Eight years have passed since Seattle City Light declared its ex-substation at 16th/Holden to be surplus, along with several others in West Seattle, and proposed putting it up for sale. The site’s underlying zoning was for single-family housing, but community members counterproposed that commercial development might be better. It was rezoned for mixed use a few years later – as described during a Highland Park tour with then-Mayor Ed Murray in 2017 – but has continued to sit idle.
Now there are some possibilities in play, and HPAC heard about them at tonight’s meeting. City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who shepherded the rezoning years ago, first explained that City Light still owns the site and remains amenable to a no-cost transfer of the site to the city Office of Housing. So OH and Enterprise Community Partners have been evaluating the feasibility “to explore further what’s possible at the site.” She said they’re opening a dialogue to “get moving on a path forward.”
Enterprise Community Partners’ Jess Blanch explained her organization is national and works on affordable housing from policy to finance to development. “We cover it from end to end.” She directs the program Home and Hope – housing on publicly owned tax-exempt land, like this site. She says “a few issues are in play” – it’s zoned NC-40.”Given the site size [10,000 sf], it is really too small of a site for affordable rental housing, the way (that) is financed.” But affordable homeownership might be a possibility. It would have to be 100 percent “public benefit” for the land to be given for this purpose – that means low-income community members – making no more than 80 percent of the area mean income – would have to be served in its commercial space, such as a food bank or preschool. It could also be live-work space.
Erika Malone from the Office of Housing explained her department doesn’t develop, own, or manage projects so if the property is transferred to them, they would then put out a Request for Proposals. The site would have to be developed as “permanently affordable housing.”
Herbold said that “if there’s interest in a ground-level use that provides a public benefit, it makes it more possible to develop the property for affordable housing.” They wouldn’t be able to do a low- or no-cost transfer if it was going to be ground-floor retail and housing above it – they’d probably have to sell it to a for-profit developer.
HPAC co-chair Kay Kirkpatrick said having commercial space there would be a public benefit in its own way because Highland Park needs more walkable businesses; the guests said that wouldn’t meet the technical definition of public benefit. Kirkpatrick and attendees pointed out that an adjacent property is currently up for sale. But that site (about 5,000 sf) wouldn’t add enough land to make affordable rental housing “pencil out,” said Blanch.
Some brainstorming ensued; community ideas about ways to have a business that served low-income residents included a FareStart-type café, serving the public and training people emerging from homelessness.
So what’s the next step? Herbold said they want to know if HPAC would be OK with a potentially non-commercial ground-floor use. Then the Office of Housing would explore seeking a nonprofit homeownership organization – Community Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity, for example. “There are still a lot of iunknowns regarding what’s possible,” Malone said. Then discussions between oH and SCL would ensue; if they worked out how it could be transferred, Permanently affordable homeownership vs. development that would include bjusinesses – which would mean a for-profit developer.
Enterprise has worked up some concepts, Herbold said. Blanch said she didn’t want to share those publicly but said the site could hold 8 to 10 townhouses, for example. Since the site is adjacent to single-family homes, that puts “some constraints’ on the “developable envelope.” Or, “condo apartments” would be an option.
What kind of a timeline are they working on? Kirkpatrick asked. Enterprise has a contract with the city that’s being renewed at least through next year, Blanch said. So a decision on a direction can apparently wait until early next year (this was HPAC’s last scheduled meeting until January).
(We’ll report on the rest of tonight’s HPAC meeting – two discussions with SDOT – in a separate story Thursday.)
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