(Street-level rendering by Fuller Sears Architects, showing the middle of the new store’s California SW frontage)
We’re at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in North Delridge, where a major development proposal has just reached a milestone: The Admiral Safeway redevelopment project has finished the Design Review process. The process is a two-meeting minimum for any project, but this was the 5th design-review meeting. Safeway plans to tear down the current store and moving a house on Safeway property behind it, building a larger new store, a small one-story retail building, and a residential/flex-work-units project on the 42nd SW side of the property. Only one issue remained for this last meeting – the new store’s California SW frontage – and it took less than an hour for the board to give its approval. Four board members were present, and only one was on the board when it started going through the Design Review process in September of 2008 (here’s our first report). They’re about to turn out the lights here in the Youngstown theater, as board members and development representatives wrap up post-meeting chat, so we’re moving back to HQ to finish the story. This isn’t the last review for the project overall – it still needs City Council approval for alley vacation (behind the current store) and partial rezoning. ADDED FRIDAY MORNING: Read on for the details of the meeting:
In the absence of board chair Christie Coxley, member Brandon Nicholson, co-owner of Nicholson Kovalchick Architects in The Junction, led the meeting. He wasn’t on the board, but spoke about the project as a citizen commenter, when Admiral Safeway had its first Design Review meeting 17 months ago.
As he has done at every meeting along the way – including presentations at the Admiral Neighborhood Association and the city Design Commission as well as the SW Design Review Board – architect Bill Fuller from Fuller Sears led the presentation. He and Nicholson both reminded all present that this fifth meeting, as decided at the end of the fourth review, was to focus on the west side of the store itself; he referred to the latest renderings – which you can see here – to show how the previously voiced concerns had been addressed.
The store’s exterior features so much “vision glass” that Fuller described it as “quite a feat for a grocery store.” He showed the typical Safeway layout – which to some degree applies to even the current store – with very little view to and from the outside – and compared it to what this store will have.
Somewhat unusually for Design Review, which generally focuses on buildings’ exteriors, the drawings also included the new store’s internal layout; the fourth meeting had included concerns about what would be inside the store and visible from the California SW frontage, since the plan presented at that time included views that included a corridor and business offices, much more than any actual aspect of the grocery store.
Newly added features included a change in the store’s planned video area, to improve the view from outside – “We decided we could rotate the video store,” explained Fuller – and an ATM area (above) between the entrance at the store’s northwestern corner and the start of a long stretch of windows along California SW. He said the ATM idea was inspired by public comments, but also cautioned that Safeway is still talking to banks, and it’s “not a done deal.”
But biggest of all, he showed three entry points with a total of five entrances along the California SW side – at the aforementioned northwestern corner, at the southwestern corner across from Lafayette and Hiawatha, and surrounding the in-store Starbucks inbetween.
Passersby will have a significant view into the upper seating area for the coffee shop (as rendered above), he said – it’s at the sidewalk level, though the rest of the store is seven feet below street level at that point, and the Starbucks service/purchase area is down a short staircase.
One more addition to the streetscape, a “blade sign” (rendering above) that Fuller said will identify the store as “Admiral Safeway” – though the company doesn’t usually put a community name on signage along with “Safeway,” Fuller said, “that’s how the community knows this store,” so that’s how the signs will label it.
As is traditional for the Design Review meeting format, questions from board members followed the architect’s presentation. There were few; Nicholson had none, which he joked was “a first” for him.
Next came the opportunity for public comment, to focus — as always — specifically on the design (other issues need to go to the city Department of Planning and Development, represented at the meeting by Michael Dorcy, a veteran planner who’s been on the project all along). Three people spoke – first, longtime Admiral neighborhood activist/advocate Dennis Ross: “I’ve testified many times in favor of this project, its relationship to our neighborhood plan and neighborhood design guidelines … I think Safeway has done a Herculean job of accommodating the board’s requests.”
Next, Jim Del Ciello from the Admiral Neighborhood Association, who is vice chair of the City Neighborhood Council: “I think Safeway has done a really good job overall – I know it’s been laborious, and I appreciate all you’ve done to create a good design here.” He offered one suggestion: Look at outdoor seating for Starbucks, “to enhance and promote neighborhood activity” among other potential benefits.
The third and final public commenter was Josh Brinko: “I think the proposal is a very positive and beautiful outcome so far.” However – “You mentioned five different entries along California; I don’t experience a sense of entry – none is really popping out – the signage is not really from at a pedestrian perspective.”
With that, the board began its deliberations, for which most in attendance – again, as is usually the case at these meetings – moved to gather around the table where board members sat. The discussion didn’t last long; since it was to result in final recommendations for planner Dorcy to write into the city’s official report, members had to revive some of the key points from earlier meetings, including concerns about the store’s loading dock, which will be under the live-work units, on the 42nd SW side, across the street from a residential neighborhood and the city-landmarked Sanctuary at Admiral – suggestions for handling it included limiting operating hours, considering a door for the dock, and/or other types of “acoustic mitigation.”
After complimenting the progress overall, Joe Hurley, who’s been on the board since the start of the process for this project, said he’s still disappointed that part of the California-facing store area will be the manager’s office. Nicholson also said he didn’t feel the California entrance scheme was perfect, but is “remarkably better” than the current blank wall with which pedestrians are greeted. He also said he agreed with the public comment suggesting more signage, though he expected that would “naturally happen anyway.” Norma Tompkins lauded the architects for a “great job” in creating a store that diverges so much from the “almost windowless prototype” for Safeway stores.
And with that, less than an hour after the meeting had begun, almost a year and a half after the process had begun, board members recommended approval of the Admiral Safeway design. That was good news to Patti Mullen, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce president/CEO, who hadn’t spoken at the meeting but came to observe, and noted that Safeway had recently briefed the Chamber’s board on the project. She says it’s a “sign of hope” that large projects are proceeding, such as this one and Harbor Properties’ Link in The Triangle.
What’s next? we asked Safeway’s Sara Corn, before the project contingent headed out to celebrate. She noted other aspects of the project require City Council approval – vacation of the “alley” behind the current store (as discussed at this Seattle Design Commission meeting we covered), and a zoning change. If that all proceeds without a snag, we asked, are they still on track to start construction in late summer, as suggested last fall? “That would be the best-case scenario,” replied Corn.
You can watch for permit approvals at the project’s official city infopage here.