RNA Future Neighborhood Vision

Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance Future Neighborhood Vision

Dec 17, 2012

Executive Summary

This document conveys a future vision for the University District neighborhood as it looks forward to future transit oriented development around light rail stations.  It was composed by the Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance, the local neighborhood organization with assistance from a handful of interested residents and business owners.

Future Visions[DLC1] 

Diverse residential opportunities

Encourage a healthy diversity of families, professionals, non-professionals, students and retirees living in our midst in housing that is varied and desirable to these populations.

Encourage a more family oriented as well as mature population north of NE 50th St.

Demand that students be good neighbors .

Discourage rowdy behavior and elements that generate noise at night.  Solutions likely involve a combination of laws, zoning and enforcement.  Discourage college bars near residential areas.  Penalize both residents and businesses that do not honor the Seattle noise ordinance.

Discourage congregate housing.  The concept has proven viable and attractive in many communities, but it tends to degenerate into something unattractive when absentee landlords and too many youngsters combine.Encourage owner occupancy.   Neighborhood stewardship often follows.

Attract long term year-round residents.  This helps build community.  Every community needs a critical mass of people who are vested in the neighborhood and espousing long term interests.

Encourage more 2- and 3-bedroom apartment units.  Such units are necessary for families who cannot reasonably occupy a studio or 1-bedroom unit.

Provide financial or height incentives to developers to build 2- and 3-bedroom apartment units.  Currently no such incentive exists.  Provide a tradeoff system for additional height based on providing additional 2 or 3 bedroom units.  One idea would be to offer additional floors beyond a specific height, such as a base of 110’ up to a max of 160’ in specific locations, if 50% of the additional square footage is devoted to 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom units.

Encourage developing condos in addition to today’s popular apartments.  This speaks to the goal of building quality housing stock that lends itself to longevity and being taken care of.  A tighter building envelop, double wall construction and parking help keep such units desirable.  Avoiding shared walls mitigates noise from neighboring units.  Provide zoning to allow for more cost effective tall structures that would naturally dovetail with concrete construction and condos.


Land use and urban form

Preserve the single family zoning in existing strong single family areas, like on 11th and 12th Avenues north of NE 52nd St and the streets west of Roosevelt, north of NE 50th or NE 55th St.  The neighborhood considers this a strong priority and would prefer to absorb additional density through much greater height south of 50th to preserve the single family character.  (Note, row houses and townhomes are distinctly different zoning than single family zoning, did we want to encourage row houses north of those lines, or just in the areas north of 50th and south of 52nd/55th?).Encourage very tall heights of 220′ or 300′ south of NE 45th St.  Such buildings offer [DLC2] increased density in a package that is attractive to the community, tenants and residents due to steel and concrete construction and views.  Such development can create value and help fund pedestrian improvements in terms of sidewalk and landscaping amenities.  Identify the best several sites for such tall buildings.  Zone appropriately.  Make it feasible to build tall towers.  Leverage planned scarcity at the less dense levels to promote greater heights in our urban core.

[DLC3]  Avoid the 3 and 4-story shoe box lot-line-to-lot-line buildings that are the least expensive to construct and can be the least friendly visually with little modulation or additional open space.

Favor taller narrower buildings over shorter wider buildings of the same square footage.  Narrower buildings provide more light and air around them.  Narrower buildings provide more area at ground level for plantings and open space that benefits the pedestrian experience.

Limit or eliminate L4 and L3 zoning. [DLC4]  Limit L1 and L2 zoning to those areas that are targeted for row houses or street facing townhomes.  So much of the current construction in these areas proves to be cheap and focused on converting houses into boarding houses or tiny apartments.  These properties risk becoming liabilities.

Avoid 4-pack and 6-pack designs where 4 and 6 townhouses are built on a lot without front doors facing the street.  Require an orientation with street-facing front doors.  The rear units facing the alley are okay if they coexist with front facing units.  Keep zoning to L1 or in some instances, L2 to encourage townhouses and row houses.

Encourage row house construction in the spirit of New York brownstones of several stories with steps up to a front door.  All units face the street to encourage residents to engage with street activity.  Deep single lots typical in the neighborhood may not be suitable for row houses.  However, consider what can be done across multiple adjacent lots, and mitigating lot depth by adding garages on the alley and providing setbacks from the street that allow plenty of plantings.

Encourage cottage housing.  A good example exists on the 6300 block of 5th Ave NE.  Six small cottages, each less than 1000 sq ft, surround a central shared courtyard.  A row of garages on the alley support three more units above that also look onto the courtyard.  This grouping comprises nine condominium homes spanning two city lots.

Encourage developments in the spirit of the classic Anhalt apartment buildings found on Capitol Hill.  All these structures have a common courtyard  – a design with universal human appeal.  A similar structure exists on the west side of the 4200 block of Brooklyn Ave NE.  A modern rendition could exceed heights of the 2-story Anhalts while retaining the traditional brick façade and central courtyard.  A good example of this pattern on a 7-story scale is the Wilsonian on the 4700 block of University Way NE.  The Lothlorian, its new sibling immediately to the north, is a good example of thoughtful development by sharing similar aesthetics and materials.Recognize that we risk overbuilding the typical 5-over-1 and 5-over-2 style buildings that will all age at the same rate and likely become eye sores rather than remain assets in the community.  Encourage up zoning existing 65’ zoning to the next feasible category up, contingent on three requirements: greater setbacks with more landscaping along the front of the building and on the streets, require 60% of the first 3 floors to be brick, architectural concrete, or stone; and require more towers to allow sunlight through to the street.

