By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Southwest Design Review Board has just given its final blessing to the design of 1307 Harbor SW, the mixed-use project planned for the former Alki Tavern site and neighboring parcels, following a meeting that revealed more about what the building will be used for – residential units are a small part of what it will hold.
The board’s part of the process ended with the minimum amount of meetings – Early Design Guidance approval in April 2014, and a final recommendation tonight. Four of the board’s five members were present for the meeting, the first part of a doubleheader – chair Todd Bronk, T. Frick McNamara, Matt Zinski, and Donald Caffrey.
Here’s how it unfolded:
DESIGN PRESENTATION: As always, the meeting began with the architects’ presentation (see the renderings and other info in the “packet”), given by Tim Rhodes from West Seattle-based Rhodes Architecture and Light and Brian Court from design firm Miller Hull Partnership. Rhodes and M/H are working together on the project, he explained. “This is a building that’s being constructed by a large international garment producer – the kinds of garments they make, you might find at REI – so a large part of the building is for the owner.” The “light manufacturing” is really “design prototyping”; there’s also a restaurant, some retail, and parking. “This is a company that employs people in West Seattle, has a staff in West Seattle and is growing.”
Some of the 15 apartments planned for the 66,000-square-foot mixed-use building might also be used by the owner, he said, while some might be leased. The project is “slightly different” from what it was at the first meeting. It had two floors of underground parking but that’s now “economically impossible” because of the water they discovered, so parking has been brought to grade, split between apartment and office. It has a hillclimb and “places to hang out … not a blank facade as some places along Alki are.”
The building won’t just turn its back on the hillside, said Court. “The owner didn’t want it to be a stand-alone, impenetrable corporate building … they wanted to get people moving through the site.” He said it’s been two years since the last review because they’ve been figuring out the parking situation. Now there are two garage doors, but they’ve kept the conceptual massing that passed Early Design Guidance in one try in 2014. They’ll be using a “European mechanical lift system” to get two cars into one spot – still “less than the dewatering costs” would have been. Rhodes said the “average apartment resident” will be able to operate the lifts, but they also have ground-level parking. (27 parking spaces in all – 18 mechanically assisted, 9 at street level.) Added Court, “We kept finding ‘win-win’ (solutions) to the constraints of the site.” The breezeway and the residential lobby will share some space, but residential and office will have separate lobbies, including a “separate, discrete office entry.” The restaurant will be two stories, along the breezeway.
Stairs along the breezeway will have seating steps, so there’s a place where people can sit along “the sunny side” in the morning with coffee and pastries. The landscape architect pointed out the street trees along Harbor and native plantings on the hillside, some of which will be along the foundation that will be saved from the otherwise to-be-demolished house on the slope behind the building. “We’re trying to embrace the history of the site – it’ll be like a ruin,” said Court. He also said plants will be climbing on areas of the building.
He showed the building’s planned material pallette, which you can see in the packet. Because of the materials and glass, “the building will have a much different personality for different parts of the day,” Court said. Overall, they’re trying to “break the building into pieces” so it’s not monolithic. He also promised the lighting would not be overwhelming, nor would the signage. The signs would have “a sense of authentic materiality,” including a “bold splash of color” for the restaurant sign along the breezeway.
And Court said shadow studies show the park area across the street will still see “90-some percent of the sunlight” that it would see without the project.
BOARD MEMBERS’ QUESTIONS: Zinski asked for clarification on how the sign-design principles would be applied. Court said they’re thinking of having three potential design traits, and signs would have to meet at least two of them. Zinski then asked if another crosswalk would be planned by the building; Court said no, there’s one just a short distance down Harbor. In response to a question by McNamara, the architects said the bicycle-parking requirements would be exceeded. Caffrey asked about the wood elements of the building and how that would be protected. Court said, “Our philosophy is that if wood is where you can get at it easily,” maintenance will be easy, and that’s why they chose where the wood is going in the project. Board chair Todd Bronk asked about attention to traffic safety and noise details; there will be mirrors but they won’t be protruding.
PUBLIC COMMENT: Most of those who spoke were nearby condo residents. First person said he had a concern about the setback; without one, the project will block his condo’s view of the bay and Salty’s, while a 12-foot setback would preserve it. He says a rowhouse project that went in recently already cost him $100,000 worth of view. The second person, also a nearby condo resident, said they will “lose just as much view as he will lose if you don’t have a setback.” She asked if it was still a seven-story building as they had been told last year; no, six stories, but built up to 65′, as far as allowed by city zoning, Court replied, with some features on the roof. Third person to comment also lives next door and had a question about traffic and pedestrian visibility; the challenges now aren’t going to change, he was told. Fourth person to speak feared vandalism on the wood touches. Asked where the restaurant will be venting, “75 feet above grade,” replied Court. The restaurant will be about 2,500 square feet, Rhodes said in reply to a followup.
Fifth speaker was the first who wasn’t a neighbor, former DRB chair Deb Barker. She recalled the “excellent massing alternatives” provided at the EDG meeting in 2014, “best she’d ever seen.” While she lauded the architects for a “very good presentation,” she focused her comments on the departures – requested exceptions from zoning rules. She first voiced concern about “maintaining the transparency of the street-level spaces.” She said she supported the requested departures regarding the parking areas, while “throw(ing) out the idea … to seek some alternatives to the width of the garage doors.” And she supported the exception required for the breezeway to be used instead of a courtyard, provided there’s “good signage at the top and the bottom to ensure its availability as a public space … to make sure people know, you can use it, as a free space.”
BOARD COMMENTS: All the “departures” were approved. Overall, generally positive sentiments were voiced, especially regarding the breezeway plan. Zinski said it’s “creating a better-designed project” with more access. “They’re making strong connections,” added McNamara, though she added a suggestion for “specialty paving” leading to the doors of the retail outlets. The possibility of a narrower entry to the garage was discussed; 22 feet is the minimum, it was noted. Color and texture to stress a pedestrian emphasis would help as part of the streetscape, it was agreed. Overall, considering the safety and utility of the pedestrian access was urged. The massing overall won raves. Making sure pedestrians get a “visual cue” for the retail and restaurant spaces was a concern voiced by Zinski, supported by Caffrey and McNamara, who said it’s “going to be difficult for retail in this area” so she supported the idea, provided it wasn’t something outside like “the Petco sign” at Capco Plaza in The Junction. She spoke of the need for “experiential human scale … that makes it interactive and fun.”
As for the neighbors worried about losing views, Bronk said he felt the “public benefit” of the building would outlaw that, and noted that it’s often said in these meetings, you can’t control what happens next to you. McNamara wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be commercial signage on the hill side of the hillclimb. Maybe only “public access to waterfront” type signage, it was suggested.
SOMETHING TO SAY? Planner Carly Guillory continues to accept feedback while the project remains under review. firstname.lastname@example.org is her address.