By Meghan Hall
Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood serves as both an anchor and epicenter for surrounding development, with major projects springing up around the Northgate Mall, which in the coming years will see its own transformation. How new projects connect and build off of one another is a primary concern for city officials, architects and developers as Northgate continues to urbanize, producing more pedestrian traffic and residents seeking a walkable, live, work, play lifestyle. For Mill Creek Residential and Ankrom Moisan Architects, this is the theme that dominated their first Early Design Guidance meeting on Monday evening, one that prompted the review board to ask the development team’s 400-unit residential project back for further review.
The project, located at 10661 8th Ave. NE., has been dubbed Modera Northgate. The project site was formerly home to Kindred Hospital Seattle-Northgate, a 30-bed transitional-care facility that closed at the end of 2019 in order to consolidate with Kindred Hospital Seattle-First Hill. Kindred’s First Hill facility has 50 beds at 1334 Terry Ave. Now, developer Mill Creek Residential is planning a five-story, 400-unit residential project on the site. Plans also include about 240 residential parking stalls.
In speaking about the project, Ankrom Moisan Principal Don Sowieja emphasized that the development will be guided by four goals: respect the site, meet planning goals related to recent HALA upzoning, enhance the streetscape and complement the surrounding neighborhood.
“This proposal seeks to balance the housing goals of the community with the current and developing neighborhood character on 8th Ave. NE and the physical characteristics of the site,” states the project team in design documents.
While the project team presented three project options, of which the third was highlighted as the “preferred” scheme, the design review board gravitated toward and supported the development team’s first design option, a simple mass composition in an S-shape that would help to maximize not just outdoor space but create three visible facades with a variety of form and expression.
The development is at an advantageous spot in the neighborhood, located just across 5th Ave. NE from the Northgate Mall, whose redevelopment is also working its way through the entitlement and design review processes. The Prism, a 138-unit complex completed in 2019, and the Enclave, a 265-unit development finished in 2014, are also located nearby, as are numerous parks and the Northgate Community Center. The Regal Thorton Place Screenx and Imax as well as the future Northgate Transit Center are also neighborhood hubs. And, while all of these properties highlight the neighborhood’s densification, much of Northgate is still composed of single-family housing, an aspect that both Ankrom Moisan, the community and the design review board emphasized was important not to overlook.
“I just wanted to express support for the project, but also raise a couple of things for your consideration,” stated Aaron Laing, a local land use attorney with Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt on behalf of the owners of Prism, Enclave and other projects developed by his clients. “There’s kind of a consistent theme, really over the past couple of decades in this portion of the Northgate Urban Center, which is focusing on pedestrian connectivity East and West and North and South because you have superblocks there.”
Laing continued, emphasizing the importance of the North-South pedestrian connectivity through the site with the hope that fire access around the building would be sufficient. East-West circulation will also be critical, added Laing, due to the development’s proximity to Northgate Mall and other community amenities.
The board largely agreed with Laing’s remarks and noted in its own deliberations that the perspective of the project was missing as it pertained to the greater neighborhood context. The board asked numerous questions about the architectural patterns and flow of the neighborhood, and how those fundamental characteristics would relate to the new development. Despite these questions, the board felt that the development team needed to better evaluate Northgate’s superblocks and architecture and prompted Mill Creek and Ankrom Moisan to incorporate those aspects more into the discussion surrounding the project. The board also asked that more thought also be given to the project’s open space — how it is oriented, its quantities and its layout.
With these considerations in mind, the board asked the project team to return for additional early design review. None of the board members supported the preferred design, and only one supported the design if the development team chose the first option. It was clear the project needed additional refinement before it would be considered again, and even with some confusing push-back from the city’s planner, the board reiterated its stance that further evolution of the design will be necessary.