By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The mixed-use project planned on the current West Seattle PCC Natural Markets (WSB sponsor) site is done with Design Review.
It got final Southwest Design Review Board approval after three meetings – one more than the minimum, two fewer than, for comparison, were needed seven-plus years ago for the nearby Admiral Safeway project (evoked repeatedly during these reviews for its less-than-ideal features).
Along with more than 20 members of the public, four board members were present – chair Todd Bronk, T. Frick McNamara, Alexandra Moravec, and Matt Zinski – as was the project’s assigned city planner, Crystal Torres.
Here’s how it unfolded:
The 77-page packet is on the city website, and embedded below:
From Hewitt, Julia Nagele led the presentation, as she did at previous SWDRB meetings and other community meetings. “The scope of the project has not changed,” she began, hitting the key points: 108 apartments over a 21,000-square-foot PCC store, two levels of underground parking, one for the store, one for the residents.
Entries remain at midblock and at both corners. One change: The amount of area for the loading dock – “we’ve given ourselves a little more area for maneuvering,” she noted. Last meeting had two key areas of focus, and she addressed both, starting with the alley. “We were asked to explore a 2-foot increase in width of the alley” if possible. SDOT recommended a 15’6″ width, she said, and that’s what they’re sticking with. They had a consultant analyze factors including the largest possible truck they might have to deal with. She said they also did “live testing” at the site of PCC’s new Columbia City store.
Street-level development was the second aspect of the project they were asked to take a closer look at. For comparison’s sake, they looked at other local grocery stores including the QFC in The Junction, Safeway in The Admiral District, and PCC in Fremont. They were asked about having the store at street level instead of having people step down into it once they’ve entered from the street; that wouldn’t work, she said, so they’re sticking with that plan.
But that’s not the only aspect of the “street-level experience,” she noted, so she pointed out other aspects including the “corner store” entry with a steel-and-glass canopy, showing what the store will look like inside, with a wall of windows, and with bakery and café areas by them. As she had at the recent Admiral Neighborhood Association “sneak peek,” she also called attention to the planned Metro bus stop.
The midblock entry is dubbed the “park entry,” with a view across the street to historic Hiawatha Playfield. Then there’s a transitional entry to a “quieter area,” with a steel-and-glass canopy. She also showed the entry along SW Stevens, and an interior look into the residential part of the building, with daylight and “fresh air” coming in.
For more on the other parts of the building, Nagele handed off to Eli Hardi; P-1 parking will be for store customers, P-2 will be for residents. Floors 2-3-4 are combinations of studios and 1-bedrooms “oriented either east or west to capture mountain or park views.” There is a setback at one point to ensure that residents won’t be “peer(ing) down into (neighbors’) homes.”
The materials refer to some of the other nearby buildings’ palettes – stone, brick, in a “modern twist.” He talked about the floor-to-ceiling windows in some spots as well as the “inset windows” that will foster “connections throughout the building.” A light/dark contrast of trim on the northeast side of the building will emphasize those “inset windows.”
Lighting around the site will be “simple,” he said – there will be overhead lighting at the loading dock but it will be “directional” so as not to encroach on neighbors’ space. Regarding signage, he said, they worked with PCC to integrate it – there’ll be two types, either a channel-cut with internally illumination, or a surface-mounted blade sign, such as on the NE corner, mounted on a column.
They are seeking only one “departure” from city code, related to an alley setback that won’t meet the city’s requirement of 13 feet in multiple spots along the back of the building, for design reasons that he said they feel will work best for the building’s response to the neighborhood to the west.
Nagele stepped back to the front of the room. “We feel this is a good project – we feel we’re adding density with diversity. (The site) is a single use now; we’re providing places for people to live,” as compared to the Safeway up the street, which has only commercial property along California SW. “This is also a good project because it’s going to be the future home of PCC” (which has announced it’s closing its store on May 31st to prepare for the construction of this project, in which, as it is now, it will be a tenant).
BOARD QUESTIONS FOR CLARIFICATION
McNamara asked about the south entrance of the store, and brought up a point from a previous review, noting that the population is getting older: “How does someone who’s mobility-challenged maneuver (into the store)?” Depending on how they’re arriving, they will be able to use an elevator for two of three accessible routes into the store. If the customer is unable to use stairs, they will have to go down the sidewalk to reach one of those elevator-enhanced routes, Nagele said.
She also asked about the density of the site – Nagele said they believed it was appropriate – and whether people will be able to bring food and beverages out of the park-facing entry, to the seating that’s there – answer to that was yes. And McNamara asked about landscaping details as well as about the privacy for people in the single-family neighborhood to the west. The setbacks should work for that, Nagele replied.
Zinski wondered about an area labeled “open” on the first level. It would be a break between the residential lobby and the store, she said. He also asked about the residential entry being “perpendicular” to the street rather than opening directly onto it; they wanted to minimize it, and maximize the store frontage, Nagele replied. Zinski also asked about some of the trim details and the “facade design strategy.” The architects believe what they’re proposing will provide a “quality” look. He wondered why the facade “misaligns purposely” in some spots. Nagele referred to the “blocks” of the building in her reply. And he asked about the roof’s greenspace being toward the north; Nagele said the reasoning for that involved setbacks and proximity to elevators.
