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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 themselves.

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 Board.

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 neighborhood retail.

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,” he said.

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 Framework.

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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