Jul 17, 2007

East Union Project: YOUR thoughts, please

Dan Bertolet wants some online discussions of the 23rd & Union redeveloment issues. Below is his letter; here's a link to the Design Review Board report and here's my previous post about the proposal (with links to older info).

Please click HERE (or on the word COMMENTS at the end of this post) to share your thoughts. You may be anonymous if you wish: your comments will be immediately available to all (click on the blog post title, or on the word COMMENTS at the end to read them).

Here's what Dan wants us to do:

I live about two blocks from 23rd and Union and have been following the proposed development closely. I've been thinking that it would be helpful to have a forum to discuss the pros and cons, and that your blog would might be a good place to do it. Would you consider making a post asking for feedback?

Personally, I am in favor of the development as proposed. I take Meuller at his word that if he can't do 65 feet that he'll bail on the project, and I think that would be a major loss for the neighborhood. I work in the architecture field and know that Mithun is one of the best design firms in the City, and they are especially advanced in green building. Mueller is a neighbor and a relatively conscientious developer, and seems to have some integrity about doing a good project. I think we are quite lucky to have this team for 23rd and Union. If Mueller bails, there's every chance we could end up with schlock.

Anyway, I would be interested to hear more about why people are opposed to 6-stories. Maybe we could all learn something if we could get a lively discussion happening on your blog.

2315 E Marion


Anonymous said...

Hi, my wife and I just moved to the neighborhood last summer. We are excited about a new development coming in like the one we saw presented at the Central Cinema. We don't have a problem with the size but are somewhat concerned about the potential increase in cars parked on the streets. Otherwise, we were impressed with Jim's integrity and appreciated his openness. We will be keeping a close watch on the project and are interested in hearing how others feel about it.


chs said...

I'm eager to see that site redeveloped. Six stories seems a little tall (potentially out of scale) for the area, but if it's well-designed (and Mithun has a good rep for that), it seems like it can still maintain a pedestrian-friendly street front. I'd certainly rather see a well-designed taller building than something like another "Mid-Town Commons." I'm all for green features too.

Nic Pottier said...

I live less than a block away and strongly support this development. Something like this will hopefully revitalize 23rd and Union which has remained stagnant despite the rejuvenation taking place elsewhere in the CD. Hopefully it will inspire another developer to do the same across the street and replace Midtown.

I don't have a problem with the height. We live in the city, and apart from the short section of 22nd, this area is somewhat set back from residential housing.

Remember that over and above just having a green builder, high occupancy buildings (IE, tall!) are far more environmentally responsible. They prevent sprawl elsewhere and concentrate utilities and shopping for in-city residents.

This will be a building I see every single day and I trust the builder here. I really hope it goes through.


Anonymous said...

I would like to press for a LEED silver minimum for the development with a LEED Platnium as the goal.
In addition I would like to know if there is any interest if anyone is interested in forming a "A Sustainable Central Area" Group/task force to set standards and goals for new development in our neighborhoods that embrace LEED and Low Impact Development design principals for new construction and renovations. The new LEED 3.0 has a neighborhood category that allows neighborhoods to aquire a LEED rating. With global warming as a stark reality we need to proactive as a community. I suggest we work independently from the existing political infrastructure.

Interested? email me Paul Byron Crane, Landscape Architect pbcrane@earthlink.net

bradleyd said...

I live a block away from 23rd and union. I feel that I missed the chance for public comment. Nevertheless, I'm quite happy with the proposals so far. My only two asks would be:

1) good sidewalk presence on the first floor, meaning lots of windows for businesses to observe and monitor the intersection. (I think this would go far to mitigate the drug dealings which have recently been reported in the area).

2) Economic diversity of inhabitants (both residential and commercial inhabitants): I'd like the building to contain a good mix of small, cheaper units and mid-large sized, more expensive units. I'd like room for small, independently owned business in addition to the larger, better established chain which will probably end up moving there.

I'm not sure if either of these were addressed in the design feedback meetings which were held earlier. If they were, all the better...

jo said...

If some part of it is allowed to be at six stories, the townhouses along 22nd avenue should remain designated at 40 feet, more in keeping with the single home designation along 22nd. The appearance would be more attractive and less overwhelming, along with somewhat mitigating the shadow affect there. I think this is important as it would also gaurantee some variation in height and imporve the design.

There is much of good to come from the development of this corner, but I would like to ensure a facade that is not boxy. This means good variation in the roof and wall lines. More detailing in design and materials would be enhance the project. More green is good.

