(The much-scrutinized “connector” between buildings, this view looking from 40th toward Fauntleroy)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tonight brings the next public discussion of West Seattle’s biggest mixed-use project ever: 4755 Fauntleroy Way, to be home to two buildings, 370 apartments, 600 parking spaces, a 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, and a TBA drugstore.
The Southwest District Council‘s monthly meeting (6:30 pm, Southwest Teen Life Center, 2801 SW Thistle) includes a panel discussion of sorts about the project, with representatives from the development team and a project opponent. (Afternoon update: The project team is no longer planning to attend.)
This is not a formal part of the approval process, but other meetings are in the works as part of that: The project is expected to return later this month to the Seattle Design Commission, whose role is to vet it before the city grants a request for an “alley vacation,” allowing public property – part of an alley on the site – to become private.
Last Thursday night, in a separate part of the approval process, the Southwest Design Review Board looked at the newest version of the project’s design, and – as reported here immediately afterward – said it wasn’t quite ready for final approval.
Ahead, how that public meeting unfolded, from the presentation, through highlights of the more than 20 people who offered comments, to the conclusion:
(WSB photo of about half the crowd)
About 50 people were in the room at the start of Thursday night’s design-review meeting – the board’s third review of the project – at the Senior Center of West Seattle.
It’s a “large scale project that’s going to be around for a long time in West Seattle,” board chair Robin Murphy reminded everyone, expressing appreciation for their attendance.
The midblock connector running between the project’s two buildings, from Fauntleroy to 40th, “has been reformatted,” said architect Bill Fuller from Fuller Sears Architects, with one big piece of news since the previous meetings.
He showed off the “landmark” – often described as “iconic” – corner design, saying they’re working with an artist to come up with a piece for the northeast corner, which will be visible as people head west or southwest along Fauntleroy toward The Junction or beyond. The ground-level view:
(The fleur-de-lis shape you see in the renderings is a “placeholder,” said Fuller. It was later suggested the sculpture will represent The Junction and the project as a place where many neighborhoods come together.)
Along the west side, 40th SW will be West Seattle’s first official “green street.”
Along Fauntleroy on the east side, the property line will be moved west to add land to the street for parking and a new bike lane. (There will be bike parking in various spots around the sidt.)
At least two-thirds of the frontage on all three street-facing sides will be glass. Here’s the 40th/Alaska corner:
On the northwest corner, abutting the green street, will be a walk-down plaza with seating. Another plaza will be at Edmunds and Fauntleroy, with the building set back 40 feet.
Now, the new information about the cross-connector following a meeting with SDOT last week: There will be a raised sidewalk along the south side, weather-protected, “safe, contained route for pedestrians,” with 8 feet for walking, buffered by a planting strip, and there’s landscaping on the north side. There also will be a raised sidewalk crossing the cross-connector, “act(ing) as a speed bump,” closer to 40th.
The drive-through for the drugstore has been moved off the cross-connector; the mural that’s on the existing ex-Huling building on the site will be relocated to the cross-connector-facing side of the drugstore (above).
(Landscape overview with surrounding streets- top of image is north; solid green area represents the project’s buildings)
Weisman Design Group landscape designer Andy Rasmussen, a West Seattleite, said “I drive by the site every day and I’m kind of excited about what’s going to happen.” He is also excited about the parcel for which the city has paid $1.4 million across 40th, to create a new park (funding for the park development hasn’t been hashed out yet). And he talked about comparative sizes of the public spaces around the project – the northeast corner plaza will be more than 60 feet long, for example.
On the 40th side, they’re talking about sculpture and interpretive signs, said Rasmussen, possibly representing the site before it was developed, while the WF side could represent the transitional times, agrarian, etc., and the streetcar/Junction side might discuss the transportation aspects.
The project is asking for “departures” from established zoning, as explained – five: One facade ‘exceeds the 275-foot amount,’ but barely, said Fuller, because while it’s 279 feet long, the part on the street is only slightly above 260 feet. The alley is also a requested departure – some public land will become private but with an easement.
Loading berth access off the cross-connector also would ‘depart’ (right side of the image above this line); they also are proposing four parking spaces between building and screen for would-be renters. It would come with screening, Fuller explained.
The fifth departure is a spot facing 40th with more blank walls than the city allows, near the cross-connector’s 40th side.
The building’s sides were shown, including storefront space envisioned for small shops:
And the opening presentation ended with a 1-minute video touring around the rendered sides.
