Conner’s Junction project proceeding after neighborhood deal

April 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm | In Development, West Seattle news | 40 Comments

(Sketch of California-facing view from latest version of Conner project in The Junction)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Since nothing’s happened publicly with the Conner Homes two-building development proposal in the heart of The Junction for two years, you might have thought that, like other once-active local projects, it’s stalled indefinitely.

Not so, we learned when its “alley vacation” component – asking to take over city right-of-way under part of an existing alley, so its two buildings can share one parking garage – suddenly appeared on last week’s City Council agenda.

As a result of that quick vote (reported here), the “alley vacation” will get a public hearing before the council’s Transportation Committee three weeks from today. (Here’s the official notice.)

The project’s potential effects on the alley that runs south from SW Alaska between 42nd and California once drew opposition vehement enough that a petition drive was started (here’s our report from July 2008). And concerns still lingered when the project finished going through Design Review two years ago.

But you won’t see key opponents speaking against it at the April 26th public hearing. In fact, some of them have signed an agreement not to. The agreement ended a process that has played out over a year and a half outside the public spotlight, addressing concerns that participants had voiced about the project. If you want to cut to the chase – this document is the result of that process, and will be presented to the Council this month; it includes changes in the “public benefits” that are considered crucial for allowing a development to take over public right of way. It also includes the text of the agreement signed with the seven participants in the mediated community discussions.

Ahead, a more detailed look, including project backstory as well as comments from Conner Homes’ Charlie Conner, who spoke with WSB a few days ago:

Backstory: It was March 2008 when we first reported that the Conner site had an active proposal again. As the information unfolded over subsequent days and weeks, we reported on the two-building proposal, spanning the southern frontage of SW Alaska between 42nd SW and California SW – the buildings that currently hold businesses such as AAA, The Beer Junction, and SIMA Martial Arts, as well as Rocksport, Super Supplements, and California-fronting businesses southward to Rubato Records.

A year of reviews followed. The last major public meetings related to the project were two years ago. On March 5th, 2009, the Seattle Design Commission – which has to sign off on street/alley vacation proposals’ “public benefit packages” before the proposals go to the council – finally gave its approval, after reviewing the Conner proposal for a third time. (Here’s that 3/5/09 report.)

The next month, April 2009, the project finally won approval from the Southwest Design Review Board (meeting coverage here) – after five meetings over the span of a year. (For context, check out our report on the first meeting in April 2008 – a concept also was shown that night for Link [WSB sponsor], the Harbor Properties development that is now complete and housing its first tenants as well as its first of three businesses.)

But after that April 2009 meeting, the last time we talked with Charlie Conner was July 2009, checking in on the Junction project when his company made news for an Eastside foreclosure (he drew a contrast in our conversation, saying The Junction made sense, while that Eastside project didn’t).

One excerpt from our July 2009 story hints at the process that ensued:

And he says he’s hoping to meet “in the next couple of weeks” with “a few folks in The Junction” whom he says are still not happy “with the process … (I want) to talk to them about that and see what else we might do to make sure everybody likes what we’re doing, and then we’ll be moving forward with (Master Use Permit) approval and the alley vacation … so we’ll be ready to start next year.”

“Next year” at that time would have been 2010. Right now, Conner tells WSB, it looks like a 2012 start. But here’s what’s happened in the meantime: The meeting “with a few folks in The Junction” turned into five meetings between August 2009 and August 2010 – detailed on page 3 of the presentation document intended for the Council.

After those five meetings, here’s what Conner Homes had agreed to (as spelled out in the text of the signed agreement, included in the document prepared for council presentation and provided to WSB by Conner, at our request – it contains many more sketches than the ones shown in this story, including the fine points detailed below):

1. To re-engage the community and solicit neighborhood participation in the design of cornices, sills, canopies, soldier courses, art, lighting and other details at the construction document phase.

2. Include an art panel program with historical representations in the north ground plane facade of both buildings.

3. Incorporate dark bronzed window framing at retail level.

4. Endeavor to reduce the planting strip on California 5’ to 4’ increasing sidewalk width to 8’6”, subject to SDOT approval.

