A Light Rail Community at the Capitol Hill Station

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Sound Transit Link Light Rail train

Sound Transit Link Light Rail train

Linking transportation choices and land use decisions is the best way to make our communities work and our investments in transportation infrastructure pay off.  And it is how we make growth management effective and protect our farms, forests, and wilderness areas.  The Capitol Hill light rail station offers an extraordinary opportunity to realize that vision, and Sound Transit and the City have released their draft plan to make a great transit community grow on the three city blocks where the station is being constructed just north of Seattle Central Community College.

The proposal has been in development since 2008, with Capitol Hill residents and businesses organized as the Capitol Hill Champion leading the way in defining the values and preferences of the community.  The Champion worked with the City to develop an Urban Design Framework for the area, and identified the following priorities for the site:

  1. Build development projects of the highest quality
  2. Include affordable housing and business space
  3. Provide a permanent home for the Farmers Market
  4. Pursue dedicated space for an LGBT Community Center and performance and visual artists
  5. Provide an experiential gate way to Capitol Hill and aid wayfinding
  6. Use environmentally responsible building practices
  7. Increase allowed height to support community goals
  8. Provide less parking than developments that are not transit-centered

Sound Transit owns the three block area, and legally must sell the land in a way that realizes fair market value for the agency in addition to meeting city and agency objectives.  The development agreement between Sound Transit and the City creates a framework which Sound Transit would then use as the basis for working with developers to achieve the goals of the plan.  These goals are broadly compatible with the priorities of the Champion, although the plan differs in some ways from the more detailed Champion outline.

Core elements of the proposed agreement are:

  • One approximately 17,000 square foot site will be dedicated to affordable housing (projected to result in around 88 low income units)
  • 20% of units in other mixed-use buildings will be affordable for residents earning up to 80% of area median income, with bonus points given to developers who propose additional affordable housing
  • Approximately 450 total housing units will be developed, with some new development standards that would allow heights up to 85 feet
  • The center of the site will be a public plaza that could house the Farmers Market, and there will be significant amounts of other open space and similar amenities in the project area
  • Seattle Central will have the opportunity to negotiate a portion of the area to develop student housing or education services
  • Sound Transit will provide bonus points to proposers who include a community center, and the City will provide a density incentive
  • Parking will be capped at the ratio of .7 spaces per residential unit
  • All  buildings will have to meet at least the LEED Silver Standard, with bonus points for proposals that go beyond Silver LEED
  • The entire development will have an integrated approach to meeting the Seattle Green factor required for these kinds of buildings

I commend Sound Transit and DPD staff and Champion members for over four years of hard, diligent work to develop a plan that meets the community’s desire for good design and much needed low-income housing and Sound Transit’s duty to dispose of its surplus property expeditiously.  The collaboration with Champion serves as a positive example of effective community engagement.   The proposed agreement must be approved by both the City Council and Sound Transit.  The Council has a public hearing tentatively scheduled for Monday, December 13 at 5:30 in Council Chambers, with Committee and Full Council action scheduled in early January.  Sound Transit will likely vote at the January Board meeting.