By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Southwest Design Review Board has taken its first look at 9049 20th SW [map] – a South Delridge project that will “alter” a building rather than raze/replace it – in the second half of this week’s doubleheader meeting.
Three board members were present for Thursday night’s review – chair Matt Zinski, Don Caffrey, and new appointee Crystal Loya – as was the project’s designated city planner, Sean Conrad. (Here’s our report on the first review of the night, the post-appeal return of 3078 SW Avalon Way.)
Since this was an Early Design Guidance review, it focused on the project’s “massing” – size, shape, placement on site – and the board was satisfied enough to forward it to the next phase. Here’s what happened first:
As described by Tam, who led the presentation, this is an “alteration” of a building – headquarters of STS Construction Services (WSB sponsor). The apartments that are above the offices will be removed and replaced by two and a half floors of new apartments. The building’s footprint will be expanded on three sides; the curb cut in front of the building now will be replaced by a curb, and parking for the expanded building will be provided at BlueStone Apartments next door (also owned by STS), which they say will reduce vehicle/pedestrian conflicts in the area. The building will take many design cues from BlueStone, the architects said.
The site is close to Westwood Village and the South Delridge/White Center business district, and has open-space areas such as Roxhill Park nearby. It’s on multiple bus lines, including the 60 and the 128, they noted.
They’re requesting one departure – that means zoning exception – for waste storage, and they say Seattle Public Utilities has approved the plan. They want to use trash chutes and to have the building manager bring the trash to the street.
As is customary for Early Design Guidance meetings, three massing options were offered.
Option 1 is the project team’s preferred option, with an “iconic corner element” and the general theme of “dual bays.” They hope to use a “transparent storefront” at street level, where STS’s offices will remain. The building also would include balconies “to help break up the facade,” Tam explained. (You can read about the other two in the “packet.”)
BOARD QUESTIONS: Caffrey wondered about the purpose of the open space on the alley. Since STS is a construction company, Walters replied, it would primarily be “a yard for their materials.”
Zinski asked if they had talked with SDOT about the plan to not use the alley. Tam reiterated that the alley is not a through alley, due to a very steep end, but they are indeed consulting with SDOT about their plan and whether there’s an alternative. As for the parking at BlueStone, it’s accessible from a driveway on 20th.
Why is this a really great design? Zinski asked the team to explain. Tam replied that they feel they’ve done their due diligence and provided good massing options based on maximizing the possibilities. What’s essential to maintaining that greatness? Zinski asked on followup. Walters said that the transparency on the ground floor and the connection to the sidewalk, within the neighborhood context, for starters.
PUBLIC COMMENT: There was one person in attendance, community advocate Kim Barnes, who did offer comments: She said she feels the BlueStone Apartments have done a good job and offered amenities for residents. She liked massing option 1, and felt that strong design elements will “set the tone for the neighborhood,” so she is asking the board “to take utmost care with every single building that is built in this neighborhood,” since people who live in the area love it and its amenities. Barnes said that the footprint might be better with a little more room on the back rather than maximizing everything on the lot, and she is “disappointed that there are no three-bedroom units – one of the neighborhood goals is to maximize family habitation.” She added, “STS has been a good neighbor and we would urge them to consider that.” She also voiced some concern about materials, observing that some of the wood siding on BlueStone is already fading after less than a year. She wondered about the solid-waste plan and whether it’s something that will work in the long haul as well as whether the trash bin is going to be “secure.”
Regarding landscaping – “one tree?” she wondered. She’s been active in trying to get the area “greened up,” and hoping that some can be done with this site, maybe even “some sort of wall garden … really make it something special on that corner,” to show that STS is thinking out of the box. She supports the goal of being bicycle-friendly and encourages STS to include secure bicycle storage/parking.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Zinski said he likes the way the front of the building would be “expressing itself,” but is concerned about the back of the building and whether it’s appropriate for the transition to a single-family zone. They discussed whether something more could be happening there, maybe even ground-floor residential units. Zinski went on to say that it’s important to see how that side of the building will respond given, for example, how BlueStone has expressed itself in the area, and how the uses such as storage might be screened, given that it’s neighboring the single-family zone and shouldn’t look like a “hulking mass” springboarding off that zone.
In discussing whether to approve the departure for trash, board members sought to verify that the alley wasn’t going to be improved and was definitely considered a dead-end alley; so far as anyone knows, that’s the case. So far, they’re “inclined to support” this exception; a final decision isn’t due until later in the process.
Going through guidelines, those considered important include neighborliness/placemaking, connectivity, safety and security
The three board members voted unanimously to move the project along to the second phase of Design Review, summarizing that they like the articulation of Option 1 but want to see careful consideration taken to the west side, facing the zoning transition; they are concerned about how it relates to BlueStone regarding the massing, and also “interior programmatic uses”; the zone transition is also important as it relates to the lower-level storage area, with appropriate screening and buffers as needed. In the next phase, board members will be looking for a thoughtful, well-developed landscaping plan with lots of “publicly oriented green.” Regarding the “overall building envelope,” since the project team is maximizing the site, they’ll be expected to make the project “durable” and built with “character,” using materials best suited to interaction with people and durable to the climate and other aspects of building in Seattle.
WHAT’S NEXT: At least one more meeting – no date yet, but you can watch this page on the city website, and we’ll publish first word when it’s penciled onto the city schedule, too. You can comment on the project at any point in the process by e-mailing the planner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. – COMMENT DEADLINE FOR PROPOSED DESIGN-REVIEW CHANGES: Tomorrow (Monday, July 10th) is the deadline for commenting on major changes proposed for the Design Review program – read more about it here.