BlueStar explains to JuNO why Fauntleroy Place changed

July 9, 2008 at 12:08 pm | In Development, West Seattle news | 30 Comments

newwholefoodsrendering.jpg

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.
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For more information on the Junction Neighborhood Organization, check its website at wsjuno.com.

30 Comments

  1. I like the new design a lot better! It seems a lot cleaner and brighter.

    Comment by Bikefor1 — 12:20 pm July 9, 2008 #

  2. Hey, another version of bait-and-switch! But really, what a clever tactic: get the neighbors begging for the first design they may have roundly criticized otherwise. IMO there’s no question the first one is far superior, design-wise. The rationale that slate “has a warmth to it”? ha ha ha Did they have a straight face when they made that argument? :shaking head

    Comment by acemotel — 12:29 pm July 9, 2008 #

  3. I really like the new design, clean, thoughtful, well suited to the lot. it is a good change from what is currently being build all over the city. the first design looks like all the stuff being over built in Ballard.

    Comment by rebecca — 12:55 pm July 9, 2008 #

  4. I too like the new design much better.

    It’s less busy, has better, more modern colors, and I can see how the anchor tenant (Whole Foods) likes it more as I can barely see a grocery store in the old design, and the new design looks like what it is, a grocery store and an housing development.

    The green slate is an improvement, warm or otherwise.

    Comment by Seaviewer — 12:56 pm July 9, 2008 #

  5. I’m still concerned that the streetscape along Alaska from Fauntleroy up to California will be one wall after another – turning that stretch of Alaska Street into a really unappealing and cold corridor. So far I’ve not seen any streetscape renderings which show an inviting Alaska Street. Am I being overly critical?

    Comment by chas redmond — 1:04 pm July 9, 2008 #

  6. I disagree with the notion that this is a “bait and switch.” The design of any project as large and prominent as this is going to be an iterative process. The developer is clearly busy here, juggling the requests of retail tenants, criticisms of the Junction neighborhood, notes from the Design Review and the Byzantine ways of the City. I applaud the developer for taking the time to meet with JuNO in advance of the Design Review. That action, along with adroitly hiring as a consultant someone like Vlad, suggests to me that they are committed to building a great project. I prefer the second (newer) design.
    .
    Maybe it would do the neighborhood and West Seattle a great service if we’d stop sharpshooting for a minute and remind ourselves that this new project is replacing an extremely tired pair of underused retail stores with massive (and perpetually empty) parking lots that dwarf the actual stores themselves. Not only will the Whole Foods offer increased choices for higher-quality foods in West Seattle, but I expect it will raise property values. While everyone seems to focus myopically on how the new residential units will increase car traffic and exacerbate parking issues, a denser population in the Junction will increase foot traffic for businesses in the Junction and will potentially bring newer, more interesting and vibrant small businesses. I’m looking forward to more development in the Junction. I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.

    Comment by Christopher Boffoli — 1:04 pm July 9, 2008 #

  7. I’m sure it will look completely different than any of these drawings in real life, once the last brick (or piece of slate) has been placed.

    Comment by flipjack — 1:06 pm July 9, 2008 #

  8. As long as that couple walking across the empty street stays the same, I’ll be happy.

    Comment by flipjack — 1:40 pm July 9, 2008 #

  9. I like it. I also hope the “streetscape along Alaska from Fauntleroy up to California” (ala Chas) won’t be cold an uninviting.

    If the walls are bare, maybe it’d be a good place for new community art? Aren’t we losing some of our murals in the Junction? Maybe it’s time for some new ones.

    Comment by elgrego — 1:51 pm July 9, 2008 #

  10. Boffoli, I agree with about 50% of what you are saying, but I have to caution you that not taking parking into account is a very short-sided view.

    People should understand that this isn’t a bait and switch. There are several unforeseen factors here including demands from Whole Foods, which is in the process of re-branding their stores, and there were other needs in terms of design. One small change can impact the entire structure.

    Due to the changes requested by Whole Foods and the original design review, other more drastic changes had to be made. This ultimately led to a new architect being hired. At that point the city determined that the design changed enough that it warranted a new design review in order to issue a new building permit. That means the process is working! The design review is now on Aug 14 and that meeting will determine if a new permit can be issued or if more revisions are needed. This is not a done deal.

    Agreed, this is a vast improvement to what is currently there! Whole Foods generally does improve property values in the area, but for those of us who are literally going to be in the shadow of this project there are concerns about decreased in property value. No one wants to live in a dark and dreary space.

