By Jack Stubbs
A proposed project in the heart of Seattle’s Central District, which is being jointly developed by a developer and two non-profits, was recently given the green light to proceed to the next stage of the city’s design review process.
On Wednesday, January 24th, a 7-story 429-unit development in Seattle’s Central District was unanimously approved after the developer of the project, Lake Union Partners, presented preliminary project plans to the review board. Lake Union Partners is co-developing the project with Africatown Community Land Trust—an organization that acquires and develops land assets to support the cultural and economic growth of the African diaspora community in the Central District—and Capitol Hill Housing. The project team also includes architect Weinstein A+U and landscape architect Berger Partnership.
As part of the redevelopment agreement, Lake Union Partners purchased the entire block—the Midtown Center Block—and is working with Africatown to jointly develop the Southern portion of the development site, according to the Memorandum of Understanding. Lake Union Partners sold the southern portion of the site, 20 percent of the block, to non-profit land conservancy group Forterra, who is developing the parcel on behalf of Africatown. In accordance with Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), 10 percent of the units in the development will be affordable units, according to the Memorandum of Understanding.
The mixed-use mixed-income development, located at 2301 E.Union St., calls for the construction of a 7-story apartment building containing 429 units and resident lobbies and amenity spaces. The full-block development has been broken down into four separate sections through the incorporation of “gateway” elements that provide access to a 16,000 square foot public courtyard within the development. The project will also include a 12,000 square foot drug store along Union St., an additional 26,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and 258 underground parking stalls.
Kicking off the presentation, Patrick Foley, principal at Lake Union Partners, emphasized how the developer had conducted extensive community outreach about the project’s design with individuals and neighborhood organizations including Africatown, Capitol Hill Housing and the King County NAACP during the planing process.
The goal of the project is to provide a mixed-income development that celebrates the racial, economical and multi-generational character of the Central District, according to the project plans. The applicant team emphasized the open space features of the development, highlighting that the plans were focused on activating the streetscape with landscaping elements and community artwork. Additionally, the applicant team emphasized its desire to create a development fully integrated with the cultural context of the Central District and activate the streetscape through retail and various community uses.
The board’s public comments focused on how the proposed development would conform with the character of the Central District. Board member Andrew Haas asked the applicant team how it planned to emphasize a true sense of place with the development that was fully integrated with the surrounding community. Board member Barbara Busetti asked the applicant team to clarify how it planned to successfully break down the massing of the development. Echoing this point, board member Melissa Alexander asked for further information about how the applicant team would program the interior courtyard and street-level commercial and retail space within the development, expressing concern that the applicant’s development layout might not fully activate the adjacent streetscape along Union St.
The public comment period of the meeting was extensive. While most of the audience members expressed their general support for the project—in particular the inclusion of the affordable units— nearly all of comments concerned how the development would preserve the important historical context of the Central District and how Lake Union Partners would work in conjunction with Africatown Community Land Trust moving forward. Another member of Africatown expressed the importance of establishing a “historical sense of place and future destination” with the development, while several other audience members expressed the importance of activating street-life activity with the development. Another audience member, an architect for Africatown and resident of the Central District, expressed her approval of the project and also emphasized the importance of continued community outreach throughout the planning process.
Several other audience members, all residents of the Central District, voiced their hope that the development would help small local business owners find locations that are economically viable and thrive in the community. Other design comments centered around the need for the project team to further refine the design of the proposed central courtyard area and work on improving accessibility and circulation throughout the site.
Much of the board’s discussion during its deliberation echoed comments made by the public, with all of the board members emphasizing the importance of the development’s location and preserving the historical character of the Central District. The board unanimously voted to advance the project, also highlighting several design elements that the project team would need to refine moving forward.
The board suggested that the project team work on enhancing the exterior facades of the development, also recommending that the team work on exploring the proposed public versus private uses for the central courtyard. Additionally, the board discussed the centrality the retail and commercial space in the development, emphasizing the need for the development to successfully activate the streetscape. Moving forward, the project team will also need to work on accessibility to the development—the central courtyard area in particular—to ensure that the development is integrated into the surrounding neighborhood character.