By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“We changed a lot.”
That’s how architect Jonathan Lemons described what’s happened since the first meeting for the second project that went before the Southwest Design Review Board tonight – a nine-unit proposal for the ex-church site at 4220 SW 100th in Arbor Heights,
SWDRB members present for this hearing were chair Matt Zinski, Don Caffrey, Alexandra Moravec, and fill-in Robin Murphy (a former board member). The project’s assigned city planner, Tami Garrett, was on hand too.
You can see the design packet prepared for tonight’s meeting here, and/or embedded below:
This was a second round of Early Design Guidance, as ordered at the conclusion of the project’s first review back in January (WSB coverage here). That means it’s the phase where the focus is on massing – size, shape, placement on the site – rather than appearance details.
Architect Lemons opened the meeting, per the standard format:
ARCHITECT’S PRESENTATION: Since the last meeting, the project has been changed to eight townhouses and one live-work unit. One parking space is required for each residential unit, Lemons noted, so this now has eight surface offstreet-parking spaces.
He recapped the project site’s surroundings (which you can review by looking at the packet, above). The site currently has a former church building that covers 82 percent of its square footage. Zoning limits the project to 30′ – “35 feet if you include the bonus for a pitched roof” – as is the case with the zoning around it, he said. They have lowered the building overall, Lemons said. “We’re peeling the building 25 feet away from” a neighboring site, he noted in a “zone transition area.”
Along with what’s required during Early Design Guidance meetings, showing three potential “massing” options, Lemons showed something they could have built on the site – a “code-compliant apartment scheme,” which would have much less setback from the adjacent property, compared to their “preferred scheme.” The “more massive” scheme could have had dozens of apartments, and they did look at it early on, but decided not to go that way, Lemons said.
Then he got to the three potential massing options they are officially proposing – the first one, with nine live-works. “We really liked this scheme,” he said, noting that it would have used 62 percent of the site’s development capacity. It would have required a zoning departure – exception – for a one-way parking exit.
The second proposed scheme also had three groups of live-work buildings, without offstreet parking (which isn’t required if they’re not residential-only units).
On to the third, “preferred” scheme – eight townhouses and one live-work unit, “only 30 feet tall,” compared to the previous proposal for buildings with penthouses taking the building past 40′. This will have outdoor stair penthouses instead. “We think this will fit in a lot better with the 30-foot context in a 30-foot zone,” Lemons offered. The one live-work is a 20′ space at the corner, and overall, he said, they feel they’re offering “generous setbacks.” They are still requesting the same zoning exception (“departure”) for a one-way parking entrance. He said the setbacks also will give the sidewalk more space.
Though this phase of Design Review isn’t meant to look closely at materials, Lemons also pointed out that they’re planning lots of glass, to take advantage of the light – a precious Northwest resource, he noted – as much as possible.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Murphy was the first to ask a question. He asked for the rationale behind the new preferred massing. “This provides the most parking for the on-site condition, and has only one live-work unit,” Lemons replied, saying that between offstreet parking and on-street parking, 14 spaces are available.
“Just one live-work unit seems really odd,” Murphy observed. Lemons said they had talked to nearby Brace Point Pottery and “they were really valuing the idea of one other commercial space here. … That corner seemed the most natural … because that’s where we’re able to provide the most overhead weather protection … even though we’re not emphasizing it with height.”
“Did you consider having no live-work at all?” asked Murphy. Reply: “Yes.”
Moravec wondered how people will get to the roof without penthouse stairs. There’s still an exterior staircase, Lemons said. She then wondered about a comparison between the front of this project and the front of Brace Point Pottery. Overall, this project is much closer to the street than that nearby business – its offstreet parking is in the rear, not the front. She asked if they’ll have to pave their part of the alley; the answer is yes.
Caffrey wondered about another of the exceptions the project is seeking, regarding separation for entrances. A planting area is planned as part of the support for a residential feel, he said.
Zinski asked how the massing supports the neighborhood. Lowering the height was the biggest change in that regard since the last meeting, “really trying to squeeze the building down,” Lemons said, to a smaller footprint than the church building that this project will be replacing.
Zinski also asked if they had considered more of a balance between residential and live-work units. “This was a team decision – the owner’s team, our team, everybody in the neighborhood,” said Lemons. Neighbors were concerned about what businesses might be brought into the neighborhood, he explained, while they had been envisioning maybe, for example, a pastry place. “At the end of the day it felt like (the best option) to do a de-emphasized live-work unit on the corner,” which Lemons said was likely to become somebody’s office. They also looked at what might be possible next door, where Brace Point Pottery is now, and therefore “future-proofing” their site.
