Field Trip to See What Others Are Doing

(This originally was posted on the The Future of 35th website.)

The 35th Ave NE Steering Committee (35th Committee) has been a sponge throughout the Coffee Talk series.  From learning what makes safe, walkable commercial corridors to the conditions necessary for our local businesses to survive and thrive, the 35th Committee has been learning about what can be done.  Recently, the 35th Committee went on a field trip to three commercial corridors that have interesting things going on and provide a variety of ideas to consider bringing to 35th Ave NE.  Below is a review of our field trip and a brief discussion of what each commercial corridor had to offer.

Mixed-use development using terracing and setbacks to reduce sense of scale from the street.


Downtown Kirkland is a rapidly changing community with a variety of housing types and densities intermixed within both new and older commercial developments.  The City has the benefit of having Lake Washington and beautiful views which to plan around.  However, the growth of Kirkland over the past 10 years provided us an opportunity to see how new and old development can coexist together, how developers have used architecture to soften the scale and bulk through setbacks, terracing, and variable ground floor heights.  We also were able to see how recent development incorporated placemaking, streetscape features, and gathering places into their projects.  

A mixed-use development in Madrona enhances the corner and uses streetscape features well to create a gathering place.


For such a geographically small commercial corridor with zoning (NC-30) similar to that around 35th Ave NE and NE 75th Street, Madrona packs a punch.  Madrona is not considered an “Urban Village” within the City’s Comprehensive Plan, yet it has managed to create a successful commercial corridor that appears to serve the surrounding neighborhood well.  There are numerous eateries that function as destinations from the nearby single-family neighborhoods and a couple of key services (e.g., school, library, parks, deli/market, salons, coffee shop) which accommodate many of the other daily needs of nearby residents. The result is a small, neighborhood commercial corridor that has successfully incorporated a moderate degree of new development over the past 15-20 years while maintaining its character.  My personal take home lesson from this neighborhood is that business types really do matter in the success and vitality of a commercial corridor.


Our field trip transitioned from a non-Urban Village in Madrona to Wallingford, an Urban Village with codified growth targets.  While we weren’t able to walk the whole commercial corridor, we did take a long look at a relatively new mixed-use building at NE 45th St and Bagley Ave N.  This building uses a variety of architectural techniques to soften the bulk and scale of the building, similar to what was seen in Kirkland, while also transitioning to the single-family residences to the south.  This is one of the projects touched on by Catherine Benotto during the Coffee Talk 5: Density and its Benefits talk, whose firm Weber Thompson designed.  Parking for this building is off of Bagley Ave N, south of ground-floor residences that open onto Bagley.  My personal take home message from this neighborhood is that transitional zoning is not required, although good design is, in order to achieve a respectful and thoughtful transition transition to adjacent single-family residences.

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This coming Saturday, the 35th Committee will go on another field trip to the Greenwood/Phinney, Queen Anne, and California (West Seattle) commercial corridors.

Next Thursday, August 23rd, will be the final Coffee Talk of the 7-part series open to everyone.  The topic of this final Coffee Talk will be on the trade offs of land use planning.  Please join us from 7-8:30PM at Wedgwood Presbyterian Church.

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