Community Post

Homeowners Speak Out on 23rd & Union Project

I managed to make my way downtown.. on a workday.. at 1:30p.. for the two-hour meeting that allowed the public to testify before the city hearing examiner on the new building being eyed for 23rd Avenue and East Union. The main issue: The developer, Jim Mueller, wants to add another 25 feet to the height of the proposed apartment complex and retail space, topping it out at 65 feet. (Current zoning only allows 40 feet in that part of the city.)

Seven homeowners also managed to make time to get to the meeting. Six of them strongly support the request; the other is against it. A quick recap of some comments:

* Woman who lives on 21st, she’s the one who doesn’t like the idea: She says there’s “no great public benefit” to the rezone, and that the plans don’t take enough into account of the “architectural history of what was once there” (remember the old building damaged in the earthquake?) She also still wonders: “Four floors is good, but why six?”

* Man who lives on 21st: “This development is a longtime in coming.” “It takes into consideration everyone in the area.” “65 feet would not be outrageously large.”

* Woman who lives near 20th and Union: “Waiting a long time for positive development with shops and services there.” “That intersection is the Bermuda Triangle of the city.” “It’s a cursed corner” that needs this project.

* Woman who lives on 24th, one and a half blocks away: “Watched the area deteriorate over the years.” “Building would put ‘eyes on the intersection’ and help ward off drug activity and prostitution.” She’s talked with lots of neighbors and they all give the project “A big collective YES.”

* Man who lives on 24th: “Positive development means change for the good.” “Developer really can’t move ahead without the change.” “City has the opportunity to do the right thing.”

* Man who lives near 23rd and Marion: “The city’s strategy is to become more sustainable.. and that’s what this new building will do.” “Area is very unpleasant the way it is now.”

* Woman who lives near 17th and Spring: She greatly likes the idea the developer is pushing of “locally owned and operated merchants moving into the shops.” Says this is terrific “revitalization.”

An architect and project manager of the planned 23rd and Union development was there to walk the hearing examiner through what’s being considered, what changes have been made and why the complex would be such an asset to the neighborhood.

A few other points: The developer is also asking for a waiver that will make three mandatory parking spots for the businesses no longer necessary, saying there’s plenty of street parking. (Right now, the 92-unit building will only have 74 parking places for tenants in its underground garage.) The hearing examiner will now make a recommendation to the city council, which will have the final say on the rezoning request. (We’ll keep watch on when that’s supposed to happen.) Jim Mueller has said if it goes through, construction should start next spring.

0 thoughts on “Homeowners Speak Out on 23rd & Union Project

  1. I spoke against the development and would not have said four floors “is” good.

    A four story development would be good for the corner and many four story developments are being planned in the area. They seem to “pencil out.” I decided that in order to make any points I would have to present as being completely against the project, as some who spoke to support it, support the developer with no conditions. Even the Hearing Examiner was surprised to see no conditions imposed on the recommendation, not even the condition that developer would actual build what is being presented. We can do better as a community. We don’t always have to dig in as for or against a situation. We could at least strongly advocate for compromises that ensure the best possible design with a very nice facade. There seemed to be no desire to impose any conditions to benefit the community, just expressions of desperation by some and by some who don’t live near the project but have or have had a direct financial interest in the project. The up zone is a great public benefit to the developer. Below is the letter that I submitted to the Hearing Examiner. I had not been aware at the time of the letter that the developer accepted the offer of parking departure. The Design Review Team member who mentioned this, proposed it as a means of financing an upgrade to the facade, but the improvement of the facade was not addressed today. The pedestrian level would be much enhances if some of the detailing in the facade on 22nd could be extended to both Union and 23rd.

    City of Seattle
    Hearing Examiner
    700 5th Avenue, Suite 4000
    P.O. Box 94729
    Seattle, WA 98124-4729

    Dear Hearing Examiner:

    I am writing in opposition to allowing the rezone of 23rd and Union Project to 65 feet. At the beginning of the process I was not sure how I felt or what I thought. Surely the developer would demonstrate that in order for the project to “pencil out” the rezone was necessary. Surely in order for this to be allowed the developer would demonstrate respect in design for the scale, history, and general character of the neighborhood. Surely, in order for a developer to receive such a great public benefit as as allowing an up zone to 65 feet in a 40 foot zoned commercial area abutting an older residential neighborhood, considerable public benefit would have to be demonstrated. I not only expected that the necessity to address these issues would be understood by the developer, but that the Design Review Team would also insist that these issues were addressed. During this process neither the developer not the design review team addressed why an up zone was being requested, the affect of scale, respect for the character and architectural character and history of the neighborhood nor did either demonstrate respect for the neighborhood. And, no public benefit in exchange for the upzone was offered.

