On the day BlueStar Management ceremonially broke ground last month for the Fauntleroy Place project – future home to Whole Foods, Hancock Fabrics, and nearly 200 apartments, on the northwestern side of the multicorner Fauntleroy/Alaska intersection – executive Eric Radovich sent out the new rendering you see above. Many were startled – it had little in common with the design that even that very day had been on the BlueStar website, and had been shown at previous Design Review meetings:
And in fact, the new rendering resembled the one that neighbors had brought to a previous Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting – one that BlueStar told us the next day was just for “massing.” Memories of this were still fresh when the new design abruptly emerged last month; last night, BlueStar sent a team back to JuNO to explain the changes, and listen to neighbors’ thoughts in advance of an August 14th Design Review Board meeting now set for the project. Here’s our full article:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Why did the design for Fauntleroy Place – known around West Seattle as “the Whole Foods project” – change so abruptly, just as construction was about to get under way?
Developer BlueStar Management sent executives and architects to the Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting last night at Ginomai to explain, and to listen.
The $65 million project is on the verge of construction, with both existing stores on the site – Hancock and Schuck’s – now closed, and asbestos abatement beginning before the building can be demolished. BlueStar executives say that work won’t be affected by the fact they now need city approval for the new design. But they clearly were concerned enough about the turn of events that they have hired a “local expert” — West Seattle architect, community advocate, and former Design Review Board member Vlad Oustimovitch, as a consultant, and he was in attendance at the JuNO meeting last night. “We want to do this right,” said BlueStar’s Eric Radovich. “That’s where Vlad comes in.”
They blamed the design change on a variety of factors – for one, the tenants. “We have a tenant in Whole Foods doing a nationwide storefront change, trying to create a different look and feel,” said Radovich. “Then Hancock Fabrics, from whom we bought the property, had to have something that worked for their corner and their entrance.” (That, by the way, will be on the west side of Fauntleroy Place, at 40th and Alaska.) Whole Foods also did not like the proposed brick veneer, according to BlueStar — they want “natural products, like stone,” so a green-gray slate is now planned for the storefront, instead of the brick that they say WF considered “cold.” “(Slate) has a warmth to it, but not an overburdening touchy-feely experience.”
In addition to the tenants’ wishes, they say, they were just trying to make sense of, and incorporate, the feedback received from the Design Review Board along the way. They say the board’s feedback is what led to the removal of the “towers” in the previous design (as shown above): “The board didn’t like it at all … the tower was an isolating element.” And, they say, the grade change on the lot also posed challenges as they attempted to address design feedback; they say what you see at the top of this report is also the result of what had to be done to create a development that would not be “terraced” to deal with the grade change. They also say they have “fixed” the fact the original design had a three-feet-sunken space for Whole Foods, which also has a midblock “secondary entrance” along Alaska between 39th and 40th. An additional note – as we reported here months ago, the architect on the project changed (it’s now CollinsWoerman), and BlueStar suggested that also has come into play here, though they cited as one reason for the change the perception that the previous architect was having some difficulty incorporating the DRB-mandated changes.
Area resident and community leader Sharonn Meeks listened to all of BlueStar’s explanations and didn’t seem to be buying them: “Essentially what I see here is a completely different project than the process we went thru over the winter … you got to the point of having a permit and some plans the community and Design Review Board agreed on, then you decide to change? The changes I see here … seem to be a design for a more outer-urban type of area, not a centralized district like we have here. I liked the original design considerably more. It’s curious to me that you would get so far down the road and then say, oh, that’s not what we or Whole Foods wants to do.”
JuNO president Erica Karlovits pointed out, “This building has harsh and sharp edges, not the rounded edges from the previous design.”
BlueStar contends it’s made positive changes, including non-structural improvements not obvious from the new rendering – they showed more sketches last night. The small park triangle at 39th and Alaska, in front of the FP site, will have seating for passersby to use, not tied to Whole Foods or any other area business., and BlueStar promises “some buffers to the street.” Regarding traffic flow, they say they are hopeful this Whole Foods will not need its own “traffic cop” as seen at WF stores elsewhere in the city — the parking entrance will be midblock on 39th, next to the bowling alley; Hancock Fabrics will have parking off the alley’s 40th end, instead of an area that at one point was to be accessible via a “curb cut” midblock on 40th.
The Hancock-dedicated parking will be 10 spaces. “That’s it?” asked Karlovits, surprised. BlueStar noted Hancock customers should have easy access to the rest of the building’s parking, which also will include one space per residential unit. (Though Hancock customers will be able to access those 10 spaces from 40th, residential parking and the rest of the use is supposed to come from the 39th side.) Karlovits and other area residents remain skeptical, since their neighborhoods already have been dramatically affected by parking overflow from the conversion of the pre-existing Hancock/Schuck’s parking lot at the FP site to paid/Diamond-managed parking. And they’re still not happy about the one-space-per-unit residential-parking plan for FP (take note, that’s all the city requires), saying it’s unrealistic to expect residents won’t have second cars, and “there’s going to be nowhere for them to park,” as Karlovits put it. BlueStar noted it’s talking about whether to offer incentives for FP residents who don’t have vehicles at all, and also countered that the city pressured them to reduce the amount of parking they were offering, while discussing what “public benefits” BlueStar would offer in exchange for the “alley vacation” they requested and received as part of the project. And execs say they support the concept of Residential Parking Zone (RPZ) restrictions nearby, which has been a hot topic at JuNO meetings and is expected to be considered by the city when its Junction-area parking study begins later this year (scheduled for September).
