By Jack Stubbs
In February 2017, the Seattle City Council approved the up-zoning changes for the University District as part of the city’s attempts to encouraging developers to provide more affordable housing—and a new recently-approved project underway is set to become the first high-rise in the neighborhood under the new zoning.
This evening, on Monday, April 9th, a 227-unit development slated for the evolving U-District was approved at a Design Review Recommendation (DRR) meeting. At the meeting, the project applicant NBBJ Architects presented updated project plans to the northeast review board. The project is being developed by California-based student housing developer Eran Fields. The project was last reviewed by the board at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held on October 2nd, 2017.
Located at 4700 Brooklyn Ave NE., the proposed development, named “The M,” calls for the construction of a 24-story apartment building that will include a variety of unit types ranging from studios to five-bedroom units. The development will also include 5,575 square feet of retail/commercial space, 32 below-grade parking stalls, 63 bike stalls and an adjacent pocket park. There is currently a vacant Chevron gas station on the site that will be demolished as part of the proposed redevelopment.
One of the stated goals of the project is to contribute to the ongoing urbanization of the University District. The development is roughly one mile to the north of the existing University of Washington Light Rail Station on Mountlake Boulevard and less than half a mile from the University’s central campus. Additionally, the project is one block from the under-construction U-District Light Rail station on Brooklyn Avenue: the station is scheduled for completion in 2019 and service is due to begin in 2021.
The project is one of the first high-rise towers to be developed in nearly 40 years in the U-District, and the applicant team envisions that the project will set a standard for “well-designed and elegant” residential towers in the neighborhood, according to the submitted project plans. The hope is that the project can be a catalyst for future development and revitalize the evolving U-District.
Kicking off the applicant team’s presentation, NBBJ articulated the changes that the applicant team had made to the project plans since the last EDG meeting. The team worked on integrating the proposed pocket park into the project and emphasized the retail space along Brooklyn Avenue. Additionally, the applicant worked on improving the transition between the building and the adjacent streetscape by adding various amenities and landscaping elements. Additionally, the applicant emphasized the importance of the pocket park to the project team’s design plans and reiterated its goal of reaching out to neighborhood art organizations from the U-District.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the applicant team planned to program the development, especially in relation to the proposed pocket park. Board member Brian Bishop asked the applicant whether the applicant had considered adding any way-finding elements along the street. Board member Anita Jeerage questioned whether the team had successfully mitigated safety and security concerns with the pocket park since the last EDG meeting. Board member Dan Rusler echoed this point, and emphasized his concern that the applicant team had not adequately integrated the pocket park with the rest of the development, specifically highlighting that further steps would need to be taken to prevent potential safety concerns in the adjacent open space.
There were several public comments expressed by community members in attendance at the meeting, most of whom emphasized their support for the applicant team’s current proposal. Mark Crawford, interim executive director of the U-District Partnership, voiced his approval of the project—and the adjacent pocket park—especially in light of the extensive community outreach that the developer had conducted throughout the planning process.
Rick Mohler, a faculty member of the University of Washington’s Department of Architecture, also articulated his enthusiastic support of the project, particularly in terms of how it addressed the significant need for affordable housing in the U-District. The final comment was voiced by a student at the University of Washington, who emphasized his approval of the massing, design and scale of the development. He also voiced his firm approval of a project that would provide a much-needed variety of unit types in the evolving neighborhood. The final comment highlighted potential concerns about traffic and parking around the building.
During its deliberation period, the board recommended that the applicant team work on adding landscaping and way-finding elements along the street to further integrate the pocket park with the residential tower. The board also agreed that the building’s exterior facade and massing was a good fit for the character of the transitioning U-District and emphasized its approval for a project that would provide much-needed housing options in the neighborhood.