By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time in months, the Southwest Design Review Board had a full house – this time for the first look (aka “Early Design Guidance”) at nine live-work units proposed at 4220 SW 100th in Arbor Heights.
At meeting’s end, they told the project team to come back for a second round of Early Design Guidance, after an intense hour and a half of comments, questions, and concerns.
The project’s assigned city planner Tami Garrett asked if anyone had questions before the meeting – and they did. About parking, and even about who the board members were and how they were appointed. (Like the city’s other DRBs, they are volunteers, appointed by the City Council. When there’s an opening, it’s announced publicly, with a call for applications.)
Three were present – Matt Zinski as chair, with Robin Murphy (a fill-in and former member) and Alexandra Moravec.
Here’s how the meeting unfolded:
(Here’s the “design packet.”)
From Lemons Architecture, Jonathan Lemons described it as a “nine-unit live-work community,” planned by new owners Claremont Partners LLC for the former Church of Christ site next to Brace Point Pottery, zoned NC1-30, currently holding a building that he said is 24 feet tall at its highest point. “Historically this has been zoned as a commercial area.” He recalled the building’s history as a grocery store; in the city’s 1961 zoning map, it was a commercial zone. “Downtown Arbor Heights,” as one resident pointed out.
47 percent of the “ground plane” is proposed as open space, Lemons noted, compared to 82 percent site coverage with the existing building. He noted that parking access would be from the alley, and that there would be a “gap” of up to 30 feet between these buildings and the properties to the north. The storefronts in the live-works will have wood awnings, for a “nice warmth and character for these storefronts so they are places where people will want to be, businesses that can be successful,” Lemons said, with “a continuous retail edge.”
Though Early Design Guidance usually just focuses on size and shape, often with black-and-white drawings, Lemons showed some conceptual sketches, repeatedly referring to the intended look as “warm.” He also explained live-work, saying it could either be the resident running their own business at ground level, or leasing that space out. He showed a page of “possible options” for the business space -“an art gallery, photography studio, juice bar, bakery … any number of spaces could occupy that.”
As is required at EDG, Lemons showed three massing options – the tallest of which would pull the project further back from the property line. The first one would “create a lot of density on the street” but would get closer to the north edge and would have less parking. The second one would set the buildings back further from the street to create an open space but would get even closer to the north edge; it would have a “woonerf,” which he explained as a space to be used “both as a pedestrian and motor court.” The third and preferred-by-development-team option is the one that would be 30 feet away from the north property line, Lemons said, and steps down to two stories fronting the intersection. “It creates a separate place for parking” toward the back of the site, he said, one that also would function as a woonerf. It would need a new curb cut so the cars could enter and exit from/onto California SW.
From the design packet, he showed the differences between how the existing building relates to nearby properties, and how the proposed project would relate to them; despite being a taller building, theirs would shade neighbors less, he said.
The second part of Design Review meetings involves questions from board members; Zinski opened by asking about the request for a zoning-rule “departure” involving the parking configuration; Lemons replied that they wanted “a more generous retail space” in part of the building. Zinski also asked about the landscaping plan, which Lemons hadn’t gotten to when his 20 minutes ran out. (You can see it in the packet.)
Murphy wondered why the “preferred” design breaks the project into two separate buildings. “We understand that this is a very big building compared to some of the (nearby) houses,” Lemons said, saying that otherwise it “felt out of scale with the neighborhood” if there wasn’t a gap. Murphy also asked about screening on the north line; Lemons said there’s a row of trees currently along the property to the north, and that they intend features to echo that.
Moravec asked about the lighting; Lemons said it would be oriented toward the ground. She also asked for more details on the setbacks in the preferred scheme. On the north, they have walls that would be 25 and 30 feet from the property line; on other sides, because it’s an NC (Neighborhood Commercial) zone, there are no setbacks required, but they plan a green strip at least a foot wide along some of the storefronts.
Murphy expressed concerns about the parking configuration and whether it could be successful.
Zinski asked for clarification on some of the exterior elements envisioned on the buildings, and then “can you briefly described why this is a great project?”
“We are an office that doesn’t do a great volume of work … we feel very honored to work on this project … this has always been a retail site, and the adjacent site has been a live-work … a bigger apartment building would be out of scale with the neighborhood.”
Zinski then asked “what is absolutely essential to maintain the greatness of this project?”
“The scale … and proportions,” said Lemons, “and putting the parking on the back.”
The crowd had grown to standing room only by the time Zinski laid out ground rules and requested that because of time constraints, people limit themselves to two minutes. Some written comments also were gathered from cards that were made available.
Some of those who spoke identified themselves, some did not (it’s always optional).
First: Jonathan Fisher, who said he lives a block away: “What improvements are you making to the alley, to the right of way at California/100th, what parking is going to be available to a visitor to these businesses?”
Lemons’s team said the frontage of the alley would be paved and sidewalks would be improved and there will be street parking along California and 100th, “five to eight spaces.” But the question was repeated, where will customers park? The spaces on the back of the building could be made available to them, but that’s up to the businesses.
