Keep the post office. The Central District has enough
grocery stores. Create a Pike Place Market-style retail section. Put in a
community play space. Design apartments suitable for families.
These were among the requests made by Central District
residents during an open house for the Midtown Center development slated for a
super block at 23rd Avenue and East Union on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
Lennar Multifamily Communities is developing the large
project, with retail-focused partner Regency Centers, to include a
30,000-square-foot grocery store, 10,000-square-foot pharmacy and an additional
6,500 square feet of retail space below five to six floors of apartment units.
The latest reveal for the new development is the inclusion
of Africatown in the site’s construction, the preferred Midtown Center design
being a horseshoe with a small, separate section set aside for the Central
District nonprofit to construct affordable housing. Africatown will work with
nonprofit Forterra to secure funding to develop the southern building. A number
of Central District residents asked developers to finance the project
Regency Centers had been holding the land under contract for
more than a year, the Bangasser family at one point planning to sell the
Midtown Center property on the southeast corner of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, stretching
an entire block south to East Spring Street, to Legacy Partners. That deal fell
through as the Bangassers dealt with a lawsuit to resolve family ownership.
“They got to a position where that developer did not see a
path forward to developing this site,” said Brad Reisinger, president of the
Pacific Northwest division of Miami-based Lennar Multifamily Communities.
“Regency was still excited about it … They were still excited about it but they
needed someone to develop the apartments above.”
Lennar brought on Encore Architects to study the site,
zoning requirements, previous community feedback and the city’s Urban Design
Framework for the area.
“There was a lot of sensitivity to 23rd and Union and the
Central District as a whole,” Reisinger said, “so we spent more time working
with, not only planners of this pre-app, but also sitting down with senior
staff and talking with the mayor’s office, and we heard over and over that a
group we need to work with is Africatown.”
Wanting to celebrate the Central District’s culture and
history, Reisinger said Lennar sat down with Africatown CEO Wyking Garrett to
find common ground for the project.
Developers shared with Central District residents the three
design proposals that will be presented for early design guidance on Jan. 4.
Reisinger said Lennar requested two EDG meetings, the second to include any
changes decided upon after receiving community feedback on Dec. 21. Developers
would then have a final recommendation meeting with the East Design Review
The preferred alternative creates a horseshoe design, with
Africatown developing a site across from it, the two structures sharing a
community walkway with retail on both sides.
One goal is for the development to be equitable, so Lennar
is voluntarily making 10 percent of the 355 apartment units in the northern
building at 60 percent of the average median income, Reisinger said, to comply
with a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Mandatory Housing
Affordability action that isn’t set to be adopted until next year, and would
upzone the neighborhood possibly to 85 feet — Midtown Center is proposed at 70
feet by developers. Developers are also using the city’s Multi-Family Tax
Exemption program, which will ensure 20 percent of the units are at 65-85
percent of AMI.
The southern building Africatown would own is proposed to
include up to 120 affordable housing units, community office space and more
East Union and 23rd Avenue are pedestrian streets, where the
city wants retail activation, said Andy Hoyer, principal at Encore Architects.
Spring Street and 24th will focus on residential, facilitating a transition
from the single-family homes around the development. That includes several
two-story townhomes along 24th.
Because curb cuts are not allowed on pedestrian streets,
vehicle access is being proposed on 24th. The main pedestrian entrance is
proposed on 23rd.
One group asked that commercial and residential parking be
consolidated in one place. Plans are to have 125 parking stalls under the
grocery store. There are another 250 residential spots proposed for the
project. Reisinger said developers are working with the city’s transportation
department and hiring a traffic consultant.
The pedestrian walkthrough between the northern and southern
buildings will be a strong feature, Hoyer said, tying the two sites together
with small retail.
“There’s lots of possibilities for what this space can be,”
Whether the walkway will remain accessible to the public at
all times is uncertain, Reisinger said, echoing concerns about crime in the
neighborhood expressed by some residents.
“Are people going to gather at two o’clock in the morning?”
he said. “If they are, it’s probably not for the right reasons.”
The Fountain of Triumph at the corner of 23rd and Union will
be repaired, Reisinger said, and donated to Africatown if it wants it.
Developers are considering it for the pedestrian passthrough.
One group asked that a small local coffee shop be chosen
over a Starbucks, as featured in a graphic from the 23rd Avenue Urban Design
Residents also told developers on Wednesday that there are
enough grocery stores in the neighborhood, and they’d prefer more small retail.
Reisinger told the Capitol Hill Times developers are not yet announcing the
grocery store that’s been selected, but it will be local. Designs show a
backward Whole Foods sign.
The main corner of 23rd and Union will be setback for wider
sidewalks to increase pedestrian activity.
The site will displace several existing businesses in the
super block, including a post office, Earl’s Cut and Styles, Noble Spirits,
Midtown Laundry and Metro PCS.
Residents at Wednesday’s open house were adamant about
keeping the post office open. Reisinger said existing businesses will be able
to remain open until 2018, with construction expected to start sometime during
the first half of that year.
“At the end of the day, once we begin construction, those
businesses will be displaced,” he said.
Reisinger told the Capitol Hill Times retail spaces planned
for the project won’t be held for any of the displaced businesses. Garrett told
the Times that Africatown is working with those businesses facing displacement.
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