Consider recognizing long time non-conforming uses as potential areas for up zoning.  Consider properties along the south side of Ravenna Blvd at Brooklyn east to 15th Ave NE.  (Note that this may result in modifications to single family zones to L1 or L2 due to grandfathered in units, might be worth noting non-conforming commercial.)

Encourage new construction that uses durable materials.  New buildings should be made to last and age gracefully.  Require brick over less durable and more maintenance prone materials as part of the up zoning.  Requiring brick, stone, or architectural concrete will also create, over the longer term, a distinct character that will separate the U District from other emerging Seattle neighborhoods and connects with the historical elements of the U District as well as the campus buildings.

Encourage quality infill development.  This often allows existing buildings to remain, possibly repurposed.  Infill can help maintain the unique character of the neighborhood by retaining existing buildings and businesses.

Developing buildings with good design is usually more important than setting a particular zoning restriction.


Commercial growth

Encourage development of office space to attract professionals, start-ups, and businesses seeking synergy with the UW. Some of the development in S. Lake Union might have happened here if the zoning permitted it. Make the U District the logical place to set up shop for the tech and biotech industries.

Encourage versatility.  Retail store fronts may not remain as such for the life of the building.  One developer on Capitol Hill believes newly developed buildings should have 16 foot ceilings on the ground floor to accommodate the need for versatility.Disallow parking lots between the street and store fronts.  A good example of this anti-pattern – a pattern not to follow – is the Plaid Pantry with its front parking lot next to the fire station at NE 50th St and Roosevelt.

Discourage chain stores.  Keep most new developments’ store front widths less than the 100 ft or so that chain stores require.  That said, landing the right kind of large anchor retail store akin to the University Book Store or Trader Joes could be a real boon to the retail corridor on the Ave and neighboring streets.  We could use another supermarket or two.  Also, having a couple of large anchors actually pulls people into an area and builds more traffic for other local small businesses.

Capitalize on clusters of particular retail to attract clientele.  For instance, five vegan establishments exist within a short walk of each other in our neighborhood.  A similar number of bicycle and high-end stereo stores exist when one includes Roosevelt south of NE 65th St.  Dentist offices, churches, services for homeless youth and others in need are densely represented here.  Restaurants, pubs and public transportation are all readily available with plenty of choices.

Attract good paying jobs to the neighborhood.  Jobs are a zero-sum resource.  If they aren’t attracted to our community, they will go elsewhere.


New growth should bring new amenities

Demand open space.

Encourage amenities that make people want to be here.  Develop community.

Incentivize the widening of sidewalks with greater heights along University Way between NE 50th and Ravenna Blvd to create a walkable area with redevelopment of blocks that could be very desirable with the right mix of living and office and retail spaces, transit, walkability, proximity to Cowen Park and U Heights Center where the farmer’s market is on Saturdays.  The low volume of traffic along the northern five or ten blocks of University Way make it an ideal area to redevelop with pocket parks where people can sit outside at cafes and restaurants.  Imagine a linear plaza along long wide sidewalks.

Plant every street with street trees.  Making a street more attractive can make the difference between attracting tenants who behave with self-awareness and respect toward their neighbors and those who do not.

Offset increased heights with greater setback requirements, as well as midblock pass-throughs to offset long blocks.  Require a portion of these setbacks and pass-throughs to be landscaped with both trees and ground related plantings.  Explore a local improvement district for the purpose of maintaining street-side landscaping.

Encourage properties to be well maintained. (Note – will be hard to do…)

Recognize existing density.  Single family homes often house more than one household.[DLC5]

Require pedestrian amenities in new developments.  This includes greater building setbacks where private space appears to be public space in the form of wider sidewalks.  Require street trees and significant plantings in front of buildings to soften the urban hardscape.  In cases where these cannot be required, sell developers and existing owners on the broader community benefits of investing in making the neighborhood pedestrian friendly.  Greater foot and bicycle traffic provide more spontaneous retail opportunities.  (Note – should probably combine with similar notes above)

Community involvement

Require community involvement in the city’s decisions to change zoning within the neighborhood.  The community knows its existing assets best, whether it be good retail, strong single family residential, or distressed areas prone to neglect or otherwise in want of change.  Absolutely have the messy dialog to ensure the communication channel is working both ways and parties make and accept decisions based on full information.  Such discourse can help avoid and defray confrontational tendencies neighbors can find themselves entrenched in out of ignorance, fear of change, or a sense of not being heard.

Support seamless interchanges between mixed modes of travel.  A number of commuters travel via car and bus, or bicycle and bus.  A number will travel by bus, foot and light rail.  These interchanges need to be seamless.  Transit arrival time displays are needed in high traffic areas like the light rail stations showing real time schedules for both buses and trains.[DLC6]

Court developers with long term interests in their projects.  Favor developers who manage their asset after construction over those who build and sell for a short term profit.


 [DLC1]Some of the topics jump around a little – here’s our take at fitting the comments together in a few discrete themes.

 [DLC2]People don’t respond well to arguments for “extreme” density or height…

 [DLC3]1st paragraph suggests highrise south of 50th, 2nd says south of 45th  — try to reconcile the similar ideas here.

 [DLC4]Is the message here that they should be “up-zoned” to midrise or highrise, or “down-zoned” to single-family?

 [DLC5]Unclear what point  you’re making here, given earlier comment discouraging subdivided houses?

 [DLC6]This one is in its own category, maybe?