‘We’re really happy to get ‘The Hole’ filled’: New owner’s team discusses Spruce West Seattle at first public review

December 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm | In Development, West Seattle news | 44 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Almost exactly six years after its last look at what was then Fauntleroy Place, the Seattle Design Commission got a look this afternoon at what is now planned for the notoriously idle West Seattle development site at 3922 SW Alaska, which since has become widely known as “The Hole.”

The land-use lawyer who led the project team at the hearing told WSB they hope to start construction “as soon as possible” – once the last few approvals are in place.

As first reported here last July, the project now owned by Madison Development does have a new name – Spruce West Seattle – and that was publicly shown on renderings for the first time at this afternoon’s downtown review. (We photographed some of the key images, but hope to get electronic copies later.)

Though the project obtained some permits long ago, its master-use permit won’t have a final signoff until the City Council gives one last OK, which can’t happen any sooner than January, when council meetings resume. They, the Design Commission, and SDOT are involved because the project involves an alley vacation – part of public right-of-way being in effect given to the developer, though as was pointed out at the hearing, they are creating a new alley at another spot on the site. Much of the discussion centered on the “pocket park” that will be right at the Fauntleroy/Alaska/39th corner:

Project team members at the hearing included land-use lawyer Roger Pearce from Foster Pepper, lead architect Joe Workman from Collins Woerman, landscape architect Andy Rasmussen, and West Seattle artist Lezlie Jane, whose role in the project we learned about for the first time – she is designing art for the “pocket park” at the 39th/Alaska corner.

The entirety of the retail will be the L.A. Fitness outlet, the project team confirmed; we had surmised this from documents seen both in person at DPD in July and from this city memoan online memo last month, but this is the official confirmation.

The public benefit, as summarized in the presentation:
*”Pocket park” public open space in right of way bulb at southeast corner
*$25,000 to Seattle Parks
*Wider sidewalks
*More landscaping
*Flexcars
*Pedestrian weather protection along Alaska/39th frontages
*Undergrounding utilities along 39th SW (not required but the project team says they decided to do it because it would be “ugly otherwise”

In the presentation, Pearce began: “The reason we’re here today is the City Council required us to come back to the Design Commission for your review of the final design of the public-benefit features. Why such a long delay? The project got started, and they dug what we call the ‘very big hole’ – they ran into financial difficulties, litigation difficulties … a lawyer’s dream, it lasted years, and we finally are done with all that and our client, Madison Development is in control of the site and is starting construction on it – We’re really happy to get ‘The Hole’ filled. We think it’s going to be a great project at a great location in West Seattle.”

He added, “The biggest change is really the retail tenant” – Whole Foods “couldn’t wait,” he noted (as we reported, it dropped out in 2010 when its lease terms were formally broken), and now it’s L.A. Fitness. One resulting change – an exterior loading dock is no longer part of the project – it had been at the end of the new east-west alley off 40th SW.

Pearce said there are additions to the public benefit package – a required component of the city finalizing the alley vacation that is requested.

Landscape architect Rasmussen noted the project has three five-story residential towers, as well as a dog run and green roof related to the largest one, along most of its 39th SW frontage. “The landscaping has stayed pretty much the same,” aside from the addition of some trees. “Part of the public benefit was the landscaping … when this project began, the ‘Green Factor’ wasn’t required.” He noted seat walls along 39th, and details of the “pocket park” at the southeast corner (39th and Alaska) – decorative pavers, Jane’s public-art piece, decorative light poles with fixtures similar to what’s on California SW now, and a bike rack on the north side of the “pocket park.” A C-shaped concrete wall will buffer people in the plaza from the “busy street,” Rasmussen explained.

Architect Workman said the building massing is “substantially the same” and that’s why they did not need to go back to Design Review, but some materials have changed – brick instead of tile, for example. Designs of the L.A. Fitness outlet showed “(most) of their activities off the street frontage,” with windows allowing people to see in and out, including a swimming pool along Alaska and a dance/aerobics area along 40th SW, and the sales and kids’ areas on the corner by the pocket park. The canopy over the main L.A. Fitness area is being extended, to “help create a space where people would actually gather and communicate in,” said Workman.

He said it’ll be similar to an LA Fitness-included project in Portland’s Pearl District- where the pool also is visible from the street – and also showed renderings of the pocket park and bike area.

The artsy bike rack by Jane, brightly colored in the stylized shape of a car, will “actually be in the street, and take up a parking space .. it’s not cheap but the owner wants something fun and playful out there, for West Seattle.” It’s not the only bike rack planned – a more typical metal rack was shown as well.

