By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
With an architect’s promise that it’s not going to be another bland box, 2715 California SW made it out of the first round of Design Review after just one meeting.
The Early Design Guidance review came two weeks after the board’s final look at another project on the same block (2749 California SW, apartments plus a new PCC Natural Markets [WSB sponsor] store on the site of the current one), and that project was evoked a time or two.
Three members of the five-person, all-volunteer Southwest Design Review Board were present, chair Todd Bronk, Matt Zinski, and Don Caffrey.
So was the project’s assigned city planner, Brandon Cummings from the city Department of Construction and Inspections, who explained, to the ~15 in attendance that this phase of Design Review doesn’t include a lot of detail – it’s mostly about the site, and the massing (size/shape).
Here’s how it went:
Admiral Station is the name of the project, whose owners are longtime local residents who have held the property since the 1970s (and have their offices on the site now), explained Clark Design Group’s Brenda Barnes explained. They have already developed other local projects, as shown in the packet prepared for the meeting (embedded below, and viewable here in PDF):
They’re working on the mix – currently 48 units and ~46 offstreet-parking spaces in a four-story building, “but that may change,” said Barnes. They’ll be widening the alley by half a foot, as ordered by SDOT, she said. It’s in a “transition zone” with a single-family neighborhood to the west, so she promised a lot would be said about being sensitive to that.
The zone’s “primary purpose” is for smaller-scale businesses to enhance the “pedestrian environment,” she said. She showed photos of the surrounding area, as architects do with their project packets, including the businesses fronting California and the residential garages across the alley behind.
She acknowledged the boxy development that’s prevalent in West Seattle and promised they are seeking to create a building “with strong architectural character.” They’re promising transparency, light, and sensitivity on the alley so they don’t create “a conflict” with the nearby houses’ owners. All the amenities are planned for the roof, to take advantage of the views to the east (Hiawatha) and west (mountains), and to allow for the privacy of nearby residents in their back yards to the west.
“We’re going to have a very different front and back,” she said – bay windows and balconies, “eyes on the street” along California, but on the back side, facing neighborhoods, no balconies. They’re working on a greenspace buffer along the alley and an enclosed area for trash/Dumpsters so containers aren’t on the alley.
As is typical for Early Design Guidance, she showed three configurations for the building, identifying the third one as “preferred.”
They are planning flexibility in the storefront – possibly available to up to five local businesses, but potentially configurable in another way too. The building will be set back on the north to create a pathway to the trash room on the back side. One “departure” from zoning rules they’re requesting – they are required to have 60 feet of weather protection but their design currently has 46.
Their trim also would work with the planned scenario for delineating differences before the front and back.
CLARIFYING BOARD QUESTIONS
“Why is this project super well designed?” Barnes was asked by Zinski. Her reply: “Because our goals are higher – we’re all longtime West Seattle residents, (and) a lot of people aren’t happy with what is being built here,” but they’re all committed to do better. “Articulated massing on California with the bays popping out of the massing is really essential,” she added.
She also acknowledged that the alley is a challenge, bordered (across Lander) by Lafayette Elementary.
Caffrey asked about the buffer spaces on the back of the building.”Just vegetation.” He also asked about the width of the garage entry – 20 feet.
Bronk asked about a tree on the property to the south. They’ve talked to the owner, Barnes said, and while she didn’t know the size of the tree offhand, she said it was not a “significant” tree (as determined by the city). He also asked about the light that would reach the units; Barnes said more light was likely to reach the north units than you’d think.
The north end will include a gym, windows, and “probably an efficiency unit,” she said in response to a question from Caffrey. Answering a question from Zinski, she said they had taken into account how/whether their building responds to what’s facing theirs from the buildings to the north and south.
They hope to have a “well-designed masonry facade” with “great detail,” she added. And they’re hoping for storefronts facilitating a street-facing side “that has some life to it.”
Only one person spoke up – to ask about the terrace atop the building being described as a public space. “For the residents,” Barnes clarified. “An amenity space.” Not for people just coming in off the street. The terrace will include an amenity space – greenhouse space, barbecue grill.
Chair Bronk opened by pointing out that it’s on a high-traffic street. That helped him focus on points of concern/attention.
Caffrey said that since the building is across from a park, that provides more flexibility for designing its front. But he’s concerned about “blank walls” on the north and south sides, and safety on the alley.
Which shape was preferable? Zinski wondered.
Bronk said “it’s a pretty big building replacing” the smaller structures that are there now. “This is a significant transition zone, and we’ve dealt with it several different ways” on other projects.
Zinski said that since this is “mid-block infill,” part of the building is critical, and having some “rhythm to the backside” is vital too.
Bronk suggested that even if the project team doesn’t want balconies on the back to protect privacy of the residents to the west, there could be ways to work with them and not invade privacy. The massing of the building’s backside, overall, needed some more work, he said.
The materials will be critical, when the project comes back for the second phase of Design Review, Caffrey observed.
The building’s look on California needs to be “simple,” the board members agreed. And, suggested Bronk, “there doesn’t need to be as much planting” across the front – more “public life” features, as it faces Hiawatha. Interplay with the PCC-and-apartments mixed-use project a couple doors down came up too. “If I had suggestions, it would be to utilize planters,” Bronk said.
The existing tree cover will affect how the weather canopies work, they also noted.
Then on to the north/south sides of the building, and that’s where the tree to the south resurfaced. It’s not a significant tree, and it’s not on these owners’ property, but they have to take it into account, so Bronk suggested that they get a letter spelling out the intentions of the tree’s owners, “so that as a community-based organization” they could have some peace of mind. The likely future redevelopment of at least one adjacent building figured into the consideration as well.
They also discussed the light that the units on the ends would get, especially those along the ramp to the trash area on the north side.
Finally, the alley – Caffrey brought up the sight lines. “It’s going to be a busy alley – trucks, cars, more residents from the (PCC-site building), people queueing up (nearby) for (Lafayette Elementary).” So they want to see more about “vehicular circulation and safety,” as Zinski summarized it.
Overall, Bronk pronounced it “a good building.”
The board members then ran through their lists of guidelines to consider and prioritize – all synchronizing with the discussion points they had just gone through – plus a few additional points, such as wanting to make sure the building’s signage is in appropriate scale (the project team’s Junction Flats Apartments have a sign that has been cited by the board repeatedly as out of scale).
They all voted to move it ahead to the second phase of design review, with this summary.
“We all agreed that the preferred option (C) is what we’d like to see them move forward with, with the caveat that we’re not inclined to look at Departure 1 and are more inclined to ask them to study the edge of the massing and look at better transitions at each of the levels to set the building wings back – on the overhead protection departure, we’re on the fence, we’d like to see it done both ways, done to code, and done to the (requested) departure with the materials they’re going to use, to convince the board that the departure is worthy in the building composition. The amenity space up top is good – we’re really concerned about the transition zone, the privacy to the west is really key … alley safety and visibility, we like the trash room, we’d like them to” (show more about vehicular flow)”
He also mentioned a “general concern” about light for the units – “we want to see elevations of all sides of the building, with all the materials rendered, windows, along with giving us a window study to the north so we can understand those windows and how those to buildings are going to (interact). And giving us something concrete to work with (regarding the tree to the south potentially being removed) – if not I’d say the massing would need to respond to the tree and the drip line of the tree per SDCI code.”
So that comprises the “early design guidance” that the architect is supposed to incorporate into the more detailed design they will bring to the next meeting.
WHAT’S NEXT: You can comment on the project – Brandon Cummings is the assigned city planner; e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org – even before, and after, the next SW Design Review Board meeting. No date for that yet; we’ll publish an update when it’s set.