High-Rise Apartments Marching On

This proposed 400-foot tower at 2116 4th Ave in Belltown just had its design review recommendation meeting meeting December 16. Developed by HAL and designed by Weber Thompson, the 444,500 sf project will house 359 apartments, 2,700 sf of street-level retail, and 324 parking stalls.

The parking ratio of 0.9 is relatively low for typical high-rise residential, though by code it could be zero. Since the building footprint is only about 12,000 sf, those 324 stalls have to be spread over 12 levels, four above, and eight below grade. The four above-grade parking decks present a serious design challenge, and will be “animated with work studios covering approximately 55% of the fa├žade, and treated with a dynamic and artistic architectural expression,” according to the design review document (pdf).

Of course the question is, given the current development slowdown, is this project still scheduled to move ahead? Such information is typically closely held by developers, but apparently HAL may have some immunity (pdf, see p.3).

“The Company invests its own capital, not funds temporarily made available by outside investors. As a result, HAL does not operate within limited time horizons, nor is it subject to other restrictions common to institutional investors.”

With so many Seattle downtown residential projects going on hold, it could pay off to get a project in the pipeline now, such that it would be coming on line when things begin to recover (assuming they do…). Though there will likely be big chunk of competition hitting the apartment market in the area in about two years: 624 apartments in the Pine Street Group’s 240-foot twin tower on 6th Ave between Blanchard and Lenora; 344 apartments in the 440-foot “Kinects” tower at Minor and Stewart, and 325 apartments in a 440-foot tower at 815 Pine St, both being developed by Security Properties. All three projects are currently scheduled to break ground in 2009.

13 Responses to “High-Rise Apartments Marching On”

  1. AJ

    In my idealized world, this would take some pressure off the hill since these seem to be the sorta auto-optional places that a lot of folks living in that newer Madison/Broadway/12th nexus like and would lead to some kind of trickle down and more space freeing up.

    $950 for a studio isn’t out of my range, but it stings a little. Hopefully more supply will temper demand and $950 can go back down to $800 or less.

  2. Josh Mahar

    Wow, this is a pretty little floorplan size for such a big building, no?

  3. Andrew

    It’s a beautiful building.

  4. Tony

    I will say this is one of the prettiest residential highrises I have ever seen proposed.

    That said, it’s more fun to complain about things so I’ll pick the 4 stories of above-grade parking. Above grade parking terrible for the urban form in general. Usually it creates a substantial physical separation between the residents and the street (see The Cosmopolitan for example). This separation perpetuates classism and looks ugly.

    The city ought to seriously consider prohibiting above-grade parking. (They do this in Vancouver.) Can’t physically fit 324 parking stalls below grade? Then you can’t build 324 parking stalls. Build 216 instead. Take the extra 4 stories and build more apartments.

    Contrary to popular belief, there is much more of a market for parking-free apartments than is currently being supplied. One need only look at the hundreds of old apartment buildings, including several pricy historic buildings that have no parking. Quite simply, they still rent these spaces! My apartment building has no parking at all and every unit is rented at market rate. Belltown is a place people move to escape the burden of car ownership. That’s one of the reasons that people can afford higher rents: they have lower transportation expenses. Sadly though, they STILL have to pay for the parking spaces that they don’t use.

    Here’s some math:

    A parking space takes up about 400 sq ft. Structurally speaking, it doesn’t cost much less to turn 400 interior sq ft into a parking stall than it does to add extra space to an apartment, but let’s discount it and say that with the money that could be saved from ditching a parking space, one could add 300 sq ft to one of the units.

    So here’s the question: in Belltown, which would rent for more?

    1.) A 500 sq ft apartment with a parking space
    2.) An 800 sq ft apartment without a parking space

    Notice that each of these options COSTS THE SAME to build.

    The only reason these buildings are being built with parking ratios above 0.5 is inertia. Developers are just not willing to change, but moreso, financers are unwilling to change. Eventually the market will get this figured out. Eventually some developer is going to have the guts to build a new building with a 0.5 parking index and is going to make a killing, and once a few projects demonstrate that the model is feasible, then others will follow suit.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t do anything for the projects that get built between now and that fateful day when developers actually get it figured out. How many projects will overbuild their parking, resulting in oversupply, underpricing, more traffic and ugly architecture, all of which undermine the urban form and discourage further density?