5. Install special pavement detail providing texture and way finding elements throughout the midblock passage.

6. Carry brick elements from West building to the north fagade of the East building. Preferably a light gray color rather than the red brick color of the West building.

7. Work with Harbor Properties to explore opportunities to integrate east building plaza with the Mural project plaza including signage, pavers and other design elements. Install a way finding sign at plaza entrance that denotes the connection to California Avenue. Complete Plaza design details as part of construction documents.

8. The set of streetscape amenities including benches and pedestrian lighting proposed for the West building will be carried to the East Building. Landscaping on SW Alaska Street will be designed to integrate with the Junction Plaza Park across the street.

9. Applicant will contribute $5,000 towards development of Junction Plaza Park upon construction permit issuance.

The agreement also notes that the surface alley will remain open “throughout every phase of construction” – a promise that hadn’t existed early in the original project-review process.

Participants in the talks, as mentioned in our March 28th Council coverage and listed in the presentation document, were Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association, Erica Karlovits of the Junction Neighborhood Organization, Rene Commons (now also of JuNO), Abdy Farid, Heather Leaman (WSJA board), Michael Godfried, Rhonda Laumann (those without organizational mention were listed as “residents”).

With project changes including those listed above, they agreed to:

…not appeal the DPD Director’s Decision, so long as all conditions and this agreement are incorporated as requirements in the Director’s Decision, as expressed in the Master use Permit (MuP) decision. the signatories below will not oppose the project’s partial subterranean alley vacation petition, contingent upon implementation of the construction plan, which leaves the alley operational throughout every phase of construction, when the alley vacation is considered by the City Council.

Toplines of the project as it stands now, according to the Conner presentation: Both buildings at 7 stories (84 feet) high, with 198 total apartments – Conner says they once were envisioned as condos, but now apartments make more sense – 25,000 square feet of retail, and 271 parking spaces, 62 more than they say the city requires. (That would all be retail parking; the city requires 11 retail spaces, the Conner document says, but they’re planning to provide 73 – “We think people still need cars, so we’re going to provide more public parking,” he says, while also noting that he himself bicycles to work a few times a week.) The parking garage entry would be from 42nd SW.

Conner believes the end result will be “one of the best-looking new projects out there – a lot of modulation and color, activating the alley and providing the midblock connection” – as discussed during the original Design Review process, you will be able to get from California to the alley via a walkway on the south side of the project.

He insists that his “longterm goal is to own a piece of West Seattle indefinitely, (to) be part of my retirement plan … I have always built and sold things. This would be something I would own a piece of, instead.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The council Transportation Committee hearing on the alley vacation is 9:30 am, City Hall downtown, Tuesday, April 26. (The resolution setting that date is here.) After that – Conner tells WSB he is continuing to proceed through the permit/application process. He says the businesses on the development site have leases through the end of this year: “Nothing would happen till at least year’s end, it takes that long to get construction designs done and details done.” He also has not secured financing yet, but says “the market is improving” and doesn’t believe he’ll have trouble finding it.

40 Comments

  1. Thanks WSB, and to Mr. Connor too.
    A quality addition to the Junction – jobs, new homes, and maybe
    some fun retail as well.
    I wish all the best for this project.

    Comment by old timer — 4:26 pm April 6, 2011 #

  2. What Bloated crap. We don’t need a soulless seven story building right in the heart of the Junction. What’s next, Walmart?

    Comment by raybro — 8:45 pm April 6, 2011 #

  3. I guess Conner employees now post comments on WSB. Money wins. Nobody in this project gives a damn about West Seattle.

    Comment by Huskilvr — 8:54 pm April 6, 2011 #

  4. Boy Howdy!

    Comment by raybro — 8:57 pm April 6, 2011 #

  5. FYI huskilvr, if you are referring to Old Timer, I don’t know who she/he works for but they are a longtime commenter here on a variety of topics.

    Comment by WSB — 9:40 pm April 6, 2011 #

  6. Well Old Timer is drinking the cool aide then. God Bless you Mr Conner for thinking of only the little people. The businesses that will pay the high rents in this building will provide bountiful Subway Sandwhich jobs that don’t pay enough to rent an apartment in this glorious building.

