What is a 'Woonerf' anyway?


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Woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf) means “living yard” in Dutch, and city planners use the term to describe a parklike street where pedestrians and bicyclists are given priority over motorists.

When Facebook wanted to expand its Seattle presence again, they found the area and building that ideally suited their needs. According to The Seattle Times, this sub-section of the company, with headquarters based in Menlo Park, California, recently moved into the new office building at 1101 Dexter Avenue to house their employees. This pre-lease through Vulcan Real Estate has further expanded the social network giant’s presence in the South Lake Union area.

The new project, called Arbor Blocks, is located on 8th Avenue North, between Harrison and Thomas streets. Two 6-story buildings (333 Eighth Avenue North and 300 Eighth Avenue North) is built on opposite sides of the street, and includes a woonerf, which is a curbless street that’s friendly to pedestrians. The woonerf include amenities for green living, such as bike racks, seating, and plants to filter air, as well as featuring public art. The offices encompass 384,000 square feet of these buildings, with an additional 4,100 square feet for retail on the street level.

The Seattle office at 1101 Dexter Avenue is Facebook’s software engineering focus and is a custom-built space. It can fit up to 2,000 people, although 1,000 employees currently occupy four floors of the building. This newest building also has custom features and is designed by Graphite Design Group.

The council voted 6-2 to waive about $528,000 in permit fees related to the construction of two new office buildings along Eighth Avenue - in exchange for the developer, an affiliate of Vulcan Real Estate, remaking the street as a woonerf.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who sponsored the bill authorizing an agreement with the developer, City Investors VII LLC, said the cost was estimated $2.1 million to build the woonerf between Thomas Street and Harrison Street. The cost of rebuilding the street after construction with no special features would be about $475,000, he said. That means the city will ultimately net more than $1 million “in pedestrian-friendly improvements", Rasmussen said, calling that outcome a great return for taxpayers.

The woonerf matches the city’s neighborhood plan for Eighth Avenue North, which envisions the route as a shared-use street, he said, because the deal “will result in more landscaping, wider sidewalks, and more open space.”

- Tom Rasmussen

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