The Central Area, with its convenient proximity to Downtown and uniquely authentic character, has begun to attract the attention of potential developers. No surprise there. But one such site at 2301 E Union St, also known as the Post Office Site, has become the first major development site under the watchful eye of both developers and the community. And just like anything that’s worth caring about in the world, this site has become a topic of much debate.
Some would argue that development at this neighborhood node, whatever it may contain, is good for the neighborhood because it would provide some much needed pedestrian and commercial activity in an area that is currently dominated by a gas station, vacant lots, and parking lots. Others are more hesitant in encouraging unencumbered growth, fearful that a neighborhood which currently contains an incredibly rich history, potent ethnic & economic diversity, and an entrepreneurial (and artistic) backbone, could rapidly become an unaffordable place like Capitol Hill. And yet, here we are with the possibility of development knocking at our door. So how should the neighborhood respond?
The Central Area Land Use Review Committee (CA LURC), subcommittee to the Central Area Neighborhoods District Council (CANDC), believes there is some middle ground by which to address these two seemingly contradictory ideas. The committee’s work focuses on building participation and collaboration between residents and developers, with the express desire to shape development that is not only better for our most immediate community but also the health of a growing city. While we are NOT against redevelopment in general or the redevelopment of the Post-Office site in particular, we responded to the rezone proposal, which was put forth in isolation and lacking compelling rationale, and urged that it be denied for the following reasons:
- The rezoning of the Post Office site must be part of the broader, neighborhood-wide planning process for the 23rd Avenue Action Plan, administered by DPD, with cooperation from the Department of Neighborhoods and the Department of Transportation, which includes the intersection of 23rd & Union and the subject site. This effort includes a proposal to rezone the site, but with conditions that mitigate negative impacts and provide public benefits. The proposed rezone isolates the site from this more-inclusive, community-supported planning effort already under way.
- The rezone of the Post Office site must include conditions to mitigate negative impacts and provide public benefits associated with the more intense level of development it would allow. There is a precedent for such development conditions, set by the Mueller site across 23rd Ave at 2203 Union Street. Unfortunately, the proponents of the Post-Office site rezone incompletely and improperly reference the Mueller rezone. The Mueller rezone (which in fact included an actual building plan), included important conditions to mitigate negative impacts and provide public benefits to the immediate surroundings and greater neighborhood. The proposed rezone includes no such conditions, or any conditions of any kind.
It is on this basis that we chose to issue a letter to the Hearing Examiner urging denial of the rezone proposal that, in responding to the DPD Director’s Recommendation, took the form of a technical argument specifically suited to the structure of the Hearing Examiner’s process.
To recap, the CA LURC is NOT opposed to the rezone of the Post Office site, provided that some strategic conditions are placed upon it to ensure a measurable amount of impact mitigation and public benefit is provided to the community in exchange. In response to community input, the proponent has already adjusted their proposal to accommodate the NC2 designation in lieu of the more intensive NC3 designation, suggesting that Mr. Bangasser [owner of the Post Office site] is receptive to community concerns and aspirations. It is in that spirit that the CA LURC hopes to have an open and collaborative dialogue with Mr. Bangasser and has already extended an invitation to begin that conversation.
Amanda Bryan (Chair)
Central Area Land Use Review Committee
Thanks for the post Amanda and for your advocacy on behalf of the CD. Could you just briefly elaborate on which “strategic conditions” you feel are essential for the new development at the post office site. Height requirements, size of commercial tenants, pedestrian friendly development, mixed-income housing, etc.?
That’s a great question – one which I think ultimately should be flushed out through direct conversations between the community, CA LURC, and the property owner (or developer, if there is one). However, a few items come to mind which might warrant our consideration:
1) Given the size of the property, it could stand to receive some modulation of its mass by means of a public open space. This could be done in the form of a thru-block crossing, pedestrian plaza, corner set-backs, wider sidewalks, or a number of other strategies.
2) One of the major outcomes from the 23rd Ave Action Plan’s outreach efforts was community consensus on each of the (3) node’s (Cherry, Union, and Jackson) character profiles. For instance, we heard that a “Small neighborhood businesses at Union core” is desired, as well as “A small scale commercial hub serving the neighborhood, providing a range of residential housing types”. In light of these character descriptions, a reasonable condition might be to build and prioritize a percentage of the commercial spaces for small businesses. If commercial spaces are built too large, then they become unaffordable to small, local shops.
3) There could be some specific conditions for setbacks along Spring St & 24th Ave where the property abuts single family zoning/housing. This is particularly notable when considering that this property does not automatically qualify for setbacks within the Land Use Code – only ‘rear and side’ lot lines qualify for setbacks when abutting a single family zone and this property only has ‘front’ lot lines because it’s bounded on all sides by streets. The Draft Urban Design Proposal for the 23rd Ave Action Plan calls for a transition zone that modulates height along these frontages so setbacks could be a means by which to address this modulation.
There are likely many other “strategic conditions” that warrant consideration but those are just a few to think on.
Central Area LURC
I am a born and bred Seattleite, but sometimes there is just too much “process” involved in making anything happen here in a timely manner. Not saying that having some checks and balances is a bad thing, but if there is too much, an opportunity may be missed while the demand is there to make something happen. It feels that way with the Mueller parcel across the street — process and delay until the economic downturn put proceeding on hold.
We live in Central Seattle and should accept our fair share of growth in appropriate locations such as 23rd and Union. It is the crossroads of two arterials and it is a full city block of buildings that are too low rise, too car centric, and not of architectural significance (the building on the Mueller site was much more interesting, but unfortunately too damaged/neglected). I would much rather that growth and density go into this crossroads location in a nominally commercial area than that growth and density being parceled out in bits and pieces all over the neighborhood that leads to tearing down old character homes to infill opportunistically. Plus, maybe a bit of a “downtown CD” could really get created along Union and 23rd to make it more of a community for us all.