    Comment by Huskilvr — 9:49 pm April 6, 2011 #

  7. Promises now, changes later like Safeway later when there is no turning back.

    I just read in the previous document there would be 100 parking spaces, now it’s 73.

    Comment by dsa — 12:28 am April 7, 2011 #

  8. Yuck. There’s NOTHING about this project that sounds good for West Seattle IMO. But hey, I just live/work/shop here. What do *I* know over Big Corp interests who don’t? Nothing apparently.
    .
    Does that corner need a little refreshing? Sure. But a 7 story monster with more poorly constructed apartments, too few parking spots and retail space that will only be affordable for more cooke cutter “Eastside” chain type businesses? Nothing charming or local or sustainable about that.
    .
    I wish my “NO!” vote counted.

    Comment by Jasperblu — 7:39 am April 7, 2011 #

  9. What a bunch of NIMBYs. Holy cow. Change is happening all around Seattle, and West can’t be totally immune. Conner has bent over backwards – far over – to make this work for all concerned. I’m one of the ‘concerned’ he talked to, and the guy is on the level. Yes, it’s a big building. But this growth is going to happen – Seattle gov says so – so find good people to accommodate it.
    Stop throwing rocks. Start offering solutions.

    Comment by WS lifer — 8:28 am April 7, 2011 #

  10. Thanks for the info WSB! I think the people who signed the agreement, had the best interest of the Junction. But am curious were the people who signed the agreement, not able to tell anyone that they were even having these meetings? Was that also part of the agreement? Or did I miss a notice about the stakeholder meetings ? Thanks

    Comment by ? — 8:40 am April 7, 2011 #

  11. We all wish our “no” vote counted!

    Comment by WSMom — 8:55 am April 7, 2011 #

  12. The predictable usual: A bunch of comments from people who don’t want anything built anywhere ever and all change is bad.
    Look, all businesses in the Junctio will benefit by having more residents in walking distance. But since you’re all so tied to a bland faceless chain store (super supplement) and a musty worn out sports bar, I guess this must be stopped!

    Comment by Peter on Fauntlroy — 8:58 am April 7, 2011 #

  13. Complaining on this blog is about all we’ve got. Connner’s got the money, and the charm of downtown West Seattle will soon be gone forever. Probably the first in a series of dominoes once the economy recovers. Other builders will do this to the rest of the junction. At least they can’t take the natural beauty away, though they’ll try to block your view of it.

    Comment by huskilvr — 9:10 am April 7, 2011 #

  14. While I am NOT a fan of the building design in and of itself – the automatic doom and gloom that horrible “Eastside” corporate monster stores will come in is a little much… I read the exact same comments in regards to the two new apartment buildings and guess what – we got an amazing independent frame shop, two new restaurants (both Seattle based operators), a day care and yoga studio…. As any one who has walk along the Pike/Pine corridor can attest, there are more then enough Seattle based business with the needed fan base and chops to open a West Seattle location in a larger building or perhaps we will be lucky enough to see the start of our “own” new enterprise (Hay, Royal Cupcakes, Café Ladro, Molly Moon, etc…. all had to start somewhere).

    Comment by Thistle — 9:38 am April 7, 2011 #

  15. So, if the city does not approve and alley vacation, does that mean this block can go back to two buildings rather than one giant mixed use project? Would much prefer two smaller scale buildings on this site. Scale it back to the surroundings!

    Comment by elevated concern — 10:22 am April 7, 2011 #

  16. I’ve never commented before, but wanted to provide the flipside viewpoint. While the design doesn’t have the flavor of old buildings, I’m looking forward to this.

    * Talarico’s and Elliot Bay aren’t being booted. I’d be totally bummed if they got relocated.

    * It’s a fairly small segment of new highrise on California Ave. The old buildings (again, Talarico’s and EBB) will keep the character.

    * Why do I love The Juction? It’s a walking neighborhood! Having more people out and about on the sidewalks is a good thing (to me, at least). Our beloved restaurants and shops will thrive.

    I’m also glad it’s on the east side of California. If it was west, it would cast nasty afternoon shadows. Hopefully they’ll have restaurants with outdoor seating. We need more of that.

