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By Jeff Strand | Broker in Seattle, WA
  • More Apartments and Heavy Development Headed For Seattle's South Lake Union Fairview Area

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Seattle, In My Neighborhood in Seattle, Rentals in Seattle  |  January 7, 2013 9:39 AM  |  1,433 views  |  1 comment
    This view looks north toward Lake Union from John Street, with low-rise Fairview providing a contrast to the sprawling Amazon.com buildings to the west. But two large projects are planned for this year, which may be just the beginning of changes to this corridor.

     This view looks north toward Lake Union from John Street, with low-rise Fairview providing a contrast to the sprawling Amazon.com buildings to the west. But two large projects are planned for this year, which may be just the beginning of changes to this corridor.

    If you want to see what South Lake Union looked like before Vulcan, before Amazon, take a walk down Fairview Avenue North.

    But you’d better do it soon.

    Fairview, one of South Lake Union’s principal thoroughfares, has remained largely untouched so far by the area’s dramatic transformation. With a few exceptions, it still looks much as it did 30 years ago — a collection of older warehouse, light-industrial and low-rise office buildings, many of them now empty.

    The five-block corridor contrasts sharply with the sprawling headquarters campus that Vulcan Real Estate has built for Amazon.com a block to the west, and the hundreds of new apartments in the Cascade neighborhood a block or two to the east.

    But now Fairview, too, appears to be on the brink of big changes.

    At least two large projects — a 13-story office tower and a 489-unit apartment complex — are expected to break ground in 2013. They could be just the start.

    Altogether, developers have proposed projects along Fairview with a total of 1.5 million square feet of office space — as much as downtown’s 76-story Columbia Center.

    They’re also working on plans for at least 270 more apartments. And three big properties, all candidates for redevelopment, are up for sale.

    “It’s ripe for change,” said Lisa Picard, senior vice president with Skanska USA, developer of the 13-story office tower. “It definitely has an opportunity to become a real spine for the city, an active, vibrant street.”

    Most of the office projects in the pipeline are taller than zoning now allows. Skanska and other developers are betting the City Council will approve Mayor Mike McGinn’s controversial South Lake Union rezone.

    It would raise height limits, now 65 or 85 feet in most of the corridor, to 160 feet for offices and 240 feet for apartment towers. Some neighbors contend that’s too much, at least for some locations. A decision could come in the next few months.

    But John Pehrson of the South Lake Union Community Coalition, one of the rezone’s fiercest critics, agrees Fairview won’t remain as it is for long. “There are definitely opportunities for growth here,” he says.

    Some new projects

    Fairview hasn’t been entirely ignored by developers. There’s a newer project at either end of the corridor — the 12-story Mirabella retirement community, where Pehrson lives, at Denny Way; and the five-story Fairview Research Center office/ lab building at Mercer Street.

    But the newest building on the blocks between them, a vacant florists’ warehouse, is 35 years old. And most of the neighboring buildings are decades older.

    Picard and Seattle Planning Director Marshall Foster say Fairview didn’t get much attention from developers until recently because Vulcan, South Lake Union’s largest landowner, was doing most of the building — and its properties were to the east and west.

    “Essentially, those areas had to mature first,” Picard says.

    The Fairview corridor’s extra-large blocks — up to 2.5 acres — also gave developers pause, they say, as did the protected historic buildings and environmental contamination on some properties.

    Attention is focusing on Fairview now, in part because much of the rest of South Lake Union already has been redeveloped, says Kenny Dudunakis, a senior vice president with apartment brokerage Hendricks & Partners:

    “They’re running out of space,” he says. “And everybody wants to be in South Lake Union.”

    There’s something brewing now on almost every block fronting Fairview. Here’s a roundup:

    • Skanska expects to break ground this year on its 320,000-square-foot 400 Fairview office project, on the east side of the avenue between Harrison and Republican streets. Construction could start without a signed tenant, Picard says.

    The 13-story building’s ground floor would feature a 25,000-square-foot “market hall,” an indoor-outdoor retail space — inspired by Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market -- that would be geared to smaller vendors.

    Picard hopes it will become the neighborhood’s shopping hub.

    • Two other developers, Touchstone and Walsh Construction, are seeking permits for office projects on the west side of Fairview with a total of four 11-, 12- and 13-story buildings.

    Touchstone’s full-block development would be huge — 800,000 square feet — but groundbreaking may be a year or more away. First the developer must remove tons of contaminated soil, a legacy of the industrial Troy Laundry that operated there for nearly 60 years.

    Another complication: The 1927 laundry and another building on the property are protected historic landmarks. Touchstone approached city historic-preservation officials last month about tearing down all but the brick facades to allow easier and safer excavation.

    • Chicago-based Equity Residential has said it plans to start construction this year on a seven-story apartment complex on the block between Fairview, Minor Avenue North and John and Thomas streets.

    The proposed rezone would allow a 240-foot apartment tower on the half-block fronting Fairview, but industry observers say a shorter, wood-frame building that would be less expensive to build probably still pencils out better than a high-rise.

