(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two detailed reports from the Southwest Design Review Board’s two-project meeting last Thursday night.)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
4724 California – the 7-story mixed-use building planned for what used to be the Junction’s Petco store (among other things) – could start construction as soon as April 1st.
That is, if the rest of the planning/permitting process goes as smoothly as the project’s second and final session before the Southwest Design Review Board.
We reported the result shortly after the meeting last Thursday night at the Senior Center of West Seattle. Our report ahead, for those interested, runs through the details of what was shown, discussed, and recommended, from the board and the public:
First, the architects’ presentation:
It’s slated for 15 live-work units on the second floor, 78 units on five levels of apartments above, and ground-floor retail which will run up to 47 feet deep measuring from the facade inward. Bates pointed out that the current site is “out of character” for its surroundings – not because of its height, but because it’s a “block-long” single-retail storefront (most recently held by Petco, which moved to Capco Plaza at 41st/Alaska). With that, it had a “pedestrian disconnect,” they felt, which is why they have put a lot of energy and design focus into the midblock connection that will be on the building’s north side, leading to the alley between 4724 California and the Mural mixed-use building (which, as shown in some renderings, is actually higher than this building will be).
The ground level also is envisioned as enabling pedestrian activity, with a five-foot “recess” to enable some sidewalk tables, likely linked to a coffee shop. Seating also is expected along the south side of the midblock connection, closer to the California SW facade.
Vertical pavers and accent-color soffits were shown for the connection, to provide visual interest. Materials for the California-facing front of the building will include textured (described as “corduroy”) infill panels in a “khaki” color, accented with red. Some classic brickwork is expected on the street level, and there will be some wood paneling around the residential entrance off the passthrough. From the “packet” of renderings prepared for the meeting, here’s a look at the materials:
Back to the alley, Bates pointed out the “staging area” we mentioned in our preview story, intended to get activity such as moving vans out of the alley and into the building, and discussed nearby technical changes that they are working on with SDOT:
The alley-facing facade also has been “modulated,” with windows into the gym area, and “a couple different colors of cementitious ceramic panel” on the building’s upper levels.
The apartment’s main entry remains off the midblock passthrough. The building itself is divided into “two very different massing(s),” as he put it, with a “stepback” at the third-floor level on the southern two-thirds, far enough for a landscaped area. They also are using “horizontal banding” to “layer the building horizontally,” including balconies for some units, and windows wrapping on the northwest and southwest edges of the building.
On the south face of the building, which will be exposed until and unless the parcel next door is redeveloped, there will be some texturing so that it’s not a “flat wall,” which was a concern expressed at the first Design Review meeting:
The roof will include an arbor as well as “green roof” area.
(You can review the online “packet” here, to see before/after views with details on how the project team answered concerns voiced by board members and the public at the previous meeting.)
In response to one of the “clarifying questions” from the board after his presentation, Bates said most of the signage for the apartments – which don’t have an official name (4724 California is the official address and workingtitle) – will be around the midblock-connection entry.
PUBLIC COMMENT: Junction restaurateur/West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board chair Dave Montoure said he “really like(s) the activation along California Avenue,” and notes its contrast with the former Petco. “It really grabs me.” He also expressed appreciation for the midblock passthrough and said it would be “like a new corner for The Junction.” The “staging zone” inside the back of the building also appealed to him, he said.
Susan Melrose, director of the West Seattle Junction Association echoed something else Montoure had said, that early community input that led to what she considers a “great-looking building … with quality materials.” She too thought taking residential loading off the alley would be “a great addition … I think it’s turning out to be a great project.”
Sharonn Meeks, a community advocate from Fairmount (south of The Triangle), said the presentation was one of the best she’d ever seen for this type of project before the SW Design Review Board. She expressed hope that landscaping would be consistent with the rest of The Junction, and reiterated that signage in The Junction has been an issue, with multiple banners hanging off the sides of buildings in the area.
After Meeks came Morgan Junction community advocate Deb Barker, a former SWDRB chair, who rose to ask about the second-floor live-work: If she were coming to visit a professional based there, she asked, “How am I getting into what’s a residential area?” since this is a divergence from the more-common live-work with a first-floor direct entry. Bates pointed out there’s access to the elevator or stairs once someone comes into the building’s lobby. It does conform with city zoning rules, according to the project’s city planner Shelley Bolser; Barker said again that it seemed “off-putting” to her.
Next, an attendee who identified herself as Victoria asked about alley traffic. Bates explained that it meets city standards in terms of width, but yes, it would be busy, given Mural’s ingress-egress nearby, and other businesses. But, he pointed out, Mural has no loading zone, while as he had pointed out earlier, this building would have the “staging zone.”
After her, Rene Commons spoke: “I have been to many Design Review Board meetings over the last four years and this is one of the best presentations.” She described the materials as “tasteful” and said she felt that the project team had really “listened” to the community; the ceramic material for the south side of the building, for example, has a 50-year warranty, she said. She also said that the street level would be “tasteful,” as would be the passageway into the alley, and voiced support for the tables likely to be placed along the facade on California and along the midblock passthrough.
Next, Diane Vincent, who also had participated in the early informal community reviews, thanked the project team for listening and for being responsive – “hitting it out of the park” in that regard, she said. Meeks’ concerns about signage were shared by Vincent; she added that “as a lifelong renter” she appreciates the “staging zone.” That was it for public comments.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Opening their deliberations, board members were not as all-out enthusiastic as those who spoke from the public had been. Daniel Skaggs said he was disappointed in the “primary entrance” area and thought the northwest corner of the building could be more engaging. Rob Murphy said that that area had become “vanilla” and “homogenized” and lost some of its “pizzazz” since earlier drafts. The materials, meantime, met with his approval, including a belief that their textures will add interest that is not visible in the renderings. Overall, though, he thought the project seemed “muted” after so much committee/community discussion, though it remained, in his view, a “strong design” even after having “lost some of its flash.” He thought the northwest edge/corner of the building might be stronger if some of the accent materials are not used there; Murphy and Skaggs discussed that extensively, and an interest in seeing “something different” there. That corner also was the subject of discussion regarding whether there was enough contiguous covering for people who might be walking through there, or sitting there, in bad weather.
The column at street level between the two “massings” of the building drew some attention:
The question was whether it was too obtrusive, or whether it was a necessary separation between the two sections of the building’s massing.
And there was concern about whether the northwest-corner area “projects out” enough to be noticed from people looking down the block at California and Alaska.
Other details discussed: What the guardrails on the roof would be made from; they appeared “thin” in the project renderings, and Murphy thought that looked “weak.” He later expressed regret that the building had become “blander.” Layne Bennion said he didn’t “find anything offensive” about it, overall.
All four board members who reviewed this project (those mentioned above and Norma Tompkins; the board’s fifth member, Myer Harrell, sat this review out because he works for Weber Thompson) voted to let it advance out of the Design Review phase.
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: The presentation was preceded by a few words from Greg Van Patten, a regional representative of the project owner The Wolff Company, who said that thanks to public comment thus far, “This is a much-better building,” describing it as a “timeless design.” He also reiterated that “this is a long-term investment for our firm.”
NOTIFICATIONS AND FURTHER COMMENTS: Planner Bolser announced a slight change – you can now put your e-mail address on the sign-up sheet when arriving at a Design Review meeting, and they’ll e-mail you a copy of the report; previously, it was all postal mail. If you have any comments about the project – design, environmental (which includes traffic), etc. – you can send them to her at email@example.com.