The next step in making the southeast corner of 23rd and Union more appealing to developers has been taken — and it’s a slightly smaller step than first planned. The Department of Planning and Development’s director’s office has recommended the rezone application brought by the longtime owner of the block to allow the more than 100,000 square-foot property to be built to 65 feet.
Midtown Center owner Tom Bangasser said he hopes the decision will help him bring more jobs to the area. The move comes as the United States Post Office nears its planned move-out target in January. At this point, however, there is still no development plan attached to the rezone push and DPD records don’t indicate any activity around the property.
In a change from the first plans for a rezone reported by CDN in April, Bangasser says that community input helped change the application to “neighborhood commercial 2” zoning instead of “NC3” to help keep development more in line with the surrounding area. NC2 zones still push building heights to 65 feet but limit potential commercial space to 25,000 square feet or less. The land is currently zoned with a height limit of 40 feet.
The property is an entire block bounded by 23rd Ave to the west, 24th Ave to the east, E Union to the north and E Spring to the south. While the departure of the post office and other nearby businesses like Key Bank and the Med Mix arson have challenged the area’s recent growth, 23rd and Union remains on the precipice of significant change — a familiar position, we know. Across the street, new hope for a permitted development on the southwest corner continues to stay lit. On Union, the Key Bank lot is destined for affordable housing in a development powered by Capitol Hill Housing.
DPD’s “declaration of non-significance” moves the process forward for a session with the city’s Hearing Examiner on Monday, December 9th.
The director’s decision notes some of the potential in the developments listed above — but also focuses on the exodus of major tenants from the intersection:
Historically, the subject site and the parcels directly across E. Union Street have served the broader vicinity as a business hub, providing a post office, local bank, grocery stores, pharmacy, liquor store and a variety of small multicultural shops. In more recent times the area has seen a good deal of retail and service businesses leaving the area. Key bank plans to shutter its local branch across E, Union to the north, the U S Postal Service has announced its intention to terminate its tenancy on site, the Washington State Liquor Control Board divested itself of its retail store at this site.
“The property owners noted not only the loss of credit-worthy tenants in the immediate area of the proposed rezone but concerns that these closures and relocations have hindered efforts to attract commercial tenants, investment capital and real estate development interest to their neighborhood,” the report continues.
DPD says it received 22 written comments from nearby residents on the proposal with seven expressing “unqualified support,” and six opposing a rezone. Others “advocated for affordable housing and free parking on site.” Five comments “represented various degrees of neutrality or resignation, but requested that any development dependent on the rezone should seek to retain current tenants, especially those businesses owned by persons of color.”
Initial notice of the proposed re-zone was published on April 25, 2013. The extended public comment period ended on May 20, 2013. DPD received approximately 22 written comments from nearby residents and property owners. Seven of the comment letters expressed unqualified support for the rezone, while six letters (representing seven individuals) expressed opposition to the rezone. Five comments represented requests for further information or were requests to become parties of record. Five comments represented various degrees of neutrality or resignation, but requested that any development dependent on the rezone should seek to retain current tenants, especially those businesses owned by persons of color. Some of the commenters also advocated for affordable housing and free parking on site.
“The contract rezone proposal will create the opportunity for a development containing a mix of commercial and residential uses that will be compatible with the existing neighborhood context, and preferable to other approvable configurations under the current zoning,” the report concludes.
It also notes, by the way, that the city could decide on a broader rezoning effort around 23rd and Union that could supersede any rezone for the property. There’s no announced effort related to anything on that scale at this time, however, and city planners say there’s nothing on the immediate horizon for 23rd and Union.
For final approval, the rezone must come before the Seattle City Council for a vote. Council members will need to weigh the public benefit and decide if we’re getting a fair trade with Bangasser. That step is likely to fall early in 2014.
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