Design Review Board: 1 project advances, 1 must try again

August 15, 2008 at 12:05 pm | In Development, High Point, West Seattle news | 3 Comments

The concerns about the two major mixed-use (part residential, part commercial) projects on the Southwest Design Review Boards agenda last night were similar – particularly, how the projects will affect pedestrian flow once they’re built. But the results were quite different; one project is finally at the end of the process, while the other is just beginning what could be a long journey. Our full report, ahead:

First, the High Point project, the site at 35th/Graham where it was once hoped a grocery store might go. (“Part of the reason we didn’t get a grocery store, is the project you’re going to talk about at 8 o’clock tonight,” quipped Tom Phillips from the Seattle Housing Authority, referring to Fauntleroy Place with Whole Foods, one of two Junction projects with supermarkets.) It’s now planned as three 4-story buildings, with more than 200 residential units (no decision yet whether they’ll be condos or apartments), with underground parking for more than 270 vehicles; the commercial space could include “a coffee shop, bookstore, or diner, that sort of thing” Phillips said. (See the PDF of the developer/architect presentation here.)

This meeting was for “early design guidance,” which means the artwork you see is just for “massing” – the buildings’ proposed shape, size, position (in this drawing and the other one you’ll see, 35th SW is on the LEFT side of the site):

highpointoption3.jpg

That was the “preferred alternative” of the three outlined by Andy Hoyer, an architect from Mithun, working on the project for Lowe Enterprises. They talked about “layering” and use of color, though that will all be revealed in more detail once the project gets to the next stage of design review.

For now, they cautioned they had many details yet to work out, particularly how they would deal with 14,000 square feet of commercial space — whether to offer it in larger “chunks,” or smaller ones – as small as 1,500 square feet – that might include some live-work units facing 35th. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to (fully rent out) the retail in these new properties,” Hoyer noted.

The live-work idea did not sit well with board members (SWDRB membership listed here; all were present except Joe Hurley) or public commenters; resident Sage Wilson said that a significant amount of live-work along 35th “could kill pedestrian interest.”

An even stronger concern came from board member Deb Barker, who cited one major reason she would like to see a variation on this option that had been briefly presented, #2:

highpiontoption2.jpg

Deb Barker said that form of orientation for the buildings would work better with the significant pedestrian flow to and from the High Point clinic and library to the north of the site. “This is my library, and (use) is as strong on the east side as the west. Maybe someone never went to this site (before developing the proposal)? They’re turning their back on an amazing opportunity, and I’m very disappointed that hasn’t been played up. It would be a death knell to this project to ignore how many people come in and out of the library and clinic.”

Back to the developers’ preferred option — in the early stage of Design Review, they’re supposed to come to these meetings with three options — the potential “plaza” area at the 35th/Graham corner wasn’t a particular slam dunk with board members, either; board chair David Foster suggested that may not be the best use of the corner; SHA’s Phillips said, “We’d like to see a lot of action there, people sitting outside … throughout High Point, we have created many places for people to gather.”

Another point of concern – developers’ proposal for retail traffic and “building services” (trash, deliveries) to use an entrance from 35th (which would require city approval for a “departure” from code), while residential parking will enter off Graham — what happens with northbound traffic stopping to turn left into the project, in an area where Morgan Community Association‘s Cindi Barker noted there’s now a solid double yellow line? She noted that could be “very dangerous,” at which point someone else in the audience interjected, “It’s hard enough just to turn from 35th onto Graham.” (The 2006 bicycle/car crash that killed bicyclist Susanne Scaringi at that corner was mentioned as well.)

And board member Christie Coxley voiced concerns including her perception that this project did not appear to have as many environmentally oriented features as the rest of High Point, which she described as “an amazing example of addressing environmental concerns as well as getting the community involved, rain gardens, permeable paving …”

Deb Barker summed it up: “High Point is such a fantastic example of a project going way out there, done well, that it would really be a shame for this to turn out looking like everything else out there.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The developer and architect must come back for another round of “early design guidance” so the board can see how their suggestions were incorporated in a new early-design proposal. Meantime, SHA’s Phillips says some work needs to be done to clean up oil-contaminated dirt at the site, and that likely would start before construction formally begins in a year or so. If you have comments about the project, including elements that design reviewers do not have jurisdiction to tackle – such as traffic and parking – the planner is Lucas DeHerrera, and you can e-mail him at lucas.deherrera@seattle.gov.

Now – on to Fauntleroy Place, which as was noted by planner Michael Dorcy last night, already had an approved design – after five previous meetings – but major changes sent it back for another round of review, even with work already under way at its site. Here’s the revised design, followed by the previously approved design for comparison’s sake:

fplaceastside.jpg

This project already has been amply discussed so we’ll skip the background (you can see last night’s presentation here)- it will have two retail tenants, Whole Foods and Hancock Fabric, plus apartments. It’s still a closely watched project – the room at High Point Community Center filled up for this part of the meeting, while only a few members of the public were present for discussion of the High Point project.

For those still wondering exactly why this had to come back for more design review, Dorcy’s full explanation might help: “We issued a decision on this project in June, a little over a year ago. The project went through the whole process, and its elements are a lot like what you will see tonight, but what we were left with was a desire for DPD to work with the applicant on refinements in design. The applicants graciously did that, and then pursued it even further, after we had issued our decision, and began vigorous re-examination of a lot of things with a new architectural firm. We encouraged them because I think they were resolving and addressing some issues not resolved earlier on. For whatever the merits of what you will see tonight, it’s had a remarkable redo, so the department felt, in fairness to the board and the public, which had seen it pre-makeover, we should bring it back for you to see, and approve.”