    • BioMed Realty Trust of San Diego, owner of the Fairview Research Center, won city approval a year ago for a seven-story, 105,000-square-foot office/lab addition at Republican Street.

    The company didn’t return a call seeking an update on the project. But the two-story office building that now occupies the site is vacant — the tenant moved out last fall — and BioMed is seeking a demolition permit.

    • The Seattle Times Co. put its two big blocks on Fairview’s west side up for sale early last year, and a deal may be in the works for at least part of one.

    Dallas-based Mill Creek Residential Trust filed a preliminary site plan last month for a seven-story, 270-unit apartment project on the north half of the block where the Times’ mostly vacant former headquarters now stands.

    The second Times block, on Denny Way, is now mostly parking lots but potentially is the corridor’s most valuable property. The rezone would permit office buildings up to 240 feet and apartment towers up to 400 feet tall there.

    • The older buildings that line the west side of Fairview between Harrison and Republican, across from Skanska’s 400 Fairview, also were listed for sale nearly a year ago. Apartment development seems likely; the listing agents are leading apartment brokers.

    • Finally, the city Transportation Department, which bought three-quarters of an acre at Fairview and Harrison in 2006 for the South Lake Union streetcar’s garage, says about half that property — the frontage along Fairview — is surplus to its needs, and probably will be marketed to developers in a couple of years.

    That’s a lot of potential development, says Pehrson of the South Lake Union Community Coalition — in some cases, too much.

    A 400-foot height limit on The Seattle Times’ parking-lot block is “over the top,” he says.

    Touchstone’s office project is too big, too, he says: “It’s a massive building. ... It looks like a wall.”

    And if the height limits along the east side of Fairview are raised to permit projects like 400 Fairview, Pehrson says, the new buildings will tower over five- and six-story apartment buildings a few feet to the east: “That isn’t very good planning.”

    But city planners say their proposals for Fairview are in keeping with surrounding zoning. And they say the rezone aims to let the street redevelop and lure new employers to the area while also protecting the corridor’s most distinctive features.

    Those include a tiny, Seattle Times-owned park with big trees at John Street, and historic landmarks including the Troy laundry and 80-year-old former Times headquarters.

    The rezone legislation would allow developers of those properties to build bigger office buildings if those features are preserved.

    Until now, Foster says, Fairview “has been the boundary between two distinct parts of South Lake Union, between the [mostly residential] Cascade neighborhood and the hub of major employers like Amazon, Group Health and others west of Fairview.

    “We want Fairview to be a great street, a zipper that connects these distinct areas.”

    Originally published January 5, 2013 at 8:00 PM | Page modified January 6, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    By Eric Pryne

    Seattle Times business reporter - Seattle Times

  • Sammamish Named "America's Friendliest Town"

    Posted Under: General Area in Seattle, Quality of Life in Seattle, Home Buying in Seattle  |  December 28, 2012 8:08 AM  |  886 views  |  No comments

    Sammamish, the popular Eastside community known for quiet neighborhoods and terrific high school athletes, has been named the "Friendliest Town in America" by Forbes and Nextdoor.com, a social network.

    A total of 500 towns with populations between 5,500 and 150,000 were included in the study and ranked on the percentage of owner-occupied homes, crime rate, charitable giving, and percentage of college graduates.

    According to the study, home ownership can increase neighborhood stability and college-educated people have been found to display more civic engagement.

    The following towns emerged as the top six friendliest towns in the nation, according to the study:

    1. Sammamish: The Seattle suburb where nearly 90 percent of households own their own homes.

    2. Orinda, Calif.: Just outside of Oakland, this suburb boasts a 92 percent of owner-occupied units.

    3. Fishers, Ind.: This town has a very low crime rate and year-round community activities.

    4. Seal Beach, Calif.: An "Orange County seaside enclave" in which about 75 percent of residents own their homes.

    5. Westerville, Ohio: A Columbus suburb boasts about 40 parks, and a very low crime rate.

    6. Frisco, Texas: Fast-growing suburb in which the population has grown from 40,000 to 120,000 since 2000 and 80 percent of its residents own their homes.

  • Urban walkability: the new driver in Seattle real estate values

    Posted Under: General Area in Seattle, Quality of Life in Seattle, Home Buying in Seattle  |  December 27, 2012 11:35 PM  |  845 views  |  1 comment
    Property values in Redmond and Seattle's Capitol Hill used to be equal. The desire for urban density, walkability, and access to parks has now tilted values decisively in city neighborhoods' favor.

    In a recent New York Times, Christopher Leinberger reported on the Brookings Institute research that has shown a distinct correlation between high house values and walkability of neighborhoods. His article bore the headline: “Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place." The research showed a dramatic flip-flopping of a multi-decade trend in which suburban and exurban houses were valued by the marketplace significantly higher than their urban counterparts. The reversal has occurred in just one decade and has been startling in its geographic and social scope.

