By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
An “incubator” hub for small businesses.
Affordable housing – including apartments for growing families and seniors.
Community gathering spaces, indoors and outdoors.
And yes, parking (underground).
Those are some of the possibilities in concepts for redevelopment of the West Seattle Junction Association-managed parking lots, as discussed at an online community meeting tonight.
The meeting was hosted by West Seattle Junction Association executive director Lora Radford, and featured guests from Community Roots Housing, which has made an as-yet-unaccepted $14 million offer to buy the lots, and Ankrom Moisan, the architecture firm CRH commissioned to rough out possibilities. The lots are at 42nd/Oregon, 44th/Oregon, 44th/Alaska, and 44th between Edmunds and Alaska.
Here’s how the meeting unfolded:
HISTORY: Radford said the parking lots’ history goes back to the 1950s, when the area’s status as a hub was recognized and three lots were created. When a fire station was relocated years later, that became the fourth lot. Businesses were informally asked to contribute for operation and maintenance costs. Then in 1987, the Business Improvement Area was formally created, one of now 10 in the city, second oldest, all created for different reasons – in this case, “to pay for the parking lots.” Other activities, from the summertime Sidewalk Sale to Summer Fest to flower baskets, followed, to create “a great, beautiful, vibrant downtown” for West Seattle. Then came 2016, when the King County Assessor’s Office noticed the “highest and best use” per zoning was for development, and the property tax bill (paid by WSJA as part of its lease terms) started increasing steadily and exponentially. Regarding the lots’ former status as free, Radford reminded attendees that “it was never free” – the merchants covered the cost. As we reported along the way, over the course of a few years, they worked out the plan to charge for use of the lots, and implemented it early this year. “Because they’re in the middle of an urban village, we really started to look at whether what as good in the 1950s … did it really make sense for these lots to sit here undeveloped? … We decided, what would it look like if there was the ability to build on these lots … (something) that would serve the community for many generations.” The discussion with Community Roots Housing ensued. The city Office of Housing was “intrigued about the ability to put affordable housing in the Urban Village of the West Seattle Junction.” An appraisal ensued; an offer was made to the lots’ owner, Trusteed Properties (which was not part of tonight’s meeting). And then CRH engaged Ankrom Moisan to come up with a vision for what might be possible; Community Roots Housing funded the renderings they presented.
COMMUNITY ROOTS HOUSING: Jeremy Wilkening began with an introduction to his organization, a public development authority, city-chartered, that’s been around for 40 years (formerly known as Capitol Hill Housing). CRH partners with organizations around the city. One attendee asked what “affordable housing’ for this project would mean: “We use a low-income tax credit which limits to 60 percent of the area’s average mean income – roughly $60,000 for a family of four. … We consider that ‘workforce housing,’ people who cannot afford to live in our city’s neighborhoods any more.” An attendee asked what mix of 1-, 2-, 3-bedroom apartments they were considering. Too early to say, Wilkening replied. “We have some ideas but we want to hear what the neighborhood would like to see.” He added that the city’s Housing Levy – a major source of funding – “does favor smaller units,” though they’ve been trying to evolve to larger ones. City funding can’t be used to fund public parking, he added in response to another question, but they’re “very concerned” about figuring out how to fund “true public parking” – for business customers – in the projects. “We don’t have an answer for that, but we want to solve that with the community, because we understand that’s an important part of this.” Radford mentioned a 2018 survey that showed 29 percent of Junction shoppers/diners drove alone to get there. (In the chat box, one merchant, Bruce Davis from Junction True Value, said that didn’t apply to his business, which he estimated has 90 percent driver patronage.) She also said that while you see lower use of the lots since they converted to paid, the most important question is whether merchants are seeing lower sales. She surveys them frequently and learned, “The answer is no.”
Akeyla Jimerson of CRH showed a few of their projects – the Liberty Bank Building, (corrected) 115 units in the Central District on what was the site of the “first Black-owned bank in the Pacific Northwest,” also including three commercial spaces with Black-owned businesses as their tenants, Station House, 110 units on Sound Transit land in Capitol Hill, opened in March of last year, and includes a community room that’s open to the public. The White Center HUB (rendering above) – not yet built – is a project planned for the county-owned site that currently holds the White Center Food Bank; 80 apartments and spaces for local nonprofits are planned.