Anonymous said...

I'm not willing to take Jim at his word when he says that he needs 65'. This is because I'm largely ignorant of financing matters and because I see so many other new retail/residential buildings that are below 65'. Why can these projects "pencil out" but not Jim's? Thanks.

dave said...

I am a big supporter of green development and would love to see a LEED-certified building at that location. And I'd love to see economic diversity in the tenants. And I agree that the town houses on 22nd should be 40' tall. Having said all that, I don't want to scare off the developer with lots of requirements from the neighborhood. That property needs to be developed, and this project is, in general, a good project. It's not a suburban-style Walgreen's with parking in front (e.g., 15th) and it's not a big blank-walled office building (e.g., Planned Parenthood on Madison). As for the "penciling out" question, I think the real issue is, do you want a 40' building with parking above grade (i.e., on the first floor) or do you want a 65' building with parking underground? I prefer the latter.

Dave said...

Here's a copy of the letter I sent Lisa Rutzick, the city planner assigned to this project.

I'm writing you to express my strong support for the proposed
development of a six story mixed-used building at 2203 East Union. The proposed six story design is consistent with the City of Seattle and King County's goals of encouraging dense urban villages within the city limits. As a neighborhood resident and density advocate, I strongly believe that this development will be a catalyst for redevelopment of the Union and 23rd corridor and will be key in
transforming this area into the urban village it should be.

Furthermore this developer has clearly express a true concern for the quality of life in our neighborhood. I'm particular encouraged by his preference for local retail business in the base level of the building, as well as the plan for a common space (ie. pub) that may be used by both building and neighborhood residents alike.

The fact that this development will require contract rezone to 65 feet, provides both the city and neighborhood residents the opportunity to ensure that this development will be a quality addition to our neighborhood. In particular, I would hope that the city would push for excellent bicycle accommodations to offset the potential negative traffic impacts of additional residents and businesses. Other considerations in granting this rezone should include provisions for open space, affordable housing, environmentally friendly building materials, and quality exterior design.

Anonymous said...

I live within a block of the site and I want to see the rezone take place, preferably with the largest height of 65' offered in your proposal. As I live in the closest proximity to the intersection at 23rd and East Union, I want to see as much density as possible on this block. This site will be the best opportunity to set the stage for taller height limits in the immediate vicinity of the 23rd and East Union intersection.

I also strongly disagree with Rumi Takahashi, one of the design review representatives, when she made a statement that this building is “big”. This lot is actually quite small. If you make too many restrictions, we will be stuck with a smaller structure that may not become a large enough milestone anchor for this block. I also disagree strongly with her request to put the garage on 22nd ave. There should be no more “studies.” I do not want to see cars constantly entering and leaving a garage close to my home.


Ellie Menzies said...

I am strongly opposed to the size of the proposed development at 23rd and Union. I think its the first step in our neighborhod being developed to look like the Belltown and Lower Queen Anne neighborhoods. This is a great plan for developers but very bad for those of us who want to retain the single family character of our neighborhood.
Ellie Menzies

Anonymous said...

I live near and take the bus by the site everyday. I also am a developer of smaller-scale projects like this one. Jim and Mithun presented that the lower option doesn't work financially, but they also said they were considering concrete, which is the most expensive type of construction. Then they used wood-frame for the taller version. No low-rise, semi-affordable concrete buildings are being built. Four story buildings are being built and do work in the City. They are using that line to substantiate a building that is not in character to the primarily single-family character of the surrounding neighborhood. I'm all for density, but this project and 65' is way out of scale for this location. Developers are drooling for well-situated sites like this. I know development will happen, but you only get one chance to make a really bad decision.

Dan Bertolet said...

Regarding the comments of anonymous above, yes, four-story mixed-use buildings can pencil in Seattle. Look no further than 15th and John to see one going up right now. And yes, developers can usually make more money off a bigger building. My take on it is that Mueller wants six stories because it's the only way he could afford to make it a high quality project. Four stories = less profit = more cost cutting = mediocre building or worse. As I see it, that site desperately needs a high-quality project to set the stage for more good things to come around that intersection. Check out the building on the north side of Union between 13th and 14th for a good example of a high-quality six story project.

(For what it's worth, Mueller was arguing that for a four story building, more expensive concrete construction would be required to get decent floor-to-floor heights in a 40-foot zone.)

Andrew Taylor said...

I consulted a real estate expert about the 40' vs. 65' question, and will post his detailed thoughts tonight.


Anonymous said...

