By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Sometimes when the public-comment period arrives midway through meetings of the Southwest Design Review Board – one of 7 such volunteer boards around the city charged with evaluating major development proposals – the concerns and complaints tend to meander away from the topic at hand, the project’s design.
Not last night, as The Kenney‘s redevelopment proposal returned to the SWDRB for a third “early design guidance” meeting (here’s our original as-it-happened update from last night; here’s coverage of the previous meeting in January).
Referring to the six-story “donut” building in the plans — a new formation since The Kenney announced it was shifting the design to scrap the panned plan to tear down the cupola-topped Seaview building — one neighbor declared, “I don’t want to live next to the Pentagon.”
“That’s a perfect design comment,” observed board chair Christie Coxley.
The building in question is envisioned in the newest design documents (see them all here) as actually more of a square, but before recommending that The Kenney move to the next phase of design review, board members had their own thoughts about it and other project aspects too, while architect Gene Guszkowski (from Wisconsin-based AG Architecture) revealed some news since the new design proposal was previewed at a community meeting last week:
At last night’s review, which brought more than 50 people to the Senior Center of West Seattle — including current Kenney residents — Guszkowski began his presentation with a recap of the evolution of the project (same as last week’s meeting, as reported here).
Along the way, he had news: First, the century-old Seaview building has been officially nominated for city landmark status. (Here are the West Seattle buildings that already hold that designation.)
That nomination had been expected and planned — and if the original plan to demolish the building had been pursued, a landmark review would have ensued anyway, as is the case for most half-century-plus-old Seattle buildings in such situations. But it means a new process (explained here) is activated, involving the city Department of Neighborhoods and its Landmarks Board, which will hold at least one hearing along the way (we’ll let you know when that is scheduled). If landmark status is conferred on the iconic building, it comes with restrictions as well as benefits — the Landmarks Board would set conditions under which The Kenney would need its approval to make changes.
Theoretically, that would include the process envisioned in the new project plan — described by Guszkowski as the “structural gymnastics” of lifting the building and moving it 180 feet forward, to front Fauntleroy at Myrtle (map), where currently the Seaview sits behind another Kenney structure that remains targeted for demolition in the plan.
Second item of news: Community members speaking at previous meetings had asked repeatedly when a “tree survey” would be done, to determine whether any of the large trees on the site, particularly in its “park-like” northwest corner, would have to be saved, and how that would affect the project. Guszkowski announced last night that the survey is set to start next Monday.
But in the meantime, the “saving the Seaview” proposal was at centerstage. The mostly six-story “donut” building still would require a City Council-approved rezoning proposal; in addition to that and the Seaview move, other key points of the plan include bringing services in via Fauntleroy rather than the previously envisioned Othello along the site’s south side, and having the Seaview building as a main entrance to The Kenney.
Construction is envisioned in three steps – the new “health center” (including an Alzheimer’s care unit) on the south side, in the foreground of this massing rendering:
Phase two would demolish north-side buildings so the Seaview could be moved and half the “donut” could be built, and finally demolishing the Ballymena building to finish the donut, which would include areas of “enclosed parking.” While the “donut” would rise to six stories at some portion of each side, the architect said, it also includes lower sections in streetfront areas.
“This project gets better with every meeting we have, as we try to find the sweet spot that addresses everybody’s concerns,” concluded Guszkowski, before sitting back to listen to whether board members and community commenters agreed.
As per the usual structure of Design Review meetings, “clarifying questions” by board members came next. Those included an inquiry about whether the Fauntleroy/Myrtle intersection — currently regulated only by a pedestrian-operated light — would have to be reexamined if the moved-forward Seaview building became the entry point (which currently is further south along Fauntleroy).
Height inquiries followed; Guszkowski did not have specific potential heights but gave a baseline estimate: “To create the kind of living space we want nine foot ceilings, lots of light, lots of glass — a story would be measured in 10 foot increments.”
And then – a preview of community comments to come – the question, why so much density in the heart of the site, notably the “donut” building? Guszkowski’s reply: Because saving the Seaview, for use as administrative and “commons” space, means there would be no living units at the site’s northeast corner.