Jane explained that Madison Development’s owner Tom Lee hired her to create art in that is “about West Seattle” and says it “deals with the site there – Alaska and Fauntleroy Way, which both have significant meaning in West Seattle.” It is a “medallion”-shaped inset in the pocket park:

She explained it pays tribute to how Fauntleroy got its name, and the meaning of the name Alaska and the native words from which it came – including one regarding action, which led her to point out that “West Seattle IS getting action these days.” And the intersection itself is “one of the busiest crossroads on the peninsula.” The larger tiled pattern around the “medallion,” Jane said, is “taken from Native peoples’ basketry.” If you look closely you will see the shape of the peninsula, surrounded by waves.

SDOT’s Beverly Barnett, who shepherds street/alley-vacation-inclusive projects through the process, said she approved of the revisions.

No one from the public was present, so there was no public comment.

The Design Commission has had a lot of membership change since that last review in 2006, so current members asked for more specifics on how this had changed since what commissioners saw six years ago. (Having covered the project for most of the ensuing years, it appeared to us that what might not have been explained to the commission was the significant design change brought to the Southwest Design Review Board along the way – before the project completely stalled under its old developers.)

Also drawing comment from commissioners, the canopy’s placement, height, and other elements of its character to provide some weather protection, as well as whether elements of the “pocket park” all worked together well functionally – particularly the ADA ramps. One commissioner also thought that the walls in the pocket park should at least partly function as seating walls. The pocket park, it was noted, also seems a little too “closed off,” and the project team pointed out that dated back to Whole Foods’ inclusion in the project (as you probably know, WF is now planning to be part of the 4755 Fauntleroy project across Alaska from Spruce), not wanting the plaza to feel like a “Whole Foods plaza.”

Other commissioner comments included a need for assurance that the pocket park will serve fully as a place to go through as well as to, and also concern that the space is so busy that Jane’s art might be overwhelmed. One commissioner who identified herself as a bicyclist voiced concern that the racks be as functional as possible, saying the type of semi-standard rack shown was difficult to use (not the artistic one). There was even a suggestion that the space be “more urban” than currently designed, given the way that area of West Seattle is developing.

Also noted: The iconic nature of this corner, and its role in a gateway intersection of West Seattle – and whether the features in the plaza/pocket park would be visible and striking enough to do justice to that.

As the suggestions piled up, one commission member pointed out that while a section of alley is being vacated, a new alley is being created, so the requests should be “proportionate.”

The commission’s action was announced this way:
-They approve the refinement of the public benefit with the recommendations:
-Canopies – “take a closer look at where the overlap is, make sure water doesn’t fall between” and a closer look at the overhang related to planters and the sidewalk
-Concerns by the commissioners that the “pinch-point” at Alaska/Fauntleroy be reviewed to see if any additional transparency can be incorporated into the building
-Public plaza: “We’d encourage you to take a more urban approach to the space, make it more permeable, more open, also take a look at ADA ramp/outer sidewalk and how (it relates) to people walking across 39th,” and whether the ramps can be coordinated better
-If the wall remains with the urban look, would be nice to have additional uses such as seating; there also was a concern that there may be too many benches, given there’s not a coffee shop or other amenity planned that would feed into
-Artist asked to have a dialogue with local tribes regarding referencing “non-local tribes” in the artwork
-Artist suggested to use fewer colors in the “medallion” itself
-Look at whether there is too much going on in the plaza artwork
-Use a different type of standard bike rack

The vote was six to one in favor. Next will come City Council consideration – when a date is set, we’ll report it here. And as noted earlier in this story, if we get electronic copies of the renderings shown today, we will substitute/add them here, so check back.
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7:53 PM NOTE: Story updated to reflect that Lezlie Jane’s work for the project involves the inset Fauntleroy/Alaska “medallion” and surrounding tile art for the pocket park; she is not involved with the bike racks.

44 Comments

  1. So not happy about LA Fitness..

    Comment by coffee — 4:00 pm December 20, 2012 #

  2. A complete disaster…Coming off the freeway it might as well say welcome to LA..

    Comment by Rotten Apple — 6:23 pm December 20, 2012 #

  3. If competition from LA Fitness helps knock the prices down from the scant number of gyms in WS I am all for it.

    Comment by CandrewB — 6:36 pm December 20, 2012 #

  4. Coming off the freeway it presently says “Welcome to Kabul,” so I’m not so sure this is a complete disaster.

    Comment by bridge to somewhere — 6:53 pm December 20, 2012 #

  5. A disaster??? **anything** is better. I’d take a mcdonalds at this point

    Comment by Marcus M — 8:01 pm December 20, 2012 #

  6. I’m going to miss the hole.

    Comment by Happy in WS — 8:20 pm December 20, 2012 #

  7. Been waiting for an LA Fitness, fingers crossed for a quick construction.

    Comment by Jack — 9:30 pm December 20, 2012 #

  8. can’t wait to have a huge neon sign that says L.A. Fitness..classy :(

    Comment by JanS — 9:45 pm December 20, 2012 #

  9. As opposed to the giant hole in the ground surrounded by the tattered and occasionally graffitied fence that’s there now, JanS?
    .
    A magnitude 9 earthquake is a disaster. This…not so much.

    Comment by datamuse — 11:33 pm December 20, 2012 #

  10. Just wondering what the folks that are opposed to this want? Can’t keep the hole there forever, something has to give….

    Comment by Strike em out Kinney — 2:04 am December 21, 2012 #

  11. datamuse..that’s true. Hopefully the signage for this gym will be tasteful. I looked at the one in Portland, and the sign is pretty nondescript, so maybe it’ll be OK. I’m glad the corner will be filled, and I’m really happy about the pocket park.

    Comment by JanS — 2:23 am December 21, 2012 #

  12. Developers don’t care about the general area, all they care about is who’s going to be able to pay their monthly rent on time. I guess LA Fitness became their choice as a tennant, so there you go. I wonder what kind of lease they are getting? Since I’m not into going to gyms at all, then I probably won’t have any reason to to visit. The problem with that spot will be in how to get potential revenue. A lot of people aren’t into gyms. People coming off the freeway are wanting to just get home from work or wherever. They’ll be driving right past it. Like they are doing now. I can only imagine how expensive that membership is going to be..

    Comment by Rotten Apple — 6:35 am December 21, 2012 #

  13. Very glad to see a car parking spot will be used for bike parking, and that the rack will be shaped like a car ;-) Should be encouragement for people to bike to the fitness center. Will be nice to see this rack on my bike commute into and out of West Seattle. I’m also glad to see the developer providing “public benefits” as well, especially the money for Seattle Parks.

    Comment by Jeff — 7:44 am December 21, 2012 #

  14. I also think “anything” would be better then THE HOLE! … even another McDonalds?

    Comment by RMP — 8:20 am December 21, 2012 #

  15. Excellent! Hopefully in just a couple of years we’ll be rid of the hole and the delapadated vacant lot across Alaska that have been dragging down my property value all these years. I might even join the gym since it’s so close to home.

    Comment by Peter on Fauntleroy — 8:52 am December 21, 2012 #

  16. No surprise that we don’t get our fabric store back as promised. Between EVEN MORE condos, LA Fitness and Whole Foods (which I will never step foot in on principle) across the street, I’m starting to seriously consider leaving my beloved West Seattle. This just isn’t the place I fell in love with 15 years ago.

    Comment by Belvidere — 9:36 am December 21, 2012 #

  17. wonder when we will have to have extra lanes added to the west seattle bridge!!! it is unfortunate that west seattle is losing its uniqueness.

    Comment by j — 9:41 am December 21, 2012 #

  18. I’m not clear, where did it say that Hancock Fabrics was not coming back?

    Comment by Amy Thomson — 10:30 am December 21, 2012 #

  19. Amy, two paragraphs after the second photo:

    “The entirety of the retail will be the L.A. Fitness outlet, the project team confirmed”.

    Comment by Paul — 10:35 am December 21, 2012 #

  20. I think the Hole has served as a monument to rapacious land developers and the vagaries that naturally befall a culture built so solidly on capital markets rather than on community and utility. I’ll be sad to see it go and sad not to see it replaced by a monorail station.

    Before anyone flames me with the rights of the private property owner to maximize the worth of their investment, consider that the owners were willing to accept the “worth” of a giant rain-filled hole (and willing to impose on us the eyesore and potential peril – I’m still surprised no idiot driver ever ended up dead in there) for so many years.

    LA Fitness indeed!

    Comment by JAT — 10:45 am December 21, 2012 #

  21. No flame but just a fact-check. The current owner of “The Hole” is NOT the owner who excavated it and then saw the project stall. The current owner is the one who bought it at foreclosure auction a year ago. The history is long and convoluted but also included a court fight (which we covered here as well).

