By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We learned a lot more about the “Lofts at the Junction” project last night during its first Southwest Design Review Board meeting, which ended with the board giving it clearance to move to the next phase of the process.
For one, while it does include about 40 apartments on a lot of less than 4,000 square feet at 4535 44th SW, it does not have all the attributes of so-called “microhousing” – each of its units will include a private kitchen and bath.
For two, the Nicholson Kovalchick Architects-designed project is now envisioned with an “industrial loft” type of look, and a brick facade, as shown in the “character sketches” (above is the 44th SW view) – completely different from what was shown in the design “packet” prepared for the meeting and shown here two weeks ago.
The Design Review process has drawn more consistent public interest lately, and this meeting brought another full house of about 40 in the upstairs meeting hall at the Senior Center of West Seattle.
Boyd Pickrell from NK Architects led the presentation, which was weighted toward context for the site and an overview of the project’s goals:
Pickrell listed some of the characteristics toward which they were aspiring: “Reasonably priced housing” in a convenient area. “Units that live large with large windows, natural light … timeless, simple forms with quality materials”… the theme of a “brick warehouse that’s been converted into lofts.” He noted that the site is a “through-lot” fronting on two streets – 44th and Glenn Way – with NC-40 zoning, but just a block from where there’s zoning of 65′ to 85′.
He talked about the wide variety of uses in the area – even a company that “develops software for video games about bowling.”
As is customary at this stage, three design options were presented, and one was described as the preferred option. Its residential lobby would front Glenn Way and includes “ample live/work facing 44th, which is where I think it belongs.” Most of the units would face west for a better view. Here’s that side of the building in another character sketch:
He described it as “cohesive, simple massing.” The floor-to-floor height is higher to enhance the “loft” feel. And they’re proposing a mural on the south-facing side. The top floor would have some clerestory windows but would not be visible from the street because of a parapet, he said (an update from the design packet – he showed a character sketch that had evolved from the packet’s storm-topped scenario, too).
In the second section of the meeting, the one reserved for the board to ask “clarifying questions” about the project, one of the board’s two newest members, T. Frick MacNamara, called him out on the “lush” but misleading appearance of landscaping shown in the sketches. Pickrell acknowledged that “lush landscaping” was not their intent.
The first one was a question – clarifying the live/work units’ purpose. They can function as live OR work, he clarified, not both.
Next, Deb Barker, a retired city planner by trade who also happens to be a former Design Review Board member, asked a question too. She asked about the east side of the design – where a staircase runs. It emerges to a private door on the street. She told the board she feels stairways should be integrated into the project, “feel as if it’s part of the building” or maybe even with the loft motif, “have a fire-escape quality.” The mural proposal for the exterior of the building – she said it seemed unusual to blank out a south-facing wall, which could offer some opportunities for light and air instead. Plus, the mural will be “covered by the building that goes up next door,” she pointed out. She also asked for a clarification on the number of units, which had not yet been mentioned.
The next person wondered about some technical points, eventually drawing the architect’s comment that they are offering live/work units rather than strictly commercial – though l/w counts as commercial in the mixed-use realm – “because it feels like the right thing to do.”
Then came the issue that has attracted the most discussion in previous WSB discussions about – the building’s lack of parking. That’s what the next person wanted to talk about too. “We’re in a high-density parking area because people park on these streets to come and take transit. You have 39 (units) – where are those cars going to go? A good number of the people are going to have vehicles. We’re concerned.”
“Ditto,” echoed at least half a dozen people in the audience.
Then came an attendee who voiced appreciation for the project: “The goals they presented in the beginning are right on … simple forms, trying to emulate the brick buildings in the Junction. .. A nice simple brick building is what this neighborhood needs.” He also expressed admiration for the architects taking a floor out to make the ceilings higher.
A neighbor was next, Sonja of the Community Acupuncture of West Seattle building next door, who has expressed concern in venues such as the WSB Forums, wanted to know about the overhang of the property line and how much separation. There’s no overhang or encroachment planned on the south side (next to the CAWS building), replied Pickrell.
Another person who wanted to bring up parking was told that Tamara Garrett, the city planner working on this project, is the person to share your concerns with – and she explained that the proximity to frequent transit is why parking is not required for the residential part of the building. She started to explain the City Council’s recent change in zoning – “Oh, so we can take the monorail – no wait,” the attendee joked. “Or light rail …”
The zoning inspired another question, and Garrett said she would be happy to have a followup conversation.
Cindi Barker thought there should be clarification of the live/work units’ future – whether they were expected to be residential or business- but was told by acting chair Daniel Skaggs (chair Myer Harrell could not attend) that she is basically just commenting on vacant space, whatever the owners decide to do with it, either way.
The next attendee to offer a comment wanted to clarify the heights – of this future building and those next to it. And that’s when he reintroduced the no-parking issue, saying that he “takes care of about 200 units in West Seattle” and only about 20 of them have no car – so he wants the city to think hard about the implications of housing like this without parking.
(Cindi Barker pointed out the city’s ongoing microhousing zoning discussions at that point and urged people to get involved.)
As more discussion ensued, Sonia spoke up again and said she learned that there would not be a meeting to talk about the points people wanted to discuss – unless 50 people wanted to talk about it and signed a petition. She suggested people follow up with her afterward; Deb Barker said a lot of people would like to hear about that process.
The board’s discussion ensued. No huge objections were voiced, though MacNamara thought the facades might do better reversed – the flat front on 44th instead of Glenn Way.
Laird Bennion said the new drawing was much better than what was in the packet – he was ‘pleasantly surprised.” Overall, the brick-facade idea drew rave reviews, as did the design’s “simplicity.”
One point of discussion: Which side of the project would SDOT think to be better for street trees, 44th or Glenn Way?
Another one: The board wasn’t unanimous on the concept of a mural on the south side, but agreed that face of the building would need something.
They agreed the “preferred option” is the best of the 3.
And at the two-hour mark, they recommended that DPD give the developers permission to apply for their Master Use Permit, and bring the project back for what might be only one more meeting (date TBA).
After that, those interested in the concept of a separate meeting about issues such as parking gathered around planner Garrett, who reiterated that they needed to get at least 50 people to petition DPD for a meeting on SEPA – State Environmental Policy Act – issues, by e-mailing her (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible.