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Capitol Hill: a resident suggests that developers put in more effort

By April 7, 2007

By Guest Contributor, Jen Power

The POWHat (Pine-Olive Way-Howell-Area Triangle) Neighborhood Association Meeting had a bigger crowd than usual March 13th. On the agenda was a presentation by me about the development going in on Pine between Summit and Belmont. Currently this block is the home of Kincora’s, Manray, the Bus Stop, Harry’s Grocery, Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burrito Kitchen, the Cha Cha, Winner’s Circle, and 22 residential rental units. I had the pleasure of showing everyone what would be replacing this block of vibrant local businesses.

According to the Master Use Plan recently submitted to the city, the development with be a six story, block-long building with 106 units of condominiums priced for middle and high income ($300,000 and up) and a 7 retails bays on the 1st floor with rents double what they are currently (approx $14/sqft. to approx. $30/sqft.). Below you can also see what the architect’s “vision” is for the space.

The POWHat regulars in attendance (yay, Carl and Al!) also got to brief the community about a meeting we had with representatives from the developer Murray Franklyn and the architectural firm Weber + Thompson in January. The Murray Franklyn representative, Wade Metz, asserted that Seattle is a “rich city” and that the market can support higher priced condominiums such as the ones proposed, and stated that he was surprised at the reaction from the neighborhood because Murray Franklyn is a market based company that was simply doing what other developers had already been doing in the neighborhood. And Peter Greaves, the architect, had all the appearance of taking pride in his design work.

Another important note: no bars would be allowed in the retail space because of the bad experience Murray Franklyn had with the Twist in Belltown. At the same time the condos are being marketed to hip young singles and couples for whom the proximity to nightlife would be a reason to move into the neighborhood.

My interpretation of the facts: Murray-Franklyn is getting away with mediocre design and overpriced residences because they already have a killer selling point: Capitol Hill. Unless the condo market is oversaturated before the development hits the market (anybody want to start placing bets?), they will make a lot of money by exploiting the image of a unique and vibrant neighborhood that they will at the same time help destroy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Development doesn’t have to equal homogenized and unimaginative architecture, lack of green and community oriented elements in design, loss of rental units and a proliferation of condominium developments that are uniformly too expensive for most of the city’s and the neighborhood’s population. It also doesn’t have to equal the loss of neighborhood institutions and long time hangouts due to huge retail rent hikes.

Unfortunately, with “market based companies” short term financial goals win over quality construction and architecture, decently priced retail and housing, and green design elements. Immediate profits even win over longer term economic goals like promoting local businesses, having affordable housing available to the city’s workforce, and investing in local property values by building quality developments (what would we do without that invisible hand?).

I’m not opposed to development, or markets for that matter. What I’m opposed to is developers profiting off an image, a community, that they don’t bother to invest in. I’d like to see Murray-Franklyn, and all the other condo developers on Capitol Hill, put in a little effort. You’re going to make money by just being here – how about giving something back?

Details on the next POWHat Meeting

April 10th is the date of our next POWHat meeting. We’ll be meeting in the basement of Capitol Hill Presbyterian, located on Harvard and Howell right behind Seattle Central Community College.

We’ll be addressing the community’s concerns with the condo development planned at Pine between Summit and Belmont again, but this meeting we’ll be focusing on what the community wants from this development (creating a cohesive message) and what we can do to bring this about (next steps).

To keep up on line please visit:

Not enamored with the developments in your neighborhood? Let us know, it is time our voices are heard by the city’s developers and their marketing firms.
– Matt