ANKROM MOISAN: Jason Roberts from the architecture firm stressed, “Nothing here is very fixed at all” – it’s one idea of what could be done with the sites. First he noted the zoning for the sites – #1 at 42nd/Oregon could go up to 95′, the other three could go up to 75′. (Their ideas do NOT go to maximum allowable height.) All have alley connections, he also noted. Power lines running along the alley mean there’d need to be a setback. And new development on these sites is not required to have any parking. He said they’re “interested in creating some outdoor spaces adjacent to the sidewalk.” “We imagine people being able to walk around these buildings and take a little break.” They also would create mid-block connections (which The Junction already has, particularly between Edmunds and Alaska). Other components could include an “incubator space” at Site 2, maybe an open kitchen for food businesses, and residential community features such as rooftop terraces and community rooms.
Here’s the overall site plan:
With Site 1 the largest site, they’d have more family housing – 2- and 3- bedrooms – plus commercial space, a roof deck, and it wolf be “efficient” to create some underground parking – maybe even 2 levels. A play area for the youngest residents is envisioned, too.
Site 2 could have community meeting spaces, a roof deck, a mix of apartment sizes, also some parking is possible there. The “incubator” space to nurture small businesses (restaurants, retail, with a much lower lease” and services to assist in the businesses’ success) could be here.
Roberts also had an early “concept” rendering for Site 2 – looking at its potential west side along 44th south of Oregon – showing the “incubator” space wrapping around the courtyard. The north part of the building could be smaller, toward the scale of the Oregonian apaqrtments to the north. “We really want to work with the scale” of existing buildings, he said.
Site 3, retail space fronting the bus plaza, affordable senior apartments, a common area, some public outdoor space – a smaller site so underground parking is less likely,
Same with Site 4 – parking is less likely. It would set back to preserve existing trees. Some units would be on the ground floor.
Height would be limited for affordable construction – concrete at ground level, topped by wood. They would not be building as tall as zoning allows, because of that. Eight stories would be the tallest.
Wilkening stressed again that “these are concepts,” not always created at this early stage in a potential development process, but “this process is a little unique” because they have to engage with the property owner and so had to get a little more concrete about the concepts … starting with “our ideas” but ready to hear “your ideas.”
COMMUNITY COMMENTS/QUESTIONS: These were addressed as the meeting went along but then when a dedicated Q&A/comment. period began, they included:
-Spread out the parking instead of just concentrating it in one building
-Have you considered the impact of future light rail? (Answer: Yes)
-Would these be MFTE (Multi-Family Tax Exemption program, which restricts rents) units? No, the rents they would charge would be lower than MFTE rents, and would last longer (MFTE currently expires after 12 years, and these would be affordable “for at least 70 years”)
-What’s the timeline for this potential construction? They don’t know which would be first, but they wouldn’t expect to start building until 2024, so the sites would remain parking lots “up until we’re ready to develop them”
-With increasing foot traffic, will there be more crosswalks? They would certainly meet with SDOT to assess the streetscape.
-How would this affect surrounding properties’ values, if affordable housing was developed on these sites? Studies show no impact, Wilkening said.
-Could the alleys be pedestrian streets? One challenge would be ensuring that didn’t impede services for the businesses.
In response to a specific request for comments on “what would you like to see … think of it as your legacy”
-Affordable housing, green spaces, more trees, livability
-More covered outdoor options
-Need a hospital
WHAT’S NEXT: The site owners would have to accept CRH’s offer before any of this might move forward. WSJA says the owners (a consortium of shareholders) are expected to consider it at a meeting later this month. Meantime, CRH promises to create a “portal” for feedback in the near future. “If we’re able to move forward with this, we’re going to be sure we get it right,” promised Radford. “A place that you’d be proud to come to,” added CRH CEO Chris Persons.
VIDEO OF THE MEETING: Update – added Friday afternoon: