to Talk Streets with SDOT



Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) rolled out some big bicycle improvements along Roosevelt Way NE. The agency deployed new protected bike lanes (PBLs) from NE 45th St to the University Bridge. But, many more changes are on the way for Roosevelt Way NE as SDOT gears up for repaving, pedestrian, transit, and bicycle improvements. In preparation for that, the agency is reaching out to area residents, employees, and others to discuss the preliminary plans through three drop-in events. The agency hopes to gain some feedback, create dialogue, and answer questions.

Aside from the community engagement aspect of the event, it’s a great opportunity to thank SDOT staff for the new PBLs and remind them that there is strong support for safe streets that benefit all users.

Details from SDOT below:

The city is leveraging a 2015 paving project to create a multi-modal corridor to make bicycling safer and more predictable and add transit improvements along Roosevelt Way NE. Doing so minimizes construction disruptions and helps meet our goal of providing people with more travel options. These changes will make Roosevelt feel more like a neighborhood business street and less like an alternative to I-5.

We want to work with residents, businesses and others to understand their access needs and determine how we can continue to address those needs with the addition of the new facility. Please join us to ask questions and share your thoughts at one of our drop-in sessions. You can also read our Questions and Answers.

Tuesday, January 20|2 – 3:30 PM: University Heights, 5031 University Way NE

Wednesday, January 21|8 – 9:30 AM: Wayward Coffeehouse, 6417 Roosevelt Way NE

Thursday, January 22 | 5:30 – 7 PM: University Heights, 5031 University Way NE

City Council Spars Over Woonerf in South Lake Union


Last Tuesday, the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee discussed the creation of a woonerf along 8th Ave between Harrison St and Thomas St in South Lake Union. The woonerf (a living street designed to slow traffic and prioritize pedestrian activity and green space) would be part of a public private partnership between the City and the developer, Vulcan (Paul Allen’s real estate company, which owns much of the neighborhood).

Vulcan is willing to enter into agreement with City to develop the block as a woonerf in the spirit of the South Lake Street Concept Plan. The plan, adopted in 2013, calls for a 16-block area in the southwest corner of the neighborhood near Denny Park to be preserved for primarily residential development.

The woonerf development agreement calls for a raised, curbless  street with a preserved, dense tree canopy; wide sidewalks to accommodate multiple activities; and furniture including tables, chairs, and custom concrete seating. Current City code would only require Vulcan to make minimal improvements, such as repaving the sidewalk and installing a five-foot wide planter strip.

The block of 8th Ave between Harrison St and Thomas St as it is currently utilized

As part of the agreement, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) would waive street use fees for the project (valued at $527,000) in exchange for Vulcan assuming the full cost of the project ($2.1 million) saving the City $1.6 million. Street use fees are applied to construction that interrupts the right of way, such as equipment storage on the road or sidewalk.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien voiced concern over the project’s departure from the adopted 2013 plan for the corridor. The 16-block area was rezoned to discourage commercial development, with the commercial Floor Area Ratio (FAR) being reduced from 4.5 to 0.5—equivalent to approximately half a block of commercial development on the ground floor, or a small corner shop.

The South Lake Union Street Concept Plan

Vulcan submitted their application two months prior to the implementation of the new zoning code, exempting them from the strict residential requirements. O’Brien expressed that this may be a “fatal blow to any future residential development,” thereby sinking the vision for the entire area. He said he feels that the City is giving away public right-of-way to become a “corporate office park” as opposed to a “vibrant residential community.” He then suggested reallocating funds to a residential project, and expressed that he is not prepared to support the project at this time.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, appearing to try and assuage O’Brien’s concerns, pointed to the residential development that has already taken place in the rezone. He also emphasized the mixed-use nature of the zoning, though this perhaps overstates the half-block allocation per development.

The Committee agreed to hold the proposal until the next meeting to receive further comment from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD).

If you would like to get involved, you can submit public comment and attend the next Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday, January 27th at 9:30 AM at City Hall.

UPDATE: The Transportation Committee has postponed a follow-up discussion on this issue until Tuesday, February 10th at 9:30 AM.

Seahawks Strength


It’s the NFC Championship fellow Urbanists! I’m sure you’ve all noticed that the Town has been electric since Thanksgiving when the Hawks started their current 7 game win playoff run. The Green Bay Packers are guests in our house at 12:05 PM today and it’s going to be a blast! The road to the Super Bowl in Glendale, AZ will continue for us after today’s game and here’s why:

Relative strength of victory against the relative strength of opponent (RSVRSO).

