By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Making its debut before the Southwest Design Review Board, the proposed Clearview Eye Clinic project at 7520 35th SW was sent back for a second round of Early Design Guidance.
Concerns included how the building would interact with the evolving streetscape – busy as 35th SW is, and can be – and whether it was too close to the street, and should be set back as are other buildings. A paucity of landscape was identified as a concern, too, as was the fact that the proposal includes a parking area fronting 35th SW, and how the site’s vehicle entries should work.
This project will be a medical/commercial building – no residential component – and the architect described an intent for its look to be “crisp, clean, and clear.” (We first reported the project plan two months ago.)
Four of the SWDRB’s five members (with T. Frick McNamara absent) were present, with planner Tami Garrett from the Department of Planning and Development.
Architect Peter Bocek from PB Architects explained that the clinic doctors are building a permanent home for their practice, with a staff of about 20, because their lease at Westwood Village is expiring:
“This is not a speculative project – this is going to be an owner-occupied project.” (PB also designed Youngstown Flats [WSB sponsor], Bocek pointed out, also noting he’s a West Seattle resident.)
The applicant is buying the entire site – on the east side of 35th between SW Webster and the Hillcrest Apartments – it was explained, but they’re only proposing to build on the south half of the site (replacing structures including the current home of Red Star Pizza – the “design packet” lays out exactly which part of the site they are proposing to build on; John’s Corner Deli, for example, is staying, they said). “It’s a very long block,” pointed out Bocek, saying the challenge and opportunity is to create a building that “enhances” it, and that leaves development potential for “someone” to use the north half in the future.
Part of the ground-floor retail at this planned building will be the clinic’s eye-wear center, while the clinic itself and a surgery center will be on the second and third floors. The practice sees about 100 patients a day, according to the architects.
The architects brought four alternatives for massing – size and shape. All would position the building toward the south side of the site, with some parking within the building (for use by both staff and patients), and open surface parking immediately north of it; they’re hoping to have about 40 spaces. (And board chair Laird Bennion agreed later that they would need every space they could get.)
The project team’s preferred option, #4, would be “just what the clients need – no more, no less,” Bocek explained. Among other points, it would be set back 5 feet on the alley, across from a single-family neighborhood; it would be a few feet higher than the apartment building south of it. The alley behind the site is currently unimproved, which would change with development, the architects note. The preferred entry would be off 35th, but it would have an entry from the alley as well; as Garrett noted late in the discussion, the city prefers alley access, so getting 35th access would require a “departure” (rule exception). The board said it would support one access from each side, rather than the current potential for two off 35th.
Only a few people came to the meeting, and no in-person public comments were offered; chair Bennion said that neighbors sent written comments to the board, while saying they were unable to attend the meeting. One of the concerns from those neighbors that he conveyed during the “board questions” section was regarding the aforementioned alley, and Bocek said “our intent is to improve it from Webster to our south property line.”
Board member Todd Bronk wondered why, with the long block, the building was proposed to be pushed right up to the sidewalk, as if it were “engaging the parking lot instead of the sidewalk,” especially considering the fact that the apartment building to its south is set back. He also wondered about having the parking behind the building rather than having any of it right alongside 35th. Bocek noted that having the building line more of 35th would not be preferable from an architectural standpoint because, as an eye clinic, it will “have a lot of windowless space.” (Much of that would be It will have two lobbies, one for the clinic and one for the surgery center, since a separate entry is required by law, Bocek said, and both will be along 35th.
Board member Matt Zinski expressed a concern about the site having very little landscaping/open space, citing research that the latter is good for health and healing.
In board deliberations, “height/bulk/scale” were identified as the biggest issues, right off the top. Its status as a “midblock site on a very busy street” also was called out.
Board member Daniel Skaggs said that option 2 seemed to both be a bridge to the future and respect the single-family homes behind. Bennion countered by saying that he preferred Option 4 because future car-use patterns would likely change. Board members wondered how the recommendations they make now will affect future development possibilities, without taking sections of the streetfront out of commission.
They also looked ahead to the “evolution” of the neighborhood and cited the failure of the project to address pedestrians’ needs – “You can’t walk up to this project,” Bronk observed. Board members referred repeatedly to the fact, also, that this is a business that will be closed in the evenings, leaving a “big empty zone,” though that’s not necessarily something the design process can address in a major way. Bronk thought it would be helpful to see projects with a similar layout. Skaggs thought the proposed layout was generally “like a mall.” The board members weren’t inclined to grant permission for “three [two-way] entrances with dead-head parking.” They wondered if underground parking might be considered. In the end, they were leaning toward a version of design option #2, rather than the project team’s preferred #4, although the architects said they would like to riff off both of those, so the board agreed with that. Re: #4’s layout, Bronk suggested some elements of the South Delridge Walgreens – which has parking fronting a busy street (Roxbury) and yet screened.
What’s next: Another meeting will be scheduled for a second round of Early Design Guidance. In the meantime, you can comment on the project by e-mailing planner Garrett – her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.