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Belltown Real Estate

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By Daniel Beekman

Seattle leaders say a proposed upzone of downtown and South Lake Union would help make the city more affordable and diverse.

But some Belltown residents are worried it would fail to stop their downtown neighborhood from becoming more expensive and exclusive.

The upzone would enable new buildings to climb one or several stories higher than is now allowed.

Though it would trigger a new Mayor Ed Murray program requiring developers to create rent-restricted housing, the developers would be allowed to pay fees to the city rather than include the affordable units in their own buildings.

And downtown, officials have said, they expect developers of high-rise buildings to choose to pay those fees.

The fees would serve a worthy purpose: The city would use them to help nonprofit organizations develop rent-restricted housing.

But Murray’s program wouldn’t require that housing to be located in the downtown neighborhoods generating the fees.

The Belltown residents say the affordable units funded by the fees would most likely end up in neighborhoods far from downtown, where land is cheaper.

“This legislation would treat our neighborhood like an ATM,” Evan Clifthorne, of the new community group Project Belltown, wrote in a letter to the City Council last month.

Downtown and South Lake Union are among more than two dozen parts of the city that Murray wants to upzone this year and next, each in tandem with the requirements of his Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program.

The mayor has said the MHA program can produce 6,000 units of rent-restricted housing in a decade, and he’s counting on downtown and South Lake Union development to generate about 2,100 of those units.

The council got started in February, approving an upzone of the University District. A final vote on the downtown and South Lake Union upzone is happened for Monday.

In certain neighborhoods, debates about Murray’s plan are following a familiar script.

Some homeowners are accusing the city of acquiescing to overdevelopment, while some urbanists are slamming the mayor’s critics as “not in my backyard” obstructionists.

Belltown’s narrative is somewhat different, says Merlée Sherman, a 24-year-old food educator raising two children with her partner in a 250-square-foot studio apartment.

Sherman and her neighbors aren’t afraid of density. Belltown already is very urban. And they aren’t particularly upset about what the upzone would do. They’re more upset about what it might not do — help people of all incomes remain in their neighborhood.

“I want other families to be able to live downtown,” Sherman said earlier this month. “We walk everywhere. Everything is accessible. You’d think 250 square feet would be hell, but when we walk outside we have everything.”

Sherman discussed the upzone with Clifthorne after taking part in a Project Belltown “visioning event” last month. They and some of their neighbors say the legislation should ensure the construction of affordable housing in Belltown. They say it should also consider the needs of people struggling to climb into and stay in the middle class.

The MHA program is set up to create housing for families making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income. For a single person, 60 percent of the median is about $40,000 per year, and for a family of four, 60 percent is about $55,000 per year.

By giving Belltown developers the option of paying fees and by helping households making below 60 percent, “you say no” to some middle-class workers, Sherman said.

“You say no to the insurance broker, to the mechanic, the list goes on,” she said.

Terique Scott, who moved to Belltown from Cleveland four years ago, shares Sherman’s perspective. The 30-year-old Belltown Community Council board member says a neighborhood “where you still have black, white, rich, poor, homeless” has become less diverse as rents have soared.

“There should be more workforce housing,” Scott said, sitting around a meeting with Clifthorne and Sherman in the Makers co-working space on Lenora Street. “They’re just making it low-income and high-income. They’re killing the middle class.”

Fees option

Clifthorne, who was an aide to former City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, says council members are well-meaning and says the MHA program is a good idea, overall.

But some details of the plan bother him. Clifthorne says the fees option exists partly because developers believe low-income tenants make their buildings less marketable.

And he says the upzone could exacerbate segregation between neighborhoods by using luxury buildings downtown to fund affordable housing in less-wealthy areas.

“The perception that we can’t have poor people living close to rich people is a driving factor,” Clifthorne said.

For a better Belltown, the city could let downtown developers include units for households making up to 80 percent of the median, he says.

The council also could boost incentives for developers who buy existing buildings near their luxury buildings and then keep the rents affordable, Clifthorne says.

Finally, the MHA program could allow developers to spend less on the rent-restricted units they include in their luxury buildings. The program now requires a building’s rent-restricted and market-rate units to have similar dimensions and amenities.