    First there are many other four-story mixed use developments being planned in the neighborhood, which apparently “pencil out.” Why shouldn’t this one also be feasible at four stories? This has never been addressed. Obviously the four-story scale would be much more in keeping with the scale of the community. Even at four stories the building would dominate the area.

    Respect for the character and history of the neighborhood was never demonstrated by either the developer of the design review team. The original design that was presented indicated larger windows and more architectural detailing for the facade, although materials and color were vague. While it did not match the neighborhood architectural style nor did it hearkened back to the older brick facade which had been taken down a few years ago, it certainly blended blended in much better with the many craftsman and Victorian homes in the area. During the process the design deteriorated as the the developer asserted that the nicer facade and the amount of glass originally depicted were not financially feasible. When offered a departure on parking requirements he stated that the project was not viable without the planned underground parking. A four story development would not need to invest in as much expensive underground parking. In the meantime, one of the members of the design review team suggested a steel facade which is completely at odds with the character of the neighborhood. Steel in a very industrial appearing facade while this area is an older neighborhood where brick facades with nice detailing were the norm. Much of the public testimony had also mentioned the desire for a softer facade. The recommendation for a steel facade from a member of the Design Review Team worked shockingly against the character of the older single family neighborhood which abuts the the project and fuhrer demonstrates the lack of care that the Design Team for the neighborhood and testimony of the residents.

    At first the plans presented included one where the townhouse portion on 22nd Avenue, which is a single family street with mainly older one or two story homes, including some restored Victorians, was designed to 40 feet in order to blend, but this was soon lost and never again addressed by either the developer or the Design Review Team. A slight step back was planned.

    As the design proceeded it also became clear that room for an elevator to the rooftop would increase the overall height to more than the requested 65 foot up zone A green roof was proposed to make up for the lack of open space required by code. The Design Review Team never requested any mitigation for one more increase to the oveall height of the building.

    During the final Design Review meeting the developer stated his intent to reinvent the entire corner. The current buildings on the other three corners are not that special save a plaza with a fountain designed by well-known artist James Washington Jr. Nonetheless, the impression given was that the corners were under utilized. There is no disagreement on this but certainly such comments increase the concern that this is the beginning of an effort to generally rezone the entire area without public discussion and a rational public decision making process, but an effort to rezone according to the desires of the developers not the needs of the neighborhood or the city.

    Public benefits in trade for this rezone are not at all apparent. There is no benefit to the schools as it is not family-with-kids friendly. No public open space is provided. No historical context included. Neighborhood context for the yellow color of the cement fiber panels and whimsical design (as described by the developer) not in any way addressed. Clearly no effort beyond landscaping (which can be very temporary) was made to blend into the abutting neighborhood. The lack of facade detailing and mass in comparison to the abutting neighborhood combined with no requirements for public benefits is not a good deal for the neighborhood or the city.

    Please do not allow this rezone. I know that there are those who support the project and that on the eve of some of these discussions our neighborhood was depicted as a drug riddled crime riddled neighborhood by a local TV station, not the basically walkable, residential neighborhood that I know. Neglect of some of our neighborhood needs by the city should be used as an excuse as a give-away to a private developer. We can do better than this project. This neighborhood is not a neighborhood of criminals and drug addicts. Most of us are middle class people (widely diverse socioeconomically) who have invested in our homes and neighborhood. Some of us even raised families here. A massive structure with little detailing will not enhance the neighborhood in the decades to come. At best it would be a temporary fix for a temporary problem.

  2. i just had baby #2 and couldn’t make the meeting….

    still VERY concerned about increased traffic on my street (22nd Ave) and what will be done to discourage this…


  3. Wow, two people post “not unconditionally head-over-heels in favor of this” and they got modded one star?!

    I’m gung-ho for development in this area, but Joanna’s concerns are entirely valid. Glad to see she’s involved in the process. That said, also glad to see the development moving forward. I may eat those words in a few years when all the new buildings look like Madison Safeway (ugh!!).

  4. Joanna, don’t take the ratings personally, I know from first hand experience from working in the web field that people are absolutely incapable of distinguishing ‘quality’ of content from ‘agreement’. Those ratings are obviously confusing stars as a way of expressing agreement. Your statement is obviously well worded and thought out, though my feelings tend more towards compromise on this particular topic, though I agree there is some gamble.

  5. I’m bummed, too. Your comments, written if not in person, and comments of those who are right beside or directly affected by the project are the main thing that the hearing examiner and the council take into account. I have posted this as a comment on every article about this project. Due to the nature of the process, it’s probably too late.