Along Alaska, they say they plan a “green barrier” so that it will be safe and more inviting to walk, and they say there will be a canopy over the sidewalk, clear, with plants visible over the side, and with windows along the building so that passersby can see into the store (and ostensibly so that shoppers can see out). The building is slated to reach the maximum height for which it is zoned, 65 feet. In addition to the slate material mentioned for the Whole Foods storefront, BlueStar says the top of the building will include “resin product with a wood finish” and the “basic material” is a “cement board panel” that can be painted any color. This too drew criticism, and concern that it would not be appropriately maintained.
Another design feature that disappeared from original renderings, balconies on the residential units. BlueStar’s contention is that the balconies might just have been eyesores, used largely as storage that might leave passersby with the impression they were “walking under a bunch of junk.” Meeks had a rejoinder for that too – “You’re the management company. You tell tenants what you do and don’t want to see.”
Other information shared by BlueStar last night – The apartments in FP are scheduled to be a mix of sizes, from studios through 2-bedroom-plus-den. The lowest rents are projected to be in the $900s, for the smallest studios, though executives were careful to point out that actual rentals are still two years away. (Rents overall, according to project manager Easton Craft: “We’re looking at somewhere in the low 2 dollars per square foot.”) Regarding whether the FP apartments might ever be converted to condos, they say that’s not expected to be even a possibility in the next several years, given market conditions, but as with all such developments, you can’t say what might happen in the future.
What’s next — the August 14th Design Review Board meeting, and more city paperwork, including a new “master-use permit” that has to be sought because of the changes; apparently, they say, there’s no way to “update” an existing one in a case like this. “The first one isn’t invalid, but you have to get a second one to validate the changes you’ve made,” Craft said. In the meantime, they are continuing with demolition and excavation work; Craft said, “That hasn’t changed, we’re still digging a hole .. the foundation hasn’t changed much.” They also hope to meet with a smaller group of residents for a brainstorming/feedback session before the 8/14 meeting — Oustimovitch suggested a “little working session … maybe two weeks from now” after saying, “I think the building does need to be tweaked.” The results of any such meeting should be interesting, given the concern about what may still lie ahead; Meeks noted, “I think this corner is so significant regarding what goes forward in the West Seattle community, that you have to step it up … If you’re going to spend 65 million dollars on 185 units, I think you can do a better job with this. … I want to feel like I can go down the street and go into the store; that’s what we discussed at great length in the Design Review process and it’s not here (in the design) any more.” Outside of the larger issues with the building, Brian Tucker, who lives across the alley from the north side of the FP site, says he still has concerns about the “light behind the structure”; Karlovits suggested that examining a “shade study” would be in order.
Also under discussion, public art for the Whole Foods store; Karlovits pointed BlueStar to the artists based at Ginomai, where last night’s meeting was held, and whose leader Dan Jacobs was in attendance at the meeting.
Radovich closed with a reminder that BlueStar is a major sponsor at this weekend’s West Seattle Summer Fest in The Junction (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and that he and/or Craft will be manning its booth for the duration, so they are urging people to stop by, look at renderings for all their West Seattle projects — Spring Hill at 5020 California and Gateway Center across 39th from Fauntleroy Place are the two that have been publicly announced so far — and ask questions.
ALSO AT JuNO LAST NIGHT: Hours after appearing with Mayor Nickels and City Councilmember Sally Clark at the Capitol Hill news conference unveiling the proposed multifamily-zoning changes – with a new focus on how to improve townhouse design – West Seattle architect and Design Review Board member Brandon Nicholson presented the Council of Residential Architects’ townhouse concepts, same ones he had shown at Clark’s townhouse forum on Capitol Hill (WSB coverage here) last month. He noted that the afternoon’s events had rendered part of the presentation moot, as some of what CORA thought would be in the final proposal didn’t turn up after all – but the city’s proposal does include a major change he personally was supporting, administrative design review (no public meetings but opportunities for public comment) for all townhouse projects. He says the inclusion of that was a “surprise.” He stresses that it will be important to keep watch on the review and comment process that now begins, with hearings on the proposal and inevitable changes – “The bigger question for the community is, are we getting everything out of it that we want?” He also had interesting insights to the current townhouse market – saying the higher-end ones are going fast and there’s a glut of the ones that are priced comparably to small old single-family starter homes ($300K-$400K). He also mentioned as an introductory side note that his firm is growing in a big way; it’s only 4 years old – he and wife Shanna Kovalchick are the principals – but it has grown to 16 people and is straining its current headquarters space in The Junction over Easy Street.
For more information on the Junction Neighborhood Organization, check its website at wsjuno.com.