    Of course there will be downsides, there always are. It’ll feel a little tall, and a little too sanitized. But out of all the possible scenarios for that block, this seems like a decent outcome.

    Comment by JVP — 10:24 am April 7, 2011 #

  17. Predictable as usual comments that change is great for the sake of change. Enjoy the world class alley the developer is so focused on. We’ll see if you change your tune when businesses you actually like get kicked out in the future. If you zone it, they will build.

    Comment by Huskilvr — 11:54 am April 7, 2011 #

  18. I’m really baffled by the reflexively anti-development attitude of most of the posters on WSB. Of course, smart development is crucial. It looks like the neighborhood merchants are engaged in this process and got some attractive concessions.

    You know, things change. If Husky Deli was still just selling headcheese and bologna to Yugoslavian dockworkers, instead of great ice cream and sandwiches, they’d be hosed.

    Comment by e — 12:06 pm April 7, 2011 #

  19. “Charming, local, sustainable,” idiotic mantra for nihilistic building codes.
    -
    “7 story monster with more poorly constructed apartments, too few parking spots.” close to real criticism! But what scathing anticipation.
    -
    “At least they can’t take the natural beauty away, though they’ll try to block your view of it,” classic paranoia speech with the demonizing, conspiratorial, “they.”
    -
    “We all wish our “no” vote counted!” by WSMom who apparently speaks for All West Seattle Moms!
    -
    Some nasty paranoid speak, “I guess Conner employees now post comments on WSB. Money wins. Nobody in this project gives a damn about West Seattle.” Imagine Mr. Connor and his employees reading this, or their friends and families, etc.
    -
    “What’s next, Walmart?” Hyperbole to the extreme.
    -
    And, “What Bloated crap.” with more to come?
    -
    What can I add but to say we WestSeattleites just have difficulties embracing change.

    Comment by Nulu — 1:24 pm April 7, 2011 #

  20. All I have to say is I’m in the construction industry. And with the lack of work in the area I hope our shop gets a piece of the work. With tradesman at close to 30% unemployed we could use the work. It is kind of a chatch 22, build it we have jobs and a ugly building. Don’t build it and you get no work and more unemployment checks.

    Comment by foy boy — 1:55 pm April 7, 2011 #

  21. luv the project! more apartments makes the area more condensed, more condensed means more business all around. Just coming back from asia, where its 10 times as dense as seattle, businesses there rarely go out business, the ones that close are because they dont make enough, not because they’re losing money.

    Im new to the area and trying to look for a good smoothie shop north of PaPa Johns, any reco’s?

    Comment by moch — 2:04 pm April 7, 2011 #

  22. Hotwire Coffee (longtime WSB sponsor) has smoothies – 4410 California SW, next to the Junction post office.

    Comment by WSB — 2:24 pm April 7, 2011 #

  23. WS IS F!*&%#ED !! if this an the rest of projects similar go thru > :(

    Comment by DF — 2:29 pm April 7, 2011 #

  24. Some nasty paranoid speak, “I guess Conner employees now post comments on WSB. Money wins. Nobody in this project gives a damn about West Seattle.” Imagine Mr. Connor and his employees reading this, or their friends and families, etc.

    Nasty paranoid speak??? People who actually live in West Seattle have the right to voice their opinion, just as you’re entitled to yours. I hope Conner reads it. If he’s a grown man he can take it, and no one is stopping his project so in the end it doesn’t really matter. But we still have free speech!

    Comment by huskilvr — 2:33 pm April 7, 2011 #

  25. tall buildings == wind tunnel.

    Comment by sms — 4:17 pm April 7, 2011 #

  26. Moch go clean a storm drain then get ahold of me and i’ll buy you a smoothie. Our Puget Sound is in serious danger with all this condensed living outlook of yours. Go police the shores for trash while you are at it. I mean it!!

    Comment by DF — 4:40 pm April 7, 2011 #

  27. Nobody is disputing your right to speak, or make a fool of yourself.
    -
    WSB pointed out that your suspicions were wrong (Connor employees were not the ones posting).
    -
    Money wins? Please share evidence that money was the factor or who was paid off?
    -
    Nobody cares? Obviously false.
    -
    And welcome to free speech, West Seattle style, Moch!

