On Monday, August 5, the Council unanimously adopted a far-reaching development agreement with Sound Transit that ensures that the properties around the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station will be redeveloped with new housing and commercial space. The properties, currently owned by Sound Transit, will be released to developers, who will be required to ensure that at least 32% of new housing meets affordability standards and meet a series of other conditions developed through a community process. The bidding process will begin later this year, with construction scheduled to begin in 2016, when Sound Transit finishes the light rail station.

The agreement, which also requires approval from the Sound Transit Board, is based on an Urban Design Framework (UDF) that was completed in October 2011. The process was led by the Capitol Hill Champion, an alliance of the Capitol Hill Chamber and Community Council, and facilitated by the City in cooperation with Sound Transit.

Under the agreement, Sound Transit will reconfigure the 19 properties it bought for station construction into 5 parcels, which can be bid on separately or as a package. Three of the parcels are on the block bounded by Broadway, East John, 10th Avenue East, and East Denny Way, which will include the light rail station in the center of the block. The fourth parcel is located across E. Denny between Broadway and Nagle Place, and the fifth is a small parcel adjacent to Seattle Central Community College.

The parcel on the corner of East John and 10th Avenue East is reserved exclusively for housing affordable at 60% of median or below. All other parcels are required to commit to providing 20% of their units at 80% of median or below.

In return for the commitment to affordable housing and the other conditions included in the agreement, the City will raise the allowable height from its current 40 feet on E. John Street and 65 feet near Broadway to 85 feet. A portion of the site adjacent to Seattle Central is already zoned to 105 feet and will stay the same.

The developer(s) will be required to meet some 23 conditions sought by the community, including a required publically accessible plaza that will be available for the Broadway Farmers Market and other public events, required mid-block pedestrian pass throughs, 266 bike stalls, no more than 0.7 parking spaces per residential unit (the first time that Seattle has set a parking maximum), and a series of other design elements. Other design elements can be proposed that will enhance the livability and sustainability of the developments.

In addition, there are seven other factors that will be awarded bonus points in proposals, including the quality of the plan for accommodating the Farmers Market, additional affordable housing, and providing space for a community center. These bonus points will be used to distinguish among proposers under a formula developed by Sound Transit and City staff.

This is an exciting project for Seattle, and is the first systematic approach to creating transit oriented development using Sound Transit’s surplus property. Sound Transit was created to provide transportation services, including light rail, commuter rail, and buses, and that is still its main mission. However, the region increasingly understands that integrating transit with housing and urban development is the best way to ensure that we create great transit communities, and Sound Transit is developing policies that allow it to partner in these projects.

Under state law and Federal Transit Administration rules, Sound Transit must get ‘Fair Market Value’ for its surplus properties, and it is not completely clear how transit oriented development fits into this legal structure. The Capitol Hill Development Agreement required extensive negotiations, and trades additional height and density for community benefits, thereby meeting Sound Transit’s financial requirements. We hope that this model may become the policy framework for future station area development on Sound Transit properties.

It is great to be able to bring together community interests, City policy, and Sound Transit projects to create a win for everybody and a wonderful centerpiece for Capitol Hill.