Updated: Jul 19, 2019
This week on Tuesday, (deep in the bowels of City Hall) developer HB Management presented their proposal for a new 2nd Ave, and highlighted how they hope to honor the character of a "funky" Belltown. Below is our recap of what the meeting means, what they proposed, how Rise Up responded, and what comes next.
What did this meeting mean?
Technically, Tuesday's meeting was part of the City's formal process for deciding whether to give a developer the permits to build a new building. A group of community volunteers (usually other developers and architects) are tasked with reviewing the developer's proposal for a new building, and to decide whether it aligns with an established set of "design guidelines" for that particular neighborhood. Belltown actually has its own special set of these guidelines.
More often than not, the board's volunteers basically rubber-stamp the developers' plans, and let them on their merry way, sometimes with a little advice. But on Tuesday, the board actually sent the developer basically back to the drawing board. Does this mean they can't build? No. So far, it's still most likely that something will get built on that site.
What it does mean is that the developer will have to come back again, with a refined set of plans, to re-present to the board. That meeting has yet to be scheduled, but will likely hapen sometime between 2 - 4 months from now.
It's worth noting here that the board specifically cited the public comments they received as one of the reasons that they asked the developer to come back with re-designed plans. So although something might eventually get built, one thing is definitely clear: if a new building does get built, the community has real opportunity to influence what that building looks like.
What did they propose?
If you want to get into specifics, you can download the (84 PAGE!) PDF of the whole proposal from HB Management if you wish. Here, we're going to cover the basics.
In a surprise to probably nobody, the developer's current request is to build a bunch of semi-fancy apartment units, targeted to folks who can afford it. They have told us that they plan to use a City program that will make some of the apartments more affordable (which is great) but that program (called MFTE) basically gives renters about a 20% discount on the rents. But when everything is luxury, 20% off is usually still too high to be called "affordable".
It's possible there would ultimately be other affordable units in the building, through the City's "mandatory housing affordability" program, but so far that doesn't look likely.
In a small twist from the normal, the developer has proposed bringing back bars and restaurants to the block, by creating smaller, more affordable commercial spaces at the street level.
Some other highlights:
They hope to activate the alley by having retail spaces that open on the alley
All the street trees (incl the palm tree!) will be saved (as required by the city)
they have proposed amenities for their residents in the alley, with a security screen
they have proposed private rooftop space for their residents
they have proposed to build approximately 1.2 billion parking spaces
How did Rise Up respond?
In our short few minutes allowed for community members to offer public comment, Rise Up Belltown shared some specific initial feedback on the project-as-proposed:
We remain deeply concerned about tearing down the City-designated Landmark of the Wayne Apartments, and believe that it could be saved, if they City allowed for a much taller building to be built on the adjacent lots.
We supported including as many additional affordable housing units as possible.
We like the idea of bringing bars back to the block, but believe that if they want it to be successful, then they need to figure out working with existing businesses.
We supported the use of their below-grade space for either an underground venue, band practice space, or other use, instead of just using it for parking.
We supported the suggestion from Friends of Historic Belltown that any parking should be built in a way that it could be easily converted to some other use in the future, since Belltown is such an incredibly walkable neighborhood.
We'd like the building to have more of an architectural homage to the Landmark
We expressed deep concern about the security screen in the alley, separating a private space for residents from a newly-activated pedestrian alley. We feel it would add to the divide between haves and havenots, while also sterilizing an alley that could instead promote art and character.
We suggested there should be more paintable spaces both in the alley, and on all sides of the building, extending all the way to the top of the building, to allow for the building to add future murals to its facade.
Both on the ground and the roof, we suggested that more of their amenity spaces be accessible to the public, and especially to consider a rooftop bar space.
We pointed out that there was way too much parking in the proposal. Specifically, we noted that most existing buildings in Belltown significantly over-built for their parking.
What comes next?
Next, Rise Up Beltown will be sending detailed written comments to the Design Review Board (the volunteers from this Tuesday's meeting) outlining specifically how we think this building should respond to Belltown's special design guidelines.
Have design ideas for the building? Please tell us!
If you have ideas for other comments that Rise Up Belltown should share, we'd definitely love to hear from you! We'll also be meeting directly with the developer, and with stakeholders here in Belltown, to fight (at a minimum) for the least-bad version of a building, if a building is going to be built.
That said, nothing is set in stone until the developer is receives a recommendation from the above-mentioned group of volunteers on the City's board, and so far those volunteers have been paying more attention than usual. In the meantime, almost anything could happen.
Either way, stay tuned for future updates here on this blog! :)
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