New Five Story Building on Rainier Avenue Draws Community Concern

by Jake Goldstein-Street

Neighbors voiced their concerns with the architects of an early-stage five-story Rainier Avenue housing project Thursday evening, with grievances including the lack of parking, minimal affordable units, and the possible displacement of a local small business.

The three designs for the development at 5416 Rainier Ave. S presented Thursday by the Jon Graves Architects firm would provide between 27 and 29 units, two or three of which would be low-income and include up to two live-work units, dwellings that combine living space and business space. Two affordable units is the minimum as required by the city to avoid a fine for a project of this size, according to the architects.

The building is within the Columbia City Urban Village, so developers don’t have to build parking and current plans do not include any spaces, drawing concern from nearby residents.

“That corner is hellacious, I mean it’s unbelievable, it just is,” Charlie Cunniff, who lives close to the development, said Thursday at the New Freeway Hall meeting. “It gets a little ugly.”

He suggested a robust carshare system, like Zipcar, to alleviate some of the parking problems.

The new 55-foot-tall building will likely include bike storage and attendees called for electric bike chargers, as well. The site is located on bus routes 7 and 9, which connect the neighborhood to downtown Seattle. The Columbia City light rail station is also less than a mile away.

“I would say overall, I mean, it’s obviously very good public transportation down here,” community member Noel Williams said.

The 4,800 square foot space lies about on the border between Columbia City and Hillman City.

Attendees also hoped to see more affordable units, while current plans have the overwhelming majority of the apartments at market rate.

“To do the bare minimum is kind of a slap,” Williams said.

The dilapidated building on the property now — which architects say is near the end of its life — houses Maka Mini Market, a Somali store that could be left out in the process.

“It’s not just displacement of those current businesses, but it’s also displacing businesses that serve a population that doesn’t necessarily get served immediately right there,” another attendee said. “There isn’t a lot of other options.”

It’s unclear what steps could be taken to preserve the business and the architects are currently unsure about any sizeable commercial space in the new development.

“The existing building would be [demolished] if this proposal moves forward, though we do not have any knowledge regarding any agreement or future development of the Maka Mini Market,” Marc Aubin, the firm’s VP of Design and Development, said in an email Wednesday.

Immediately to the west is a new teriyaki joint and a billboard that won’t be affected by the project. To the east are multifamily apartments.

Aubin also said in the email: “We have no current schedule regarding this project other than going through the design review process with the planning department.” He called Thursday’s public outreach meeting the “first step.”

People were also upset that the new building owner didn’t attend, despite, Aubin says, being born in Columbia City.

“Is he blowing smoke or is he really true,” Cunniff asked. “If he’s really true, he’ll show up.”

Aubin responded Thursday, saying “if he was blowing smoke, he will never do this. This is not a feasible project, this is way too expensive for what he can get out of it.” Aubin says he “wants to give something back to the community.”

The building is set to be developed by MCM Realty Investments, which is based in Des Moines.

The concerns shared at the roundtable meeting are set to be shared with the building’s new owner and the city as many of the details are still subject to change.

“Be responsive to what the neighborhood actually needs, it’s a pretty cool neighborhood,” Cunniff said.

Featured Image by Aaron Burkhalter.

One thought on “New Five Story Building on Rainier Avenue Draws Community Concern”

  1. I think only two low income units is way too few. I love our neighborhood and don’t want to keep displacing lower income residents. I also hate to see small businesses shut out by higher rents, which is happening all over the city.