    As much of a free-marketer as I am, when we are dealing with a rare, irretrievable public resource in the form of urban land, we really can’t wait for it to all shake out. The government needs to help it along by requiring that all parking be below grade or by limiting the parking index in all new buildings.

  5. dan bertolet

    I second Tony’s call for a ban on above-ground parking. It would be interesting to know if 2116 4th Ave would have been feasible in that case. One problem is the ban would have a bigger impact on tall skinny buildings, cause they’d have to go deeper to get the same parking ratio. So you’d need to combine it with a parking maximum, otherwise short, large footprint buildings could still have high parking ratios.

    Also: a parking maximum would help create more affordable housing units, and not only because of the $40k saved per stall. Because wealthy people are unlikely to buy/rent a place without a parking space, the market demand would necessarily shift to lower-priced units, and developers would adjust their plans accordingly. In other words, a given building could only have as many luxury units as parking stalls, and if you limit the parkings stalls, you limit luxury units.

    And: no question that financing is the main impediment to lower parking ratios. I’ve talked to more than one developer who would like to reduce parking but can’t because they wouldn’t get financed. It’s amazing how conservative lenders are on that one issue, compared to how unmindful of other sources of risk they seem to have been in recent years.

  6. Spencer

    “Eventually some developer is going to have the guts to build a new building with a 0.5 parking index”

    Tony, it’s called low-income housing. There are several buildings downtown for people making less than 60% median income with only a few to no parking spaces.

    Like Dan is saying, parking spaces are developed into projects for those in higher income levels, though not entirely those living way above median income.

    What I find funny about the bank/private financing of “luxury” downtown housing is that the level of risk of units with little to no parking seems much lower than the speculative lending practices they participated in over the past 4-5 years.

    I’m still baffled at how “well” paid but rather stupid people in the banking industry are.

  7. wes

    A ban on above ground parking would also add those lower floor levels for housing units, which won’t have good views and, thus, be cheaper. When humoring the idea of living in a downtown tower I looked at the Cosmopolitan (I think that is what it is called) and was shocked to learn the lowest floor with housing on it was the 9th floor. I saw units going for $195,000 on that level…what would the units on the floors below that have gone for had they not been allocated to parking?

  8. Tony

    Spencer,

    I am aware that low-income housing has embraced the no-parking concept, and I’m aware that it works, but there’s very little profit in low-income housing. What I’m talking about is market-rate housing with less parking. I know a young couple in my neighborhood that makes about $150 k between the two of them and they do not own a single vehicle.

    There are a lot of retired people who have the means to afford market rate, even luxury housing, but who do not wish to deal with car ownership. There are college students who through a combination of their parents’ money and co-habitation can afford to pay full market rate. People who don’t own cars of moderate means actually have a lot more disposable income than people who are burdened with car ownership and as such can afford to buy into a notch above what their income would normally qualify for. My point is that there IS a market out there for this and it extends way beyond the “below 60 percent median income” bracket.

    You’re definitely correct though about the lenders. All the more reason for the city to be a bit more aggressive on this issue. If a developer can say to a lender “it’s not my idea, the city is making me do it” they might be able to convince a lender, but by far the most powerful way to convince lenders is to get a few success stories out there.

    “The best way to show that something can be done is to show that it has been done.”

  9. Tony

    Question for Dan B:

    How is it that the footprint is 12,000 sf, but there is only 2,700 sf of ground level retail? What’s going on with the other 9,300 sf?

  10. Spencer

    Tony,

    considering some of the discussion of all the parking for this building my bet is that 9300sf went to….parking.

  11. holz

    yet another weber + thompson abortion? awesome. just what our skyline needs!

    seriously, did anyone working there not go to ITT?

  12. Spencer

    holz,

    I agree that W/T is not the great design firm that should be filling our skyline with as many buildings as they do, but at least they have attracted enough talent to improve on the 700 Broadway fiasco (though still too much pride and ego exists).

  13. holz

    spencer,

    i was not aware of how awesome 700 broadway is.

    please disregard my previous comment.

    w+t should be the only architect in town building anything.

    i mean, surely there was no good reason the aia awards committee didn’t want to show any exterior pictures of the terry/thomas project…

    yech.

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