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May 28, 2015

17 studios in 6 stories: How to make the most of a little lot

Journal Staff Reporter

Rendering courtesy of NK Architects [enlarge]
Construction is set to start in September on JaMar Boylston. The 2,700-square-foot site is on Capitol Hill.

Jim Snelling and his wife have owned a four-unit apartment building on a small Capitol Hill lot for years, but they wanted to put more apartments there.

So NK Architects came up with a way to do just that — by going tall.

The Seattle-based firm designed a six-story building with 17 studio apartments for the Snellings' property at 215 Boylston Ave. E. The site is 2,700 square feet.

The older building will be razed, and construction is set to start in September on the new one, which is called JaMar Boylston.

The couple are developing the building as JaMar Investments. The units will range from 310 to 590 square feet, and there will be two studio-plus-loft apartments on the top two floors.

NK said all units will be corner apartments with windows on at least two sides. There will be three units per floor, giving occupants more privacy.

Residents in the upper units will have private rooftop decks, and each unit will have its own balcony. There will be bike storage, but no parking.

“In an area that commands high rents they're creating a product that is even more desirable,” said Tim Weyand, CEO of NK Architects.

Completion is expected in late 2016.

The 8,100-square-foot complex will be Built Green 4-Star, with extra insulation and energy efficient mechanical systems.

Weyand said there are typically 40 to 60 units in six-story apartment projects in Seattle, and such buildings are typically on lots of at least 8,000 square feet.

Seattle's building boom means there are fewer lots of that size in popular neighborhoods, he said. Property for new projects must be owned outright, purchased or assembled — an increasingly complicated and costly endeavor in popular neighborhoods.

Weyand said it is efficient to build a tall project like the Snellings' in terms of land and foundation costs. He said other developers have talked to his firm about similar projects.

Weyand said tall, narrow buildings like this make sense in neighborhoods where there is high demand, including Ballard, Wallingford, Fremont, Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. They can be built in mid-rise zones where multifamily construction is allowed to 65 feet.

Jim Snelling declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement that JaMar Investments began considering the project in 2010 after the city removed parking requirements from properties within urban villages.

Dennis Meier, a strategic adviser to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, said a 2010 change in development standards for multifamily zones — including relief from setback standards — makes it possible to built more units on smaller lots like the one the Snellings own.

Before the changes, he said, “a site that size would have likely been passed over as not attractive to build on.”

Meier said a project like JaMar Boylston is unusual, “but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more of it in mid-rise zones in the city where there are similar size lots.” However, he said, there are very few mid-rise areas where that exists — and where there are also no requirements for parking, a key factor to making such a project viable.

Weyand said the buildings around the JaMar Boylston site are apartments.

He said there was some resistance from neighbors to an earlier version of JaMar Boylston that had more than 20 units and different setbacks, but the neighbors are “delighted” to have this project now with normal setbacks.

Meier said that if you wander around Capitol Hill in the mid-rise zone, you will see six- and seven-story buildings on sites of 7,200 square feet, which is smaller than what was typical in the past for buildings of that height.

With greater flexibility in development standards, stronger demand for small units and rents on the rise, he said, it's difficult to know what sites are going to become attractive to build on.

The JaMar Boylston team also includes Cascade Built, general contractor; Malsam Tsang, structural engineer; The Blueline Group, civil engineer; Solarc, mechanical and energy modeling; B.E.E. Consulting, envelope consultant; Evergreen Certified, green rater; and Karen Kiest|Landscape Architects.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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