(Renderings: Roger H. Newell AIA Architects)
Eight months after architect Roger Newell presented the 2626 Alki Avenue SW proposal to the Alki Community Council – not mandatory, but always a gesture of goodwill to consult community groups early on – it debuted in the city public-meeting process tonight, before the five-member Southwest Design Review Board.
(Ironically, ACC members couldn’t be there because it was their regular meeting night, during which they heard about a different Alki project – we were there too; watch for the story tomorrow.)
After two hours, SWDRB members decided 2626 Alki SW (map) should come back for a second Early Design Guidance meeting, because “it’s too maxed out right now” on the site, as member Todd Bronk put it. A key point of concern will be the details along the 59th SW side of the building. They’re also interested in seeing it broken into two buildings, considering that the site has two different zoning designations – one building could address each.
The one-meeting project ran long, though, as the board slogged through new citywide Design Review guidelines that recently took effect.
You can follow along with the presentation via looking at the “design packet” here. Three structures on the site now would be demolished (current tenants include Lucky LadyZ marijuana dispensary, Saigon Boat Café, Alki Landing Properties and Alki Beach Dog); the proposal calls for a three-story building with up to 15 apartments, 5 live-work units, and more than 3,000 square feet of commercial space.
ARCHITECT’S PRESENTATION: The site has two zones – LR2 on southern side, NC-1-30 on the northern side, both with 30-foot height maximums, not counting exceptions that could add up to 10′ on part of the site. The site is level, 13,700 square feet, in a peat-settlement zone (which is why parking can’t be dug into the ground here, as they discovered over a year of studying the water table and other site-soils issues). He pointed to “a variety of styles” of buildings in the area, both new and old.
The “preferred scheme” (above) is one of four Newell presented. One thing all four have in common is a driveway right at the corner, which is all zoning will allow them to do, he said. They are considering undergrounding too.
Overall, they’re looking at a green building — all options are LEED silver – “where the structure expresses the architecture” – including large windows. Screening off the first-floor parking will be an issue, Newell acknowledged. Heavy timber, steel, masonry, concrete are among the possible materials, “no decisions made yet.”
Zoning departures (exceptions) would include driveway width.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Bronk complimented Newell for clearly explaining the design process and the reasons for the decisions that were made.
T. Frick McNamara asked how they were meeting the parking requirements (which are different on Alki, not an urban village). Just making the minimum, they said. She followed up by saying the frontage along 59th seemed like a blank facade. And she asked about the tight space with the sidewalk and driveway and whether any space could be made for outdoor seating.
Chair Myer Harrell followed up on the peat-settlement issue; Newell said they’ve known about it for a few years and that “there’s a lot of potential problems” raised by the restrictions that type of soil leads to.
They also talked about the fine points, including where the refuse pickup is from.
PUBLIC COMMENT: Craig, who lives nearby, said those on Marine might be in shadow – no other three-story buildings on the block, “my view of the Olympics is going to be history.” He brought up a zoning code section that had come up years ago with another proposed project; planner Lindsay King wasn’t familiar with it and asked him to send it to her.
Former board member Deb Barker spoke up and said she believes the site would be “overbuilt” under the plan, since it’s going for as much as is allowed, and “deadens” the west side. She suggests the applicant start over and consider more ground-floor uses. “It’s absolutely wasted to put up a wall to screen a whole lot of cars.” The driveway is too close to the intersection, she said. The glass walls seem “off-putting and way too slick for Alki,” Barker said, suggesting the glass facade be broken into small spaces and be made “more Alki-like”instead of what she considered more resembling “South Lake Union.” She mentioned wind, salt spray, and how they might affect the landscaping. “Setting up something lovely and lush and green is going to be a maintenance nightmare.” She brought up an Alki project built while she was on board but said its ground floor is still empty and she hoped that wouldn’t happen to this one.
Next was a man who said he owns a building on the northeast side of this site and was wondering about utility hookups. He was advised to communicate with planner King.
