By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One big step came last month when the mixed-use megaproject passed the Early Design Guidance phase of the city’s design-review process, on the second try.
That in turn paved the way for what the project team did yesterday (Tuesday, December 11th) – formally meeting with the city Department of Planning and Development to apply for the Master Use Permit (explained here), according to Lance Sherwood of retail specialists Weingarten, one of the project’s developers, along with housing specialists Lennar, and Seattle architects Fuller Sears.
They also confirm they are continuing to meet with community members who are watching the project closely and still concerned about some of its fundamental design elements, while preparing for another Design Review meeting that could come as soon as next month.
As West Seattle’s biggest mixed-use (residential and retail) project ever, it’s not just community members who are keeping a close eye on it. The project team has said it expects the as-yet-unnamed project to have about 350 apartments, and more than 500 parking spaces. In comparison, as of recent revisions detailed in a city memo, the long-stalled project across Alaska (aka “The Hole,” formerly Fauntleroy Place but renamed Spruce West Seattle, per plans we reviewed last July) is slated for 216 units and 488 parking spaces.
As first reported here the day before the November Design Review meeting, 4755 Fauntleroy will be anchored by Whole Foods Market, with the store stretching across its entire SW Alaska frontage, and then some. Its retail space also will include a drugstore, though which drugstore that will be has yet to be formally announced.
The sale of the land for the project has not yet been finalized, either; the project team has told WSB that is expected sometime next year.
Right now, a major task is the next version of the proposed design, including feedback from the November Design Review Board meeting. The city’s official notes from that meeting can be seen online here; the graphics remain accessible in the “packet” made public before the meeting (in which you’ll see the renderings shown in this report, and many others – we asked the development team recently if they had anything new to show, but so far have not received anything).
Shortly after the meeting, we reported its results. For the record, here are the more detailed notes, not previously published:
A sizable group of attendees gathered by the time it began, as the second project on a double bill.
“This is your opportunity to have input on a very large-scale project in West Seattle, so we appreciate your participation,” said Robin Murphy, Design Review Board chair, early on.
Steve Johnson of Fuller Sears Architects mentioned the Whole Foods deal in his opening remarks, as well as the city Parks Department’s pursuit of property across 40th SW from the project (which has since won final approval from the City Council, earlier this week – here’s our report from last week’s committee approval).
The project is five stories over one level of retail, 70 feet high – though, as Johnson noted, zoning allows 85 feet, but “we don’t feel that’s appropriate for this location.”
He recapped some of the concerns from the first meeting, including, “most critical,” how loading would work along the “cross-connector.”
They believe the “new resident introduction” for apartment renters can stress use of the south ramp and therefore affect the traffic patterns. As for trucks, they cannot go onto 40th, he said, there will not be enough room, and it would be a conflict with the pedestrian nature projected for that street. So what they are proposing for trucks is to share the drive-up lane that the drugstore would use, so there won’t be a conflict with trucks in the mid-block connector. Trucks would come in off Fauntleroy and eventually exit turning left – eastbound – onto Edmunds, using the remaining (unvacated) alley to get there. (Johnson said later that they are talking with Whole Foods about restricting hours of truck traffic serving the store.)
Back on Fauntleroy, the drugstore will wrap around the corner with the cross-connector – here’s the south side of the floor plan:
They’re proposing a new residential entrance for Fauntleroy/Alaska as part of an enlarged plaza; also an enlarged plaza at 40th/Alaska.
The nature of Fauntleroy, he says, suggests that the building should project out without major stepbacks on that side (though there will still be some articulations).
It was noted later that Fauntleroy would be widened by six feet on that side to add a bike lane – the land for that is coming from the project site.
As for massing, “We start high on the corner of Alaska and Fauntleroy,” with a vertical emphasis, and then a one-story facade further down Fauntleroy, with various stepbacks, and pullbacks “to celebrate the cross-connector.” That “high” corner will include a grocery and residential entrance, and an elevator lobby on Fauntleroy just past the corner. As was said at the first meeting, there is an opportunity for “neighborhood identification,” Johnson said, on the “plaza” at the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner. The design packet included three possibilities:
On 40th, there will be a three-story ‘expression’ topped by a stepback, and a “park” area at street level.
There also will be stepbacks on the south/west sides facing the Masonic Hall.
The cross-connector on that side will include a green screen with some landscaping. The cross-connector itself will have a south-side pedestrian path blocked off by bollards.
The views not in the online packet included a closer look at possible treatments for those corners.
That was discussed in more detail by Andy Rasmussen, a West Seattleite with landscape architects Weisman Design Group, who said it would be a true opportunity for people walking and bicycling to “be safe.” He went through how pedestrians would access the site, including the northeast plaza, with its proximity, he noted, to RapidRide, which has stops on the other side of Fauntleroy, where Alaska continues to the east. Some of the plaza space at ground level could serve people on their way to and from the bus, he noted.