“We’re not being creative enough,” Clifthorne said.

Councilmember Rob Johnson, who ushered the upzone through the council’s land-use committee, says he understands the anxiety in Belltown but stands by the plan.

The fees option is valuable because construction dollars go further in neighborhoods such as Rainier Beach and Lake City, Johnson says. In other words, a downtown developer paying fees rather than including units means more affordable housing.

“There’s a natural tension around this throughout the city,” Johnson said.

Though the MHA program doesn’t require the city to use the fees in the same neighborhoods where they were generated, the program makes proximity a consideration, the council member says. The city has a track record of funding low-income housing in all sorts of neighborhoods, including Belltown, Johnson notes.

By targeting families making no more than 60 percent of the median, Johnson says, the program is meant to help people making up to just above the minimum wage.

That’s different from most of Belltown’s existing affordable buildings, which are reserved for people making no more than 30 percent of the median, he says.

Another angle

Clifthorne doesn’t expect the council to make any drastic changes Monday in response to Belltown concerns, he says.

But another angle on the upzone could lead to heated debate. Councilmember Lisa Herbold plans to propose an amendment that would increase the requirements on downtown developers, who are being asked to do less than developers elsewhere.

She says the upzone, as proposed, could yield fewer affordable units in some cases than Seattle’s existing Incentive Zoning program, which is voluntary for developers.

Syndicated from The Seattle Times.


In the midst of the digital age, many are astounded that film still even exists. Everyone has digital film and video capabilities, and film Is very expensive, so, why bother right?

While that may have been what you thought once upon a time, your mind will be forever changed once you see the brilliant art made on and with film by artist Jennifer West at her Seattle Art Museum installation “Film Is Dead”.

In this revolutionarily inventive show, West uses 70mm, 35mm and 16mm analog film strips to create beautiful and visually compelling works of art. She treats the film with common household items including food coloring, nail polish, coffee, vinegar, bleach and more to create patterns and unplanned but stunning effects by eroding the films emulsion, staining it and letting the film take one whatever characters it might.

West’s SAM exhibit features film strips and remnants that have been treated and manipulated by the artist in this way, hung from the ceiling, and spanning almost the entire length of the gallery.

In addition to the physical installation at SAM, West has taken many of these works and digitized them to create a film that explores the differences and relationship between the analog and digital qualities of the film medium, creating another layer to this thought provoking artistic experiment.

Jennifer West is a Los Angeles based artist with some history in the Seattle. West received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Evergreen State College in Olympia before returning to her home state of California to earn her Masters in Fine Arts from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

West’s works have been displayed in various solo and group exhibitions across the country and the world including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Lisa Cooley Gallery, New York, NY, Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China, Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Portland, OR and many more.

Her love affair with film dates back more than ten years and she boasts a very interesting and varied portfolio of works including photographic and video works using different and rare types of film and film techniques, light play, performance and her unique film quilts and magic lantern works. West’s style and aesthetic are likely different from any you’ve seen before, exploring and challenging the differences between modern digital photographic art and classic analog film techniques. Her style simultaneously evokes nostalgic feelings and encapsulates a modern and almost futuristic aesthetic, and over all seems to challenge films obsoleteness and the digital waves supremacy.

If you share a love of visual arts, interesting techniques, the fusion of arts and science or simply subscribe to the thought that everything old is new again, “Film Is Dead” is a show worth seeing, if for no other reason than to see something beautiful before it’s gone.

JENNIFER WEST: FILM IS DEAD . . .

Exhibit on display through SUN MAY 7 2017

SEATTLE ART MUSEUM

THIRD FLOOR GALLERIES

 

Seattle CondoThe Downtown Seattle condo market in 2016 was strong as it was in 2015, and in fact, had increases in several key statistics.  The average Downtown Seattle condo sales price was up ($781,310 vs $667,959), price per square foot was up ($702 vs $626), and the days on market was less (29 vs 39 days).  So Downtown Seattle condos sold faster and for more money.  In addition, more of these Seattle condos sold in 2016 (934) than in 2015 (790).  While the numbers improved, sales in both years were dominated by the Belltown condo project, Insignia, on 5th and Battery.  In 2015, there were 299 Insignia sales and in 2016 it accounted for 406 sales.  That increase in sales at Insignia (107) accounts for 74% of the difference of the number of total sales of Downtown Seattle Condos (934 sales – 790 sales = 144 increase).  Insignia has been the exception, not the rule.  It is the only major downtown condo project in the last couple years, mainly because of the risk of lawsuits condo builders face and because the Seattle rental market has improved, making apartments the preferred choice for developers.  With limited new condo inventory and the improved overall Seattle real estate market, Seattle condos have seen increased in their prices.