Presenters were BlueStar‘s project manager for Fauntleroy Place, Easton Craft, and architect Pat Logan from CollinsWoerman. In a “you probably had to be there” aside, they labeled the three main buildings, for discussion’s sake, as Peter, Paul, and Mary. (popular ’60s musical group, see them here)

If you’re still trying to place where the stores will be in the building – it was explained that they’ll actually overlap; there’s a 12-foot grade change, high to low, from the west side of the building where Hancock’s entrance will be to the east side where Whole Foods’ entrance will be – Hancock will be over Whole Foods for some of the space. One of the changes in the new design enabled Whole Foods’ entrance to be “at grade” rather than requiring steps down into the store. (The Hancock entrance will have stairs leading up into that store, though the architect says not as many as in the previous design; there will also be an elevator alternative.)

Another change, which raised concerns for attendees including Junction Neighborhood Organization president Erica Karlovits, is a reduction in the number of parking spaces for the project. Not a significant reduction, developers say, except for the fact they’ll be saving money by excavating a much smaller area for it — “the previous design had allotted 440 square feet per stall,” said Logan, and “we have it down to 340 square feet per stall. We had to make it financially viable.” Karlovits said, “I hope the decreased parking won’t make it so undesirable that people will choose to park on the street … that would be a huge detriment to our neighborhood.”

They also have changed plans for how a small group of surface stalls for the Hancock store will be accessed – off the alley on the north side of Fauntleroy Place, rather than giving the parking area its own entry off 40th.

Logan described the new look to the main Whole Foods entrance, facing 39th, as “like a Japanese torii shrine … welcome, inviting.” He also showcased a recessed set of covered bridges between two of the residential buildings (Peter and Mary, our notes suggest, but we lost track of who’s who).

Comments later in the meeting suggested that one thing missing from the entrance is an opportunity for some of the store to “spill out” into the frontage, like Metropolitan Market here in West Seattle, where some flowers and produce are displayed near and around the main entrance.

Even more hopes were expressed for a smaller entrance that’s now planned on the Alaska side of the store; many comments suggested it needs to be much more prominent, not as clearly secondary to the one on the 39th side. The entrance is toward the right side of this rendering:

fpsouthside.jpg

Karlovits pointed out that the Alaska side of the project is vital because of the transit connections along that street: “The midblock entrance is nice but nowhere near what needs to be done. There is nothing that invites me as a pedestrian to go into that entrance … Right now there’s just one tiny little glass door. If it was a garage-door-type opening, that would open up the facade much better.”

Sharonn Meeks suggested sidewalks could be wider around the perimeter, and that could encourage further activity outside the building.

Jeff McCord, who was on the SWDRB during its previous reviews of Fauntleroy Place, echoed the concerns about the Alaska entrance to Whole Foods needing to be more prominent, and also worried that the new palette of materials, including the greenish slate for the Whole Foods storefront, “might date themselves, unlike brick (the former plan) which is timeless.” He was also among those who were a little skeptical of how a small open space over the Whole Foods entrance might ultimately work, or not work: “The open area might be hard to discover and use, it could be become dusty, windy, rainy.”

When all was said and done, the board agreed to approve the project, with suggested tweaks to take into account concerns including the Alaska store entrance; the changes will be shepherded by city staffers, instead of bringing Fauntleroy Place back for yet another meeting.

WHAT’S NEXT: City planner Michael Dorcy will work with BlueStar and CollinsWoerman on integrating the reviewers’ suggestions before the plan gets final approval. If you have comments, you can send them to Dorcy, michael.dorcy@seattle.gov.

–Tracy Record, WSB editor

3 Comments

  1. Note to idiots:
    If you put the entrance on 35th and the light on Raymond, traffic will follow the apparent path of least resistance and get boxed in the library parking lot, or try to take Raymond to Lanham place to sw Graham. Lanham place is one of those streets that only one car can use at a time.

    I am pretty sure no traffic light is planned for SW graham and 35th.

    This is a joke anyway. 4 story 200 unit apartment buildings with a coffee shop is not “mixed use” except in the PR world.

    If you want to name it Engrais Apartments then at least the hypocrisy could be removed from the mix.

    Comment by Ken — 2:12 pm August 15, 2008 #

  2. To those that bothered to read past the third word in Ken’s comment… I believe he’s referring to the High Point development.

    Comment by Scott — 10:31 pm August 15, 2008 #

  3. Dear West Seattle Blog,

    We found the comments of the DRB regarding the High Point mixed-use project very helpful and we will be doing our best to incorporate a number of their suggestions in our plan.

    In regards to retail, we want to make it clear that is not our intention to just have a coffee shop. While we cannot make a market – i.e. get end users to sign up – we are looking at a number of other possible uses that would make this a true and vibrant mixed-use project that would benefit both High Point and the surrounding area.

    We will keep you updated as our plans develop and welcome any comments/suggestions you or our neighbors might have.

    All the Best,
    Chip

    Comment by chip marshall — 9:16 am August 18, 2008 #

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