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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thornton Place Gets Great Review on NRDC Blog

Kaid Benfield's Blog, published by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) has published a wonderful, glowing article about the Thornton Place Urban Center at Northgate. It talks about the amazing, signature Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel, but also the surrounding development which is also wonderful to see coming alive.
View towards Alijoya Senior Housing
across the TC Water Quality Channel
ph credit - SvR

Leave it to a city famous for coffee and rain to produce possibly the best example of transit-oriented urbanism, natural public space, and green stormwater infrastructure I have ever seen.  This Seattle redevelopment is green in so many ways that it is hard to know where to start.
Northgate South Parking lot
The Kaid article gives a wonderful review of how the place works and now functions in the Northgate area, which has been transformed by this award winning development.

But, the article does not explain how it all became a reality. The story of how the Thornton Place project finally came to fruition is the story of activism, legal action, and steadfast belief in what was right. 
The Thornton Creek Legal Defense Fund which was created in 1999 by Bob Vreeland, Brian Bodenbach and Janet Way, filed the legal appeals, did the research, commissioned the feasibility study, wrangled with a series of developers, politicians and bureaucrats and finally succeeded in Daylighting Thornton Creek. It was brought about by brave stances taken by many including City Councilmembers like Richard Conlin and Nick Licata (AND back then Peter Steinbrueck, Heidi Wills, and Judy Nicastro). The other councilmembers at the time also got on board, and finally Greg Nickels and SPU came through and got it done.

The visionary developer, Bruce Lorig was willing to take the risk and Stellar Holdings backed him up.
Now Thornton Place is "Where It All Connects".
Thornton Place Plaza "Where it all Connects"

Knoll Lowney of Smith & Lowney firm was the great attorney that guided us through the many legal twists and turns for over 5 years.
TCLDF and Supporters Who Got It Done!
June 2009 Ribbon Cutting at Thornton Creek
Water Quality Channel
L-R Lauren Barber, Llyn Doremus, Lisa Dekker, Janet Way, Bob Vreeland, Pat Sumption,
Knoll Lowney, Clmbr Richard Conlin, Michael Brokaw, Cheryl Klinker, Gloria Butts,
Jan Brucker, Pam Johnson, John and Summer Lombard
And Many, Many Others!
Here is the Kaid Benfield Blog Post, click for more after the jump.

Natural Resources Defense Council
Switchboard: Natural Resource Defense Council Blog

Maybe we should start with the parking lot, because that’s what the whole nine-acre site was before redevelopment began.  Ugly.  Horrible for the environment.  A complete waste of urban space. 
  the site in context (via Google Earth)
The site is in an area that is transitioning from automobile-oriented and suburban in feel to walkable and lively.  It sits just south of the Northgate shopping mall, northeast of a community college, a couple of blocks east of the I-5 freeway and just west of an area of single-family homes.  It is transit-rich, however, just a block from a major bus transfer station (with planned light rail access).  You can see the current bus lines in orange on the satellite image.  With better amenities and some investment, the potential for smart, green redevelopment is immense.
  Thornton Creek water channel (by: Thornton Place)
Enter the city of Seattle, with a sophisticated initiative to bring long-buried Thornton Creek back to life above the surface, where it belongs.  Add lots of carefully planned nature (not really an oxymoron when we’re dealing with a city), arranged to be highly walkable and educational as well as environmentally beneficial.  The creek restoration was led under contract to the city by Seattle’s SvR Design, which previously designed the landscape and green infrastructure features of the much-celebrated, mixed-incomeHigh Point development, also in Seattle.
“Carved out of an abandoned parking lot, the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel treats urban stormwater runoffThornton Creek water channel (by: SvR Design)from 680 acres within a necklace of channels, pools, and terraces designed to mimic the performance of a natural creek. Its lush plantings, overlooks, and paths have added 2.7 acres of public open space to the Northgate Urban Center and catalyzed surrounding redevelopment. The facility is a model for how multi-functional landscapes can be integrated into the dense urban fabric.” 
The redevelopment not only added 530 units of housing (net density: 96 units per acre) and 50,000 square feet of retail space; it simultaneously accomplished the following, according to the LAF:
  • Increased open space within the Northgate Urban Center by about 50%.
  • Provided pedestrian links from adjacent commercial and residential neighborhoods, shortening walking distances by 50%.
  • Reduced impervious surfaces by 78%.
  • Thornton Creek water channel (via Landscape Architecture Foundation)Designed to remove an estimated 40-80% of total suspended solids from 91% of the average volume of annual stormwater runoff from the 680-acre drainage basin.
  • Created new habitat within this heavily paved commercial area. Within one month after opening, native birds were observed at the project. A variety of desirable native volunteer plants have migrated into the site and begun to establish.
85 percent of the project’s plant palette are native species, including 172 native trees, 1,792 native shrubs, and 49,000 native perennials, herbs, grasses, rushes, and sedges.  The planting mix and the channel’s alignment will be allowed to evolve naturally over time.  When was the last time you saw this much additional urban density, increased natural space and reduced imperviousness on the same site?  (For more of the technical details, see the city’s extensive report on the project.)

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