(“Concept drawing” by Roger Newell AIA Architects)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Neither board members nor neighbors were thrilled with what they saw – but, with extensive comments and recommendations, board members agreed unanimously to allow the project to move on to the next phase anyway, with a stack of suggestions for tweaks and changes to be made, after extensive discussion.
(Architect Thompson at left, board at the table in right side of photo)
Architect Neal Thompson presented on behalf of Roger H. Newell AIA Architects (see the “design packet” here). As he noted, the project would replace eight residential units and commercial properties including a pet shop, medical-marijuana dispensary, and restaurant. It will offer two retail/restaurant spaces as well as 13 apartments and 23 surface parking spaces – it can’t offer an underground garage because of soil conditions (a peat-settlemenet zone) at the site, the architect reminded the board.
Referring to feedback from the first Early Design Guidance meeting, Thompson showed a two-building proposal.
For inspiration, he cited ’50s/’60s Northwest post/beam architecture such as the Magnolia Library, as well as natural elements of the nearby beach, such as sandstone. In a change from the first EDG, he mentioned fewer bays lining the building’s Alki Avenue frontage. The vehicle entry would be on 59th, near the corner. Thompson said the location is dictated by the fact that city rules don’t allow entrance on a building’s commercial side, if it might be vehicles for the commercial businesses, as in this case.
They’ve designed the building with a setback on the top (third) floor to “reduce the impact on Alki,” as well as a setback on the east side to reduce the impact on the neighboring residential street. They’ve added residential units to the ground floor in hopes of “increasing eyes on the street” and “enhancing the street-level experience.”
Kayak and bicycle storage is planned to “respond to the active lifestyle that happens on Alki.” Its street-facing wall will be glass so that passersby can see what’s inside. There will also be a “social area” along the street and a covered bus-stop area, near a set-back corner area that might, Thompson said, be suitable for a restaurant. Four street trees are planned along the Alki side, and a mix of trees and “small shrubs” along the 59th side. Rooftop landscaping is planned as well.
Board questions: T. Frick McNamara sought clarification about the canopy along Alki – it’s six feet wide and beneath the second-floor units’ decking, Thompson replied. She also wondered if the architects had looked at the second-floor residential space above the building that currently houses Alki businesses including Starbucks.
In response to Matt Zinski‘s question about height, Thompson explained that the first floor would be able to get to 13′ high because of a change in the shoreline zoning that’s expected to take effect later this year, before construction begins, making for a total building height of 34’, four feet higher than would have been allowed otherwise. Todd Bronk wondered if the architects weren’t trying to jam too much into the ground floor and asked if they considered reducing the number of residential units so they wouldn’t need as many parking spaces (Alki is governed by city rules dictating how many offstreet spaces must be included).
Daniel Skaggs expressed concern about a “blank wall,” which Thompson had said earlier would be concrete on which some texturing could be used. Board chair Laird Bennion had Thompson confirm that the building’s stair tower would be primarily glass.
Design Review meetings always have a public-comment period, and three people spoke tonight: Nearby resident Craig said the project will affect him in terms of view and light, and wondered about the building considering putting some of its parking underground so it wouldn’t be so high and in order to “maintain the character of the neighborhood.” (Planner Lindsay King said there is a “code (zoning) reason” why this building can’t have underground parking; Craig said that there are relatively new structures in the area that do have underground parking.) He also suggested the combination of pedestrians and turning cars with the entrance at 59th and Alki could further worsen the “regular … (summertime) game of chicken” played by vehicles and people on foot. He also wondered where the delivery trucks serving the businesses would be parking, saying his street – Marine Avenue- already is affected by commercial vehicles illegally parking. He asked about light studies for the project, suggesting that less light will mean more cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
A 40-year area resident spoke next, also talking about Marine Avenue, noting how narrow it is and how some of its residents have to park on the street because their homes don’t have offstreet parking at all. She also said the 2001 earthquake “destroyed (her) home” because of the proximity of the Seattle Fault.
The third and final speaker was Deb Barker, former board member/chair who comments at many project reviews. She said she was glad to see residential uses on the ground floor along 59th but hoped they would be more than entrances for second-floor use. She said she still feels the way she did when speaking at the first review, that the project “feels overbuilt.” She noted that at least three alleys in the area run north/south with entrance/exit right onto Alki and wondered why this building couldn’t have that kind of entrance/exit instead. And she said that the office portion of the building still feels “monolithic” and not responsive to the beach atmosphere; the glassed-in bike/kayak area sounded to her like a waste of sidewalk-level space and potential view. “For me, it feels as if this project has gone backward,” she finished.
During board deliberations, Skaggs carried on with that sentiment: “I’m disappointed in what we’re seeing this time.” Matt Zinski said he felt he was seeing something “suburban … completely out of character with this neighborhood … a big step backward with the concept of what the massing could be.” McNamara said that she didn’t feel the request to break the project into two buildings to break up the “monolithic feel” had been truly responded to. Zinski agreed with that. The proposal “just doesn’t fit,” declared Bronk. The kayak/bicycle room “could almost be another unit,” space-wise, observed Bennion. The efficiency of the project as one building appealed to him. McNamara said the massing on the west side didn’t fit the neighborhood; other board members pointed out, though, that Alki is something of a hodgepodge. Bronk expressed regret that the most appealing aspects of the original design seemed to have been lost: “There’s got to be another solution here.” He also suggested the upper floors were “robbing from the public right-of-way” where he felt they should be stepping back. McNamara also expressed concern about the decks’ intrusion onto the right of way.
On the other hand, Bennion said, if the building uses “really great materials,” it wouldn’t be a negative for it to “come right up to the right-of-way.”
He and McNamara sparred a bit on the building’s potential interaction with the neighborhood, with Bennion noting that the neighborhood didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be yet, and McNamara said this is the time and the sort of process in which to start creating spaces that will enhance the neighborhood.
Bronk worried about how the building would age over the next decade or so, fearing it would be “really bad,” and wondering about its leasability. Bennion said the location alone will make them leasable no matter what. McNamara, meantime, wondered about some vertical landscaping to create more of a buffer for the existing residential properties south of the building.
The parking area shouldn’t just be a blank stretch of asphalt, but should have more characteristics of a “parking court,” they said. Maybe even pavers that are a lighter color, Bronk suggested. Would permeable pavement be possible? they wondered.
And facing Alki, they are looking for an “open facade.” But there was some debate over how lively the east side would have to be, given that the building next door likely would be demolished for redevelopment eventually; in general, more glass was requested.
They indicated they would approve zoning exceptions that were requested for the project.
Also, the board recommended swapping the elevator and stair towers. And though materials are not always a subject at the Early Design Guidance stage, they requested that architects go back to some of the timber use that was envisioned in early drawings for the first round of EDG.
Something to say about this project before its next Design Review meeting? City planner King is the person to whom you should send your comment(s) – firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIDE NOTE: This was the last meeting for chair Bennion, who is moving out of Seattle to attend a graduate program at MIT (after which, he said, he hopes to return to the city). That creates a vacancy on the board; we’ll be checking with DPD to see if they are taking applications or planning to fill it another way.