By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Southwest Design Review Board‘s first decision about West Seattle’s biggest development proposal in years – sending it back for a reboot – wasn’t a surprise to the development team.
But they have some challenges to hurdle before they can bring back 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW for a second round of Early Design Guidance, at a yet-to-be-scheduled date.
Round one was last Thursday night. We reported the toplines immediately afterward. This story’s for anyone interested in the detailed play-by-play.
The cast of characters was a unique mix. For one, the board members included two substitutes – both past members, Catherine Benotto and Vlad Oustimovitch – filling in for Robin Murphy and Daniel Skaggs. Oustimovitch and Benotto joined Myer Harrell, serving as chair, Norma Tompkins, and Layne Bennion. They were joined by city Department of Planning and Development staffer Bruce Rips, the city’s point person for this project.
By our estimate, at least 40 people were in the audience.
First: If you would like to see and hear how it went for yourself, we recorded most of the meeting on video. (Due to a camera change, we’re missing a few minutes of board deliberation. Also forgive us some odd camera angles during the public-comment period, since some of the speakers didn’t come to the front of the room, and the best we could do was to turn the camera in their general direction.) Here’s the first hour, beginning with the developers/architects’ presentation, continuing with board members’ questions, and then public comment:
The second section, 24 minutes, continues the public comment – this begins where clip 1 left off, with the most impassioned commenter – and then moves on into the start of board deliberations:
At the end of that clip, we lost about six minutes of board discussion before the final recorded section, about 40 minutes.
Now – on to what was said, and what happens next:
The prospective developers were both represented – Lennar Multi-Family and Weingarten Realty. Lennar Multifamily‘s Peter Schellinger spoke briefly before introducing the design team from Seattle-headquartered Fuller Sears Architects (whose previous West Seattle project was the year-old Admiral Safeway). Lance Sherwood from Weingarten was there, but didn’t address the audience. They both are among the project-team reps who have participated in various unofficial discussions with community leaders in the past few months; many of those community members were on hand for the meeting. Schellinger stressed that it’s “still very early on in the design process.”
He pointed out that both namesake partners of Fuller Sears were present, Steve Sears and Bill Fuller; Sears didn’t speak, but Fuller did, briefly, before turning it over to project lead Steve Johnson (while Fuller ran the projector). They described 4755 Fauntleroy as a “true retail-based mixed-use project” – as opposed to the more-common type of mixed-use project, an apartment building that “just happens” to have some ground-floor retail.
As Johnson took over, he drew laughs by mentioning the Huskies (playing at CenturyLink Field at the time) were tied 3-3, and promising updates (though the meeting grew so all-absorbing that none ever followed). He had a 22-slide deck, with pages changed from the packet that had been made public online, a little confusing for the commenters who had come prepared to comment on specific pages by number – a sign of how intensely some community members care about the project, that they had prepared their comments so thoroughly.
He outlined again the key points of the project – the property bounded by Alaska, Fauntleroy, Edmunds, and 40th, with the exception of the Masonic Hall and its parking lot; ~370 apartments over a grocery store and drugstore (which will have a drive-up window) along with some smaller retailers; comparatively huge underground garage (~570 spaces). It’s “an area in transition,” Johnson acknowledged, with this project and the long-stalled “Hole” (now called Spruce West Seattle, as we reported in July, though no start date’s been announced) across Alaska to be “first out of the blocks.” As others on the project team have done in previous discussions, Johnson stressed that their plan is “nowhere near close to capitalizing on the available 85-foot zoning” for the site (which had been twenty feet lower until the city rezoned it last year). and they are aiming for 70 feet. (With the lower height, the project team says, that’s 200,000 square foot less than they could build if they maxed it out.)
