There have been a few mildly-interesting articles in the last couple days on the subject of condo conversion projects and Seattle’s increasing density. Here are a few highlights.
Aubrey Cohen updates us on the status of the proposal to condo-ify the Smith Tower:
Owners of the Smith Tower have one of two key city approvals needed to convert the Pioneer Square landmark from offices into condominiums.
Walton Street Capital, a private real estate investment company based in Chicago, filed an application with the city in February to build 150 homes in Seattle’s first skyscraper, which was completed at 506 Second Ave. in 1914. On Monday, city planner Lisa Rutzick approved the plan with several conditions, including that it get a required approval from the Pioneer Square Preservation Board.
The developers still haven’t decided, [Walton Street operating partner Michael Allmon] said Wednesday. “We’re probably two months away from making a decision. But nothing’s happened at this point to keep us from looking.”
Pioneer Square’s neighborhood plan, which was last updated in 2003, calls for more housing, particularly private development for middle-income residents, to help revitalize the area.
I’m as starry-eyed as anyone when I think of how cool it would be to live in a building with that much character, but somehow I doubt that the condos they’re planning will fit the bill of “development for middle-income residents.” Also, while the building itself has desirable character, the same cannot be said of the surrounding neighborhood. I’ve spent some time on the streets around there at night, giving out jackets and coffee to homeless people, and even though we stayed in groups of at least half a dozen, it still felt pretty dangerous. There are some real freaky people that wander the streets of Pioneer Square at night.
Also on the subject of condo conversions was a story from Amy Rolph about one man’s quest to prevent an old church building from going condo:
Sure, it would be great to live in a converted turn-of-the-century church. But it would be even better if that historic building could be enjoyed by music-lovers across the Puget Sound region, right?
For months, Dan Fievez has been posing that question to anyone who might lend a sympathetic ear or, more important, a sympathetic check made out to the tune of $100,000.
Fievez wants to turn the First Church of Christ Scientist on Capitol Hill into a performing arts center that small opera companies, chamber groups and orchestras around the Seattle area could call home. With its cathedral-inspired sanctuary and seating capacity of 1,300, the 101-year-old building at 1519 E. Denny Way fits the profile of what a community music center should ideally be, Fievez said.
But there are a few things standing in the way of his vision: The church, which its dwindling congregation vacated last year and then sold, is being converted into townhomes. The new owners are willing to sell for less than half of what the returns on the homes could be, but the asking price would still tally up to about $4 million — $100,000 of which would be required upfront in earnest money.
How generous of the developer. I’m sure their willingness to consider other options has nothing to do with the inevitable explosion of condo inventory in Seattle over the next few years. Nah.
Lastly, Joni Balter rambles about Seattle’s “growth” in a column that leaves me asking, “what’s your point?”
As part of the neighborhood-planning effort, certain neighborhoods agreed to accept higher density in exchange for urban amenities, such as traffic circles, parks and libraries. Seattle is bracing for another 100,000 residents over the next 15 to 20 years.
In a good news/bad news conundrum, Seattle’s real-estate market is still humming while sales in other parts of the country are slowing.
That means a host of developers and would-be homeowners are still willing to pay $800,000 or more for a teardown. There is a cost to a neighborhood if the teardown’s replacement overwhelms all the other more modestly sized homes with noise, construction dust and view-blocking megahomes.
There it is again: that knotting, clenching, uncomfortable feeling. Will our city feel as livable after all the real-estate money sloshes around and maxes out so many comfortably sized lots in neighborhoods where scale and taste used to mean something?
New laws will help. But some things can’t be fixed. More people means traffic keeps getting worse all the time. Home prices are soaring into the stratosphere. Quality of life here remains quite good but you can feel some of our world-famous livability ebbing. Our angst is palpable.
So, we need more laws to help us get comfortable with McMansions? Sorry Joni, I don’t follow. What do McMansions have to do with growth and density, anyway? It seems to me that they’re counter-productive on the density front. I can understand the logic behind filling Seattle with townhomes, but 2,000+ square foot homes on city lots seem to have more to do with builder profit than with increasing density. But maybe that’s just me.