(Option 3 from design packet for 4505 42nd SW)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The second project seen by the Southwest Design Review Board in their 3 1/2-hour-plus Thursday night meeting was, like the first one, coming back for a second round of Early Design Guidance – that’s the stage in which the proposal is seen for general properties such as size and shape. Unlike the first one (3824 California SW, covered here), this one – 4505 42nd SW – got the go-ahead to move to the second stage of Design Review.
For this project, Steve Fischer of NK Architects presented the revised design proposal. The site, 6,900 square feet, is across an alley from the Senior Center of West Seattle, where the meeting was held.
It currently holds a single-family home but would be replaced with about 45 apartments over a floor of retail and about 17 parking spaces. It would still be about 70 feet tall, though it’s now six floors, because the top floor is expected to include a “loft”-style residential area, Fischer explained.
They are now planning to underground the electricity no matter what, he added.
The three options they’re bringing forward now all turn out to be something of a “box” because of requirements such as floor-area ratio (FAR), he said. But there are touches such as terraces on the upper-floor residential for some, weather-protection canopies all along the street-side retail, and in one, a raised-tower sort of treatment at the 42nd/Oregon corner. The orange shown in the design packet is not necessarily the color it would be, by the way – that’s why they call this stage “Early Design Guidance.”
The preferred option, #3, included units set back on the top floor, except for the tower element at the corner. Elements shown included what would face the Junction “free parking” lot adjacent to the south side of the building, taking into account that it would be very visible now, and maybe many years down the line, covered up by some kind of development there (not that any is proposed, but eventually it’s considered a possibility).
Fischer noted, they have not yet started “semantic design” – these are just concepts pending the board’s guidance.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Chair Laird Bennion wondered if the options were a “kit of parts” – interchangeable with each other, once the official designing begins. Fischer replied, “I was hoping (you) would favor one and let us lean into that.” Member Daniel Skaggs said there were some elements of 1 and 3 that he liked, and he identified this corner as a bit of a mini-gateway for cars coming up toward The Junction headed westward on Oregon.
Member T. Frick McNamara had concerns about how the retail entries might work, since they were not proposed at grade (street level). She also noted that the renderings weren’t showing the way things currently are along the site’s SW Oregon side, and said they should have.
New member Matt Zinski wanted to be sure the bright colors shown in the packet weren’t set in stone because they seemed more Miami than Seattle, to him. Fischer countered that since we live in such a gray area, he’s partial to “a little splash of color.”
PUBLIC COMMENT: “Below-grade commercial is not acceptable,” said Deb Barker, opening up the public-comment section. “Once below grade, always below grade, and I believe this board has an obligation to provide at-grade entries for this project up front, at least on 42nd.” She was interested in some of the elements of versions 2 and 3, and “I really hope this applicant can make their way to get over 70 feet, make a project with a tower that’s distinctive, because it’s going to be seen from a long, long way away.” Her advice, she said, was: “Work it!” She also wanted to make sure the south, parking-lot-facing wall is not ignored just because of the expectation that the parking lot will eventually be built over. “Do more than just throw different sorts of materials at that wall.”
No one else chose to speak.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: The big point of discussion and disagreement right off the top – McNamara reiterated that the topography of the site could be better addressed – insisting that 42nd’s retail entrance(s) should be at grade. The primary disagreement about the space’s future is whether the 4,000 square feet of retail space is likely to be occupied by one tenant or more. McNamara, who is a retail entrepreneur as well as landscape architect, pointed out that stores in this area aren’t looking for that much space. Bennion contended having it set up as one space offered more flexibility. “Different tenants will make that decision in the future, not us.” McNamara was adamant that if 42nd was not addressed at grade, “it’s a dead street.” She added, “I’d rather see (the retail entry) above grade on Oregon than below grade on 42nd.” Zinski suggested that while it wasn’t up to them to make the decision, it was up to them to offer strong guidance. In the end, city planner Beth Hartwick said they didn’t need to settle the issue immediately.
As for which of the options were preferred in general, 3 seemed to win the most support, with “elements of option 1” – tower a little bit higher; “we are not yet of one mind on what to do about the overhang,” Bennion summarized. “Glass canopies get ugly quick,” Zinski warned.
And as for the south side of the building, Bennion wanted to be sure there’s a stair tower and some windows, the latter especially so that some light gets through when the parking lot gets developed someday. So #3’s south side was preferred. Another question – would the top floor be designed with the thought that it would be seen from elsewhere?
Ultimately, key points of the guidance offered toward the end:
*Massing mix of 1 and 3 – particularly interested in articulated corner
*Still mixed on overhang along Oregon
*Still mixed on whether the retail entries could be sunken or not
There will be at least one more meeting about the project, once its design details are worked out; we’ll publish an update when that date is set. Any comments, meantime, about design or other aspects of the project, can be sent to Hartwick – firstname.lastname@example.org.