Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, report #2: First proposal for former Charlestown Café site sent back for another try

Does that look to you like three different size/shape options?

It didn’t, to the Southwest Design Review Board, which told the project team for 3824 California SW – the site that’s been vacant since the Charlestown Café‘s 2011 closure – to go back to the drafting board and try again.

Last night’s review was the first one for the plan first reported here last June – 30 townhouses/live-work units filling the site between Charlestown, California, Bradford, and an alley lined with single-family homes on 42nd SW. (Here’s the design packet as presented to the board; this project’s developer is Intracorp, which also is behind 3210 California SW, the block-long mixed-use building that returns to Design Review next week.)

Architect Radim Blazej from Caron Architecture presented the proposal, saying that California SW shifts in that area from commercial to residential – “mostly townhomes, small apartments, some single-family … there is a commercial pocket with the 7-11 and a commercial building across the street” at California/Charlestown. The ex-café site is zoned “neighborhood commercial” which is why the streetfront units are proposed as live-work rather than residential-only.

Even before the board feedback that the three options presented did not differ much, that seemed clear in the presentation – most of the differences noted by Blazej involved how parking on the site was arranged. Option A would improve the alley to the east of the site and have parking off it; Option B would leave the alley alone and have parking in an “auto court”; Option C, the project team’s “preferred option,” would include some courtyards and one parking space for each unit, even live-work (for which, Blazej said, parking otherwise wouldn’t be required):

Other general points about the first take of the plan: The live-work units would not have roof decks; the townhomes would. Regarding landscaping, he said they will “try to preserve” the trees now on the street along California, and that they expected to expand the planting strip on that side.

During board questions, T. Frick McNamara asked the architect what the real difference was in the three massing options. He mentioned garages in scheme 2, and “more units on California, less units on the side street” for the third one. She also pointed out that the patios behind the live-works would be just a few feet from the front of the townhouses.

PUBLIC COMMENT: About 15 people were on hand, and most of those who spoke identified themselves as neighbors of the site. A resident of the single-family homes on 42nd SW, east of the alley, spoke first. “I definitely want to express we’re not opposed to development there,” but they are concerned about effects on their neighborhood’s livability. “The overall flow of humanity through our backyards is something we are most interested in discussing. (Also) we want to not have the sun completely blotted out.” She said they would be “pained” to see the rare sunshine in their backyards go away. “Having something that doesn’t feel like another one of these mixed-use developments that have cropped in West Seattle .. thoughtful design,” so that people feel like they’re part of the neighborhood, not “self-contained.” She spoke of hoping the architecture would have Pacific Northwest sensibilities.

Another resident, speaking next, worried that increased trash-truck traffic would cause trouble with the alley.

There was a question about clarifying the height allowed by zoning – 30 feet, it was stated. And another attendee asked about trash pickup – how steep will the alley approach behind the site be? Board chair Myer Harrell said that would be reviewed by the city in a different part of the process.

Another resident from the neighborhood east of the site said he was glad to hear there would be some considerations for privacy but wanted to know more about the windows on the townhomes that the neighborhood would face, saying there’s not much residents could do to mitigate those effects. He said he was glad to hear the rooftop decks were intended to face west, but wondered “how that would be achieved.” He had a concern about lighting and was told that would be brought up in the next phase of Design Review; he also voiced hopes that the design would reflect the neighborhood, rather than being totally boxy.

A SW Charlestown resident added his voice to concerns about the alley. “I’m unclear on what the screening and setbacks were regarding the alley.” He also reiterated concerns about the potential “boxy” design, considering much of the existing housing in the area is Craftsman-style, built in the ’20s.

Attendee Diane Vincent read a statement written by Deb Barker, a former SWDRB member and frequent review participant, saying this project didn’t meet the requirement for three types of massing, and that the proposal to use so many “live-work” units to try to fit into the site’s “neighborhood commercial” zoning “makes a mockery” of the zoning’s intent. “It appears the applicant is not developing the site to its full potential.” Barker’s statement also said the townhomes “feel crammed into the site.” Barker said that Version B would offer the best chance at CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design). Last but not least, her statement called the trash/recycling configuration “unimaginative and downright hostile.”

