In the first of two reviews tonight, the Southwest Design Review Board has just recommended final approval for the design of 4535 SW Alaska, an apartment building to be known as Lofts at The Junction.
All five regular board members were on hand for this meeting – chair Myer Harrell and members Todd Bronk, Laird Bennion, T. Frick McNamara, and Daniel Skaggs – along with planner Tami Garrett from the city Department of Planning and Development.
Though this project has been a source of controversy, fewer than 20 members of the public were on hand – perhaps because its most controversial point, the lack of parking, is not in the scope of the Design Review Board’s authority. (Dozens more attended a special neighbor-requested meeting about non-design concerns last month – here’s our coverage.)
Tonight’s review began with NK Architects‘ Jin Lee presenting (see the packet here) the latest design for the project, Lofts at The Junction, which as he put it is on “a truncated triangle … one block from the heart of The Junction.” It is proposed for five stories with 36 apartments and two live-work units on a site with significant west-east slope between Glenn Way to the west and 44th SW to the east.
Visual points of the project include a 20′ x 15′ mural envisioned for one side of the building; Lee said “we are currently reaching out to local arts groups for proposals.” It would NOT be a historic mural, unlike others in the area, he said. Planter bays along the Glenn Way side would be planted with fountain grass; the 44th SW side also will have planters, as well as a bike rack. On that same side, looking over the street, will be 17-foot-wide and six-to-nine-foot-deep balcony landings, with table/chairs for tenants, and that feature drew questions from board members.
The lighting scheme was also shown, including “festival lighting” on the northeast side:
PUBLIC COMMENT: One person, Tom Sheldon, offered a comment. He called the building”brilliant in the sense that it is simple … I’m impressed with the fact that they are using real brick on the building, and metal,” and lauded other features, including the plan for a mural, and the “deck part of the stairs.” He said he thinks it will “be a great addition to The Junction.”
Another attendee asked questions about the windows – whether the industrial design of the windows is to let light into “tiny units,” and whether street-level windows would have any privacy features. Lee said the former was just a contemporary design point, “an artificial narrative … a design device.”
BOARD DELIBERATION: The meeting was less than an hour old when this point was reached. Bennion described the design as “elegant.” McNamara praised its functionality. Bronk said the design was “much improved” from the previous presentation but he also noted the two facades of the building would be better if they were more similar. Bennion said he agreed and also voiced some concern about the top of the building, including an overhang, which he described as reminiscent of “a gas station.” Overall, though, he said he “like(s) the building a lot.” Harrell wondered if the distracting rooftop feature would be that visible; he was reminded that it’s a prominent corner for reasons including the weekly West Seattle Farmers’ Market on the nearby southeast corner of 44th/Alaska. That moved into questions of whether the stairwell should be enclosed rather than open, and concerns that the protruding landings changed the building’s mass from what was seen before.
Garrett finally pointed out that enclosing the stairwell could change the design significantly, because it’s already close to its floor-to-area ratio. So they discussed alternatives for softening the look.
The landscaping on the Glenn Way side drew some critiquing; it was suggested that fountain grass might not be the best choice, and should be replaced with an evergreen type of grass.
Board members wondered if the north side of the building – not as visible as other sides but still noticeable for those heading past it toward The Junction – needed a mural or some other treatment like the south side; ultimately, they decided no, that side might be a “big blank wall” for a while and that’s just the way it goes.
No major changes were recommended before the board agreed they would recommend final design approval for Lofts at The Junction. Meantime, while it proceeds through the permit process, planner Garrett is the point person for other comments – firstname.lastname@example.org.