    Of course, nature and nuture are the priority for you. Most of the rest of the immediate neighbors said nothing…..

  6. “this is the beginning of an effort to generally rezone the entire area without public discussion and a rational public decision making process, but an effort to rezone according to the desires of the developers not the needs of the neighborhood or the city.”

    Bravo. Thank you so much for your words and efforts. I think there are more in this community that agree with you, but aren’t able to be heard.

  7. I agree with Joanna’s concerns about blending the new building with the existing housing. The beautiful brick building ruined in the earthquake is a hard act to follow, I realize. But a looming 6 story steel facade doesn’t even begin to try. I am envisioning something like what is going up in the Pike/Pine corridor, and that does not fit in this neighborhood.

    Not having been at the meeting to hear the developers proposal, and only going on Gatortv’s editorial, the developer feels like a typical ‘Git’er done’ type without regard for the livability for those left behind to look at his edifice. Putting forth a design, only to pull the key things that make the height palatable, is unacceptable. I understand the process of design review is time, and time is money. All of which leads to cookie cutter looks. Most likely why they are speaking of the steel facade, as it has been passed on Pike, and therefore will go through the process more quickly. This is not acceptable either. The neighborhood is predominantly Arts and Crafts homes, and a business like extension of that ideal is what would pass muster with me.

    I was at the Madrona Land Use Open Space and Housing Ctte meeting last night, and was swayed towards accepting the 6 story height. That is 2 more floors of people that live next to a bus line, and hopefully won’t drive to work. 6 stories is very tall, and will set a precedence. The precedence setter is always the one that gets all the flak. Until more buildings are built at a similar height, it will look out of place. The corner will definitely be darker with that tall of a building on the SW corner. For us to give up that light, the Developer had better get serious about creating a building that doesn’t make me cringe every time I see it.
    I am all for density, as long as it is not hideous in the outcome. The 23rd and Madison complex looks like prison housing to me. Or 70’s era low income housing. If the Developer feels that dropping the quality of the facade is acceptable, perhaps he should sell the property to someone that can make ends meet in a more productive way for the neighborhood.

    We need density, and we need walkable services to accommodate the people that come with the density. It was mentioned last night that ‘we don’t need yet another new restaurant as a driving destination for people from other neighborhoods in the city’. I whole heartedly agree. We need a hardware store, or a shoe repair shop. Things of that ilk. These are the businesses that make our neighborhood a quality, walkable place to live.

  8. This development is the biggest no brainer in the history of the world. Nothing but scum bag drug dealers and low lifes are on 23rd and Union. There is an obvious disconnect with reality if you consider yourself a “sustainable – built green – lower your carbon footprint person” and you dont support this development. For the most part the people who dont suppot this are self serving neighbors who hide there true intentions. 23rd and Union is the arm pit of the city, thank god the smart tribe has a louder voices than the Nimby’s.

  9. Bob, Some definitions would help me understand your point of view. What is shocking in desiring to enforce some conditions on this development? They are always necessary and the Hearing Examiner might not be willing to rule on the project until the conditions are in place.

    How is it self-serving and not service to the community? These answers might not change my mind but might help me see my concerns in another light.

    For 30 years I have predominantly used the bus for transportation to the University District, Downtown and many other places in the city My husband I sent two children to the local schools, and to college, while not living in a McMansion, taught them to drive safely and to ride the bus when possible, volunteered in the schools and in community activities and have supported local businesses whenever we can. How is wrong to insist that a developer who received a huge chunk of public benefit return something in the public benefit. I do not begrudge them their business, but consider it our business to advocate for the community. In fact, I expect developers to consider their responsibility for their investors. Community members have other responsibilities and interests.

    Most of the people who walk or drive along 23rd and Union daily are a very diverse group of hardworking, law abiding citizens. I’m just not sure about the armpit image.

    OK, I already expressed my opinion a few posts back. I really would like to see more dialogue among community members to facilitate more unity in our advocacy. Hopefully, the Central District News is helping on that front. I would have much preferred that we could have come to some common understanding and the Design Review Team had been more proactive in wording conditions. I really would have liked not to get to the point where I actually made a statement opposing the development, but some conditions are necessary.

  10. I’m not a drug dealer and I wash regularly(not a scumbag) but do spend a lot of time on/near 23 and Union. I’m with Joanna that the community has a right to advocate for the best possible structure for all. I personally think that 6 floors is excessive.

  11. Question : How many apts or condo’s have been built in the c.d., pike/pine,first hill, madison or capitol hill in the NC40 zoning in the last 5 years and how many in the 65 ft zoning?