The project’s various sides will have different characters – while Fauntleroy and Alaska are busy commercial arterials, 40th SW is intended to be something of a “green street,” with the west side of the project “pushed back” and a 20-foot sidewalk, plus a “corner park” at the northwest corner of the site:
The Fauntleroy/Alaska corner remains a question mark – since it’s “the first thing you see when you come down Fauntleroy … an announcement,” they asked for community input into what that corner should look like. (Johnson says it’s about 800 square feet – 20 x 40.) Here’s that corner’s street-level “concept” – minus that future, potentially iconic element:
Johnson discussed the alley vacation they plan to request – that means that they want the city to give them part of the public right-of-way that is currently set aside on the site as an alley, as shown here:
He also outlined the site slopes – 11 feet along Alaska, 4 feet along Fauntleroy – before launching into a discussion of the four “alternatives” that were included in the “packet” for this meeting.
Three of them are basically out the window, so we won’t recap them here (you can review the first “packet” if you’d like to see them) – especially the first one, which is what the project team says they would have to do if they did not get the alley vacation they’re seeking: Three buildings, no grocery store (and Johnson described the latter as “imperative” to make the project work).
Number 4, five stories of apartments over ground-floor retail, was their preferred alternative (and as discussed toward meeting’s end, that’s the one they’ll be working from to present new alternatives for the second Early Design Guidance meeting):
That one would have the “midblock” passthrough between 40th and Fauntleroy, including two-way vehicle traffic as well as “generous” pedestrian walkways, Johnson said. They showed the “vignettes” for what that might look like (as published here September 17th):
(Click image for PDF with larger view)
It would be a “woonerf” type design, Johnson explained – which means that instead of curbs, bollards would be used to separate vehicles and pedestrians, among other attributes. He said they also believe the “C” configuration of the bigger building would allow “a lot of natural light … we’re going to try to open the building up as much as we can.” That includes along Alaska, where, he said, “the grocer would rather have the entrance” so that tables could “spill out.”
Design Review meetings follow a strict format (explained here, though this meeting ran an hour beyond the suggested 90 minutes), with board members’ questions immediately following the project team’s presentation. The questions are meant to “clarify,” before they hear public comment and then embark on their deliberations.
Board member Norma Tompkins began by asking for more details on the project’s plans for complying with the Seattle “green factor,” as well as inquiring about some of the streetscape details. Landscape designer Andy Rasmussen, in the audience but not previously introduced, said they’re still working on those plans.
Oustimovitch asked how many square feet of vacated alley the developers were requesting the city to give them; they said they hadn’t yet calculated that number. He also voiced concern about the 11-foot slope along Alaska, where the frontage would belong entirely to the grocery store, since that represented a full story of difference. The project team said they’ve been talking with their prospective tenant about how that’ll work, and interior escalators might be used, “which could allow a very large area of the footprint to be opened.” Johnson said they were confident they could “satisfy a good pedestrian appearance,” which is a concern, and has not been included in some projects (such as the Alaska frontage of the QFC store in Capco Plaza just a few blocks south).
Bennion started with concern about how busy the “passthrough” would be, considering there would be multiple truck bays as well as cars going into and out of a 570-foot garage. “It’s lovely to think it’s going to be a woonerf, but I think it’s going to be a very, very busy alley.”
Benotto mentioned the Triangle Advisory Committee’s discussion of “stoops” on 40th – which didn’t seem to be incorporated in this plan, with the grocery store wrapping around the Alaska/40th corner. (The “residential” streetscape of 40th SW is noted in this city document.)
At that point, Johnson pointed out some of the details he says the prospective grocery tenant is plotting out – the produce section along SW Alaska, wine/cheese/deli along 40th SW.
Benotto still wondered if they had explored “more residential options” along 40th.
That led Harrell to ask about the southeast corner at Fauntleroy/Edmunds, which faces into a residential neighborhood (multifamily buildings on both sides of Fauntleroy).
Johnson said they hadn’t brought any views of what was planned at that corner, but that the residential facade, with lobby space, would stretch to that point (immediately south of the drugstore, according to the outlines for Alternative 4).
