Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, report #1: 4505 42nd SW told to come back for 2nd round of ‘early guidance’

January 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm | In Development, West Seattle news | 8 Comments

(Option 1 – with elements the board said it preferred over the project team’s preferred Option 3)
In the first of two Southwest Design Review Board sessions tonight, board members called for a second round of Early Design Guidance for 4505 42nd SW, a site that’s steps away from where the board convened (upper floor of the Senior Center of West Seattle).

This phase of design review is about a building’s “massing” – its size and shape – so that’s what was addressed by most of the “design packet” is here. For the mixed-use building, it’s “the very beginning” of the process, as city planner Beth Hartwick explained to attendees – a single-digit turnout, unlike many recent SWDRB meetings, even counting project team members including site owner Leon Capelouto.

With the guidance offered tonight, its height and number of units are in play – at least seven stories and at least 50 units, though how much more, depends on how the next round goes.

The 6,900-sf site is zoned NC3-85, noted architect Steve Fischer from Nicholson Kovalchick. Currently, it holds an old house and garage alongside the alley between 42nd and California. As relatively small as the site is, they will have to dedicate or set back several feet of the property on three sides.

Fischer talked about the “heightened energy” of the main Junction commercial blocks nearby as well as the special events like West Seattle Summer Fest and the WS Grand Parade. And for context’s sake, he also mentioned the development boom in and around The Junction.

As is required at this stage of the review process, he showed three massing options (which the board later said didn’t differ enough). The “preferred option,” #3, included ground-floor retail that might start off as live-work depending on what the business climate is like, he said (also considering that Oregon 42 across the street will have retail when it opens soon, and will “be a case study for us,” said Fischer). The site would be entirely re-landscaped, considering that what it has now includes a hedge that is “entirely growing in the right of way,” Fischer exclaimed. Option #1 would have fully utilized the potential 85-foot height, but would be costlier, Fischer told the board, because of construction requirements for buildings of that height (steel frame, compared to concrete/wood). He said the project team preferred to spend the money undergrounding power at the site. (On the alley side, that could go all the way down the alley to about the midpoint of the free-to-shoppers parking lot to the south.)

The parking lot itself came up for some clarification, and Capelouto explained its background – the trustees who have purchased it over the years, to keep it in reserve for customers. “But it’s zoned 85 feet, so you could theoretically (develop the lot),” observed board member Daniel Skaggs. “Right,” was the reply. Board member T. Frick McNamara sought to clarify further. Capelouto explained he owns 25 percent of Trusteed Properties “and we’ve kept it free parking for more than 50 years, and we want to keep it so it creates a place for our customers to park – we’ve never taken a cent for it – we collect (tax and insurance money) from the merchants … it’s a very valuable piece of property and we want nothing more out of it than free parking for our customers.” (He added later that the trustees have a covenant with the city that this will remain parking, and if it at some point were used differently, they would have to find somewhere else to provide parking.)

Noting our story a few days ago in which Capelouto said the building site was another “gateway” type spot, McNamara wondered if any treatments “not lot line to lot line” had been mulled. Fischer said it was a little early in the process to get into too many details, but he did note that both KeyBank and the now-demolished former Super Supplements had some pullback at the corner, though he wasn’t a big fan of that kind of entry – this building’s main entry would likely be on Oregon.

Board member Laird Bennion pointed out updated West Seattle Junction Design Guidelines regarding corner sites and the suggestion that there should be some seating, a way to “engage people.”

The first member of the public to comment was Diane Vincent, who tried to pick up on the parking-lot discussion, wondering whether the covenant was something that would change in the future and affect decisions being made now regarding the building’s south facade. It was suggested that she ask questions after the meeting.

Josh Sutton from the West Seattle Y (WSB sponsor) said he likes the prospect of improved walkability past the site and the expected electrical undergrounding, as well as the potential for smaller than retail spaces. He also said that he hopes the color scheme proposed in the next stage of Design Review will be “something other than gray.”

The planner also read a written comment from someone who could not attend the meeting, voicing support for retail rather than live-work, and suggesting the northeast corner should have ‘some kind of architectural welcoming point.’

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Chair Myer Harrell brought the Junction Design Guidelines up at the beginning. The south facade remained a point of concern – “that’s going to be a big wall over the parking lot,” Bennion observed. Some elements of option 1 were described as appealing – it would be taller, but the upper stories would be set back from the street, and it could work better with the varying zoning of the sites around it. McNamara pointed out that 42nd will be the most important pedestrian side, while Oregon is a “connector.” Bennion echoed what had been heard in the read-aloud comment – “some sort of specialty architectural treatment” at the 42nd/Oregon corner. He said he believes “42nd is going to be very, very important for retail.” In the end, the consensus seemed to be that some elements of Option 1 were appealing but maybe not the full 9-story height envisioned in that option. The ground-floor area was recommended as more of a “podium” treatment than a “back box.”