Now what is that? Relative strength of victory against the relative strength of opponent is a stat that primarily counts the offensive points scored per drive (OPPD) plus the defensive points scored per opponent’s drive (DPPOD) minus the defensive points allowed per opponent’s drive (DPPOD) and the opponent’s defensive points scored per drive (ODPPD). This is what those words looks like:


If the above value is positive then it means a team’s offense scored more points per drive than its defense gave up to the opposing team. That means the team won.
If the above value is negative then it means a team’s offense scored less points per drive than its defense gave up to the opposing team. That means the team lost.
Finally, the RSVRSO is computed by multiplying the above positive or negative scalar to the opponent’s Elo rating. I’ve been getting the Elo rating on a week by week basis from Nate Silver’s 538 Blog. An explanation of Elo can be found here.

After mashing up all those numbers on a week by week basis, I was able to chart the ongoing strength of victories relative to their opponents for both the Seahawks and the Packers. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 17.33.19

As you can see, in week 1 the Packers dropped due to a vicious 20 point beating from the Seahawks offense and stifling defense. They continued to drop in cumulative strength in week 3 with a loss to the Lions. The Pack didn’t really hit the gas until week 10 and 11 when they badly beat the Bears and the Eagles.

As you can see with the Hawks, the season started with a bang in week 1 and a loss in week 2. The beginning of the season was a hard one. Sure there were victories but they were close which the RSVRSO doesn’t reward greatly. But then there was Thanksgiving when our Seahawks beat the Santa Clara 49ers in Santa Clara 19-3. The Hawks haven’t looked back since.

Here is a look at the difference between the Hawks and the Packers (the value between the lines):

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 17.33.30

The Packers had the upper hand in strength between weeks 5 and 18 with the peak coming in week 11 (Hawks lost to the Chiefs 24-20 and the Pack beat the Eagles 53-20), but ever since then, the Hawks RSVRSO has been on a tear. Hawks now have the lead by 1657 points (not the 6517 points that was the result of week 1).

Now here is the most tantalizing graph:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 17.33.00

The Hawks’ season can be best fit with an exponential curve. The Packers’ season is best fit with a logarithmic curve. Exponential curves start slow in the beginning but gain steam further along the x axis (later in the season.) Logarithmic curves peak early but plateau further along the x axis. While these teams may be close in final RSVRSO, the charts of their seasons are drastically different. One spells a trip to the Super Bowl. The other spells the fate of most visiting teams in the Clink.

Seahawks 34. Packers 20.

UPDATE: This article has been fixed since publication. Apologies for the graphical errors.

Sunday Video: Breaking The Loud Barrier


For all those Seahawks fans out there, best of luck at the NFC Championship!

What We’re Reading: Chill On The Newbie Hate

Capitol Hill Block Party by David Lichterman on Flickr.

Keep ’em out: An article in defense of newcomers to Seattle ($); they have a lot to offer, so chill it!

Battery powered: Your future train just might be battery powered, and here’s how.

New transit app: A rundown on the pros and cons of the Puget Sound’s newest transit app; Martin over at the STB isn’t so keen on it. We’re still fans of Transit App.

Better maps: We do great at making maps for people who can see, but what about for those who can’t? The solution is braille maps.

Westlake Cycletrack: The latest details on the Westlake Cycletrack are out; the designs are actually very good.

Swedish expansion: Neighbors of Squire Park near Swedish Hospital are livid about the latest proposal from the hospital and their contract company, a debrief on the latest meeting.

Weekly Bertha: Crosscut has the latest on the struggle and drama over Bertha. It’s pretty clear that cost overruns are not the responsibility of the State, but the City of Seattle. Seattle wasn’t warned about the likelihood of “catastrophic failure” by the State. And, the City Council does not trust WSDOT.

Safe routes: Washington Bikes provides an outlook on funding for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and Safe Routes to School Program, only 20% of the $100+ million grant requests will be funded over the next two years.

New Greenway: Construct of the Central Area Greenway will get underway this month.

Boston Olympics: If Boston is successful for the Summer Olympics, this could be what the new Olympic grounds could look like.

Charlie and the Chocolate Skyscraper: The future elevator just might let you go left and right in addition to up and down; skyscrapers could change radically.

Bus pup: Seattle’s special bus rider is world famous now.

No respect: Some drivers still aren’t respecting the space of bicyclists.

Radical gamesmanship: Senate Republicans create an unconstitutional rule for the chamber by increasing the number of votes needed to pass tax increases. The party also released a very regressive plan for state programs and education.

Productive farming: This indoor farm is 100 times more efficient than your standard farm.