    Throughout the country, since the recession, house values have lost as much as 35 percent. That is clear, regardless of location. But what was happening quietly, it seems even before the recession took hold, was that home values within city location were escalating faster than outlying locations. Both have declined, but the decline is not nearly as pronounced within more urban locations.

    Moreover, the difference is value between some inner and outer neighborhoods, even with similar households incomes and demographics, is remarkable. To be clear, the research did not compare a “poorer” neighborhood in the suburbs with a “richer” neighborhood in the city. They were careful to compare those with similar social characteristics. The differences can be astonishing when looking not at the up and downs of the last five years but the changes over the last 15-16 years.

    The research included the Seattle area, which reflects national data. For example, a neighborhood in Redmond was compared with one on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Both had average home values in 1996 that were the almost identical. Now in 2012, the average value per square foot in Capitol Hill is $300, while the Redmond average is $200 per square foot. During the 15-year period, the Seattle neighborhood's home values increased by almost 80 percent, while the Redmond values increased by less than 25 percent.

    Something quite transformational is going on here, something that belies the  “American Dream.” The dream for many is no longer the house surrounded by a big lawn with a two (or three) car garage. That dream for many, is a nightmare. For many others, the ideal has shifted massively.

    One of the fascinating new tools that has served to educate buyers about the type and quality of neighborhoods is the scoring system called Walk Score, which was created by a Seattle-based company called walkscore.com, and has spread across the country. The site evaluates neighborhoods by using a complex algorithm involving proximity to supermarkets, restaurants, medical services, and other things that people need on a daily basis. The methodology has been improving and now takes into account geographic discontinuities like freeways and ravines that make proximity more difficult.

    So fast has Walk Score been brought into the mainstream that real estate agents across the country now advertise homes with their  Walk Score indicated. The Brookings study made us of this mapping analysis to conduct its comprehensive assessment of various neighborhoods. High Walk Score neighborhoods are consistently coming out on top with respect to value per square foot. (To be fair, raw values in many suburban locations are still higher, but that is due mainly to the size of outlying properties.)

    To be sure, many people are still choosing outlying areas and homes to live in, although by some estimates we have a sufficient supply of detached, single family houses in outer areas to last at least a decade, without building a single additional subdivision.

    Clearly we are experiencing a huge sea change. But the interesting aspect of it is not so much about house preferences or locational decisions, but the value that Americans have been placing on the public realm – our collectively shared streets, sidewalks, parks, plazas, and public spaces. The massive shift in attitude has had to do with a fundamental move by many away from placing the quantity and price of private spaces at the top of every wish list. It is now public places that have high value. People are buying not just houses but places.

    This has been recently reinforced by a new scoring system called parkscore.org. A system developed by the trust for Public Lands, after years of research and analysis, parkscore recently rated the largest 40 American cities. The rating system involves its own complex mathematical process of looking at quantity, distribution, spending per capita, and availability of playgrounds.

    The ten top rated cities, in order, are: San Francisco, Sacramento, New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Portland, Virginia Beach, San Diego, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Once again, we are upstaged by our neighbor to the south. But really, all of the top ten were only a handful of points apart with scores ranging from 66 to 74, out of a theoretical total of 100. The loser in the pack is Fresno, California, with a score of 21. 5.

    Parkscore is intended as a both a reporting tool and a planning tool. It can help policy makers and planners to identify neighborhoods that are not served well by parks and how to make existing parks even better. This usually requires a combination of public funding and private funding. Rarely can any city provide everything people desire by themselves. Organizations like the Seattle Parks Foundation are critical. But so are citizens who vote to tax themselves for benefit of themselves and their neighbors.

    That attitude of collective responsibility and  leaving a legacy for our grandchildren now drives many Americans to live differently. A high regard for the public realm is now the hallmark of healthy and successful cities.

    By Mark Hinshaw
  • New vendors greet neighbors at expanded Queen Anne Farmers Market

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in 98109, Home Buying in 98109, In My Neighborhood in 98109  |  July 9, 2012 9:45 AM  |  1,143 views  |  No comments
    Just a few hours before the season opening of the Queen Anne Farmers Market, heavy rain drenched volunteers as they struggled to set up. “It was a torrential downpour,” explained Maria College, co-founder of QAFM. “My hair was flat. It looked like I was in a pool.”

    But just as the market opened, the rain stopped, and neighbors began to walk along the expanded rows of vendors on West Crockett Street. Local farmers offered a wider selection of fresh produce, meat and cheese, including new additions like Vicki Brown’s “The Little Brown Farm” from Whidbey Island.

    “She makes amazing goat cheese. She’s getting popular around the country,” said College. In the same booth, Useless Bay Wines — also from Whidbey Island — had some recommendations for wine and cheese pairings.

    Check out more of what's happening at the Queen Anne Farmers Market every Thursday from 3 to 7:30 p.m. from June 7 to October 11.

    Story by Cory Bergman, Queen Anne View

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