Many Renton residents may have been wondering what is happening with the Greater Hi-Lands shopping center —the center that features a Dollar Tree, Tea Palace and vast parking spaces.
The area is part of the city of Renton’s Sunset Area Transformation Plan. In late July, after eight months of back-and-forth with developers, the city received a formal application for the Solera Project, an 11-acre development with more than 670 residential units, commercial space, a daycare and two new public streets.
“It was a long process before they even came in with this back-and-forth, making sure that this was something the city would support,” city of Renton planner Matt Herrera said. “This is a small part of a overall greater vision for the neighborhood, which the city has provided lots of capital investment for, so staff is very careful reviewing projects and making sure it fits the parameters of what the city has envisioned for the area.”
Although the building costs have yet to be determined, the site development costs are estimated at $8.5 million. The estimated fair market value of this project is $65 million, according to the project narrative from Quarant the city received in June.
Solera will provide a shopping area, along with town homes and market rate homes to integrate with affordable housing in the area. The residential area will have 152 town homes with their own back alleys for sale, and in front would feature two mixed-use buildings with senior housing, market rate housing, commercial space and daycare on the ground floor of each and underground parking.
This vision has been in action since 2008. The sunset area has been in significant need, Deputy Public Affairs Administrator Preeti Shridhar said.
More than 27 percent of the households are in poverty with residents lacking access to living-wage jobs and career advancement and low home ownership.
Shridhar said community amenities, business revitalization and creating a walkable integrated and engaging environment for the community is all part of the project.
Residents have mentioned gentrification of the area as a concern. Herrera said while gentrification is a concern around the region, this area has the benefit of being mixed housing, so there won’t be a line between affordable and market-rate housing. The affordable housing areas being rebuilt by Renton Housing Authority will always have a presence here, he said.
The Renton Housing Authority has created more affordable housing than it started with in the areas of rebuilding, Shridhar said. According to documents one project, Sunset Terrace public housing project with 100 units, is being rebuilt to now contain 172 units. Herrera says this affordable housing is integrated into the Sunset court area.
Shridhar worked for a similar project in Seattle High Point, that created a community with integrated mixed-use and affordable housing. She said its been wonderful to watch the thinking stage of Sunset revitalization transform to planning.
Another concern was school overcrowding and traffic in the area. Herrera said the private developers are responsible for school impact fees to the Renton School District for any increased needs to facilities, as well as transportation impact fees to the city and the impact of any of the new streets. Another overall focus is making sure the project can receive rapid transit from King County Metro as well.
The proposed area will also include pedestrian focused layout. With sidewalks on either side of the crossing streets, short crossing distances for pedestrians to limit vulnerability when crossing the street, and stoops and shared yards creating a “cottage-housing feel,” Herrera said.
The buildings with commercial leases will also have a buffer between them and the busy road Sunset Blvd. that mimics a similar project in Bothell. The streetscape features a strip of landscaping, parallel parking, a small road alongside Sunset and then 12 feet of sidewalk before the commercial stores, creating a separation from the noisy road and encouraging restaurant tenants on the ground floor.
The only store remaining from the Greater Hi-Lands shopping center will be the U.S. Bank, which will lose it’s drive thru and become walk-up, Herrera said.
The proposed Solera project will have a public hearing on Oct. 9 where the hearing examiner will be able to determine if the project is ready to go through. If it does, Quadrant intends to break ground next spring and have it completed in three years. Herrera said although this timeline is aggressive and fast, the private developer definitely has a stake in this project.
When the developer brought this project to a public neighborhood meeting earlier this year at Highland Library, it brought in one of the larger crowds the city has seen with around 30 people in attendance.
“Folks over last ten years have assumed this growth is coming, they’ve seen the city capital improvement projects, but now they’re seeing the private market come in,” Herrera said. “So I don’t think it’s surprising for anyone, there just might be some confusion on what’s being built.”
Phase 1, which would potentially begin spring 2019, would include the first mixed-use commercial building, the buffer, and the roads.
Note: This article has been corrected to show that the meeting held earlier this year at Highland Library was a public informational meeting and not a public hearing, which is a formal hearing where the public provides testimony for legislation.