He said they’re talking about a two-story-high lobby at that point, “with lots of glass” for a “very dramatic entrance.”
Next, it was the public’s turn.
PUBLIC COMMENT: 13 people spoke:
First to comment was Sharonn Meeks , the Fairmount Community Association leader who had been part of the Triangle Advisory Group for 2010 and 2011, whose work was followed by a city rezoning proposal including the site of this project – wanted to make sure DPD also acknowledged the “typo” on their site regarding the size of the proposed retail area (not 105,000 square feet – instead, around 60,000 square feet, as we have reported here multiple times). She wanted to be sure the developers include the upper-story setbacks to preserve the view corridors from her neighborhood, directly south on the hillside east of the east side of Fauntleroy Way in that same area. She thought the C-shaped building looked good on first blush – “but Jefferson Square did too, the first time,” and that is considered to have been a disaster. While Meeks agreed something “iconic” should be at the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner, she wants to be sure it’s not something “enormous, out of scale” nor something that doesn’t relate to the neighborhood. The remaining alley on the site, she added, should be 2-way.
Deb Barker, Morgan Community Association president and former Design Review Board chair, thought the amount of parking proposed for the project was “absurd” since it’s on the RapidRide line. She also thought the discussion hadn’t touched on enough of the neighborhood context – including nearby buildings present and future such as Capco Plaza (home to the Junction QFC) and the future Spruce West Seattle (formerly Fauntleroy Place) at “The Hole” across Alaska from this project. Barker also expressed concern about the mural on the east side of the former Huling Chevrolet building on the site: “There needs to be a discussion about what happens with that.” And she too was concerned that the alley end up working for everyone involved. She closed by saying she encouraged the board to recommend a second Early Design Guidance meeting (which they subsequently did).
Diane Vincent, an Admiral resident who has long participated in the design-review process for major West Seattle developments, mentioned a concern about landscaping, based on a previous project involving the same architecture firm, Admiral Safeway. “We were promised a green wall … but the metal mesh screen is what we still have, more than a year later,” she noted (Admiral Safeway opened in August 2011). “If you promise the ‘green factor,’ let’s have the ‘green factor’.”
Two people spoke on behalf of the Alki Masonic Temple at 40th/Edmunds, which will be bordered on two sides by this project. Jeffrey Tosh pointed out that Alki Lodge 152 has had “sole access to that alleyway, as the main entrance to our building, for 62 years. It’s a considerable design issue for us. … We’d like to see a better (response to) our needs.” Martin Monk emphasized that not only is the temple the Masons’ local HQ, “we are a public assembly hall. You’re more than welcome to have your next meeting at our place!” (That drew laughter.)
Another attendee, Sara, said she had long been involved with neighborhood planning, and at first glance, regarding this project: “I like it.” Of course, she added, she wants “the board to make it as nice as you can – as pedestrian-friendly as it can be.”
Kevin Reed, who said he walks past the site three times a day, implored the board and project team to consider east-west connections, and to give consideration to street crossings. Overall, though, he viewed the project area as primarily commercial and said he did not object to the entrance/exit being off 40th SW.
Then, attendee Bill, identifying himself as the son of an architect with the most passionate comment of the night: “Many neighbors are concerned we’re going to turn into another Ballard. I want something West Seattleites can be proud of. My questions to the architects is, would you want this building in your neighborhood? If you can say that, I am OK with it. I would like the street presence softened a bit … I would like to see something distinctive on the outside – we’re living with it 24 hours a day, we’ll see it coming and going. … If people like the street they’re on, like the buildings, they will feel good about the neighborhood. … I have no problem with people living here – welcome! – but, are we proud of this building? I can’t say that about some of our neighbor(ing buildings).” He also wondered, “Do we need another grocery store?”
