Over two years ago, I chronicled the ups and downs of the struggle in the Puget and Samish neighborhoods to resist the implantation of a terribly out-of-scale, privately-owned student dormitory project. It was a series of twelve articles entitled in part, “Anatomy of a Development.” To the relief of those on nearby streets, the hearing examiner’s decision essentially put the kibosh on the project and sent the developer, Ambling Management, limping back to its home in Valdosta, GA. However, I knew the need for installment XIII of my series was lurking in the shadows.
Now indeed, there is renewed interest in the private development of a student housing project in the same wooded area bounded by Nevada, Consolidation and Puget Streets, and surrounded by single family homes. Again, an out-of-state development corporation, Amcal, this time from California, is sniffing about the Planning Department, reviewing prior permits for current validity and studying the decision of the hearing examiner so as not to make the same errors as did Ambling in 2014. In the final analysis, the development as circumscribed by the hearing examiner, did not “pencil out” in Ambling’s developer-speak. Amcal evidently thinks it may do better. Bigger and better pencils perhaps.
The neighborhoods in question, Puget and Samish, were never really against housing in that area (aka the HawleyTract) but were opposed to the scale of the development and the number of students the place would have attracted - nearly 600. For comparison purposes, the private student housing project on Lincoln St. south of Fred Meyer hosts approximately that number, but not smack in the middle of a single family neighborhood. We can get an idea of what a project by Amcal might look like by taking a gander at the colossal bunker being built as student housing between Forest and Garden Streets. Check out the photo at the beginning of this article. If ever an adaptive use of that monstrosity is called for, one need think no further than a new jail. And just the right size!
Given the location of the land that has caught the roving eye of Amcal, the place is perfect for what some might describe as affordable housing as established in the infamous Infill Tool Kit. The land is zoned multi-family and provides a perfect setting for families and young couples looking to enter the housing market. Perhaps we can at long last leave dorm building up to the State of Washington who might provide some truly affordable dormitory space on campus and require that the students live there. After 40 years of not more than a token addition to campus housing - a few hundred beds - that would be a nice gesture instead of asking the city, i.e, the taxpayers, to foot the bill with tax exemptions and impact-fee reductions for private dorm developers. As a state entity, the university and its housing ought to be paid for by all state taxpayers and not just the ones who happen to live in a particular town.
But the city will not tell a developer to step up and use the Infill Tool Kit, and the university will continue to shrug its academic shoulders while salivating about their six acres on the waterfront.
So, the Puget and Samish neighborhood boards will keep an eye on Amcal and its plans.