By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The first project of tonight’s Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, 4754 Fauntleroy Way SW, just got 3-1 approval in the second and final phase of the process.
It’s a project dubbed “The Foundry,” on the northeast corner of Fauntleroy/Edmunds, planned as a 7-story, 108-unit apartment building with 10 live-work units at ground level and 103 offstreet-parking spaces underground.
The live-works – spanning the ground floor, where a building of this size and zoning might instead have commercial spaces – were the biggest topic of concern, both for board members and for the neighbors who came to comment.
Board members present for the meeting at the Senior Center/Sisson Building were Matt Zinski, Todd Bronk (both of whom disclosed that their respective employers have done work with the developer Holland Partners, but not on this project), Alexandra Moravec, and Don Caffrey. From the city planning team at SDCI, Josh Johnson is the planner assigned to this project, which last came before the board in August 2016 (WSB coverage here).
You can see the “design packet” prepared for the meeting here. Here’s how it unfolded:
ARCHITECTS’ PRESENTATION: Bert Gregory from Mithun led the presentation.
With the project dubbed The Foundry, its exterior has been themed as “two bars.” Gregory said they’re hoping to be part of a “more graceful transition into The Junction,” from the residential-only area to the south. He recapped what was shown at the Early Design Guidance meeting last summer, including a stepped corner with “gateway” aspects. Since then, they’ve further developed the concept including live-works on Fauntleroy (and two facing Edmunds) and underground parking with its entrance off the alley to the east. The “dramatic corner” at Fauntleroy/Edmunds continues to upper floors.
Amenity space is on the north side. The base of the building will be corrugated metal, with two “bars” along the top of the building. “The base is pretty glassy … we want to define that as a separate element,” said Gregory. (He showed a rendering of how that would look, along Fauntleroy.) They’ve softened the southeast corner of the building. On the east facade, you see the podium of the garage, plus the entrance to where the trash will be kept. The north side includes a passageway “to where the bike storage is.”
The parapet heights and colors have been adjusted as a response to Early Design Guidance discussion; the colors include a warm gray and darker gray – “calm and simple.” Window grids are differentiated between the “two bars.” Back at the ground floor, there’s some flexibility with the retail space – walls could be removed to create larger spaces in the future, Gregory pointed out. Blade signs made from weathered steel are envisioned along the commercial spaces, “with a consistent vocabulary.”
The landscape designer took a few minutes, explaining a “linear” design is in place to “feed off The Foundry concept.” There’s an 8-to-10-foot-wide planting strip along Edmunds. Site design concept include weathered-steel planters, “undulating plantings,” signature ginkgo trees that are “reminiscent of some of the colors you might see in a foundry” – throughout the plant palette, you’ll see plants with “metallic” coloring.
BOARD QUESTIONS: At Design Review meetings, the board always gets up to 10 minutes to ask the architects questions, before moving on to public comment. First question – Zinski asked for clarification on the paneling: Hardie board, the architects replied. “Residential or Reveal?” The former, said the architects, most likely. Other material/appearance questions included the multiple shades of grays. Then, a question about the live-work layout; the architect pointed out that it has a lot of glass. Zinski also wondered about the lack of a buffer “between the live and the work.” There could be an additional doorway on the top of the stairs, the architect acknowledged.
Caffrey asked about the concrete finish on the alley. “I don’t know if we’re going to have a graffiti coating but … you really won’t see very much of it,” Gregory elaborated. Caffrey then asked if the steel would be “pre-weathered”; that’s their plan, Gregory said. Caffrey also asked about sight-line requirements and the team promised those will be met.
Moravec asked how the entrance into the garage will work. It’s just south of the trash-collection room. The trash will never be stored in the alley, the team confirmed.
Bronk had questions about the north elevation (page 40 in the packet), which the project team had said is likely to be unseen before long, with another project north of theirs. “How would you feel about driving past (the blank wall)?” he asked. The project team reiterated that another project is proposed to the north (we reported on the early-stage apartment proposal back in December); they said, “We know who’s doing it … it’ll be coming your way soon.”
Bronk also wondered if they had considered making the ground floor entirely commercial, instead of live/work. Gregory said they thought this would be the best way to create smaller commercial spaces. Bronk said that while live/work “looks great in renderings,” he doesn’t feel it is done well in the execution. And then he asked about the landscaping – wondering about bamboo and sumac mentioned in the list (calling the latter “a big plant”) and not finding it on the plan. The sumac – “a big plant” – would be along the back, was the reply. Bronk also wondered about an incense cedar suggested as a street tree. The team wanted to complement some nearby evergreens, it was explained.
PUBLIC COMMENT: This part of the meeting gets up to 20 minutes. A nearby condominium resident said he’s been monitoring the project for the board. “I think 98 percent of this is beautiful, at least from what I see in the renderings, but the two percent is … what my comments were last time, commercial vs. live-work. I strongly believe that live-work on Fauntleroy – I live right next to this project – is absolutely inappropriate … for the NC-85 (zoning). I’ve listened to the comments about how economically this is for them, because there are projects close by in a less prominent area that’s going to have commercial space … and it makes sense. At the center of my comment is, we’re going through this HALA process, and people want to have commercial space … and it bothers me … you’re taking away that one commercial space, and you have potentially zero commercial space, because live-work doesn’t have to have commercial space … this area is growing and we need more commercial space, not less …I find it insulting that the developer would say this is not economically feasible for them.” Otherwise, he said, he finds the project “aesthetically pleasing.” And, he said, he had a warning about the steep upslope on the east side – “sometimes dump trucks have a lot of trouble going over curbs … and occasionally get stuck back there.”
