Community Post

12th Avenue dead zones a big challenge for county project

Last night’s community meeting on the redevelopment of the county’s Youth Services Center site included only slight refinements to the three design options we reported on last month. Apart from the controversial placement of green space in the project, each of the three options share the same overall features for the large six-block property:

  • A new courthouse building along 12th, just north of Alder
  • A parking garage structure east of that
  • Room for new private development on the north end of the campus
  • Courthouse and jail activity and entrances focused on the center of the property

As the 12th Avenue corridor continues to develop into a pedestrian-friendly home of new retail and residences, it’s that last point that appears to create the biggest challenge for how the redevelopment project integrates into the surrounding neighborhood.

The county’s architects say they are well aware of that challenge, and are working on ways to address it. Things will be slightly improved if new private development goes into the northernmost block along 12th. But that leaves two other blocks that could lack any connection to the pedestrian environment: one containing the blank wall of the new courthouse, and one with the existing large setback between the street and the 90’s era detention facility that will stay as-is.

The inner centralization of access to the courthouse is driven by security concerns. Architects say that industry standards for court facilities are designed to protect them from all threats, including everything from car bombs to drive-by shooters. Parking can’t be placed under the building, for fear of bombs. And the cost of manned security at entrance points limits the number of doors that can be placed into the building.

One architect at the meeting last night told us that they were looking at ways to include ground-floor retail in the new courthouse building along 12th. But security needs could make that an expensive proposition, requiring heavy concrete blast walls at the back, sides, and top of the retail spaces. The county’s budget on the project is tight, potentially making any pedestrian-friendly features a tough sell.

The county’s will continue working with architects to refine the redevelopment plans over the summer, potentially heading towards a November vote to approve funds for the project.

0 thoughts on “12th Avenue dead zones a big challenge for county project

  1. As someone who lives two blocks away, there is absolutely nothing to be excited about here. The flyer looked like they wanted to make a park out of the whole area. It is obvious that it is more of a civic dumping ground. How about some north/south buslines instead?

  2. to scott’s pt, 12th avenue is becoming a major hub for commerce and housing…a true walkable/bikeable corridor on what is otherwise an uneven area for that sort of thing.

    so, the smart move would be to plop a jail right in the middle. brilliant. this city’s strategic thinking never ceases to amaze me.

  3. there is already a juvenile jail on this site that has been there for years. this county isn’t actually proposing to change anything in the jail building. it is certainly ugly, but it works and we are actually on the cutting edge of reducing jail time for youth offenders. so at one of the last community meetings i learned that the nightly number for kids there has been reduced from 200 to under 100 now. and in the tens of meetings i have attended in the community on this topic, i have actually never heard anyone voice opposition to the “kid jail” being on this site.

    rather, the issue is always how KC utilizes the remainder of the site. will it be pedestrian friendly? how many parking stalls will there be? how will a vacant parking garage serve the community at night? will the open space be maintained? this is an 8.5 acre site in the middle of a dense and thriving urban village, yet this site is a bleak experience for pedestrians and visitors alike.

    can’t we build civic buildings here that do what they need to do (take care of vulnerable families) AND add to the community? why in this era is this concept so challenging to embrace? we know it is going to cost a bunch of money, but maybe if we built fewer parking stalls it would save $$$? maybe if we built an open space that could be used by the neighborhood and the facility it would be safer for everyone? maybe if we encouraged retail on the site and on 12th, we could extend the amazing commercial biz vibe down 12th to better serve central area and yesler terrace residents? these aren’t crazy concepts and it is time that the county step up to placing a bond measure or levy on the ballot that can pay for them.

  4. “these aren’t crazy concepts and it is time that the county step up to placing a bond measure or levy on the ballot that can pay for them.”

    Tell them to cut other expenditures instead and use that money.
    No more taxes or levy’s.

  5. What do you want to cut?

    – Fewer sheriff’s deputies
    – Fewer county prosecutors
    – Fewer judges
    – Release people from county jail, fire jail guards
    – Fewer autopsies on suspicious deaths

    That’s pretty much all the county does now

  6. i know it’s been a jail for some time, but that doesn’t mean it should continue (and get bigger). i have a hard time believing this is going to be a big pedestrian hangout, but i would love to hear about some other city turning their juvie hall into a regular family hangout.

    and scott, i’m not going to echo the “no new taxes” sentiment, but i have some knowledge of county government and let’s just say there are programs that are wildly, wildly bloated and ineffective. if somebody took a camera and sat outside of Zeitgeist coffee downtown, they’d witness one employee who spends over 1/2 his time sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes, and I don’t he does a lick of work when inside. literally, he sits outside 1/2 the day smoking. and he has friends.

  7. bad idea, i forgot to mention that they aren’t increasing the size of the jail, they are adding courtrooms and admins space to make this a one-stop shopping for family court and juvenile issues. what they are doing is actually quite efficient – centralizing all of these services in one place for kids and families. i don’t know if any other city has ever built these kinds of buildings in a pedestrian friendly way. but here is the thing…why can’t we be a leader in this kind of development? we as king county say that we are committed to drastically reducing CO2 emissions over the next 20 years and yet the county proposes nearly 600 above ground parking stalls here. we as a city say that we are committed to urban village development and amenities, yet this is an 8.5 acre site that the city may allow to be built without a commitment to its urban context (i.e. need to retail vitality, walk ability, open space, and transit access)? how does this make any sense?

    i’m all for keeping the jail and allowing the courts and admin space but only if the county will do right by the neighborhood for obliterating its context within and respect for the urban fabric when the facilities there were first built so so badly many years ago.