Finally, “what is a spectacular design component?” Zinski asked Lemons, who replied that the corner, stepping down from three to two to one story, is his favorite component.
PUBLIC COMMENT: Zinski first asked the crowd to be “less rowdy” this time than last. His request was honored; no rowdiness ensued.
First person to speak: “I feel that it’s too commercial, doesn’t fit into the neighborhood, it’s too tall. I also don’t like it so close to the street and I’m afraid that when people are going around the corner they’re not going to be able to see around the corner to drive safely.”
Second: “Thank you for lowering it. I’m glad something’s being built on that site as what’s currently there is kind of awful. I still feel that – you mention the term ‘glazing’ a lot, there’s still a lot of glazing, which does not fit into a residential neighborhood, I feel it would fit in better to Admiral or The Junction .. the box design and the overall girth still doesn’t really fit into an older, regular-home, residential area; you can point to as many occasional three-story box houses but (this is different).” He wondered if they could do fewer units and have pointy roofs that “fit in” more with the surroundings. “The design, while attractive, really doesn’t fit into the neighborhood – I can sense it’s what you guys do, and you do well, but it doesn’t fit into the neighborhood.” He also observed that the site drops to the north. “We’re downhill from you, and that increases the height.”
Third: “I just wanted to second … very much appreciated, the lowering of the height, and the proposal to change to townhouses for eight of the units – personally I think changing (all) nine units would be better.” She then asked how many board members had walked the nearby block of California – most had. It’s mostly single-family houses, she said.
Fourth: “I like scheme 3 in its general form” – but most of the houses in the area are more like 15 feet in height, he noted. “Since the east mass takes up three quarters of the length of the block, could a similar scheme to the California side be (used) on the 100th side.” He also didn’t think windows and wood panels represented “facade modulation.”
Fifth: “I kept quiet last time. I am not happy. We are directly in front of that, directly on that corner … Why do we have to have condos, townhouses, period, at all? Why don’t you build homes? Three homes with some yards for people, pitched to fit in? Why does it have to be these buildings? I don’t know how much money you paid …. this is our neighborhood, not yours, why does it have to be something we don’t want? We are going to have to look directly at that, and you’re bringing it directly to my yard. And then parking … they’re going to start taking our parking … I know you have to get your money out of this, but … it doesn’t fit. … Why are you building them at all? Why not build homes? … Don’t come into our neighborhood and destroy it.”
One person applauded.
Sixth: “I’m her husband, we live right across the street; our family’s been in this neighborhood 100 years. I’m not really pleased with the concept. A pitched roof would fit in better with the neighborhood. I understand that, you’re trying to maximize your profit. But it does not fit. And the parking …” He suggested there could be underground parking. “Back behind the building, angled parking, it’s not going to work. You’re pushing the building closer to our house, closer to the street. Like my wife was saying, this is our neighborhood … if you can abide by what we want in the neighborhood, that’s going to fit … the majority of West Seattle, when I grew up, The Junction, they’ve ruined it. … Please, this neighborhood is not ‘a town,’ it’s Arbor Heights community.”
Seventh: “So far I like what’s been said, what you’ve done (but) it still seems too big. The other thing is, the only time we have trouble getting onto 100th is when there’s church … this is going to be hell to pull out. Parking’s an issue, it still seems too big, but I appreciate everything you’ve done to this point … I still don’t think it fits (in) the neighborhood.” He said he would prefer houses. Lemons at that point – over the objections of board chair Zinski – tried to respond by saying they had looked at a two-story option but it wasn’t feasible because it would have had to have been “wider.”
Eighth person to speak said he had questions for the design team, such as why underground parking wasn’t pursued. Lemons said that to cover the cost of excavation they’d have to increase the density. Lemons added that 45 percent of the capacity remains undeveloped in their preferred scheme. The questioner continued by asking about some of the frontage decisions and Lemons talked about providing the most light they could for the adult care home across the street. The questioner then wondered about sustainability features. Zinski said that would be a more appropriate question for the next meeting, as this one is supposed to focus on “massing” – size, shape, etc. Lemons did say this will be a “four-star Built Green project,” with sustainability features such as permeable pavement to collect rainwater.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: This section started with a focus on examining how the project team responded to the comments and direction from the first meeting. Moravec noted that the change from all live-works to mostly townhomes was major, as well as the height change. Now the big question remains the density on the site and boxy versus pointy, she noted.