Another resident from the same building had a comment about the live-work plan: “With the activity going on on fauntleroy and everyone else having commercial on the bottom, I think it’s important to have commercial space available, working with small (and) minority-owned businesses …I never hear people say they wish they had more live-work spaces available.”
A member of the project team said that, per zoning, “The live-work IS required to be commercial space, with a business license … we have 10 commercial spaces.”
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Bronk voiced the first concern, “an NC-85 space having live-work all along” the ground floor. He also is concerned about the “blank wall” on the north side that the project team contends will be hidden by more development in the near future. He said the renderings “look better than the materials” that the project team proposes and he’s afraid that in reality it will be “very monotone and dull.”
Zinski said it’s a “high-level concern” to consider how the building fits into the big picture of the area. “In thinking about the materials, palette, just framing the conversation, that’s an important thing to consider. … Calling it a blank wall … it’s not a street-level, street-facing wall.”
Moravec interjected, “I don’t find it super-jarring.”
Bronk said, “But this whole board found it super-jarring (on a 35th SW project that now has a mural on what would have been this type of wall).”
Zinski said he was somewhat reassured by the materials that were mentioned. “The renderings provide a really nice texture to the building,” and he appreciates that the material palette seeks to reinforce the design concept. He also said he appreciated the “joint pattern,” and the proposed parapet height. He wanted to be sure the materials had a minimum of three “gray tones” to achieve what they’re going for. Moravec said she appreciates the “simplicity of the color” and the palette.
Since it’s a corner site, Zinski continued, he wondered if they were emphasizing “the buliding holistically” or two distinct facades for Fauntleroy and Edmunds. Bronk said he couldn’t see why they wouldn’t want to model the “multiple gray colors” all the way around the building. He said that pages 25 and 26 of the packet “really sold … the concept to me … I love the simplicity of the design and how the material adds to it.”
Zinski was worried about some vents breaking the pattern, and other board members agreed that they could write conditions for that. Other discussions about panel appearance led to Gregory explaining that they had to do things a certain way to ensure “operable windows.” Speaking of windows, Zinski said it was “refreshing to see a project move forward” with this kind of look and without, as Moravec put it, being told to “re-grid everything.” She went on to say that despite the live-work concerns, the space in the renderings “looks like retail.” But, Zinski interjected, “the floor plan looks like a townhouse.”
Bronk said one example of townhouses vs. live-works that in his view works is Rally at California/Charlestown. Moravec mentioned a downtown project that seems similar. The debate was over stairs inside the unit and how close they are to the front. The downtown project in question has various shops including a bakery, Moravec said.
Bronk worried about consistency, recalling what the board asked of The Whittaker across the street four years ago. He said that for The Foundry, the two live-works facing Edmunds make sense, but those facing Fauntleroy don’t. The stairs seemed to be a deal-breaker for him, seeming to be counter to the kind of experience he expected while shopping.
Caffrey asked him if he would suggest – if they could change the project – all commercial, half commercial, or what. Zinski sought to clarify the issue to whether there’s something in the floor plans that could be “changed to make a better live-work.” For example, could the space transition as it, say, moved northward, to a larger space that could accommodate a café? He then sought through a process of elimination to see if anyone wanted to toss the live-work entirely. Answer: No. “We all agree that the live-work on the (Edmunds) side works,” Moravec said. “I think this neighborhood needs more retail but I don’t know that it could support the full length” of the building,” Caffrey said. He suggested some possible reconfiguring. Bronk said that the live-work floor plan just didn’t work for him right now, and suggested some internal reworking. “So what I’m hearing at a very high level,” Zinski sought to summarize, was that the board wants to see something supporting a “vibrant streetscape. …So getting to there, we want the live-work units to better support that goal?” How to make them do that, was the big question. “It really does need to be truly commercial, but this is super-live and maybe work, when it needs to be super-work and maybe live,” Bronk summarized.
The staircase seemed to be the big sticking point, Moravec offered. Regarding the kitchen, the separation from the work space was an issue, Zinski observed. Bronk said, “It’s awkward if you’re trying to sell merchandise and you haven’t done your dishes yet.” Zinski kept trying to get to the terminology of the goal they wanted to set for the project team. Part of it: A clearer delineation between the work and the live.
The project team explained the stairs’ placement as trying to maximize the in-unit space. More discussion of the pitfalls of the live-work format ensued. Zinski kept stressing that their goal was to have the units “better support a vibrant street edge.”
“Guidance, not a condition?” asked planner Johnson.
Either designate a retail space, or “do something to make the units more retail-y,” is how Moravec summarized it.
Zinski then summarized the entirety of the discussion, saying there were many good points in the renderings and the materials – they want to be sure to see a “muddled” group of grays, at least three – and that the joint pattern “be maintained as we’ve seen in elevations and renderings.” Regarding the live-works, as a condition “we want them to better achieve the goal of a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented streetscape,” especially the ones along Fauntleroy, and they are being asked to explore designating retail space on the street or better configure the live-works to support that goal.
With that, the board voted 3-1 – Bronk was the “no” vote – to advance the project out of Design Review.
WHAT’S NEXT: You can send comments about design and other aspects of the project to the designated city planner at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time until the permits are issued.