By Meghan Hall
As the Puget Sound has grown into a global hub, some of its suburbs are beginning to see the impacts of development. In Sumner, a small town of 10,000 people to the east of Tacoma, denser residential development has just begun. In 2019, developer Tarragon and Tiscareno Associates completed work on The Main Apartment + Lofts, a 108-unit apartment project in the core of downtown. The development is the first residential project on Main Street in 20 years and posed a unique challenge to the development team: how to incorporate modern design practices and density into an existing small town.
“We have a tendency to buy things and look long term and make something happen with them,” said Tarragon’s President Dennis Rattie. “…We have been working in Sumner for almost three decades, so we know the city very well, and for a long time we have been trying to figure out how to get housing there.”
Tarragon originally acquired the property back in the early 2000s, when it was operating as a grocery store. Because of the property’s location, city design guidelines and zoning specifications originally stipulated that the project include ground floor commercial space with a single level of residential above.
“It took working with the city on a vision of what we could create there that really was the stimulus…to show what it could look like,” explained Rattie. “Hopefully this is an impetus for additional housing development to occur on the Eastside of town.”
That vision was a residential development built to commercial standards—meaning that in the future as downtown Sumner expands, the ground floor could accommodate not just residential, but retail uses.
“It was a unique opportunity because a project of this nature hadn’t been done in decades in downtown Sumner, and it was an opportunity to think out of the box in terms of the program that paragon provided us,” added Tiscareno Associates founder, Bob Tiscareno.
Tiscareno continued, stating, “The city had some well-established design guidelines but not a lot of development occurred in them…In other words, they had already envisioned there would be urban development [and we worked] to help them understand how standards apply to real design proposals.”
The project is composed of several small-scale buildings as opposed to many other multifamily projects, which instead feature a single structure anchored over a podium. Instead, the Main Apartments + Lofts are broken up into seven buildings, ranging between two- to -three stories in height. The buildings are arranged around an internal “Woonerf,” a street or open space that is shared by both pedestrians and cars. A corner plaza connects to the various alley expressions of the buildings, adding to the development’s pedestrian nature and expanding upon downtown Sumner’s original, walkable feel.
“It is very intimate in scale,” said Tiscareno. “There are these defined urban spaces that create community, and I think that’s one thing that was lacking; these types of spaces would be new to the neighborhood.”
To further break down the scale of the building and to make it more accessible, there are varied height expressions on the facades, including boxes around the windows and brick on the street-level apartments, all of which help to connect to downtown Sumner. Other materials, such as horizontal siding and panels, canopies along Main Street and slanted rooflines also enhance the small town, retail-oriented feel of the street.
“One of the things we always try to do is raise the bar in terms of what the offering is,” said Rattie. “It is higher quality finishes, higher quality and better amenities and being kind of thoughtful of who the user is…Recognizing the requirement to be directly on Main, and recognizing the requirement to construct to commercial standards, we took our normal spec and we raised it.”
Units within the complex are either one- or two-bedrooms and can range in size from 673 square feet to just over 1,000 square feet of space. Units feature lofted ceilings, stainless steel appliances, finished patios and other high-end finishes. Community amenities include a fitness room, resident lounge, private garden beds, a fire pit with views of Mt. Rainier, and more.
The project was well received by the community and is currently 97 percent leased and has held its occupancy even throughout the current pandemic—a positive sign to Tarragon that the product type works well within the neighborhood and will remain resilient.
“Where we are today, everybody appreciates or dislikes their living space because they’ve had to spend so much time in it,” said Rattie. “…I think from our standpoint, we’re a portfolio developer, so everything we develop is for a long-term hold, long-term value.”