The overall real estate market in the region (area covered by Northwest Multiple Listing Service which serves 23 Washington State counties) saw an 8.1 increase of sales in 2016 when compared to 2015 with inventory at a record low for most of the year. For the 23 counties, the median sales price increased 8.9 percent from $310,000 in 2015 to $337,500 in 2016. Condos, which make up a smaller share of the market, were up 12.6% while single family homes increased 8.7%.

Inventory was tight throughout the year, there was an average of 1.86 months of inventory in 2016, compared to 2.4 months in 2015. King County was the tightest with only 1.1 months of supply. A balanced market is generally considered to be between 4 and 6 months of inventory.

The luxury real estate market was strong in 2016, with over 3,251 home sales over $ 1 million compared to 2,676 in 2015: over a 21 percent increase. The number of condos over $500,000 also increased with 1,711 sold in 2016 versus 1,459 half-million dollar sales in 2015: also over a 21 percent increase.

2017 seems to be taking over where 2016 left off.  As always, to maneuver the Seattle condo market, reach out to your local real estate broker to navigating the Seattle real estate market.

These statistics were gathered from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, but were not compiled or published by that organization.

By Sean Keeley, for Seattle Curbed

Earlier this year we heard that Richard Tsang of Tsang Enterprises had big plans for 2121 Fifth Avenue in Belltown. Turns out the project also includes 2115 Fifth Avenue and will end up as a 17-story hotel and condo tower. Caron Architecture is bringing the initial designs before the design review board for early guidance on January 3.

Caron Architecture

 

Plans call for approximately 136 residential units, 168 hotel rooms, and 120 parking spaces below-grade. Hotel parking will be off-site and limited retail parking will be accessed directly from the alley. Just off 5th Avenue will be ground-floor retail as well as a shared hotel lobby and residential lobby. There will also be separate amenity space for hotel guests and residents, though residents are expected to have access to some hotel amenities.

The tower is limited to 160 feet because of its proximity to the 24-story Martin apartment tower and the Potala Tower project.

 

In spite of the building boom in downtown Seattle, there have been limited options for buying a home, versus renting. Somewhat resembling a giant stack of glass Rubik’s cubes, a new condominium called Nexus Seattle at 1200 Howell Street in the Denny Triangle, will rectify this for a few. The building will feature 382 units, vary in size and price, ranging from $300,000+ to $3.5 million. Because sections of the building are twisted to face different directions, owners’ views will vary, depending which floor their home is located on.

According to the Nexus website, 80% of the units have already been reserved as of November 2016. Underscoring the market’s desire for permanent housing and the influx of people for high-paying tech jobs downtown, hundreds of buyers lined up to pay the $5,000 refundable deposit to be guaranteed a spot at a priority presales event on June 4th last year. Some people even camped out overnight to be first in line.

The Burrand Group, the Canadian company that owns the site, plans to break ground this month to begin construction. The building itself will rise 41 floors, and will be within walking distance of at least two large-tech work campuses in the South Lake Union area. An article with Puget Sound Business Journal states a fitness center, common co-working space, the option of renting a guest room, and a rooftop terrace will be some of the amenities available.

As of October 2016, the median price for a downtown Seattle condo was $650,000. The median price for a 1-bedroom rental is currently $1,820 per month here, reflecting the 40% hike in rent over the past 5 years. Our city is now in the top ten of most expensive apartment markets in the United States, as of April 2016. So having the option of choosing a smaller place for the option of a smaller price (or larger space at a higher price) at the Nexus will no doubt appeal to some in our current high-demand market.