The “C-shaped” building on the north side of the site – the bigger one, with Whole Foods – would have a rooftop terrace, he pointed out, with views down Fauntleroy. There also will be a green-roof area on the north side of that building, and an internal amenity area; there also will be an amenity area on the southeast corner of the smaller building.
A raingarden is planned along 40th, as part of the “streetscape” on what is envisioned as a much-more pedestrian-oriented side of the complex. “There’s something along all sides of the site to really make the pedestrian experience positive,” Rasmussen wrapped up.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Myer Harrell wondered about more floor-to-ceiling glass; Johnson said the northeast corner is where that’s being concentrated, “to get the most bang for the buck,” since it’s “expensive construction,” as he noted. Harrell’s questions also clarified that the grocery store will be single-level. (Here’s the floor plan for the north side of the project:)
Daniel Skaggs wondered about the main residential entry being at the southeast corner of the building.
Johnson mentioned the rationale including keeping the residential identification away from the grocery area on the north side. But the newly added residential entry at the northeast corner will be most convenient for visitors, he noted. (There will also be a residential lobby off 40th, north of the midblock connector. It will include a mail room. And that side might be made workable for residents to move in and move out, according to Johnson.)
Norma Tompkins asked about the northeast corner, which Johnson again described as “iconic,” though the project team has not yet identified exactly how they intend to make it so – a spire? special glass treatments? Tompkins thought perhaps a sculpture would work.
Discussion again veered back to how traffic will flow through the site – and how the alley will be shared with the adjacent, pre-existing Masonic Hall.
PUBLIC COMMENT: Dave Montoure of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce spoke up first. He said he was glad to hear about Whole Foods, a “great economic engine” for that area. He also mentioned that the Triangle Advisory Committee had debated the acceptable heights for the area – the 85-foot height this project is not rising to was not a consensus of that committee.
Second, former Design Review Board member Deb Barker (who leads the Morgan Community Association) recapped some of what she had mentioned at the first Early Design Guidance meeting, such as a concern that the building is planned with too much parking given that it is along the RapidRide C Line – she said she still feels the project is “overparked,” especially given that it’s now going to be home to Whole Foods, which bills itself as “America’s healthiest grocery store.” That’s not a design issue, she acknowledged, but she had to voice it. She also still is concerned about the northeast corner not meeting any of the zoning or objectives for the area, and she felt that should have merited another Early Design Guidance meeting – “that corner needs to be nailed down” before the project should proceed. And the presence of trash, utilities, and generators will detract from the pedestrian experience on the midblock connector just off 40th – given that an alley will be vacated for that she didn’t feel that was an acceptable tradeoff. She repeated her question about what would happen to the mural that exists on the building that’s now on the side: “Mural removal sets a precedence in West Seattle, because if that mural goes … it’ll set precedents for all the other murals we have in West Seattle.”
Emi McKittrick, West Seattleite, said she is glad about Whole Foods and regrets that Capco Plaza/Altamira, further west on SW Alaska, was built without the opportunity for an active streetfront on Alaska, so for this project, she is glad to see animation and retail along Alaska.
A man who spoke after her said that he is interested in art work on the northeast corner (Fauntleroy/Alaska) – “it really needs to knock it out of the park … and could really make a statement about what it means to live here. He opined that the community should be invited to come up with that idea – “the architects don’t have to come up with the solution, they could ask the community.” He added that there should be other spaces for public artwork: “When we think about the future of the Triangle, we don’t want it to be like Northgate, it can have a lot more community interest, carve out more spaces where the community could build sculptures and have them integral to the architecture.”
Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association noted simply that it’s “a big project and great to see it taking shape.” She liked the idea of the residential lobby/offices being off Edmunds and was glad to see a lobby added to the northeast corner.
Concerns followed from two people identifying themselves as working with a union representing hundreds of local grocery workers: “We’re not comfortable with how this project is inconsistent with the Triangle plan; we think its scale and design is more consistent with South Lake Union.” It was suggested that the project would create more of a barrier or fortress at a gateway spot, and that there is a huge potential for conflicts between pedestrians/bicyclists and trucks. “There’s some token tapering and changes in the facade but it really doesn’t taper at the edges as the Triangle plan calls for. … This neighborhood already has five grocery stores, three within walking distance, another one simply isn’t necessary. … Whole Foods isn’t the model institution that people seem to think it is.” There was concern about whether the pubic would receive benefits in exchange for the “privatizing of an alley. … we think the public benefit has to be more than just mitigate the project’s harm.”