Bronk followed up by asking about the layout of the roof’s greenspace, which brought up the landscape expert. “We’re trying to make this feel bigger than it is” – it’s 740 feet. There are two ways to access the roof, according to the architects. Vines are expected to grow out of an area of the greenspace, down onto a “green screen” area. “What about the big blank concrete wall” on another area of the exterior? Bronk asked. Its finish would be “architectural concrete,” Nagele said.
Zinski went back to a “bioretention” area in the greenspace. That will handle all the runoff from the roof, the architects said. And the water will be visible as it runs down, as part of a design feature. Zinski also asked: “What’s essential to making this project fantastic, a great design?”
Nagele: “It’s a mixed-use structure – having a place for people to live above the social hub that PCC is, compared to what it is now. We think the quality of materials, the ilghting, a living situation you don’t often see in the city … is valuable.”
Other amenities? They include an outdoor deck on level 2 and a fitness room facing Hiawatha (as discussed in earlier reviews).
A neighbor said she is glad to see the windows in PCC that will face the street. But regarding the exterior finishes, “I am mystified … what I am seeing is a rectangular (area) that looks like a garage door in the middle of … the building.” She wondered about the placement of the “wood tones.” Nagele said there is more “warm natural color” than might appear, especially closer to the street level.
Another neighbor voiced concerns: “I’m a little concerned about the alleys and thinking about trucks going both ways and this large structure and the property lines … it just all feels really tight. It sounds to me like the request of widening the alley was not done … I’m just concerned that there’s so much happening in that tight space. My other concern is the balconies that area going on the level across from all the housing and the residential areas … if there could be ways to increase privacy between (those areas) and the (new building).”
Bronk answered that it is not as tight as it sounds, with another half-foot from the other side of the alley, and with a deep area for services within the building.
Moravec also noted that part of the problem was solved after the discussion at an earlier meeting to keep trucks from having to make “a dangerous turn.”
Nagele addressed the privacy question, saying that balconies in one area are deeply recessed, up to 18 feet from the property line, in some areas. It’s all within what zoning allows, she added.
There was time left in the public-comment period, and no one else wanting to ask anything, so Nagele was asked how the recent community meeting (again, we covered it here) went.
Bronk said he was concerned about the amount of public seating vs. private seating along California. He also voiced concern about a “big blank wall” on the west side of the project. A “green screen” wouldn’t necessarily be enough, he said. McNamara agreed with Bronk’s concern, saying the building is so big, something is called for, even a change in texture. Bronk wondered if the green screens could be covered with something interim until the plants grow into/onto them.
McNamara said she felt the board had been very clear about store access, at-grade and “activated at some level” entrance from California, given the project’s proximity to a busy area including West Seattle High School across the street, and because of mobility-challenged customers, from wheelchairs to strollers. “I’m still concerned that that has not been met.” The California frontage needs more activation, she reiterated. And she’s concerned that three levels of residential units are being “crammed” into the project.
Moravec said she feels the project “has a ton of amenity space” and takes advantage of its location. “We asked them in the beginning to do a simple, elegant project,” and she feels they have fulfilled that request. She also sees entry and grade issues, while believing “they have done their absolute best” given the topography of the site, especially by providing as many entries as they have. “I think it’s a great project,” she summarized, “the most well-thought-through project” in her time on the board.
They also discussed the neighbor-voiced concerns about privacy; Bronk said he believes the setbacks are adequate, while Moravec pointed out that the architect-requested zoning exception allows the building to “turn away” from the neighbors. The balconies are not big enough for big, loud parties, Zinski noted.
Then came the most spirited, intense discussion – over accessibility, or the lack of it, in the California entrance:
Bronk said he likes the Stevens entry; McNamara again brought up the stretch of Safeway nearby that doesn’t activate the street, and repeated her concern that there should be an accessible entry into the store from California. Moravec argued that while “in an ideal world” there would be, she is OK with the proposed configuration. McNamara countered that there should be something for older and/or disabled people: “We’re all going to be seniors someday – we could break a leg – we need to make sure that all mobilities” are accommodated. Zinski argued that activation – even without accessibility – would bring a desirable result. Moravec thought adding a ramp would be difficult. “They could do it (inside),” McNamara suggested. “I believe mobility for all is essential.” Moravec said she felt the two non-California accessible entrances were adequate, while McNamara argued that the architect hadn’t honored what seemed to be clear direction from previous meetings. She thought an interior feature would be ideal.
The board members continued sparring over whether, and for whom, this would be necessary. Bronk brought it back around to what he saw as the importance of the activation provided by store features near the California entrance, and the “transparency” there, and getting that emphasized in the final recommended conditions, with specifics – such as, Moravec suggested, “visible produce from the sidewalk.” As they began to craft language, McNamara pointed out that you can’t assume the tenant will remain the same forever. Torres suggested offering guidance in terms of design guidelines that would achieve the activation.
They moved onto the issue of balancing the outdoor seating; the architect team said that Metro had specific requirements about where benches wouldn’t be allowed because they’ll be using articulated buses, so they worked around those areas.
Two votes followed: They approved the zoning exception (departure). As for advancing the project out of Design Review, it passed, 3-1, with McNamara as a “no” because of the non-accessible (stepdown) California entry.
WHAT’S NEXT: The city’s review of the project will continue before permits are issued for construction and demolition. If you have comments – not just about design, but about factors considered “environmental” such as traffic and noise – you can still send them in to the planner, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meantime, as mentioned above, PCC has announced that its last day for the old store will be May 31st.
Editor’s note: Design packet link and embed added Friday morning.