The board’s initial questions were: How do you arrive at this building and park? Answer: Entering from Edmunds on the south side, with a nearer ramp for residents, a ramp on the midconnector for shoppers/visitors. Almost all the parking, it was verified, is in the garage “and once you come back up, you’re a pedestrian,” noted Fuller. The parking will be .8 space per residential unit, 3 per thousand square foot for the retail side. “We hope lots of people will visit on foot,” he said – at which time board member Daniel Skaggs observed, “Grocery stores are tough on foot.” Skaggs also said the southern building – closest to residential areas – looked “more suburban” to him. Fuller said they had been asked to treat the buildings differently.
Board member Norma Tompkins asked about green features including whether the building was going to be “built green.” Fuller said they were still working on that as they looked at the project’s costs, because of “a lot of (other) goodies” now in the plan.
Asked by board member Myer Harrell about public outreach regarding the art on the site, Fuller said it had been discussed over the course of 31 meetings (formal and informal) with community members. The sculpture on the northeast corner ‘wants to be something more,’ he said. Harrell also asked about the mural – which will be reproduced, not moved, since it’s painted on concrete block; as discussed at a previous meeting, it will be digitally reproduced – and was told it should be visible from the park across the street on 40th. From that side of the project, there also will be a loading dock for the drugstore, used only first thing in the morning, before the drive-through went into service.
And board member Laird Bennion asked for more clarity on what become known as the “iconic corner” at Fauntleroy/Alaska, on the northeast corner of the site – a phrase that was much-repeated during the night.
Explained Fuller: It now has less glass, but the glass frontage looking into the elevator/stair lobby will be illuminated; it’s taller, narrower, complimented with an overhang on the tower face to the west.
And chair Murphy wondered about the materials in along the cross-connector – mostly concrete to feel like a city sidewalk.
Then, the public comment:
(Whole Foods’ planned store layout, as shown in design “packet” from the meeting)
West Seattleite resident Miriam said she’s excited to get a Whole Foods here – because she works for Whole Foods and enjoys shopping there too. “It would be coming in and not just taking over the area, but finding out what you guys want” and getting involved with the community.
Another West Seattle resident said he still wants the building to have more of an iconic corner “all the way up” and he thinks this is a “good start,” but he would like to see fewer “not-so-timeless concrete panels” on the project’s exterior. He also wanted to see a concrete wall on the 40th SW side of the project be more of a “green wall” (subsequently revealing he is a landscape architect). And he was concerned about the ultimate use, or lack of it, of the “plazas,” saying many of them tend not to get used, and he would rather see “one bigger plaza” than a couple smaller ones.
West Seattle resident Drew said he considers the two buildings “a big improvement over the eyesore that is there now” and also considers Whole Foods “a welcome addition to the neighborhood.” He acknowledged there’s an abundance of supermarkets but he thinks Whole Foods “caters to a different” clientele.
West Seattle resident Nancy Woodland spoke next, saying what she likes most about the “iconic corner” is that one section “will be lit up.” She lives blocks away, she said, and regarding how she feels about the large project – the alternative is a lot of smaller projects: “The cohesiveness of the project offsets the bigness of the project.” She said she is also glad the project is not going as high as it could, and will have more parking spaces.
Ken, one of more than half a dozen people wearing the golden shirts of UFCW Local 21, asked about the operating hours of the loading dock.
Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association said the art will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, then circled back around to the “iconic corner” and said she would like to see more choices regarding the plaza and its art installation.
Restaurateur Dave Montoure, chair of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, said he was here to reinforce that the Chamber “strongly supports the project ..we’re very enthused about it …and it doesn’t look like one big project.”
West Seattleite Emi McKittrick also spoke in positive terms about the project, saying she is excited about Whole Foods and appreciates variety in the grocery choices in West Seattle.
Josh Sutton from the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor) mentioned having served on the Triangle Advisory Committee (whose meetings were followed by city-instigated zoning changes for sites including this one, though this project had not yet been proposed), and said he is excited about the walkability, the added bike lane, the plazas, and more.
Another Whole Foods employee who described herself as a West Seattleite said she is excited about the market and project and feels the project will be “amazing.” She was followed by yet another West Seattleite/Whole Foods employee who said that she felt the plazas would be well used.
Next, West Seattle resident Jan said she was “absolutely … ecstatic,” and is teaching her 11 year old how to live right, including bicycling, so she is looking forward to riding to Whole Foods and “having the salad bar or the hot bar.”
At that point, city planner Bruce Rips interjected, “Whether it’s a Whole Foods or some other supermarket is not germane to the process.”
(Jan said she was still excited.)