Chip Nevins from Seattle Parks then spoke about the proposed Parks and Green Spaces Levy-funded purchase of the 11,000-square-feet park site across 40th from this project, center of the site in this WSB photo taken six days before the meeting:
“For a park to work, there have to be good connections, to people and place, to (transportation) …” He’s concerned that the trucks in the midblock connector might not work well with that. And he’s wondering what’s going to bring people down the block, beyond the northwest corner plaza. “I’m wondering what can be done to bring people down there … it’s important that that whole street front be activated.” He says they would buy the site and “land-bank” it, looking for development funds later.
Nearby resident Nancy Woodland then spoke. “What’s being replaced is a gas station, a funeral home, and an empty auto lot .. This brings great improvement (compared to) what I’ve been seeing driving up that street for years.” She said she’s glad the northeast corner hasn’t been nailed down at this stage of the project, and seconded the earlier commenter’s suggestion that the community help design that corner. She appreciates the 70-foot height – “fifteen feet is a lot of height that I’m glad is not there.” She says she’s glad to see all the parking that the project calls for. She also thought the walkway through the project, with bollards, looked appealing.
Diane Vincent said the sketched-out version of the northeast corner looks like “a prison tower .. Please work with the community to make something beautiful there.” What “amenities” will be open to the community? she wondered.
Ann Anderson said she’s concerned about “human spaces and pedestrian accessibility and walkability.” She mentioned having joined a tour of the Triangle sponsored by Feet First about a year ago. “It’s so unwalkable that people are literally startled in their cars to see people walking the street. I don’t see that this project is helping that. As I see it, there is no ability to cut through on Alaska – it’s just one long block …” The truck traffic was another concern. The “broken canopies” over some of the walking area also represented a red flag for her, especially given that creates multiple opportunities for rainwater to come down during inclement weather. Also: “The scale is horrifying and the massing is not much better, given the nature of West Seattle and the Junction and how it is now … so I’d really like to see something that connects it to what’s already here … I agree with the commenter who said it feels like South Lake Union next to West Seattle.”
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Myer Harrell liked the community-creation idea for the northeast corner, and also said he’s “happy with the direction it’s going,” believing the project team has dealt with the issues raised in the first meeting. Group discussion then turned to making sure that Whole Foods along Alaska truly had visibility from the windows there. Chair Rob Murphy turned the talk to the alley vacation and the public benefit that is required for that to be recommended. He said he’s glad that they’ve “separated the pedestrian and the vehicular,” but wants more explanation of how the pathway along the midblock connector will be protected from the truck traffic, and how it won’t seem like people are just “walking through a loading zone.” Norma Tompkins wondered if the tall trees shown in the renderings would be feasible over underground parking. She also was skeptical about the “green wall,” given the “green screens” for Admiral Safeway and Fire Station 37 that hadn’t come to fruition (plants never grew or grew slowly). Landscape architect Rasmussen said this would be different – a green wall, not a green screen. Also on the topic of landscaping, Murphy thought “more needs to be provided (in the midblock connector),” while complimenting what’s already planned in other parts of the project. He also recognized the project “not going to 85 feet” as a “concession” on the developer’s part – but he said he still feels the building is “more massive” because few of its elements project past the top, giving it a “tabletop” feel.
Murphy noted that this will be “the largest building in West Seattle” and needs a lot of care. But he also reminded everyone that this is Early Design Guidance and the developers were not supposed to come in with too much detail – they would have been criticized if they had done so.
Regarding the northeast corner, Daniel Skaggs said, “I think they need to pick a direction and go with it.” Harrell and Murphy noted that it’s important the corner “reach out to the pedestrian” despite it being an intersection “owned by the automobile.” Murphy suggested that the materials used in the plazas “run in” to the residential construction for a tie-in. He also pointed out something of a conflict between the desire to emphasize the northeast corner and the fact that currently the northwest corner, Alaska and 40th, is the one envisioned for outdoor seating connecting to Whole Foods. The development team pointed out that their treatment is consistent with the Triangle Plan.
Board members expressed an interest in seeing what’s envisioned for signage, now that the major tenant has been announced, in the next version, as well as seeing/hearing more about what the “public benefit” will be, in exchange for the alley vacation.
Before the presentation, planner Bruce Rips had pointed out that because an alley vacation is part of this project, it will be reviewed by the Seattle Design Commission, which has to give its blessing for city right-of-way to be given up to development.
WHAT’S NEXT: Now that the Master Use Permit application has been filed, a sign will go up on the site with information. A comment period opens, too – the formal notice on that is likely to appear in Thursday’s city Land Use Information Bulletin. Then the project will go to the Southwest Design Review Board at least one more time; Weingarten’s Sherwood tells WSB they are hoping for late January – ideally the January 24th SWDRB meeting – and might get that finalized before Christmas. Nor are the dates for its Seattle Design Commission review(s) – those usually take place at City Hall downtown during the day, since that commission holds all-day meetings; they will not review the entire project, but rather the parts that the