    Comment by Nulu — 4:45 pm April 7, 2011 #

  28. DF, I wonder how any Asian countries do it then, I went there and it was very clean and condensed. Dirtier in the outskirts but the cities all remained very well maintained and clean. If we can’t keep it clean with just 1/10 the population then perhaps it’s the people. Because streets in Asia don’t clean themselves,…

    Comment by Moch — 6:56 pm April 7, 2011 #

  29. Conner has built, been sued and paid for defective buildings in and around Seattle. There have been no compromises reached–only ‘endeavors’ to be made and ‘opportunities to be explored’ with no hard and fast requirements. Don’t kid yourself, this is not about what is best for West Seattle.

    Comment by ILVNWESTSEATTLE — 7:11 pm April 7, 2011 #

  30. “I guess Conner employees now post comments on WSB. Money wins. Nobody in this project gives a damn about West Seattle.” Imagine Mr. Connor and his employees reading this, or their friends and families, etc.

    I would assume they are adults and could handle different points of view. This is NOT about NIMBY-ism, or development in general. We all know things change and evolve. This is about bad, and as I said before, bloated, development, in the worst possible location. The two main blocks of California Ave. in the Junction currently offer a great mix of retail/dining for neighborhood needs. Development around it is inevitable, but let’s keep some historical perspective and local charm to our neighborhood, as we grow and evolve. A seven story, poorly designed, building is not necessary in that location, or on those two blocks of California SW. Don’t believe me, just go down there, and spend a few minutes looking at the area.

    Comment by raybro — 8:28 pm April 7, 2011 #

  31. I don’t mind a certain amount of gentrification in the Junction area, I just don’t understand why viable businesses have to shut down to build these places when there are huge amounts of empty buildings/lots in close proximity to the Junction. Huling Bros. property sits empty making that stretch of Alaska/Fauntleroy look like Detroit. Why not bulldoze it? There is enough room to build acres of condos/mixed use, etc. For anyone that doesn’t think that’s close enough for walking distance to the Junction proper, you might really enjoy LA.

    Comment by whybaddesign — 11:54 pm April 7, 2011 #

  32. Someone tell me where exactly is mans natural habitat? We can’t live here. We can’t live there. Where is man soposed to live?

    Comment by foy boy — 11:34 am April 8, 2011 #

  33. I am not opposed to development and frankly that corner at the junction could use an update. I am saddened to see such a soulless building that looks like anywhere development USA. It adds no value to and tells no story of the West Seattle experience.

    The Alaskan Junction is a thriving area because it is filled mostly with unique mom and pop businesses- small businesses that work hard to make a living. This new urban themed building does not add to but detracts from this kind of atmosphere that so many of us currently enjoy. These are our friends and neighbors we are talking about.

    I have no doubt the developer thinks he is doing a good thing. As a businessman his goal is to make money – that is his bottom line! Development and progress are generally advantageous for future generations, but that is no excuse for BAD architecture that does not address the site and the neighborhood.

    It will be interesting to see what affect this new building brings to our neighborhood!

    Comment by SaturdayJoe — 1:00 pm April 10, 2011 #

  34. Wait when did we decide we wanted one of our few concentrated commercial areas and arguably the most famous in WS to be developed for more residential? This is utter crap. There is no way they can do this with out disrupting the Alaska Junction. How are these cars going to go in and out of their underground parking in THAT spot? and this with the changes for rapid ride? What about the new restaurants at the south end of the same block while they build this monstrosity? And seriously like we need more cars in WS.

    Generally advantageous for future generations? Any load of refuse could also be depending on how you use it. We have no room to bring in more and more people in more and more multi housing units, driving more cars. People will have to build ladders to climb roofs tops to walk around all the cars in the roads. Why is there no impact study for that? Im trying to imagine a homogeneous WS with little identity and wall to wall condo/apartment, tiny shop buildings put up so fast and so high they are natural desasters waiting to happen. Yes he can make his quick money and then leave us to deal with the consequences years later. Take your pictures now while the Alaska Junction still has an identity. Grrr. Just my little IMO but still makes me so sad.