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Member Laird Bennion called the design “pretty cynical” and affirmed some of Barker’s points – feeling that the proposal did not include three truly different massings, and that it would be a waste of neighborhood-commercial property. “At the very least, we need some structures that explore … structured parking, viable retail …” McNamara said she agreed with the “crammed-in” assessment, that spaces were not being created to add to “the neighborhood character.” And she agreed that the three schemes were “not three serious studies.” Bennion said he was reminded of 85th and Midvale in North Seattle – “obviously you made an eloquent case for the preferred option, the only viable option, but we need to see at least two others.” So, Harrell said, then what changes would need to be made? McNamara: “They need to do a better job on the side streets.” Todd Bronk said, “The corners are not corners – this is an opportunity between the two Junctions to create small neighborhood retail space …” He also noted that three supposed live-works nearby at California/Spokane “weren’t live-works but really live-lives,” again wasting possible commercial space. McNamara added that 30 cars are a lot of cars to pack into the space.

If it’s going to be a whole block, there needs to be variety, it was added. “Whether or not you love it or hate it,” it’s “too repetitive,” said Bronk. Daniel Skaggs said many topics couldn’t be discussed because they hadn’t been developed in the proposal. He also agreed with the critique that this design proposal didn’t respond to the neighborhood.

Wrapping up the meeting, chair Harrell set out expectations for the revised “early design”:
*More development of the commercial aspects, for viability
*More development of spaces between the buildings
*Parking hidden from the streetscape, alternatives for how it’s accessed
*Less-repetitious massing (size/shape)

WHAT’S NEXT: There’s no deadline for setting the next meeting date (most often it’s a few months later). We’ll update when it turns up on the city schedule. Meantime, comments can be sent any time to city planner Beth Hartwick, who is assigned to the project –

14 Replies to "Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, report #2: First proposal for former Charlestown Café site sent back for another try"

  • TanDL January 31, 2014 (12:22 pm)

    That’s funny. Put little walk-throughs in different places and call it design change options. Good for the Southwest Design Review Board!

  • Genesee Hill January 31, 2014 (12:30 pm)

    That building looks like it should be the fourth powerhouse for Grand Coulee Dam.

  • JanS January 31, 2014 (1:08 pm)

    Is it me, or do they just look crammed in there, each about 5-10 feet wide. I could come up with something better than that, and I have no training. :(

  • Diane January 31, 2014 (1:50 pm)

    yep Jan; and perhaps a 5 yr old with Lego set?

  • DTK January 31, 2014 (2:27 pm)

    Prison housing training units.

  • anonyme January 31, 2014 (2:55 pm)

    The developments being shoved down the throats of West Seattleites are design atrocities.

  • JanS January 31, 2014 (3:10 pm)

    Anonyme, I so agree. It seems they just want to shove as many in there to make more money, I think. Don’t they train people in attractive design anymore?

  • JRR January 31, 2014 (3:26 pm)

    I agree with the decision given the massing provided. Please remember, folks, massing is not the design. Regardless, I’d take an interesting box over something meant to affect the features of the neighborhood.

  • JanS January 31, 2014 (3:29 pm)

    The question about blocked sun is very valid. I live in a second floor apt. Just east of Admiral Safeway, directly across from Element 42. I see no sunsets (always did before), and when people are reporting about beautiful skies to the west now, it ‘s already getting dark in my apt., even in the summer. The lights I see are from inside the apartments across the street. I didn’t sit out on my deck once last summer :(

  • Diane January 31, 2014 (4:01 pm)

    Jan; interesting point about design training; I went to an open house last Sunday; a gorgeous modern house (4016 45th Ave SW, at Andover) the design/builder is NOT an architect; it’s one of the most creative innovative beautiful new construction I’ve seen in years

  • smokeycretin9 January 31, 2014 (4:12 pm)


  • ACG January 31, 2014 (4:24 pm)

    Exactly what does “live/work” mean? That the person telecommutes from home? An artist who paints paintings in their unit? Or a retail space with a cot in the back to sleep on? I see that “live/work” term a lot on these development proposals and always wonder what that means.

  • Alphonse February 1, 2014 (12:16 am)

    The “above” view looks like a Monopoly board when there are 4 houses or a hotel on every property. I live around this stretch of California and we need retail. It’s ridiculous not to include it in this development as it would be a goldmine. There are no coffee places between Freshy’s and Hotwire. With 3 planned developments changing 8 living spaces into 90 on this one block(!) why in the world wouldn’t they take advantage of this?

  • jerry February 3, 2014 (11:05 am)

    some type of prison related housing. An IRS holding facility for tax evaders. I could go on and on..
    this is ugggggggggly. Eventually all these crappy designed building are going to have a bad effect on people and their going to flip out!!! We need some serious vitamin “A” (architecture)around here!!!!

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