It will likely require the state Legislature fully funding relocation of the Washington National Guard from Interbay to North Bend before redevelopment can occur.	
Photo by Brandon Macz
It will likely require the state Legislature fully funding relocation of the Washington National Guard from Interbay to North Bend before redevelopment can occur. Photo by Brandon Macz
The Interbay Public Development Advisory Committee has provided private consultants with more guidance about what redevelopment strategy they want to see on the Washington National Guard’s Seattle armory site, and is now exploring whether light manufacturing and affordable housing can coexist on the 25-acre property.

While a legislative proviso directs the committee to send a recommendation to Olympia that provides maximum public benefit for the site, nothing can happen if the National Guard can’t relocate. Negotiations started earlier this month to acquire a 25-acre site in North Bend from Puget Western, Inc. The Legislature approved $6 million toward the purchase during its last session.

The armory and field maintenance shop also have value to the state, said Jim Darling with Maul Foster Alongi, the lead consultant group working with the Interbay Public Development Advisory Committee.

It will likely be the state that’s called on to fund the $65 million for a new readiness center and $22 million for a maintenance shop, and recovering some or all of those costs could come through redevelopment of the Interbay armory site.

Reports prepared for the committee ahead of its July 23 meeting note the assumption had been that federal funding would cover the entire cost of a new maintenance shop and 75 percent of a readiness center, but it’s unlikely it would be available anytime soon.

A Military Relocation Report states the earliest funding for a new maintenance shop could be available is 2031. The readiness center needs the shop, and the report states it’s “operationally infeasible to build them separately.” So, waiting for federal funding would mean the National Guard wouldn’t begin operating out of North Bend until 2034-36.

Working under the assumption the state will come through with funding sooner, and partial federal reimbursement would come later, consultants are looking at the potential for the Interbay property to become available for redevelopment by 2025.

“We need to start working with our federal partners on this,” said Washington state Sen. David Frockt, who serves on the committee.
Creating affordable housing on the property at 1601 Armory Way has been a top ask by the community in the past two open houses hosted by the Washington Department of Commerce, which is leading the redevelopment planning process with the Military Department.

Consultants shared three concepts with the committee on May 8, then spent the last two months checking the financial feasibility of either keeping the property zoned for industrial purposes, creating midrise mixed-use apartments or pushing for residential high-rise development. The concepts also include pedestrian and civic spaces.

A real estate study by Heartland consultants determined the industrial land could fetch $140 per gross building square foot, $30,000 per market-rate unit if rezoned for midrise development, and up to $45,000 per market-rate unit under a “Towers and Circle” high-rise concept.

The report states the high-rise concept isn’t currently feasible, particularly due to a lack of clarity as to where Sound Transit will run its tracks and a Smith Cove station during light rail expansion from downtown to Ballard.

“We know the market we’re in,” Darling told the committee on July 23. “We’re in a cycle.”

Not knowing how positive the real estate market will be in another decade also adds a sense of urgency.

Consultants ran two other scenarios for the high-rise concept that considered affordable housing — at 60 percent of the area median income or less — on 20 and 40 percent of the site.

The report also considered how the Mandatory Housing Affordability program would affect land sales, assuming developers would rather pay a fee in lieu of creating affordable housing in their buildings. The report states the impact to land value at about $18,000 to $20,000 per unit.

The armory site is also in a liquefaction zone, and so developers would need to cover the cost of building structures on pilings and slabs.

Darling said two models for the “Pedestrian Village” midrise concept fit well with the legislative proviso’s guiding principles.

The “Pedestrian Village” alternative contemplates residential density at 75 units per acre or a little more than 1,800 spread across six- to eight-story buildings.

Then consultants threw an industrial/residential hybrid into the mix during the July 23 meeting. It considers first creating an industrial buffer to the BNSF rail yard adjacent to the armory site on the west end, and then building out residential units from north to south.

While Darling said consultants didn’t take a deep dive into the hybrid model, preliminary study shows financial feasibility and implementation are questionable. The real estate report, assuming 40 percent of residential units are affordable, estimates a $15.4 million deficit. Infrastructure costs would also be slightly higher than the other options.

“I wouldn’t throw this one out yet until we get some more information,” Darling said.

Washington 36th District Rep. Gael Tarleton said she was interested in exploring the hybrid model and didn’t want to pursue only industrial uses. She liked mixing in the “Pedestrian Village” model.

Committee members also wanted to see a mix of workforce housing included in a potential final concept. A draft recommendation will be considered during the committee’s Aug. 27 meeting, followed by a final recommendation and report on Sept. 25 and final open house on Oct. 1. A recommendation is expected to be transferred to the governor’s office and Legislature by Nov. 15.

Once a redevelopment plan is rolled out, committee members expressed an interest in keeping its implementation under the purview of the state.
Consultants considered the potential of selling or transferring the land to the City of Seattle or King County, but that left uncertainty as to whether those entities would want to take on the task. There also could be a conflict if the city were taking on a regulatory role and also heading up development, according to the report. Sale of the property is the only way to offset the cost of the National Guard’s relocation.

Maul Foster and Alongi senior planner Matt Hoffman said the City of Seattle is currently looking at making changes to industrial lands, potentially opening up the Interbay area for rezones through a comprehensive plan amendment.

“I think this is the fourth time this has been looked at,” he said.

Committee members expressed an interest in exploring the option of creating a community preservation and development authority (CPDA) to manage sale and redevelopment of the property. A CPDA would not have taxing authority, but could issue tax-exempt financing, according to a Maul Foster Alongi memo. Any new entity created to oversee the redevelopment plan would need funding for staff, as well as revenue, and would likely dissolve once the project is finished.

In the interim — after the National Guard moves but before redevelopment occurs — the Low Income Housing Institute is asking for permission to use the site for another tiny house village, similar to Interbay Village, which opened on Port of Seattle property near Magnolia Bridge in fall 2017.

Share the Cities member Laura Loe said she worried about talks at previous meetings being focused more on job creation than housing, but is also conflicted about advocating for housing on the site due to air pollution from traffic on 15th Avenue West and trains at the rail yard.

Seattle resident Ray Dubicki cautioned the committee that a transportation study for the redevelopment plan did not take into account all of the infrastructure projects near the site that could have an impact.