    As for parking, this is a VERY big deal. Right now they have a 1:1 ration for apartments to parking spaces (it was 1 to 1.3 last year, not sure what happened). You can guarantee that not every apartment is going to have just one person. If only half of the 185 units had two cars each, where do the other 92 cars go? The surrounding streets are already full! This is not a myopic view, it’s realistic.

    Not everyone will be happy in terms of the design, but personally I think the new design is fine. However, I would like to see the apartments on top broken up to avoid the monolith of a wall that will appear on 39th street. The setbacks off of Alaska and 40th are great. The landscaping, overhangs and windows that will be placed there are going to be a 100% improvement over how it is now. The single drawing doesn’t do it justice since you can’t see the overhead view, which was available for viewing at the JuNo (Junction Neighborhood Organization) meeting.

    Which brings me to my next point…every time this project is brought up on WSB it gets several comments, but when the developers come into the community the attendance at the JuNo meetings are relatively small in comparison to the population. People, step away from the keyboard and into the community. If you don’t, you have no right to complain.

    Comment by B — 2:08 pm July 9, 2008 #

  11. Love the new design–much more naturally integrated into the landscape with fewer facade and roof steps, and the materials seem more organic in the rendering at least. I think this is a definitely step-up in the quality of the development: more urban and less suburban in appearance.

    Comment by esdl — 2:37 pm July 9, 2008 #

  12. Christopher, you couldn’t say it any better. Kudos to the developer for actively trying to incorporate the needs of multiple groups, including the cries of a vocal few who may or may not be representative of the group. Thanks also, Christopher, for pointing out that ANYTHING is an improvement over the previous buildings and acres of parking lot. Personally I think the newer design is warmer, more inviting, and more reflective of the retail stores in it.

    Comment by WSM — 2:52 pm July 9, 2008 #

  13. Don’t mind the new one, with one exception – the enormous suburban-scale “Whole Foods Market” sign only appropriate for reading while driving, talking on your phone, eating take-out french fries and adjusting the radio all at the same time.

    Comment by JW — 2:53 pm July 9, 2008 #

  14. B: I think it is presumptuous to assume that parking spaces around the Junction are going to be able to grow exponentially as the population does. Our roads are straining now under the volume of one-person-per-car vehicles. If people realize that parking is scarce it will incentivize them to carpool, walk, bike and use public transport. I chose to buy a house near the Junction principally so I could have these choices. What you should be advocating is a stronger focus on public transportation, not more parking spaces.

    Comment by Christopher Boffoli — 3:16 pm July 9, 2008 #

  15. Artist’s renderings are so much fun. And so little resemble the finished product. By this drawing one could think the Alaska Street side of the project is not a tall building.

    It’s 65 feet, folks! Go take a look at a six story building and you will have a better idea of the mass facing SW Alaska, setbacks considered.

    Comment by fiz — 3:19 pm July 9, 2008 #

  16. I’m surprised people aren’t commenting more on the parking issue. It’s a bigger deal than the “look” of the building, imo.

    Comment by helium3 — 3:37 pm July 9, 2008 #

  17. Boffoli that’s very idealistic. Yes, I’m all for public transportation and regularly use it. We also live very near the junction and walk. But when you build homes for 2 people and only give them one parking space that’s not realistic. This isn’t about parking at the junction, it’s about the neighborhoods off the junction. The only reason they are not building more parking spaces is because they “cost too much” (I.E….less profit) not because they can’t.

    Comment by B — 3:43 pm July 9, 2008 #

  18. It is hardly idealistic to think that a house can be built in the City of Seattle without providing space for two cars. Not every household is exactly like yours. I’m guessing from your activism on this subject that you don’t have off-street parking and that you are feeling the crunch from the construction worker and commuter overflow. It just seems we completely disagree. You want to accommodate cars and I want to minimize them. You are living in a densely populated, rapidly growing urban area. Maybe if you want the 2.5 car suburban dream then you should move out of the city where there is more space. West Seattle’s increasing density is not going to be able to sustain two cars for every household. The era of “I’m all for being green but it shouldn’t apply to me” is quickly coming to and end.

    Comment by cjboffoli — 4:13 pm July 9, 2008 #

  19. You’re mixing “green” issues with “development” issues. I never said I wanted the suburban dream.
    I encourage you to come to our next meeting. You’ll see that several of us are pushing for more public transportation and well developed growth for west Seattle.