    Comment by cj — 10:20 pm April 25, 2011 #

  35. The project has been under review for more than three years, with public meetings along the way – here’s our archive of coverage:
    http://westseattleblog.com/?s=conner+homes
    .
    (newest to oldest – and here’s the very first story we wrote about it, after finding the proposal in online files March 2008 – though a version apparently had been proposed years earlier, then gone on hold).
    http://westseattleblog.com/2008/03/new-6-story-apartmentretail-building-proposed-in-the-junction

    Comment by WSB — 10:35 pm April 25, 2011 #

  36. I agree with Saturday Joe. It’s really not such a black and white issue. The scale of this project is absurd and it does not take into consideration the vibe of the area. I live about 400 yards from where this will be erected and I just wish it were a different scale. I have no problem with development, including modern construction. This one just does not fit properly. I wish the guy who bought the old brick Alki property would lead a renovation for that corner instead of Conner. He *got* it.

    Comment by Junction_Resident — 10:58 pm April 25, 2011 #

  37. This sounds about par for the course.

    What more could you expect from un-elected, self-appointed “neighborhood” orgs run by plants from city hall.

    These front orgs have memberships consisting of less than 0.01% of the population. They are phonies who invariably operate in the interests of the developers/city hall and against the interests of local residents.

    Comment by JoAnne — 1:28 am April 26, 2011 #

  38. We still have a huge hole to fill on Alaska street, which is kind of Junction-ish. Why don’t they build their ‘neighborhood improvement’ project there. Or are we bound for holes at each end of the street?

    My vote is NO! I like the neighborhood as it is.

    Comment by Carolyn — 8:35 am April 26, 2011 #

  39. JoAnne, my.02 having covered neighborhood organizations extensively (which no other news organization around here bothers to do any more) for the past three-plus years: You can critique their actions if you want but they are not “plants from City Hall.” Kind of couldn’t be further from the truth. The people who wound up having a say in the end are the people who gave enough of a damn to go to the meetings, read our stories about the projects, voiced their concerns. The neighborhood-group meetings all around West Seattle (and I assume other neighborhoods, but this is the only neighborhood where I’ve done news at this level) are open, they’re publicized ahead of time, they are run by volunteers, and when new people show up, they fall all over themselves making them welcome.
    .
    I’m speaking about the neighborhood organizations themselves and their regular work, not necessarily the process by which this agreement was reached – none of those meetings involved full groups and they weren’t announced to the public or media. But regarding the people who wound up in them, one was Rene Commons, a Junction-area resident who became an unexpected hero of sorts during the Design Review process for this project – and she was not somebody previously active in the neighborhood group. Here’s one of the stories from back then:
    http://westseattleblog.com/2009/03/details-why-conners-junction-megaproject-gets-another-review
    .
    The folks who got involved here could have just said “who cares, it’s the Design Review Board’s problem, I’ve spoken out once and that’s all I’m going to do.” Instead, even when the Design Review Board said “we’re OK with this” (after many more meetings than projects usually go through), they said “Well, we’re not, so what can we do about it?” So while you can critique the end result if you don’t like it, believe me when I tell you there are no “city plants” here. Anybody can get involved at any time. If anyone ever tries to tell you no, don’t take no for an answer. Next Design Review meeting, by the way, as we will be mentioning again in the next hour or so (unless breaking news intrudes), is this Thursday for the 7100 Delridge project. – Tracy

    Comment by WSB — 8:36 am April 26, 2011 #

  40. well, bummer.

    (some disclosure) i’m not born and raised west seattle.

    i am an evil condo-dweller.

    unfortunately, this development will be taking place outside my window for the next X months, and taking out some of my favorite shops/restaurants.

    it’s already pretty urban — and rocksport’s customers are NOT quiet when the weather warms up — but these were all ‘knowns’ when i moved in.

    unfortunately, this is looking like a repeat of what drove me out of belltown in the 90′s…

    peace,
    fB

    Comment by fubarrio — 9:02 am April 26, 2011 #

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