Tomorrow night – steps away from West Seattle Summer Fest Eve/West Seattle Art Walk entertainment and exploration – serious business will be under way on the second floor of the Senior Center of West Seattle: Two neighboring projects on the east edge of The Junction will return to the Southwest Design Review Board for its next doubleheader meeting. We’re previewing them briefly here along with our final, belated recap from the most recent SWDRB meeting. First, the Thursday projects:
4745 40th SW: As the meeting begins at 6:30 pm tomorrow, the board will see this ~150-apartment project for a second round of “Early Design Guidance.”
Here’s the official “packet” with the information and renderings submitted to the city pre-review, accompanied by explanations of how the architects believe they have responded to the board’s comments from the first review in May (WSB coverage here).
4755 FAUNTLEROY WAY SW: At 8 pm tomorrow, the board will see this ~370-apartment, grocery-and-drug-store project – biggest mixed-use project ever in West Seattle – for the fourth and possibly final time.
Here’s the “packet.” This project also has been going before the citywide Design Commission as part of the process of getting its “alley vacation” approved; our report on its most recent meeting is here. And there’s been a new development since even that meeting – a campaign branded as “Getting It Right for West Seattle” has appeared, focusing on this development. We are still researching it; an organizational announcement it’s circulating is signed by Elena Perez, who works as a community organizer for UFCW 21, which has mustered a delegation for just about every public meeting related to the project, whose grocery tenant is non-union Whole Foods. The stated goal of “Getting It Right” is a Community Benefits Agreement (here’s background from a different project). We expect to hear from the new group at tomorrow night’s meeting.
Meantime, ahead – one last round of notes from the most recent SWDRB meeting, which included the second “Early Design Guidance” session for the Admiral area’s biggest project ever, 3210 California SW:
(Click image for larger view)
3210 California SW has advanced to the second and final stage of Design Review after its second Early Design Guidance look at the first project facilitated by the 2007-2010 California SW upzoning. The city’s official report on the meeting is here; our notes follow:
The primary concern was that the building, despite being broken into three parts with two courtyards, still will look like “450 feet, linear face,” if you’re on the street.
First – here’s the “packet” from the presentation.
Architect Tom Seidl from Nicholson Kovalchick led the presentation. He explained how the design revisions had responded to major concerns voiced by the board and public at the first meeting in April (many of which we previewed in this story before the meting) – including breaking up the building, providing a truly commercial component (which required some garage configuration underneath), and – though they’ve broken up the mass – providing more setback than required on the east side of the project, which abuts a single-family-home neighborhood.
Later in the meeting, responding to a question, he said making the changes had reduced the number of apartments in the building from up to 180, to around 155 (a number won’t be finalized until the design is).
Breaking the 450-foot-long building into three parts creates two courtyards, one fronted by the “true commercial” that’s now toward the north end – where the ground floor would be about 17′ “floor to floor,” one fronted by live-work units.
A glass skybridge would connect the two northernmost buildings “to reduce the number of penthouse projections (required) for stairs (etc.),” and the board asked several questions about it – its design is still in the early stages, though Seidl allowed that they wouldn’t want it to be glass underfoot, running the risk of a vertigo effect for users.
The two garage entries will be at both ends of the site – from California, since there’s no alley in back. The north entry would therefore be adjacent to the building entry for the neighboring apartment building (a narrow entryway just south of its street-level garages), so they’re proposing about 10 feet of buffer zone on the north edge of their ramp. The commercial parking could be right beneath the north-end commercial space.
Landscape architect for this project (as well as the bigger 4755 Fauntleroy Way project) is West Seattle resident Andy Rasmussen of Weisman Design Group. The southern of the two courtyards, he said, would have “passive greenspace” that could work for “green stormwater infrastructure” (raingardens, etc.). Landscaping discussion also included the big tree that’s visible from the site (though located on land behind it); the rockery currently on the north end of the site, east side of the parking lot that anchors it, will be kept, which will help with its roots, the project team says.
Overall, the project would be more “expressive” on the street side than on behind, where it would face homes, Steidl said.
PUBLIC COMMENT: The first person to speak said that he is the former owner of the property that has the “exceptional tree” and says he had been told by an arborist previously that the roots would be severed – contrary to what this project team is saying – even though the footprint hasn’t change. A project spokesperson who had presented the arborist’s report says there are some roots that have grown “underneath the parking lot” could be severed without damaging the tree.