Another attendee asked, “How are pedestrians going to get there? We don’t even have a bus any more.”
Zinski then stepped in to reiterate the rules. The person concerned about transportation said, “Part of design is function … I don’t see the function of this building at all fitting into the neighborhood. Yes, 50+ years ago it was a Thriftway, but for (all the time she’s lived there) it’s been a church.” She said the neighborhood “is the only one in Seattle where multiple generations stay in the neighborhood because it’s residential, it’s quiet, it’s family-oriented …This is not the culture of our neighborhood. And the views – I’m going to lose my view.”
Third to speak said he is “two doors down from this thing … I love the neighborhood. It’s fantastic, it’s quiet, it’s relaxed, it’s a freakin’ neighborhood …This is never … If you’re going to do something small, do a townhouse … Something needs to happen at this corner. It doesn’t have to be retail. I’m not going to leave my house to buy a cup of coffee down the road.” He said there’s a retirement home nearby and is sad for their future. He also expressed concern about shadowing from the building. “They can say what they want about the distance … (and the height)… I know we’re all 30 feet, I guess I could sell my property … This isn’t a retail area.”
That brought applause from around the room.
Next person, Frank, “three houses to the north of this,” said he thought it was “playing fast and loose with the height, with the additional boxes on top,” and said he would feel more comfortable with balconies facing 100th, no roof garden, a height more like 30′. “It appears the building is significantly higher than 30 feet … it’s not like you’re putting a flagpole up, you’re putting an additional structure, people on the roof …”
After him: “Do those work centers, are they required to have a business in them, or is it going to be part of their house?” Zinski said that a live-work is required to have a work component that could be a home-based business. “So it might not be retail,” said the resident. “It could be someone who prepares taxes,” offered Moravec. She reminded attendees that the site “is zoned commercial … that is what the city of Seattle has designed it to be.”
Next, a resident said he didn’t think the businesses would be viable without people coming from other neighborhoods. Walking in the area would be infeasible because of the topography, he added.
Then a self-identified “system engineer” who said he couldn’t understand why the building has no basement and no underground parking. He also wondered “why so many units?”
Then, a resident who said she understands it’s been commercially zoned forever, but “for 30 years it was a church with a very small congregation … the current building, as sad as it is, has more parking.” She also voiced concern – “for the future environmental review” – about stormwater runoff in the area, a problem, she said, even before redevelopment.
Zinski noted that there will be an environmental review (comments on that should go to Garrett, by the way) which would involve such concerns.
Loren Lukens, who owns and lives at Brace Point Pottery next door, said he was glad to see neighbors there. “I think it looks great … I have a business there and I’ve been there for 20 years … it’s been great for us. I would like to have more business there next to us in beautiful downtown Arbor Heights.” He said the phrase is “tongue in cheek” now but he hopes it will come true.
“Where’s the shade on your place, Loren?” asked an attendee. “You’re the least affected.”
Lukens went on to say the project “could make my life more difficult,” but he saw that as a separate conversation.
He was followed by a person identifying himself as a third-generation resident and voicing concerns about parking – “why can’t you put some underground parking?” He also asked reconsideration of “size and shape … those buildings are very large compared to our house …it’s going to be a monster looking down to the west, like a King Kong looking down at the little houses.”
Next to comment, Laurie Yamashita, walked to the front of the room and thanked everyone for coming. She said she is owner of an assisted-living facility nearby, with capacity of 15 residents, “frail, elderly dementia clients.” They chose it because it was quiet, and designed it to fit in with the neighborhood, she recounted. They met with neighbors to be sure it would fit in. The pottery shop fits in – “quaint, quiet, peaceful, loving … that’s what Arbor Heights is about … it’s a residential area,” she said. Her issues: “I think growth is good, but, it’s a basic right for neighbors to have quiet enjoyment … the developer is going to deprive us and our dementia clients of a quiet enjoyment that is not going to happen with the small city that is going to be planted in here.” She voiced concern that crime has gone up in West Seattle “since all the apartment buildings have gone up.” She said she’s worried about various types of potential businesses – “could a 24-hour nightclub go in?”
Then a resident “directly across the street” who said he is a third-generation resident of the neighborhood. “It’s a very quiet neighborhood, I love the neighborhood,” and he came back here after living in other states. “The community is a community, it’s not a town … the church used to be the community center …” He worked at a grocery there when he was 14. “I want my neighborhood to stay a livable neighborhood … You live in the city but you don’t feel like you live in the city…. I’m not opposed to change, but at least (think) out the scope, how big it is … This is too big. … I would like to see this go into more serious review,” especially its maximum height, he said.
The person who followed said the site hadn’t been used as “a commercial zone” for more than 30 years. He said the project looks like “a lovely building … it just doesn’t belong in our neighborhood.” He mentioned traffic with “cars going really fast getting to and from the ferry,” and said he’s worried that the businesses would bring more of that. “When was the zoning last addressed? Was it addressed in 1950 when the Thriftway was built and hasn’t been (reviewed) since then? What’s going to stop someone who wants to bring in a wood shop and be making furniture with a buzzsaw at all hours?” A commercial space like Brace Point Pottery, he wouldn’t mind – that drew some applause – but this wouldn’t fit with “the rhythm of the neighborhood,” he concluded.
