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
*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, 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.
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.