The second person, identifying himself as neighbor Gordon, “next to the tree,” said he appreciates that it’s been divided into three buildings. From a distance, he says, it might look like three buildings, but will it really look that way up close? He also said he appreciated the separation between two parts of the building in the back, but was also concerned about the back of the building looking very bland, since whatever it is, he’ll be looking at it instead of his current view of the Olympics.
The third person was another resident of 42nd SW named Paul and started by mentioning another erroneous notice sent by the city. On page 22, he said, there’s still not the street-level “how it would look” view they had asked for. He also wanted to see a “zoomed-out” view to show the building in context of the neighborhood beyond the site and its immediate neighbors. He also noted the current California/Hanford building has many windows pointing south that now will be looking directly at this new structure. And he noted that comparisons between this building and a project called the Prescott were not entirely in context, since that one had three times the spacing between it and nearby single-family homes, and also had a 50-foot setback on its top floor.
Fourth to speak was Deb Barker, who expressed appreciation for some of the changes including the entrance moves. Her “three major concerns”: Tree impacts – she said that in her previous experience on the Design Review Board, no massing decisions were reached until there was a City Arborist report on the tree, and she suspects any severing of roots/limbs will kill the tree. Second, the skybridge – “doesn’t really feel West Seattle,” she noted, adding that it seemed more like a blockage than anything else, unlike NK’s general project spirit. Third, three different buildings “shouldn’t be three variations on a theme,” she suggested, saying it still seems like “one very very long building.”
Fifth was another 42nd SW homeowner, who echoed comments about the back-side modulation of the building and how it’ll be viewed by residents in his neighborhood, as well as the upper-story balconies “overshadowing” the residences to the east. He said that while he too appreciated the three-building separation, with the inset courtyards, it still likely will look from the street liek “one very long building.” He added that the California SW street level has promise.
Sixth was also a 42nd SW homeowner with concern about the “flatness” of the back side and also voiced worry about how exterior finish will turn out. She suggested that the building break by the “exceptional tree” could perhaps be given some space.
BOARD DELIBERATION: This is the time when interested attendees are invited to listen in on the board’s discussion, unlike some types of governmental meetings (keep in mind, this is a volunteer board, albeit one convened by and reporting to the city). So the board typically is seated at its rectangular table with project team members and the assigned city planner, while attendees pull up their chairs as close as they can, to be able to hear what’s shaping the decision to come.
Chair Myer Harrell started with a list of critical issues, including massing, the “significant tree,” open-space amenity, and the material palette (including what the skybridge would be built from). Board member Daniel Skaggs said the street-level arrangement of the building was of concern to him – how the commercial space would function, etc. Board member T. Frick McNamara said she felt the tree needed to be respected regardless of whether it was part of the site or not, given its longevity so far and the potential it could live longer than anyone in the room. She thought a tweak of the massing to “celebrate the tree” and further highlight the building’s commercial zone would be appropriate. Harrell said it seemed as if the tree was intended to be visible. Board member Laird Bennion said he was hoping the live-work zone of the building would be more “work” than “live.” He also wondered about the glass of the bridge, and Seidl said he imagined it to be almost completely transparent. MacNamara brought it back around to the commenter would had suggested a 50-foot break in the building would be better than 25. Skaggs thought the 25 feet would be adequate.
Board member Todd Bronk said that he was shocked they weren’t seeing an arborist report before making this decision. Their recommendation could be conditional on that report not raising concerns, he was told.
To the issue of vertical modulation, a 2-foot difference in height wouldn’t be terribly noticeable, McNamara observed.
Bronk thought both courtyards should be treated more as “commercial courtyards” with the hope the live-work space on the south side eventually would evolve to commercial. He also returned to concern about the building looking like one very long face stretching down the block.
And members agreed that the back of the building needed more modulation so that it felt like “another facade,” instead of just a flat face, and that they want to see more detail next time. On the other hand, they noted that sort of detail isn’t necessarily required at the Early Design Guidance stretch. Is there enough space between that side and the homes to the east? It’s an “urban” situation, board members agreed.
But none of the concerns added up to something demanding a third round of Early Design Guidance, so the project moves on to the second stage, which could mean only one more meeting.
COMMENTS? The project’s designated planner, Michael Dorcy, remains the contact throughout the project: firstname.lastname@example.org