Constant Change — Redevelopment in the City

There’s often criticism that rises when multifamily or commercial “in-fill” sites in Seattle get developed — more traffic, a loss of open space, loss of a classic historic home.  As builders, we hear this all the time and I acknowledge that some projects might be ill-advised.  But the majority of the time redevelopment brings higher quality housing stock, attainable housing priced at or below the median prices for the neighborhood, and it replaces something that likely was dilapidated housing stock. 

A couple of thoughts on this topic, and then an example of where redevelopment hast taken place. 

Just north of RPA there is a terrific site that is owned by Camp Fire Girls of America (a non-profit), nearly a full city block in Maple Leaf at 15th NE and NE 85th Street, backing on the west to the reservoir.  CFA wants to sell; their reasons are here.  Some neighbors, who have enjoyed this great open space for decades, would rather keep looking at trees and a quiet, underused office building (formerly Waldo General Hospital).  No traffic, nice trees.  I agree it’s a nice parklike setting and I like looking at it when I drive by it every day.  However, unless it’s sold as a development site, CFA won’t get nearly its market value.  Parks are paid for by public funds; private property get to be developed.  The neighbors’ position on why this private property should remain a public amenity is here.  If the city can pay the market value for the site so that it remains open space, that’s fair (although that’s not proposed here, it has been for other sites, like the mothballed Capeheart military housing in Fort Lawnton – Discovery Park).  But for CFA to get less than what the property is worth, for the benefit of the neighbors who want the site to remain as it is, seems unfair. 

Every owner has the right to develop their property to the full extent allowed by law.  So when you buy a single family home — or even a condo or townhome — next to a vacant site, or a lot that is obviously underdeveloped, DO SOME RESEARCH.  Check what the zoning is next door, or see if there are plans in with the building department for something new.  If that lot sits between you and a big view of Lake Union, which is why you’re buying the condo in the first place, you should know whether you might lose that view.  Remember, view protection and the right to enjoy the neighbors’ lush gardens are not vested property rights in Seattle (although some neighborhoods may have view convenants).

Here’s an example of in-fill redevelopment.  This is a site in a prime Greenlake neighborhood, two blocks from the lake near the “old” Albertsons, just down the block from the Latona Tavern.  The address was 501 NE 65th St on the corner of 5th NE and NE 65th.  This was our first townhome development, completed in 2004.  When we bought this the owner/occupant, he had lived there nearly 80 years — as a child, then after his parents passed away.  The place was as full of stuff as you could imagine, all sorts of collections that a depression era man might retain.  Here it is before we purchased:  
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The site was overgrown, rodent infested, but had a great old Chevy pickup in the yard that we got as part of the deal.  That’s my business partner, Jay Young, anticipating his restoration of the rig (didn’t happen, we ended up ebaying it): 

There was no arguement that this wasn’t an historic site.  And NE 65th is zoned for “low density residential” use — “L-2” in Seattle’s code language.  There is commercial development on the block as well.  the urban village zoning in Seattle is designed to go from high density (65′ apartments, on major arterials), to lower density (40′ height limit, commercial and residential uses), to lower density residential (townhomes), to single family.

We knew, or hoped, that we could build four zero lotline townhomes here.  We were new at it.  But the market for townhomes was just kicking into high gear, and we sold out pretty quickly in prices that were in the mid to high $300,000’s.  Those units are worth between $450-$550k today, less than a well maintained but smallish bungalow on any block in greater Greenlake.  Here it is right after production:   

It’s interesting the lifespan of “improvements” in this city.  We’re doing a similar project to this, and the archive photos from King County showed a 1930’s house; the 1960’s 10 unit apartment building; and now our 18 townhomes going up in Crown Hill.  I would expect properties to stand longer, with lifespans of 50-100 years, and in some neighborhoods you see houses that are 100 years old still doing fine.  But lots of areas, like View Ridge, the 50’s ramblers are coming down, still servicable, and being replaced by larger, modern homes.

Like it or not, in high demand areas, the development will continue.  As I said above, I think done responsibly, these projects can complement their neighborhoods.

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