Next: “We’re talking about a nine-unit potential strip mall in Arbor Heights – could be a nail salon, hair salon, coffee shop – we don’t know (what it will be) … what’s the signage considerations? (Could) someone have neon? … What fit in 1950 as ‘downtown’ doesn’t fit as 2017. We really need to step back and look at this thing and say, ‘the zoning has never been considered but we really need to’.”
Then: “Why does it have to be 9 units? … For me it’s like the developer is squeezing every penny without consideration of neighbors …” He said he was happy to hear about the project until he heard that it would be nine units. “Can you scale it down to four, maybe five-unit condos, townhomes, high ends, that we don’t have any concerns of retail, drainage, all this other stuff …it will work and we’ll all be here to support that.”
Then a question if a show of hands could be taken. No, said Zinski, “we have a good cross-section of comments.”
“This is about design, not wishes,” added Moravec.
Only five minutes remained until the scheduled start of the next project review.
Moravec summarized hot button items, concerns about use as a commercial space, parking, height, runoff, shadows, use, “some we have control over, some we don’t.”
Murphy said that this is an extreme friction point – NC-zoned property in a sea of single-family homes. “There is a scale issue here – the zoning is indisputable, if the zoning allows it, it allows it, but there’s a context, whether it integrates with the neighborhood.”
Zinski repeated the “isolated zone” summary – “how is this best suited … the notion of breaking up the mass makes sense … so that it fits with the smaller-size houses … I think options 1 and 3 start to do that, I don’t know if they are fully successful with identifying the rhythm and pattern of the neighborhood … Related is the zone transition … I respect that the applicant is trying to set the building away from the zone to minimize impact on the neighbors … 1 and 3 are most successful at doing that … but we heard from the public that the preferred option doesn’t take that transition far enough … I guess if I were to look at this project I would lean toward 1 and 3 for the building mass itself, but I’m not sure they have gone through and studied it enough how to” make it work. “I think they could have spent a little more time on massing diagrams and studying the context of the building scale to the neighborhood and less on building finishes.”
Murphy said Option 2 shouldn’t even have been presented – “there’s no way it works … my preference would be Option 3 but it’s got a lot of scale issues … you asked the applicant what the most important thing is, he said scale, then the community said that’s what’s wrong with it, is scale … this feels like a high rise in Belltown, not in Arbor Heights.”
Moravec aid she agrees that Option 3 is preferable -“I am fine with the departure they are requesting and will reduce backing up on the alley. In terms of height, bulk, and scale, I like this project very much, I understand it might be out of character with existing houses in the neighborhood – there are things we can ask them to do like take off the roof gardens … that makes it a worse project for me, but better for neighbors.”
Zinski said that their direction should be how the mass can best relate to its surroundings, start to pull from that, “how it can look at the zone transition and the envelope of their mass … they may lop off the roof gardens … I think there’s options for how they can address that…. In terms of parking and flow and function of the project … I think the applicant needs to best study how the vehicular (access) best serves the project … is the vehicular circulation, location of parking, quantity of parking, location of trash, is that the best design that they have for option 3? … (we’ll give them) the guidance that they should study that.”
Murphy said the three options all seem to have similar scale, and if an option with fewer units had been presented, perhaps the neighbors would feel better, “but we don’t know, because it wasn’t presented.”
Zinski expressed appreciation for the shadow diagrams and asked the architect to “be sure that they are legible and true” so everyone understands what they mean.
He then ran through a list of the formal design guidelines that relate to everything they had discussed and identified, and that the project will be asked to work with. (You’ll see the official list of these in the city report on the review, which should be available online within a few weeks.)
Then the big decision – would they request a second round of Early Design Guidance?
The three agreed yes – they like Option 3 but “the massing requires some study” especially in how it relates to the neighborhood, said Zinski. So they should come back with a revised version and “a couple of (other) options” in that vein. “Reducing the scale?” asked Garrett. Yes, the board agreed. The main points they want to see include:
*Reduced massing, relationship to the neighborhood
*Vehicular access with best use of the site
*How to be good neighbors with the property to the north
Moravec said that for those concerned about signage and lighting, the Recommendation phase of Design Review will address those. “If you didn’t see a lot of that now, that’s why.”
They also said they are leaning toward supporting the requested departure.
And they want to see “more diagrams” for why this massing makes sense, Zinski added.
BOTTOM LINE: This means there will be at least two more meetings for this project – the second Early Design Guidance review that was just decided on, and then at least one Recommendation meeting before anything would be finalized. In the meantime, if you have comments, you can send them to planner Tami Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the date for the next meeting is set, it will likely appear on the city website at least a few weeks before an official notice is sent out – we watch all the spots where that might happen and will publish an update as soon as there’s word.