Shortly thereafter, the public-comment period began, with an inquiry about where drivers would enter the site to access parking – answer: one off Myrtle, one off 47th to the west, and one at the Lincoln Park Way corner (southwest, as seen below in Google Street View):
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The next question drew some laughter, as a man said, “I’ve got my name in for a new unit, but I’m getting older every day — what kind of schedule is this on?”
“I don’t know that we can speak to that,” Coxley replied (technically, public comments must be addressed to the board, not directly to the project applicants) – though at last week’s community meeting, which was not an official part of the project-review process, Kenney CEO Kevin McFeely had said that if all went smoothly, first-phase construction might begin in about a year.
Next, the “donut” came in for criticism: “The giant building is too bulky – I think you can reduce square footage and drop a floor down.”
Another man folded in concerns about the cost of moving the Seaview (shown in the rendering above in its old and new locations): “I know it’s going to be way costly to move (it) … the new building is way too bulky. (And since the courtyard will be shady), retired people aren’t going to want to hang out there – there will not be a hint of sun … it’s too tall … Right now, it looks like we will have a massive, six-story building sitting in our neighborhood and it doesn’t feel very friendly to me.”
After the neighbor who said “I don’t want to live near the Pentagon,” another neighbor suggested of the “donut” building, “It looks very neo-Soviet” (while acknowledging he’s aware these are “massing” drawings, not a proposed finish product).
And again, the “bulk” came up, as one attendee noted that a previous version of the design had “more bulk on the east side, this one has it on the west side … it’s going to be a building that is too big for the lot.”
Quickly agreeing, another attendee suggested that the presence of a 60-foot facade adjacent to single-family zoning “is going to be a problem.”
Other concerns came from two leaders of the Morgan Community Association — president Deb Barker, a former Design Review Board member, said, “I understand the constraints of zoning and your ‘program’ needs, but I still encourage streetscape sensitivity – maintaining green edges at the sidewalk level, providing appropriate rooftop treatment … those devils are going to be in the details.”
MoCA public-information officer Cindi Barker (no relation to Deb) sought confirmation that the six-story buildings wouldn’t be made even higher by elevator or heating/cooling equipment on the roof; short version of the reply – no.
Finally, it was time for board members to discuss, deliberate and decide — a part of the process that always is open to public observation. Robin Murphy said he shared the concerns about the “donut” building’s density: “Either the density has to come down, or the square footage per unit has to come down.” He suggested “eroding” the western side of the “donut,” to make it more of a “U.” Murphy also suggested that the possibility of multiple entries seemed “problematic.”
Norma Tompkins echoed the concern about the “donut” building’s courtyard being in the shadows of up to six stories rising above it.
After saying he feels the Seaview building’s new location is “correct,” and bound to make it “even more prominent in the community,” Vlad Oustimovitch added that he too foresees changes in the “donut” — “It’s still a little bit overwhelming … the next exercise is going to be, taking that square and starting to break the component parts down, humanizing the building … It’s like Play-Doh – it still needs to be tailored, but there’s the start of something that’s really good here.” Shortly after that comment, though, he also had words of caution for The Kenney and its architect/development team: “You do have a big ‘program’ you’re trying to fit on this — sometimes the program doesn’t fit on the site, and it’s not up to the Design Review Board to accommodate every-size program on every site; it’s just not zoned for that, and we have to do the best we can in terms of accommodating as much as we can. People in this community would like The Kenney to be successful, and we’re trying to do that.”
Guszkowski responded to that with a reminder that this redevelopment of the century-old retirement center — envisioned with a “program” including enough units to double its resident population to about 400 — “has to last not just for tomorrow, but for 50 to 75 years … we have to be careful about undersizing those units.”
Shortly after that, board members agreed unanimously that the project should move to the next phase of the process, during which it will return for at least one more review, with many more details of what the buildings would look like, including proposed materials and colors.
If you are interested in commenting on any aspect of the project, including those not involved with its design, the city planner assigned to it, Michael Dorcy, is your point of contact; e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to a future Design Review meeting, other steps in the process ahead will include the aforementioned landmark-nomination review, plus other hearings and votes related to the proposed “contract rezone” that would be required for The Kenney to build at the height and density now envisioned.
LINKS YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL
City project page for The Kenney
The Kenney’s online project FAQ
WSB archive of The Kenney coverage
City Design Review citizens’ handbook
(City zoning designations, explained)