    Comment by B — 5:24 pm July 9, 2008 #

  20. B: I’m quite familiar with JuNO. I wrote its bylaws. I’m happy to hear you’re serious about better and more public transportation and whatever “well developed” growth. And I wish you luck with your endeavor to mandate two parking spaces per household though the former seems contrary to the latter.

    Comment by Christopher Boffoli — 6:30 pm July 9, 2008 #

  21. JW, I had a similar comment when the photo appeared last time, something like we’re not trying to spot it from our jet 10,000 feet up. I don’t have huge issues with the rest of the newer design — oh wait, except for the apt. balconies being eliminated, wtf, but at least I probably don’t have to live in one of them and maybe some people don’t care if they have a balcony — but I digress, and that freakin’ store front is the antithesis of warm and natural looking (not to mention looks completely out of place with the rest of the design).

    Comment by Jill — 8:07 pm July 9, 2008 #

  22. Looks like our design review board likes an institutional look.
    Sort of another Mt. Saint Vincent with a gaudy flying wing in the front.

    Whatever, people will get used to anything that goes in there.
    They’ll have no choice.

    I’m sure the developer is aware of how much Whole Foods depends on shoppers with a lot of disposable income, something that’s going to be increasingly hard to find as this economy unwinds. My question is, how flexible is the space should Whole Foods back out of the deal? What else could go in there?

    Comment by old timer — 2:02 am July 10, 2008 #

  23. I like the new design better. I agree the brick in the previous design looked cold. I think we need to listen to the tenants – they have a vested interest in making the building complex inviting. Sometimes these community activists and design review boards lose sight of what’s needed and get too worried about exerting their influence. I’m not worried at all that Whole Foods will back out. I think their store will be a rousing success. I’m glad they are willing to invest in West Seattle.

    Comment by William — 7:19 am July 10, 2008 #

  24. “Sort of another Mt. Saint Vincent with a gaudy flying wing in the front.” LOL!!!

    I hope they re-think the whole look of the “Whole Foods” portion of this project. That sign looks ridiculous (IMHO).

    Comment by WSMom — 9:30 am July 10, 2008 #

  25. WHO ARE THESE FREAKIN ARCHITECHS? FOR ONCE, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE SOME ACTUAL D-E-S-I-G-N …YES, REAL DESIGN!!!THEY SIMPLY DO NOT KNOW THE MEANING OF IT. SLATE? GREENISH? A PERFECT COMPLIMENT TO OUR ALL READY DRAB COLORED CLIMATE FOR MOST OF THE YEAR…IT’S HOUSING AND SHOPPING FOR THE MASSES WITHOUT ANY REAL THOUGHT TO SOME EBB AND FLOW…GEE LETS MAKE SURE WE KNOW ITS “WHOLE FOODS” WHY DON’T WE INCREASE THE LETTERS BY ANOTHER 50%!!!! GO LEARN SOMETHING U ARCITECHS!!!!

    Comment by margarita — 11:21 am July 10, 2008 #

  26. YOu can’t “incentivize” people to use public transportation if there IS NO ADEQUATE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. Waiting half an hour for a bus that drives on the same congested road as the rest of the commuters is not adequate public transportation. People resent being “incentivized” as if they have to be managed and manipulated, when viable alternatives are not available. Build the transportation infrastructure and parking problems will disappear. “Incentivizing” people by failing to provide adequate amenities is a cowardly and lazy way to do business. IMO

    Comment by acemotel — 12:12 pm July 10, 2008 #

  27. The new design looks like it belongs on the east side.Just more abland suburbia and not at all pleasing or unique. I think it needs more visual interest besides the WF store front.

    Comment by WhiteSwan — 12:58 pm July 10, 2008 #

  28. Whole Foods Closed in Chicago for Rodent Infestation:
    Link below:
    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=30142

    Comment by old timer — 1:54 pm July 10, 2008 #

  29. $900 and up (starting with studio size)? isnt that a bit steep even for west seattle? you can get the same thing in the new buildings downtown.

    Comment by saney — 3:40 pm July 10, 2008 #

  30. Saney-

    Not counting subsidized apartments, there hasn’t been a $900 studio downtown for years…if you know of one could you please tell me which building? Thanks-

    Comment by Sayo — 11:50 am July 11, 2008 #

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