    Answer: 95% of the sites that have been developed were 65 ft. In fact there are virtually no developments in the 40 ft zone.

    The reason is quite simple – economics. It doesnt pencil to build in the 40 ft zone because so much of the expense is in the pkg garage. Developers are not evil, they have choices and they tend to go where they are wanted not fought tooth and nail by nimby’s. Why cant the nimby’s get it thru there thick skulls Jim Mueller is doing the C.D. a favor not the other way around. Also, for any of you who consider yourself “sustainable” you need to go back to school if you think that a 40 ft bldg is more sustainable than a 65 ft bldg. Most are just stuck on the tired old paradigm of builder = bad, bigger is bad. You are no different from the people who planned I-5 or 405 a generation ago – short sighted.

  12. I just wanted to say thanks for the thorough summary of the 23rd & Union development project discussion. This blog is so useful in keeping me up to date on neighborhood happenings and developments.

  13. Thanks Joanna for your well researched and written commentary…long but well worth a read by all.

  14. Having lived in the area just east of here for over thirty years, I’m very excited about having this area developed. It has too long been neglected and a source of illegal activity.
    As our city gets denser, we all have to take a deep breath and take a step backbard to get a look at the bigger picture. This type of growth is inevitable, but we must not let it get out of control. I’m glad there are people keeping an eye on the growth. Keep up the good work!

  15. The size of the building will not make a difference if the residents of the buildings are not the type who will take care of the street fronts, noise level and general appearance of the area.Will it only become another place for loitering and security officers like Safeway?

    The liquor store nearby will continue to be an attraction for illegal activity as well as the police not taking the problems seriously. The homes built between 22nd and 21st have not been kept up. I’d like to keep in mind what Capitol Hill is looking like now. No sky line is left and once one huge building gets approved then others will follow. Before long we are living in a skyrise jungle with ugly architecture.

    I move into my 1906 home 15 years ago and have done massive amounts of work to it and the property to make it nice. It will not have much appeal if it is overshadowed by quick built building that only reach the sky and not blend in with the aesthetics of the rest of the neighborhood. Look at the building on the Ser side of 19th and MAdison near the Speech and Hearing Center. There could not have less thought put into the achitectual design. How can we protect the skyline, aesthetics and the quality we are trying to build in the CD?

  16. 6 stories is FINE by me, but they should try to blend in, or perhaps more appropiately, pay homage to some of the historical character – and I aint talking about the history of the 70’s and 80’s.

    The empty lot in question screams CRIME and GHETTO and needs to be developed ASAP. The gas station and empty lot on the north side of Union does too. The owner(s) of those 2 should be fined or cited appropriately for the crap that goes on – litter, garbage , graffitti etc. The illegal activity is going on with no connection to the liquor store. I live 1/2 block from that corner, and bike everywhere at all hours of the day and night, ride the bus, get my mail etc there, so I know what I’m talking about

    And, for the record, the liquor store IS NOT the problem on that corner – it’s one of the few amenities on the corner that works and is safe – and they close by 7. I don’t want to have to drive to 12th and Broadway to get a bottle for a party or whatever.

    Safeway is a good project – and thank god for the security officers. Now that Dino’s is a bad memory, the number of vagrants and bums outside Safeway will be reduced. I go to Safeway a lot, even though I also shop at PCC, and TraderJoes, and Whole Foods, etc. SW is a good asset for that neighborhood.

  17. Joanna – you do a lot of great stuff for this blog and the community, but i dont really see that much a disconnect between what you and bob are writing – you’re both expressing your own versions of that corner.

    You’re right that most of the people who work, or drive by or walk/bus by that neighborhood are good hard-working etc people. I hit the coffee shop at the Post Office every morning before I go to work.

    But I would also say that over 90% of the people who loiter, mill about, hang out, stand around, get dropped off and picked up on that corner are not fine upstanding citizens. I live and own a house there too (22nd and Union) and I see,walk past, live with it all day. And at 11 pm on a Tuesday, with a crowd of hoods in the KeyBank parking lot, and prostitutes and dealers out there on Union, well, ‘armpit’ does come to mind.

    I have noticed that weekdays are worse than weekends – I think Fri and Sat there are more people with jobs etc out on their weekend, and the increased traffic is like disinfectant for those folks.

    So that’s what I hope the development does – and I just hope it’s not hideous. Low expectations for sure. But you know, that car wash, the garbage-strewn vacant lots, the dumpsters in back of the Post Office are not ‘architecturally in sync’ with the Craftsman image either.