Sound Transit Derails Neighborhood Development
It's rare to find a neighborhood that's excited about an influx of development. But it's almost unheard of for a neighborhood to go to bat for a developer. Indeed, this is what's happening in North Seattle's Roosevelt neighborhood. Local developer Pryde + Johnson has been working with community leaders since 2004 to redevelop a large property at Northeast 66th Street and 12th Avenue Northeast into a mixed-use apartment/condo project.
"The neighborhood is looking for quality development, and sooner rather than later," says Roosevelt Neighborhood Association Land Use Committee Chair Jim O'Halloran. "The site is quite literally the center of the neighborhood. It's a pivotal site. That is where the density should be located. Give us a six-story building there."
Neighbors have supported an upzone—raising building height limits at the site—and made suggestions like adding workforce housing to accommodate teachers at nearby Roosevelt High School, which the developer moved on. Unlike other developments in Roosevelt, Pryde + Johnson—already well liked in other Seattle neighborhoods for their well-designed, environmentally sustainable projects—seems to have full community support. But the project isn't going to happen, at least not anytime soon. Ironically, the thing that's supposed to be bringing developers and density to the neighborhood is what's standing in the way of the development project: light rail.
Back in 2004, Sound Transit came to the Roosevelt neighborhood and asked residents whether they wanted a massive light-rail stop to be located near I-5 on Eighth Avenue Northeast, or at the center of the neighborhood along 12th Avenue Northeast. Hoping that light rail would invigorate Roosevelt's small urban core, neighbors—veering away from the classic opposition to light rail's massive impact on neighborhood businesses—opted for the centrally located 12th Avenue site ["Bring the Train," Erica C. Barnett, Jan 6, 2005]. That same year, Pryde + Johnson bought a 1.69-acre property—currently a worn-down QFC—right above a proposed underground light-rail station for $6 million. Pryde + Johnson had plans to build a 242-unit condo project, right above the underground train stop. This was all well and good until Sound Transit decided it needed to control the property.
"We need the whole site for construction staging," says Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray. "That's where we would drop in our tunneling machines to build a station." Pryde + Johnson initially proposed that Sound Transit lease the site, and when construction was finished—sometime in 2018—the developer could regain control of the site and build up. However, Gray says Sound Transit doesn't want to deal with any complications that might arise from leasing the property. Sound Transit isn't playing the eminent-domain card—yet—as it's done on parts of Capitol Hill, but with its political clout and muscle, it appears it's only a matter of time before Sound Transit gets its way.
"If we started building something, [Sound Transit] would force a lawsuit to condemn it," says Curt Pryde of Pryde + Johnson. Sound Transit wants the property, plain and simple. And Pryde says Sound Transit routinely dismissed proposals to lease the site, or agree to sell the property back to Pryde—at cost—when construction is finished. Pryde says he's even offered to pay for the last stages of construction—as Sound Transit builds up to street level—so that an underground parking garage could be built on top of the station. Still, a mutually agreeable solution hasn't been reached. "We feel like they are [being inflexible]. We've been... giving them all the ideas we have, [but] they still come back [and say they] plan on condemning it."
To make matters worse, the upcoming vote on Proposition 1—which would fund a light-rail expansion, including the Roosevelt stop—could put Pryde in an even worse position. If Proposition 1 fails, Sound Transit wouldn't have the cash to buy the site and Pryde + Johnson would be free to develop the property. However, the Puget Sound region wants and needs light rail, so another vote would likely only be a few years off. So, while Pryde + Johnson wait for a vote that could take years, they would either have to sit on the property losing money, they say, or build up and hope a deal could be worked out later.