Plans for Acer House, Seattle’s ‘first truly anti-racist private sector development,’ rising in the Central District

Nathan Law

Early design concept for the project’s massing Legislation to allow a rezoning of the corner of 23rd and Cherry could allow a five story, mixed-use building to rise at the corner, connecting a wave of redevelopment across the 23rd Ave corridor through the Central District where major new developments have […]

Early design concept for the project’s massing

Legislation to allow a rezoning of the corner of 23rd and Cherry could allow a five story, mixed-use building to rise at the corner, connecting a wave of redevelopment across the 23rd Ave corridor through the Central District where major new developments have already risen at 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson.

But developers of the project say the surgical rezone would bring more than an extra story of height to the corner across from the Garfield Community Center and the Garfield High School campus. Acer House, they say, can be an example of a different recipe for equitable development beyond dependence on public funding.

“We believe in the power of housing,” Ben Maritz, the Capitol Hill developer of affordable housing behind the project says.

Acer House, Maritz said, could be the “first truly anti-racist private sector development here in Seattle.”

To achieve that, Maritz said the project will be developed under community focused standards including a commitment to making sure a woman or minority owned business is considered in each final round of procurement and a commitment to non-displacement. The project would piece together property lots including one left empty after a previously mothballed development demolished an old church and the retail building on the corner currently home to Flowers Just 4 U.

Maritz said that Kateesha Atterberry and the Urban Black commercial property management firm will be part of the development team with goals of helping the neighborhood flower shop weather the redevelopment and return to the corner as part of the new project.

CHS reported here on community support helping to lift Flowers Just 4 U and owner Mary Wesley as the longtime Central District business was displaced from 23rd and Jackson for new development there. Black-owned Catfish Corner has announced plans to open in the building that now rises at 23rd and Jackson.

The Acer House project is also being planned with commercial space for a 5,000-square-foot childcare facility, Maritz said.

As part of the agreements to purchase the properties in the development, Martiz said the existing land owners are being offered equity in the project.

Acer House’s design will be community focused, Maritz says.The architects on the project are Capitol Hill’s Schemata Workshop and Donald King, an affiliate professor of architecture at the University of Washington, designing the building according to community principles inspired by afrofuturism:

Afrofuturism, as applied to architecture, is a form, color and material design expression at the intersection of tra- ditional aesthetics of the African diaspora and modernism. The term “Afrofuturism” was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but was predated in the spirit of enslaved Africans and the lives of their descendants. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression – both physical and social. It is not likened to be nominal like “Modernism”, Afrofuturism is the larger movement in which architecture participates. In its programming and narrative, rather than simply in form or ornament, Afrofuturist architectural works contribute to the shift of the projected future.

“Afrofuturist architecture has the power to revitalize Afrocentric communities and their view of the future,” the Acer House developers write in its early design proposal. “It also has the power to change Western perceptions of the African presence in the projected future. Afrofuturism can be defined as a broader, more inclusive vision for both local and global futures.”

As for who will live there, the project is being planned with on-site affordable units under the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program and Multifamily Tax Exemption housing with a goal of 30% of units reserved for low income residents. The building mix will include a mix of “efficient” 400-square-foot studios and and larger family units, according to a presentation from the developer.

To get there, Acer House must win an extra floor of height from the Seattle City Council. Legislation for the rezone is beginning its path through City Hall after being transmitted last month. The city’s design review process will also start soon with community feedback first on elements of massing and context and later on the finer points around the afrofuturist design and colors. There will also be a gamut of community meetings and feedback and outreach opportunities, Maritz said, including a session coming later this month with the influential Central Area Land Use Review Committee community group.

Maritz is hopeful the vision for Acer House is well received and can be a useful template for another way to create new housing in the Central District that is faster and more likely to be repeatable across the neighborhood and the city.

“You can have a for profit project that deliver community benefit, below market rents, and positive return on investment, and scale it,” Maritz said.

You can learn more at acer.house.


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