Reducing poverty: Mayor Ed Murray creates a more permanent plan for more homeless encampments and beds at shelters.

22nd and Madison: A new development is on the way for the intersection of 22nd Ave and Madison St.

Populist: Governor Jay Inslee delivered his State of the State Address, which was very populist in nature.

Tenant protection: Senator David Frockt introduced his legislation for greater tenant protections.

Modern newspaper: France’s Le Monde is slated to get some swanky new digs.

The only theory: One economic theory to explain all of the things.

History teaches: What the collapse of ancient capitals can teach us about cities today.

Regressive taxation: Guess which state has the most regressive taxes!? We do!

Different wages: There might be a good case for cities having different minimum wages from their state.

Vision Zero: One question can win the effort to create zero deaths on our streets. We know the rules of the road aren’t enough to save people’s lives.

Protected bike lanes: They work in the suburbs of the Netherlands, there’s no reason they can’t in the US.

Big myth: The story of gentrification is sort of a myth.

Decline of driving: It started a lot earlier than you probably think.

Taco Time Apartments: A review of the mixed use project on E Madison St from CHS.

New Closure and Detour Coming to the Burke-Gilman Trail

City Light BGT Detour
Detour in effect beginning Saturday along the BGT, courtesy of Seattle City Light.

The construction along the Burke-Gilman Trail (BGT) seems almost never ending, and it’s about to get a bit more painful for regular users. Since summertime, Seattle City Light has been working segment-by-segment to do utility work in the trail right-of-way. The BGT was recently closed between Adams Lane NE and 7th Avenue NE. The next stage of construction moves the closure further westward between the University Bridge and I-5. The new closure and detours go in effect on January 17 (Saturday) and should last until mid-February. The good news is that this is the very last phase of construction by Seattle City Light along the BGT. Other work elsewhere on the BGT will continue by the University of Washington and Sound Transit.

The UW is keeping the public up to date with a handy Google Map (see below) for all of the closures and detours.

Seattle City Light has the full details of the project:

Seattle City Light is continuing its electrical reliability and capacity upgrade of the system feeding the University of Washington (UW). The project has required intermittent detours of the Burke-Gilman Trail while underground conduit is installed between City Light’s substation near I-5 and the UW’s substation near 15th Ave NE.

This last phase of conduit installation will require detour of the trail between Latona Avenue NE in Wallingford and Adams Lane near the University Bridge. See Burke-Gilman detour map. The work has a planned start date of this Saturday, January 17 and will last until approximately mid-February, 2015.

Pedestrians will be detoured onto sidewalks while cyclists will be detoured onto pre-existing designated bike lanes and lanes to be set apart in current traffic lanes. In the latter case, cones bolted to the asphalt will separate cyclists from traffic. For roadway adjustments to protect bicyclists, see Burke-Gilman Trail detour insets on map . Signage will direct cyclists and pedestrians at waypoints along the detour route. See Burke-Gilman Trail detour signage example. 

Westbound motorists on NE 40th Street will not be permitted to turn left onto NE Pacific Street at 5th Avenue NE to accommodate the new temporary lanes for cyclists. Traffic will be detoured there and can rejoin westbound NE Pacific Street at Latona Avenue NE.

Tweet of the Week: Streets for People


This week’s tweet is a reminder that language matters. Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, writes:

What does it mean for a street to be open or closed? A typical arterial in a North American City might be 120 feet wide from building to building, if not wider. Aside from two 10-foot sidewalks and the occasional crosswalk, most of that width is unavailable for pedestrian use. Anyone who tried to walk in that space would either be arrested or hospitalized.

The past 70-odd years have seen the steady erosion of pedestrian space, and the expansion of space reserved for cars. And this expansion has affected how we speak and write. At least in the US, car travel is linguistically unmarked. “Directions” means driving directions. “A map” means a road map, and probably one where limited-access are emphasized as fast travel corridors rather than impermeable barriers. “Traffic” means congestion on roadways used by motor vehicles. “Closed” means that cars aren’t allowed (like when San Francisco proposed to improve pedestrian access and safety on a crooked part of Lombard Street by restricting car access).

You can ask for walking directions, or a transit map; you can complain about bicycle traffic on the Burke-Gilman trail, or about how pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross SR-520. But without the qualifiers — without the words “walking”, or “transit”, or “bicycle”, or “pedestrians” — everyone will assume you’re talking about cars.

The way our cities are built will not change overnight. But we can change the way we talk about them. The next time your city proposes to create or expand a pedestrian zone, follow Brent Toderian’s example, and call it what it is: a street opening.