Murphy added, “The big issue here is fit. … This is a natural friction point, you’re surrounded by single-family residential, and you have a commercial site … this is very, very unusual in the city of Seattle, so you’re going to have that friction.” He mentioned other areas that have buffers for single-family zones before they get to the commercial zone, so “that creates a responsibility” for the project team to “pay attention” to that. He said that he’d seen some movement that way, but “the biggest issue is density, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb” – and he said he lives two blocks away, so he’ll see it often. He agrees that it won’t “fit in” unless it’s, as one neighbor suggested, three single-family homes, but that’s not going to happen. He also agreed that toning down the glazing (windows) would be good, “it’s not appropriate to the neighborhood.”
Caffrey said his big concern is the 100th side and “how to make it more residential. … I’m not convinced that the density there has been mitigated.” He suggested a few ways to do that, maybe “underhangs” for the entryways.
Zinski then asked, is this the right massing for us to critique, the preferred option, #3?
Moravec said that seemed like the right place to “start … I don’t know if it’s feasible economically but I think it would be a much better project with one fewer unit.”
Zinski said that Scheme 2 looked a little more single-family-home-ish to him. He thought a “marriage between Scheme 2 and Scheme 3” might answer some of the concerns.
Murphy and Moravec wondered if one internal unit could be removed and achieve that goal. The summary of that: “The thing that fundamentally doesn’t work here is the San Francisco rowhouse that’s marching along in a sea of houses built in the mid-century.”
“The solidness” is what doesn’t seem to work for the massing, Moravec said. But she also wondered where the “wall” of the project would be, compared to the “wall” presented by the current big flat church building.
Zinski thought the project team had “achieved the zone transition” on the north, at least. He wondered if a fine-grain articulation elsewhere might help, and whether they could find some way to guide the project team.
Murphy thought a two-foot stoop might help, “and let them go to thirty-two feet.”
Garrett pointed them to page 41 in the packet and wondered if it might offer an alternative way to configure the entries. “An underhang, like Don was saying,” noted Murphy. And he said “some separation” is important because otherwise “it’s too urban” for this neighborhood.
In other words: “Break down that scale through the entry sequence,” Zinski summarized.
Murphy said he thought the neighborhood was more concerned about the height than the live-work concept, and maybe one side could be all live-work, three units. Zinski thought they could at least offer the project team that flexibility.
Garrett said she thought it would make more sense for the live-work-dominated side to be the one facing 100th, not the one facing California.
Murphy offered a concern that the live-work needs to have viable spaces for both.
Next – Zinski brought up the neighborhood concerns of the building form fitting with the existing architecture, versus the owner wanting to have three stories and a roof deck.
Murphy said, “There are quite a few modern, boxy, cubic buildings being built” in the neighborhood. “All of Seattle’s going through transition and the future is, buildings get modernized. I think a flat-roofed building can be done appropriate to the neighborhood with appropriate-scale windows … if we ask them to separate the mass a little bit, I’m OK with the flat roof.”
And then Zinski asked for further guidance that the board would want to give to the applicant, and whether their exceptions – departures – would be OK. (You can get more detail on them via the packet.) Curb cut on California, as far from the intersection as possible? Board members were OK with that. More than 20 percent street-level facade being residential? OK. Entry-sequence departure? OK. Floor-to-floor height departure? OK.
They agreed unanimously that the project, with guidance, could move to the next – second and final – phase of Design Review. The guidance is that they support Option 3, broken into “three distinct masses,” that respond to the scale of the single-family neighborhood and the “general feeling of Scheme 2.” They support the maximum setback from neighbors to the north. “How they deal with the entry sequence is very important, we don’t want to see a strong street wall,” making it clear that these are townhouses and not live-work – but the three on California could all be live-works with potential viable commercial spaces. “In terms of the massing, we think that the flat roofed massing at 30 feet is respectful to the neighborhood. … As they do move forward though, since they are surrounded by single-family (zoning),” they want to see all opportunities for residential scale to be utilized.
They also want to see “all the elevations,” including what it will look like “coming down the street.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The project advances to the Recommendation phase, which means at least one more meeting, with its date to be set later – probably at least a few months from now. In the meantime, you can make comments by e-mail, on the design and/or other components of the development, to firstname.lastname@example.org