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Developer Gets Green Light to Move Ahead with U-District’s Southernmost High-Rise at Second EDG Meeting

University of Washington, U-District, Seattle, Lee & Associates, D/Arch LLC
Rendering Courtesy of d/Arch LLC

By Meghan Hall

The University District is growing: and it is growing up. Plans for new high-rises in the neighborhood, anchored by activity from the University of Washington are sprouting, with developers hoping to take advantage of not just the local student population, but increasing numbers of tech workers flocking to the area. On Monday, a project proposed by Seattle-based Lee & Associates and D/Arch LLC—which documents tout will be the district’s southernmost high-rise—received unanimous approval from the Northeast Design Review Board to move forward with proposed designs for the project. This was the development team’s second Early Design Guidance meeting, the first of which took place in October of 2019.

The project, which will be located at 4131 Brooklyn Ave NE., is expected to include between 220 and 240 units. The developments would be built on two parcels totaling 20,610 square feet. At its first Early Design Guidance meeting, the Board quickly recommended the project return for further review, with the City’s report stating that, “the collection of materials presented for Early Design Guidance provided insufficient contextual analysis, site planning options, and ideas for program organization.” The Board requested that the development team move forward with a simple and quiet massing option that would help to balance the building when compared with other, surrounding architecture.

The project team’s evolved plans draw more concretely on the neighborhood context and provide more detail on the design of the development. Project documents indicate that the podium of the project will draw inspiration from more established buildings in the neighborhood, presenting a distinctive scale with strong edges, consistent fenestration and masonry textures. The south podium will be designed to maintain the urban edge, and a recessed north building edge will provide a connection to adjacent open space and provide relief from the strong edge streetscape.

The tower of the building will be comprised of multiple scales and varying heights, connected through transitional building scales that step up gradually. The tower will have a strong relationship to the podium, which will ground the development.

Overall, the Board noted a marked improvement in design from the previous EDG but still had several clarifying questions. Many of these returned to the initial site context and the grade of the site, which, according to Board members, prompted them to question the height of adjacent projects in relation to the development planned at 4131 Brooklyn Ave. NE. 

The Board suggested a more significant amount of open space to the south to support more through-block connectivity in the neighborhood. The Board also stated the north open space should be tied more closely to the common lobby amenity spaces or potential retail space. The Board also recommended that the building’s façade base and upper secondary mass on the scheme should talk to each other and become more closely related, as opposed to appearing like two different facades.

One departure, that would decrease the required 75 feet of separation between high-rises, was granted by the Board. At the end of the meeting, the city voted to move the project forward.

Development has been popping up all across the University District. Recently delivered projects include The Parsonage, an 84-unit development, DXU Apartments, which will total 98-units, the August Apartments on Roosevelt Way NE, which will total 214 units and the Hub U District Apartments, which will have 111 residences. All of the developments listed will rise seven stories in height. The neighborhood west of the UW campus is also home to several notable buildings, including UW Tower, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and College Inn. Several large-scale projects are also in the works, including 227-unit residential tower at 4126 12th Ave., and a 446-unit development that will rise 24 stories just north of the project, at 4220 12th Ave. NE.

The housing boom in Seattle isn’t expected to slow anytime soon, according to a 2020 outlook report by Institutional Property Advisors. The region created 65,000 new jobs during 2019, and the local economy is expected to remain robust over the next several years thanks to competing tech firms. By the end of 2019, some 18,000 residential units were under construction throughout the region, with additional units in the entitlements pipeline.  Class A rents hit $2,181 per month and rents across all class types are anticipated to rise at a rate of about six percent over the next decade.