As a follow-up, in talking to architects I work with including GGLO and Weinstein, provisions in the code allow for full 4 floors in the 40' zone (13-15 for first floor retail/commercial) and three floors of residential. The 65' allows two more levels of residential.

Not sure the developer "profits" will be put back into the project. Under that theory, change his zoning to 125' and get whopper of a project. Instead with a bigger project he has higher costs and equity (so higher ROI need) and greater risk (to be compensated).

Anonymous said...

How likely is the following scenario?

(1) A 65' building on the SW corner of 23rd & Union paves the way for 65 footers that replace the Philly, the church and the carwash (since 40s won't pencil and we need improvement etc.).

(2) The residences behind (due east of) those lots (currently zoned res/commerc) then sell and

(3) 40-65' structures are built, towering over the residences on the east (lower) side of 24th,

(4) which are then turned to townhomes and rentals.

MarkSJohnson said...

The comment above is well taken, but each step requires publc approval of zoning changes. We can decide if that is what we want.

The issue of the height of this building cannot be considered without considering the precedent. If this site goes to 65 feet, then the other three corners could rationally go that way as well. I walked around the site and the other three parcels surrounding the corner of 23rd and Union and I think that this could work and be good, inthe long run.

First, for those that fear that 65 foot tall buildings on Union spell the end of single family character, let me say that there are 65-foot zones in almost every neighborhood commercial center in the city. Almost all such districts benefit from the density and activity of mixed use buildings, because that density supports more services and goods available at the street level stores, and it puts more eyes on the street. The difference in character between mixed use buildings of 40 and 65 feet from a visual or aesthetic standpoint is not as great as say, the difference between a fast food place and 40 foot mixed use building.

Having said that, nobody wants a 65-foot tall building looming over thier house. I looked at all four corners and the closest place that a single family lot comes to any of the parcels on the corners of 23rd and Union is at the SW corner of the Mueller project. Theat lot is across the street, making the hose about 80 feet from the closest point on the proposed building. In between that lot and the Mueller project is a very large (about 35 -40 feet tall, I would guess) and healthy deciduous tree on the east side of the street that is to be retained with the project.

My assessment is that the building would be largely screened from view from that house, whether it is 40 or 65 feet in height. Dirung the ealry morning hours in the summer months, the sun rises from east-northeast. when the sun would be aligned to cast a shadow on this one house, it would be low enough that it would do so as a 40 fot building or 65 foot building. It would also be around 5 AM, a time that I enjoy but which most folks sleep through and wouldn't miss. In short, I don't think the height makes much difference at all in how much shadown impacts there would be on that house.

The traffic issue is another thing. Left turns will be difficult onto 23rd, and many folks already pointed out the problem that would occur if folks circle the block to 22nd to get back to southbound 23rd or head downtown on Union. I think that the project should pay for some traffic calming that would discurage or prohibit that turn at Marion onto 22nd.

All in all, I think it is a project that deserves support. The density will do the neighborhood businesses good, and as many have pointed out, having nothing there is not good. Thinking altruistically, the additional residential units that two extra floors provide helps to meet overall housing demand, which is what is driving prices through the roof everywhere in the region.

I think that a little strip retail building would be more likely to pop up as the alternative, since the pedestrian zone prohibits drive-throughs.

As for the other corners, none abuts a single family zone, and the same benefit of more density would apply. It could be good if done well. I would prefer a little less sleek and slick for the facade, with a little more emaphasis on warmth and human scale, but those are the details, and another discussion entirely.

jo said...

While I support much of the good to come from this project, I note that the proposal now posted at 23rd and Union for public comment does not incorporate the preferred design element that would not allow the change in height limits, zones along 22nd Avenue. The notes from the meeting clearly note the preference for 22nd Avenue zoning to continue to be in line with residential single family zoning. I am dissappointed that this was not incorporated.

jo said...

Comments on the Miller Community Council site are not official to the City
design process unless they are also sent to the city. Joanna
The comment period has been extended to the 19th of September.

Thank you!

Department of Planning & Development
Public Resource Center
700 Fifth Ave. Ste. 2000
P.O. Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019

(206) 684-8467 phone
(206) 233-7901 fax

Lisa Rutzick
Land Use Planner
Department of Planning & Development
T: 386-9049
F: 386-4039

Andrew Taylor said...

Thank you Andrew. Yes, I will print a copy of these comments for the project file.

Lisa Rutzick
Land Use Planner
Department of Planning & Development
T: 386-9049
F: 386-4039