That segued, almost as if planned, to the next person to comment, Elena Perez, saying she was there on behalf of union workers, particularly UFCW Local 21 union members working at local grocery stores. She said the developers were “known for generic projects … strip-mall car-oriented shopping districts.” She also noted the rumor – so far NOT confirmed (or denied) – that Whole Foods will be the grocery store in this project. Since WF is non-union, “my neighbors and UFCW 21 members will follow closely.” That would include, she said, “hard questions about … public benefit” if the project does indeed seek an “alley vacation.”
Following her was West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board chair Dave Montoure, who wanted to “acknowledge that what we are seeing is informed by the Triangle plan,” and while he wasn’t on that advisory committee, he noted that Chamber staff was represented (by former CEO Patti Mullen). “I like what I see, initially,” Montoure said, while admitting he was originally concerned about Triangle planning and “what do we do when a bunch of different developers are involved?” With this, though, he says he sees “improvements … a lot of bang for the buck.”
Josh Sutton from the West Seattle Y (WSB sponsor), who was on the Triangle Advisory Committee, said he appreciates the pass-throughs, and would like to see a crossing on Fauntleroy. He is hoping the building’s exterior won’t be “gray on gray.”
Susan Melrose from the West Seattle Junction Association said the development’s off to a “great start” by acknowledging pedestrian concerns like walkability and public safety. Her main concern: More options for Fauntleroy/Alaska, given that it’s an “important corner.”
Mike Emmick talked about Howden-Kennedy Funeral Home, lamenting the fact its site is included in the project – though H-K plans to reopen somewhere else – and read this comment from a WSB reader, in which the commenter quoted a child as saying the design looked like a football stadium. He also rued the impending start of high(er)-rise development in The Junction, envisioning that West Seattle Summer Fest will eventually be held in “a canyon” between tall buildings.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Following the public comment, came the board deliberations. As per format and rules, the public was invited to stay, though it’s not usually an easy process to follow – the board members stay seated at their table, talking to and facing each other, no microphones, with interested parties – especially the developers/architects – huddled around to listen and take notes.
Their concerns included:
-“Departure” (zoning exemption) requested from standards for transparency along the grocery-store facade on Alaska
-Whether the “pass-through”/alley would indeed work in “woonerf” mode
-Shielding for the sidewalk (to protect pedestrians from the elements)
-Whether there’s enough street-level opportunity for interaction with pedestrians
-Making the “plaza” inside the northern building – currently opening to the pass-through/”alley” – face a streetfront instead, and be more of a public amenity
-Whether there’s enough open space at ground level (which, it was pointed out, was supposed to be one effect of allowing height up to 85 feet)
-Is it appropriate for the Fauntleroy facade to be more interesting than Alaska?
-Is there enough green infrastructure?
-Where’s the best place for parking-garage access?
-What would be the best use of that “iconic” (Fauntleroy/Alaska) corner?
-Can it avoid turning out to be a “beige-y” building?
-Can it incorporate some personality like the “funky look of Fremont”?
-Will its streetscape be animated enough to really be an asset to an “urban environment”?
-Could some of the loading be handled by the alley off Edmunds – possibly with an approach like the one used for the Capco Plaza building on Alaska between 41st and 42nd?
-How best to address the Masonic Hall’s concerns and needs?
-Is there enough modulation along the Fauntleroy facade?
-How will this project be unique and special to its location?
-How will it relate to what’s planned for “The Hole” across Alaska – important to see that context
In the end, board members agreed they’d brought up so many questions, and it’s such a “humongous” project, that they needed at least one more Early Design Guidance meeting.
WHAT’S NEXT: The date for that meeting will be set, depending on what the city works out with the development team, once they say they’re ready to go public with the next set of options. Also, the project team tells WSB they expect to be able to announce the names of the anchor tenants (grocery store, drugstore) in November. While the property is under contract, the sale isn’t expected to be closed until sometime next year. And construction isn’t expected to begin before 2014.