    Comment by WSB — 10:48 am December 21, 2012 #

  22. Will the LA fitness have racquetball ?

    Comment by William — 11:19 am December 21, 2012 #

  23. If LA has a real liquor bar and lounge, I’d go.

    Comment by Rotten Apple — 1:11 pm December 21, 2012 #

  24. Wish there was a Coaster-type public commuter train station w connections from downtown to w Seattle–transit station there would be nice w the park

    Comment by Rves — 1:11 pm December 21, 2012 #

  25. Just curious to why someone is glad there taking a parking spot(s) away and putting in bike parking ? People that live in that area like home owners are being greatly impacted by all the density and retail areas going in with insufficient parking already. If they want bicycle parking in that area then why shouldn’t the developers provide it in their design on their property or put it where they want the park. Very unfair way of thinking.

    Comment by wetone — 4:13 pm December 21, 2012 #

  26. The project has more than 400 underground parking spaces, which is about 400 more than it would be required to have if it were getting started right now, since it’s on the RapidRide line. One less street space – likely in what would have been a short-term zone anyway since I believe it’s close to the entrance – isn’t going to make a difference.

    Comment by WSB — 5:27 pm December 21, 2012 #

  27. LA Fitness? Great, we look just like Federal Way only more crowded. Yay! West Seattle now has more people per square mile than Seattle overall.
    .
    There is a special place in hell for those who helped destroy this community. I hope they rot there along with the apartments, condos, and road diets.
    .

    Comment by JoAnne — 6:21 pm December 21, 2012 #

  28. JoAnne, Obviously I don’t entirely disagree with you, but I’d be interested to hear your theory on how road diets contribute to this destruction. (Unless by community you mean everyone driving around at 40mph alone in their Pontiacs, and no rational person could have meant that…)

    Comment by JAT — 7:13 pm December 21, 2012 #

  29. Your right WSB they are putting parking in that they are not required to and I say thank you. But that doesn’t make it right for the city to make it easy for developers to build without enough parking and use Rapid Ride as there excuse for allowing this type of building practice. Even if Rapid Ride worked it would only cover a small percentage of the people that live here, as most need a car. I would think the parking spot in question should be disabled person parking or load and unload and not bicycles. Taking more vehicle parking away from locals and businesses that don’t have it and need it doesn’t benefit anyone. As I stated above, the bicycle parking should be on the developers property or the new park area if needed.

    Comment by wetone — 7:31 pm December 21, 2012 #

  30. WSB – Did electronic copies of the renderings ever become available?

    Comment by dd — 8:01 pm December 21, 2012 #

  31. Not so far. The architect said he’d have to get permission from the developer (who couldn’t be at the meeting yesterday) and I would imagine that the holiday might have complicated that.

    Comment by WSB — 8:12 pm December 21, 2012 #

  32. Wetone, please explain your logic that the city should be forced to give you free parking in the public right of way while bicyclists, who pay more taxes proportional to space used and wear and tear on the road compared to cars, should only park on private property. That’s utter nonsense. That one space can park approximately 20 bikes and thus parking for 20 people. That same space can only hold one car that the vast majority of the time only moves one person. Which is a better use of public space? Which is better for the environment? Which is better for health?

    Comment by Peter on Fauntleroy — 9:27 am December 22, 2012 #

  33. yeay!!! hundereds more people packed into west seattle with absolutly no investment in traffic flow or infrastructure
    hooray for poor planning and the massive failure of our leaders to get ready for more garbage sprawl that clogs up eveything

    Comment by jeff platt — 12:53 pm December 22, 2012 #

  34. Incredible with cars parked everywhere in West Seattle that someone would have the nerve to begrudge one street space for bicycle parking. I hope the sidewalk along SW Alaska will be wide enough for mixed use, that is, room for safe use by pedestrians, handicapped and bicycles off the road.

    Comment by Kathy — 1:46 pm December 22, 2012 #

  35. Lets see here there adding roughly 3500+ people in a small area of West Seattle less than a sq. mile and taking alot of the original parking away. These new places going in have what maybe five hundred + thousand sq.ft. of retail space going in. The parking there adding will cover 60% of whats needed for residents or is that 60% for the retailers and nothing for the residents ? you also have the people that will work at these new retailers. How about the people of the WSB ? does a bike work for your job ? does the Rapid Ride ? If a bike works for a person great, but it’s very few percentage wise. If people don’t like seeing cars on streets maybe they shouldn’t be living in the middle of the city ? I think the reason you see cars parked Everywhere is because people need them for Blue collar work,family, medical and many other good reasons. I have never said anyhing bad about good bike riders or new bike paths. But there is no reason the city or developers can’t add bike parking without taking more vehicle parking away as it impacts almost everyone in the surrounding areas. I do question why a small group of people move to West Seattle and then try changing things to fit their personal needs and not care about anyone else. Also, anyone that takes what the city says for facts and figures better do a little homework and you might find a few dicrepancies.

