HOW ENLIGHTENED is the Eastside? You can actually live on top of your own Metro Park & Ride! Yes, out in Redmond, an apartment building has gone up that offers both affordable housing and the closest possible access to a transportation hub.
The Village at Overlake Station was built three years ago as an experiment in what planners call "transit-oriented development"—i.e., shops and homes that are situated in a way that makes it easy to leave your car behind. You'll be hearing plenty more about TOD in the future as light rail comes to Martin Luther King Way; the Seattle City Council has rezoned the areas immediately around the planned stations in order to encourage just this kind of anti-auto, pedestrian- friendly development.
A joint project of King County and a private developer, Overlake Station's 308 apartments are priced so as to be affordable to households earning 60 percent of the county's median income (the latter is currently $32,700 for a single person, $46,740 for a family of four). A two-bedroom rents for $799 a month, for instance. The apartments are basic and no-frills, but there are some pleasant courtyards and a laundry facility in each of the three buildings. Having moved in with her son nine months ago, 28-year-old Natalia Roitblat says, "It's very nice, clean, and convenient."
Since over 200 buses pass through Overlake Station each weekday, cleanliness and security are important. An extended canopy serves to control the noise and fumes, and a keycard access system to the stairs and elevators helps prevent wayward bus riders from wandering into the complex. "The idea of security was more intense than usual," says project architect David Hewitt. "We spent a lot of time on that." Fencing was installed that's intended to look "architectural," he adds, and not too fortresslike.
The three buildings are larger than Hewitt might have liked, but the number of units was prescribed to make the financing pencil out. "We did our best to modulate the buildings," he says, "using color, massing changes, to help break down the scale." The planners also anticipated a high number of children (correctly) and put in a privately run day-care center.
To what degree Overlake Station is successfully promoting transit use is another matter. Project Manager Gordon Rechcygl, who oversees maintenance, including the two parking garages—one for outsiders, one for residents—says, "We have fewer cars than complexes twice the size." But that may not be so surprising given that residents are of modest means (because of the affordable-housing requirement) and that 30 of the units are used by tenants requiring wheelchair access. Roitblat says she pretty much always drives.
But other residents say the proximity to a half-dozen bus lines is helpful. That's especially true for Tyler Eckel, 28, who moved in two years ago. He's sight- impaired and loves having the bus just an elevator ride away. "I get on the bus no problem," he says.
Will this be the wave of the future? With plans to build for mixed use above the Convention Center light-rail stop, and to try TOD at Northgate, Seattle may indeed be looking to the much-maligned Eastside for guidance on wise development.