She was followed by Deb Barker, a former Design Review Board chair who is also a retired urban planner and president of the Morgan Community Association. “I really care a lot about West Seattle,” she said. “In my opinion, this process has not been representative of West Seattle design standards.” That, she said, harkened back to the first EDG meeting, when one option was proposed, rather than multiple options and then the developer taking the board’s input into account. She said that the “31 outreach meetings” cited by Fuller was not accurate, that she was on a list and perhaps overcounted.
She said she feels there is “too much going on” in the midblock connector. “I’ve said before, double the size of the area to make it safer” or move all the pedestrian activity onto Alaska.” She also wondered how there will be “eyes on the activity” along the street because it’s not on the same level as activity in the store: “It looks great, it’s come a long way, but you need to be aware of the details – if I’m inside looking outside a window, what am I going to see?” She expressed concern about the “sidewalk” being an easement across private property that a future owner could revoke – “keep it public,” she said. And she expressed concern that the facades in the design “do not create a gateway experience … don’t settle for less than a gateway.” She also urged the Design Review Board not to make its final decision until the Design Commission has approved the alley-vacation-related changes, yet to come.
Sara, who lives just southeast of the site, said “I’m OK with the project,” and noted that she was involved with Junction neighborhood planning long ago. She expressed approval for most of the midblock connector design but concern about the drive-through, which she said “doesn’t feel safe.”
René Commons, who’s been active in design-review community processes for the past several years, pointed out the green-boulevard concept pending nearby on Fauntleroy, for which the city already has spent a six-digit sum on design. Commons also pointed to the drugstore entry and worried about the flow of traffic, with a two-way flow at one point.
Katie Koch from the ArtsWest board said the playhouse/gallery has been excited about the “increased vibrancy” in the area and supports the project.
Glen Peterson, a former Design Review Board chair, said he appreciates the project but thinks the gateway element at the northeast project should go the full allowable 85 foot height and be designed more boldly.
Sharonn Meeks from the nearby Fairmount community thinks the midblock connector would be stronger if the new park were visible. She expressed appreciation for the two buildings’ separate color schemes. “What I consider still to be needs: Really strong, appopriately scaled signage, so it’s not too bright, out of scale, too big,” she began. She also hopes that the plaza on the corner can be a place for people to be dropped off while their companions park in the garage. And she wondered about noise from RapidRide passing by, which she says she can hear from her home. She also wondered about the art being something visible
Martin Monk from the Alki Masonic Temple neighboring the project said they have two concerns: “If the alley grade is not correct and denies our public access to our lower parking lot, that is illegal.” Murphy advised that it’s a DPD issue.
John Concannon said he’s thinking about moving back to West Seattle “because these types of projects” are attracting him with “an iconic sense of presence. … I actually think the plaza treatments have been really nicely done” and he believes they’ll be used more.”I think this is a great addition to your community; the developers could have utilized the zoning and made it even larger … I think it’s really nicely executed.”
Junction resident Justin Vanderpool, after noting he walked here, said he likes the midblock crossing and is glad to see the car moved inside the building “so we can turn West Seattle into a walking neighborhood and not a car neighborhood.”
UFCW member Steve Marquart said “we have a lot of concerns about the project … I won’t talk about the number of groceries in the area … Overall … the West Seattle Triangle plan calls for pedestrian orientation and small-scale retail uses, but this is dominated by two large-scale retail uses.” He thinks the corridor should be pedestrian only.
West Seattle resident John Lang stood up and mentioned the Admiral Safeway – a project that went through five Design Review meetings over the course of more than a year – as “transformative in our community” and said this can do the same thing “if executed correctly.”
West Seattle resident Claudia said that she considered the plan inconsistent with the design guidelines and will submit written comments, but in the meantime sees a struggle between what the developer wants to do and what the Junction Neighborhood Plan and design guidelines call for. “It’s fundamentally a car-oriented design … it’s all about cars,”she said, “dictated by a 40,000-square-foot grocery store.” She echoed what Marquart had said minutes earlier, “We can do a lot better than this.”
West Seattle resident Diane Vincent was the last to comment, saying the “gateway … is still not spectacular enough” and presents safety concerns. … Still doesn’t seem like anybody can be walking there, or children on their bicycles.”
At almost the two-hour mark, the board began to deliberate – a time of intensive back and forth, for which we’ll hit the high points:
Harrell began with the appropriate observation “There’s lots to go over here.”
The issues identified included the “iconic corner,” miscellaneous architectural issues, the midblock connector (including the midblock connector), and whether the plazas work in the corners.
Murphy appreciated the public/semi-public levels of those plazas.
Bennion said he considered the Design Commission’s future consideration of the project – a process that had only been through one meeting (WSB coverage here), with at least two to come – as “the elephant in the room” and was surprised the Design Review Board meeting was even being held.
Rips said the Design Commission’s verdict would be in before the Master Use Permit was granted.
Back to the plazas planned for the project’s corners: Skaggs thought larger plazas would feel “more welcoming.” Harrell disagreed, thinking a well-used smaller plaza would be better than larger and less-used. Murphy agreed “something more monumental” needs to happen at the “iconic corner,” and the water feature roughed into the rendering is “dwarfed” by the building itself.
Perhaps rain runoff and the water feature could work together, Murphy mused (though this wasn’t mentioned, there’s at least one building in West Seattle where that happens – the south facade of the Galleria at the Denny/Sealth campus).
Other details were discussed and board members said they would like to see the nighttime rendering of how that corner would look, illuminated. “Ultimately,” Rips clarified, “those elements don’t fit.” Murphy said he felt the store’s exterior “was very well resolved” compared to prior projects such as the QFC in The Junction, which most concur has little street interest. Tompkins spoke of the building’s relationship to the Junction itself.
Beyond the much-discussed corner, Murphy said he liked the brick on the north building and the concrete on the south building, “but what happens above seems a little bit chaotic.” “It seems very chaotic … random,” interjected Skaggs.
“This feels very rectilinear, on a north-south grid,” declared Murphy, wondering if that could be “twisted” at one of the plazas, something that “breaks the rules” which are in effect for the rest of the project.
“The distinction between the two buildings is where that should happen,” suggested Skaggs.
The discussion continued along the lines of how to make the project visually distinctive, despite a currently pereceived “lack of distinction.”
When they moved on to discuss the prospective “departures” from zoning rules, the difference between public and private spaces took centerstage.
The departures all had arisen since the last meeting, it was noted.
Toward the 1st one – Harrell suggested that the north side of the south building could use some changes to soften the massing.
Toward the second one regarding the alley – the midblock connector came back into play. “There’s a lot going on here that has to happen to serve these uses,” observed chair Murphy. “They’re taking steps to separate those divergent forces that are at play here.” And the changes since last meeting left it “greatly improved,” he declared. Harrell said he had empathy for public concerns but he felt that like projects elsewhere in the city such as Alley 24, this could work. It was imperfect, he noted, but he added that he couldn’t imagine an alternative – this general mode was settled on during the Early Design Guidance process last fall.
The tug-of-war remained vehicles and pedestrians both using the space. Admiral Safeway was evoked at one point, with a midblock connector of its own and unique methods of loading and parking,.
After much back-and-forth, Harrell finally suggested that the project included enough public benefit to allow a departure – and his colleagues agreed.
The traffic flow remained a concern – whether there was enough width for trucks to get in without hitting part of the building, or other vehicles – but Bennion wondered if they really had to worry about something extreme such as three trucks being there at once, as a rendering suggested. That wouldn’t happen, assured Lance Sherwood from Weingarten (one of the developers).
For the southwest corner of the second building: They thought one of the four “for prospective renters” parking spaces nearby could be moved to relieve some pressure on part of the space.
Final “departure”: A stretch of blank wall which struck Murphy as “remarkable that it’s the only blank wall along the entire building” despite it housing two big grocery and drug stores. “That’s pretty amazing.”
Then back to the plazas – all five of them. Murphy thought the decor “seem(ed) kind of blasé at this point – here’s a planter .. here’s a sculpture …”
Bennion noted that “Plaza A’s probably going to be the most important for a while. … I have faith that if we can get it to talk to the iconic welcome statement to West Seattle and get it to work well, that’s great.” He was concerned that the public space feel like it’s that, and not “a front porch to the building.” Grade change at one spot might evoke the latter perception rather than the former. SDOT requirements for the corner seemed to come into play.
Tompkins said the corner just needs to say, “Welcome to West Seattle.”
The plazas need to have elements relating to each other, board members agreed. They also expressed interest in a “unified signage concept.”
Murphy then wondered if the smaller retail tenants might go along the Fauntleroy entrance to the midblock connector.
At the three-hour mark, he said he wanted to be clear, “There’s a lot of good work here. They’ve resolved a ton of tough issues.” But – “I think it has to come back for a little more refinement to deal with some of these issues.”
The date for that next meeting has not yet been set; it’s now been six months since the first one for this project. Dates are generally agreed on by the development team and the city. The SW Design Review Board potentially can meet twice monthly, on the second and fourth Thursday nights, but the meetings are only scheduled when there are projects to review. (Next up, the SWDRB looks at two south-of-Admiral projects, the 166-apartment 3210 California SW and the smaller 3829 California SW, on April 11th.)