    Comment by wetone — 5:10 pm December 22, 2012 #

  36. We’re actually planning to get a scooter. Our cars are both in six-digit range now (which means one of them will give up the ghost one o these days) and no matter what neighborhood we have to go to, it’ll work better.

    Comment by WSB — 5:56 pm December 22, 2012 #

  37. Thats not a bicycle. You have to have a scooter licensed,as a motor vehicle. I still say for 98% of the people of W.S. the bicycle will not work as in your case. Parking and over building is the issue. West Seattle is short of parking now and it will be much worse soon. Would not want to be a retailer or restaurant in an area with no parking. Go to the junction between 5 – 8 pm many nights the parking lots and streets are full, restaurants not. More parking more patrons. Access in, out, and around West Seattle is bad now and will be worse shortly. By the way make sure you get your motorcycle endorsement to be legal unless your under 50cc. If you plan on going up hills or roads with speed limits of 25mph and over you will need something in the 125cc and bigger.

    Comment by wetone — 8:52 pm December 22, 2012 #

  38. WSB – we are selling our 03 Yamaha Vino with just under 1300 WS miles on it! Interested? It’s 49cc so no endorsement needed. We LOVED it but with two small kids we don’t use it like we used to. :(

    Comment by A — 10:31 pm December 22, 2012 #

  39. Was hoping for a legit movie theater for West Seattle, but anything is better than the hole…

    Comment by Nick — 11:00 pm December 22, 2012 #

  40. Wetone you have me on your logic and reality team, but you said if people do not like seeing cars on the street, they should not live in the midfle of the city. The problem….we do not live in the middle of Seattle, we take a bridge over a body of water to get to West Seattle and I agree that we need cars, we need parking for those cars and most of those apartment dwellers need cars. Those apartment dwellers are sucking up what little retail and service parking we have. Yes! Wake up West Seattle and listen to Wetone, most of us cannot ride bikes ti work and if you think those bike commuters are safe sharing lanes with Rapid Ride, you are wearing blinders. We basically had little parking before and now its ridiculous. We drive to the Eastside now to go out ti restaurants. We live in a beach community. Even is L.A’s Manhattan Beach, Malibu, Hermosa…they have more parking, plus free parking.

    Comment by Skye Cashen — 2:58 am December 23, 2012 #

  41. A…nice offer, West Seattle demographic profile, families are the majority,with an average income of 6 figures, that means most have white colar jobs that need cars. I love biking as a sport, but too many of my friends have been hit on the Seattle roads. Most of my bike friends, we go for safety, load up our bikes in our vehicles and drive to bike trails. We want to be smart, with children with us many times.
    All developers should include ample car and bike parking in their project design. There is no excuse. The city is allowing higher density, which is helping the cost to build pencil, based on the cost of the hard and soft costs to build. However, unlike Bellevue, there is no consideration to the shadowing these tall buildings are causing, i.e. lack of light and giving us dark streets. Example, head south down California, go thru the Alaska Junction, past 7-Eleven. Due to our tight streets, these talk projects create large shadows, giving little light to the street. I am shocked the tree lovers are not at least concerned.

    Comment by Skye Cashen — 3:15 am December 23, 2012 #

  42. So. Help me out here. Between “the hole” the California avenue(petco site) and the gas station site on Fauntleroy ….how many more units are going in? I heard Rapid Ride is a huge disaster…are we surprised. So what will traffic be like???

    Comment by bob — 10:59 am December 25, 2012 #

  43. Bob – We are finally finally updating our “development map” this week since the time between Christmas and New Year’s is otherwise generally devoid of news and we’ll have the time. It was more than 1,500 when we made it four months ago:
    .
    http://westseattleblog.com/2012/08/west-seattle-development-1500-plus-potential-units-in-pipeline
    .
    and a lot has changed since then, including increased size for several projects. Watch for the update in the next couple days.

    Comment by WSB — 12:09 pm December 25, 2012 #

  44. Is it too early to ask, but will there be any improvements on 40th ave between Alaska and Oregon? As a property owner west of the hole on 40th we will be stuck in ‘the new hole’, across the street from 7- 8 story buildings on 3 sides. We will be replacing our cascade view with a direct line of sight into the 2nd or 3rd story apartments.

    Comment by Frank — 10:10 am December 27, 2012 #

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