(Harbor Ave-facing view of project team’s preferred ‘massing’)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Both board members and two regular citizen commenters lauded Public47 Architects for an Early Design Guidance presentation that actually included divergent options for the project’s potential “massing” (size/shape), instead of paying little more than visual lip service to the requirement of offering options.
The project involves what are technically two adjacent sites separated by a 23-foot-wide “unimproved right of way” on which they mention an opportunity for public stairs. (There’s another unimproved right of way just north of the site, too.) We had made note of this site a few years back because it was previously owned by fugitive real-estate investor Michael Mastro (who also had owned what are now The Residences at 3295, a mile up the hill at 35th/Avalon). It then went into foreclosure, and was bought by new, unrelated owners who are behind this plan.
The proposal comes amid a mini-boom of projects along West Seattle’s northern waterfront, along Harbor and Alki Avenues; we reported earlier this week on new details of what’s in the works for the ex-Alki Tavern site, and one of last month’s Design Review meetings focused on the Alki Landing project at 59th/Alki.
Now, on to the details of last night’s presentation and decisionmaking:
The architects called the 23,000-square-foot site an “eclectic and exciting intersection of recreational, residential, commercial, and industrial” uses. It’s zoned C1-40 – 40-foot-height limit – with single family zoning to the west and an industrial zone to the east. They hope to “respond” to the residential uses to the west, and expand the commercial uses now exemplified to the east. The south side is in the “frequent transit” area and the north side outside it, so the two buildings have differing parking requirements, architect Scot Carr said. The number of units and parking spaces will depend on the final design, but currently 3303 is proposed for about 45 units/40 spaces, and 3257 for about 44 units/44 spaces.
Existing stairs at Porter Way (north of the site) led them to photograph and catalog in the packet – which you can see here – a number of other stairways.
Three massing alternatives were shown: The site’s slope means a wide digression in its elevations. They are proposing live-work along Harbor, with residential units over that. Unless they are granted a zoning “departure” (exception), the parking access has to go off 30th SW, the way city rules are written, which the architects call a “challenge” given 30th’s residential character. Their first alternative would be “code-complaint” but then the other two diverge and would have a parking entrance off Harbor.
Alternative 3 would break the project into what in essence looks like four buildings (image atop this story), with reduced height “more sympathetic to the 30th Avenue context” but increased along Harbor. Its courtyard space would appear to be an extension of SW City View. The parking would be off Porter Way for the north building, off Harbor for the south building.
Landscape architect Karen Kiest presented a sketch showing how the streets in the area “all come together” – the project will “create a clear street edge along 30th,” she noted, and “further describe Porter Way where it is now” as well as creating a pedestrian route along City View. Landscaping would also be new along 30th SW.
BOARD QUESTIONS: T. Frick McNamara was the first to extend the compliment mentioned at the start of this report – in her almost-year on the board, she said it’s the first project that truly offered three distinct massing options for consideration at Early Design Guidance, as is supposed to be done by all projects. Laird Bennion seconded that, before voicing concern about how parking is really going to work on the site. He suggested the project team might dare to take a street vacation request for City View (underground) to the city – something they had said they didn’t want to do because it would take a long time – to make parking less problematic. Todd Bronk expressed some concern that the street-level live-work seemed a little too small. Chair Myer Harrell suggested the project could be a good candidate for the upcoming Puget Sound Bike Share, especially given its location so close to the bike trail and the West Seattle Bridge.
PUBLIC COMMENTS: Deb Barker began by echoing that she also hadn’t seen a massing study that good in 10 years – including her time on the Design Review Board. She suggested DPD staff take this back and show as an example of “what should be required for EDG.” She also said seeking a street vacation to connect underground garages woul be appropriate.
2nd commenter says he likes Option 3 but too little parking could be bad news. Overall, he said it looks a lot better than he expected.
3rd commenter, Margaret, lives in a house in the area and wondered if street changes would be happening near the house. That sort of decision, noted Harrell, would be later in the process.
4th commenter, frequent attendee Diane Vincent, added to the praise for the packet offering options – “let the people at the DPD know ‘this is what we want’.” She said she came with low expectations otherwise.
5th commenter said he was glad the presentation was available beforehand (the packets are published online by DPD, usually at least a week in advance) “so I knew to leave my pitchfork and torch at home.” He did have a concern – about U-turns on Harbor in the area.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: No major criticisms. They renewed the suggestion of a street vacation so that a parking garage could be connected underground for the entire project. City planner Beth Hartwick said one challenge with that is that the city Design Commission, which has to sign off on those proposals, is really backed up.
Bennion said he had faith the project team would do “something good” except that he wanted to include a caveat to be sure all four sections weren’t exact replicas, leaving the project looking like “college dorms.” The stairway through the project, aka breezeway, would “need a strong lighting plan,” Bennion suggested and other members agreed. The weather protection overhang was a point of concern. They decided they would support departures for garage access off Harbor and Porter. Though this is too early in the process for material decisions, members warned that their expectations are high for the next phase, given that this project seems to be “off to a killer start.”
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS? Send them to planner Hartwick at email@example.com. This project will have at least one more Design Review meeting, at which more-detailed renderings will be shown, but the date for that won’t likely be set for at least a few weeks.
SIDE NOTE: Chair Harrell’s time on the board is ending after two 2-year terms; he told us afterward this might have been his final meeting. (added) Pending City Council confirmation, Matthew Zinski will be joining the board.