Harrell said it would be important to see the retail entries enhance the pedestrian experience. Board member Todd Bronk expressed concern about the preponderance of concrete on Oregon 42 across the street, and hoping that this project would have some ways of counteracting that.

A big reason for sending it back for a second round of early design guidance: They didn’t feel like they saw three distinct massing options. They did feel like the building could go straight up from the alley, instead of having to be set back there, and they supported the concept of the utilities being undergrounded. It could go up as “high as they felt they needed” (within the 85-foot zone) – that might be the difference between 50 and 60+ units – and they wanted to see retail rather than live-work on the street level along 42nd and Oregon. Plus, as Harrell summarized, they want to see “a little more attention to the south side”

The date for the next meeting will be announced once it’s set. In the meantime, you can send comments to planner Hartwick at beth.hartwick@seattle.gov.

8 Comments

  1. The reason no one bothers to show up to these meetings anymore is that we know we will not be heard. Developers are getting away with boxing in what used to be a very beautiful, livable part of the city. Unfortunately now, that is gone. Go to a meeting? Why should I waste my time. No one is listening anyway.

    Comment by fauntleroy fairy — 9:42 pm January 30, 2014 #

  2. FF, they actually are. In the second meeting, the board sent the developers back to try again – as they did in this one – reiterating critiques voiced by the public. The higher-level problem is at the policy-setting level, with City Councilmembers passing rules that change the game – but lately it’s been very loud and clear that this has been noticed. It’s a start.

    Comment by WSB — 10:12 pm January 30, 2014 #

  3. Do show up, you are heard. TOO much in MY opinion. Clearly from 1850 to 1990 there was NO public input and people just slapped up whatever they wanted (that’s why the “iconic” corner where the big Whole Foods project we’re debating endlessly is currently an ugly gas station with a homemade looking office tacked to the side, next to a tiny funereal home box and giant asphalt parking lot). Somewhere between being able to slap up ANYTHING and having 1 year of public input to debate the color of the balcony’s there’s a good in between. The public process we have is pretty good now, the public can/does force changes all the time, moving setbacks, entrances, traffic flow, etc. Sometimes it seems to drag on forever (Whole Foods building) but it a process than NEVER existed in the good-ol-days when folks could just slap up anything they felt like. There’s a balance here somewhere. On the one hand we this isn’t communism…that is private property and it doesn’t MATTER if you think it’s ugly or changes the nature the neighborhood, it’s not your property, as long as obeys the zoning laws. But we’ve gone beyond just ZONING laws and have this (LONG) public input process where you get to have your say on how some property you don’t own or have any investment in should look…that’s remarkable. Often good, sometimes frustrating. But whining that you don’t have MORE control over someone elses private property seems silly. You wouldn’t want your neighbors coming to you and telling you they got together and decide you can’t paint your house the color your choose, or you have to move that tree in your front yard 20 feet to the left…but that’s what we do with these commercial properties.

    Comment by David — 7:41 am January 31, 2014 #

  4. No one is “whining”. We are frustrated. When you own commercial property, or any property for that matter, there are mechanisms, codes, etc in place that prevent the “I get to do whatever I want because it’s my property” attitude. We are not talking about the paint color of a building, we are talking about permanently closing off alleyways, providing adequate parking and all the MAJOR inconveniences the public has to put up with that go along with developments of this size. Inconveniences both during construction and after. That’s what gives us the right to feel we should have a say in any project.

    The words cavernous ugly eyesores come to mind when I see these monoliths go up, but considering your post sounds like you are a developer yourself David, I’m guessing you might have a different opinion.

    As for me? I’ll take that little funeral home over all these towering walls any day.

    Comment by fauntleroy fairy — 11:02 am January 31, 2014 #

  5. Amen, Fauntleroy fairy. And I have no problem “whining” about it. Trying to traverse California, Avalon or Alaska Aves in a reasonable amount of time is becoming a nightmare even on days when construction has stopped and there are still huge living unit projects in progress that will bring hundreds (yes, hundreds) more cars to West Seattle. The infrastructure here is not in place to support the increased traffic. Our quality of life and the unique look of our neighborhoods are being downgraded with the addition of those towering square boxes and I’m concerned and little angry about it. If I didn’t have to work such long hours to make sure I can afford the roof over my head, I’d be able to attend more meetings where I could “whine” and be ignored like everyone else. What you do with your property absolutely is your business, until it adversely affects the lives of your neighbors and their properties. If you don’t think that’s true then let’s put a brothel on the property next to your home… or a 15 story square apartment building butted up next against your house so those occupants can look down in your windows and yard every day.

    Comment by TanDL — 12:15 pm January 31, 2014 #

  6. good one TanDL

    Comment by Diane — 1:13 pm January 31, 2014 #

  7. @TanDL, “until it adversely affects the lives of your neighbors and their properties” – I wish more people understood this concept…

    Comment by If only — 8:02 pm January 31, 2014 #

  8. I miss the four-story cap!

    Comment by sydney — 12:07 pm February 5, 2014 #

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