Developing Housing on City Buildings

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Historically, City Departments have been very possessive about their properties and buildings.  It has been very challenging to even get Departments to coordinate with each other, much less to integrate the City’s properties and buildings into the fabric of neighborhoods in a proactive and positive way. 

Fortunately, this attitude is changing, and the City is undertaking a pilot project to identify locations where city-owned properties and buildings would be suitable for joint development agreements.  Such joint development could include leveraging multiple city funding sources to achieve community benefits, developing mixed-use urban infill on public parking lots, and identifying public/private development opportunities on public land.  This could provide revenue for the City, but, more importantly, better utilize scarce resources of land and buildings, especially in denser urban neighborhoods where infill can be a major asset.

There are a few successful examples of this kind of development over the last ten years, such as:

  • The Delridge Library and Neighborhood Service Center, which were built in a joint project with housing managed by the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA).
  • The Wallingford Library, which occupies space in a mixed use building owned by Solid Ground.
  • The Northgate Community Center, Park, and Library, which were jointly developed on a single piece of property east of Northgate Mall.

But these have been exceptions.  Fortunately, the McGinn Administration is very interested in this concept at the same time as there has been a concerted effort to break down the barriers among City Departments and find more ways to work together on crosscutting issues.  A successful example has already been announced, when the City was able to work out a development agreement that will construct a mixed use building on a former surface parking lot on 14th Avenue in Capitol Hill that is used by the Seattle Police Department.  The joint project with Capitol Hill Housing will build 80 units of housing and provide arts and retail space – as well as underground parking for the police.

The new ‘Sustainable Community Development Pilot Program’ (which I hope staff will rename, because we just have too many ‘sustainable community development’ monikers), will begin analyzing the feasibility of developments on five pilot sites:

  • Northgate Civic Center Parking Lot
  • Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center Parking and vacant lots
  • Greenwood Senior Service Center
  • Fremont Towing Yard adjacent to Burke Gilman Trail
  • West Seattle Substation on Avalon Way

We expect a report in 2012 on what the opportunities are and how these might move forward.  It’s a great use for City resources, and one that has potentially far reaching benefits for the communities involved.