Tom, who lives nearby, said he is concerned about the parking access, so close to the corner, and feels people coming off Alki trying to make a left turn there would cause congestion – “it’s too close to the corner to cut across.” He also suggested that breaking up the glass front might be good.
Michelle, who co-owns Alki Beach Tattoo, spoke next. She asked for a look at the current street view with the existing buildings. “How far out is that wall of the parking structure going to come out?” Right now the view is part of their business’s selling point, so she wondered if they were going to lose it. “So are we just going to see a wall?”
“Pretty much,” somebody said.
“It’s going to be dark, we’re going to lose our view …” she said.
The earlier speaker turned out to be her landlord. He also wondered how much space would be between buildings.
Not much, if it goes to the property line.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: They were working with new guidelines, and had to look at components such as neighborhood character and the site’s natural features.
“I think from a massing standpoint, (the plan along) 59th gives me heartburn,” said McNamara. “The fact that parking is driving a blank wall, something needs to give there.” She also expressed concern that adjacent residents and businesses would be looking at some of the uncovered parking on the site. “I agree with the comment that it’s potentially being overbuilt.”
The discussion of how traffic and pedestrians flow on Alki led to much discussion.
McNamara said again, “The pink elephant in the room is that we are trying to max out a site …” (The Alki parking guidelines require a certain number of spaces per square feet of building.)
Breaking down the scale was the next recommendation at which they arrived.
The new guidelines included “year-round activity,” and a short discussion ensued about locals’ year-round use of Alki. Also, the site’s proximity to Whale Tail, Alki Playfield, and a walking route to the north end of Schmitz Park, it was suggested, makes a “blank wall” even more problematic.
Concern was also voiced about canopies possibly hanging so far over the sidewalk that light wouldn’t penetrate and there would be a dark corridor there along the street.
They continued running through the new guidelines. But there were still basic decisions to be made – like the size and shape (height/bulk/scale). McNamara said she wasn’t so sure they really offered multiple options.
To the neighbors’ concerns, they thought some setback might be appropriate.
Ultimately, they thought a second Early Design Guidance meeting would be more valuable than sending the project to the “recommendations” phase and winding up with at least two meetings there.
STILL TIME TO COMMENT: Send your thoughts to email@example.com – the assigned planner can accept comments up until any project wins final approval.
SIDE NOTE – ABOUT THOSE GUIDELINES: The revisions approved by the City Council at the end of last year also affect specific Junction, Admiral, and Morgan plans – all linked here. From that document, here are the titles of the guidelines on which Design Review boards around the city are supposed to evaluate projects:
Context and Site
CS1. Natural Systems and Site Features
A. Energy Use
B. Sunlight and Natural Ventilation
D. Plants and Habitat
CS2. Urban Pattern and Form
A. Location in the City and Neighborhood
B. Adjacent Sites, Streets, and Open Spaces
C. Relationship to the Block
D. Height, Bulk, and Scale
CS3. Architectural Context and Character
A. Emphasizing Positive Neighborhood Attributes
B. Local History and Culture
A. Network of Open Spaces
B. Walkways and Connections
C. Outdoor Uses and Activities
B. Safety and Security
C. Weather Protection
PL3. Street-Level Interaction
B. Retail Edges
C. Residential Edges
PL4. Active Transportation
A. Entry Locations and Relationships
B. Planning Ahead for Bicyclists
C. Planning Ahead for Transit
DC1. Project Uses and Activities
A. Arrangement of Interior Uses
B. Vehicular Access and Circulation
C. Parking and Service Uses
DC2. Architectural Concept
B. Architectural and Façade Composition
C. Secondary Architectural Features
D. Scale and Texture
E. Form and Function
DC3. Open Space Concept
A. Building-Open Space Relationship
B. Open Spaces Uses and Activities
A. Exterior Elements and Finishes
D. Trees, Landscape and Hardscape Materials