By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Where a burned-out former auto shop (above) now sits at the corner of Delridge and Henderson, a sawtooth-edged 31-apartment building will rise, if the project that just made it out of the first stage of Design Review gets built.
All four appointed-volunteer members of the Southwest Design Review Board – chair Matt Zinski, Alexandra Moravec, Don Caffrey, and Crystal Lora – voted to advance the project to the second and final stage. This was their first look at the project – the Early Design Guidance phase – which focuses on “massing” (size, shape, placement on site). Here’s the design packet put together for the review:
Along with the board members and architects, assigned city planner Abby Weber was at the meeting, plus two members of the public, West Seattle neighborhood advocates Kim Barnes and Diane Vincent. Both spoke during community-comment time. But first = here’s how the meeting began:
While the city is considering major changes to the Design Review process – including eliminating board meetings for this first stage – those have not yet been approved, so this proceeded along the familiar four-section format:
ARCHITECTS’ PRESENTATION: Hamid Korasani of Sazei Design Group led the presentation. It’s been a year since the property was purchased, he said; “we’ve explored a lot of options,” and come up with “unique and affordable” housing, especially for people who use transit. The building is designed “with a sawtooth design” to fit in with the street. 31 microunits and a retail space at Delridge/Henderson, plus 15 parking spaces, though none are not required. “We decided to include that … as a bonus to provide parking and eliminate street parking that might be problematic for the area. … It is a huge cost for the building, as the owner has discussed with us, but we are still planning to offer (underground) parking.” He said they worked to fit in with what else is in progress for the area.
It will improve walkability in the area, Korasani said, because they are installing a “wide sidewalk” from Delridge to Henderson. Three units on the street level will be accessed from the street. They also intend “lots of green walls and landscaping.”
It was also noted that the preferred massing option, C, has the most amenity space for residents. They feel the “variety in modulation is the strong point of the design. … We feel it works best with the existing architecture that’s either proposed or being built (in the area).”
Jeremy Rene led the final part of the presentation, a response to comments from the city after their initial discussion. “Zone transition” was one issue, he said, going from single-family to low-rise, which puts particular conditions on the project. This is the northernmost commercial-zoned building in the area, he explained. The single-family lots in the area are fairly long, he said, 120 feet in most cases, so they have large yards, “and we’re trying to be sensitive to that.” They’ll use a green wall in the back of the project as part of the buffer. The back is also where all the services will be accessed, such as solid-waste pickup, which already uses the alley to access the nearby single-family homes. The parking spaces – mostly underground –
also would be accessed from the alley. And there’s basement-level bicycle storage “so people living in the units don’t have to keep their bikes in their units if they don’t want to.”
Korasani said they also had been asked for more glazing – windows – to bring light into the units and make the facade more attractive.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Lora asked about the “curtain wall” outside the building – it’s going to be on the south side, Korasani said, and will be “iconic” for people passing by that side.
Caffrey asked how far away the adjacent apartment building is. At least seven feet, said Korasani, who answered another question by pointing out that a corridor through the building will connect the north and south amenity areas.
Moravec asked about the dedicated retail area; it’s at Delridge and Henderson, Korasani reiterated. The owner is thinking about a “low traffic” type of use such as a tax office or hair salon, he added.
Zinski wondered about the concept of this project having a “gateway” aspect, along with the transition between neighborhood types. Rene explained that the area is starting to acquire a more-contemporary feel, in terms of material and massing, because of the townhouses that are popping up nearby. This will be similar, but on a slightly larger scale, Rene added. In response to another question, he said they are aiming for a somewhat-softer transition. “Are you trying to create an active or strong street edge?” Zinski then asked. Rene said they were going for a softer street edge with the sawtooth design and landscaping. And he asked his trademark usually final question: “Why is this a great design?” Korasani responded, “We looked at several options and C is reduced in square footage … to really soften the facade along Delridge Way, to make sure that what we are proposing is going to blend in with the curbage up the road, and sets back as you are driving north to south … We explored a lot of similar options and looked at other buildings on Delridge Way … the reason we feel this really is a great opportunity, there’s going to be a need for residential units because there is a shopping center just two blocks away … and people (will want to be) within walking distance of the center … We feel this creates a great opportunity for people to live there, it’s right on Delridge close to downtown Seattle … thre’s a huge demand for housing and this answers some of that, in an area that’s still economically affordable.” Zinski’s followup, “What’s absolutely essential” to keeping this as a great design – “what can you not live without?” Rene said the “sawtooth design” is a key point.
PUBLIC COMMENT: First to speak was Kim Barnes, who lives nearby: “I’m very pleased to see that the site is now under development, good to see there are going to be residences there … my goal as an informal neighborhood representative is to convey the sentiments of ny neighborhood (which is) very supportive of this development.” She said she likes Option C and appreciates the landscaping elements, “very much needed on this corner.” The west side of the building is going to get a lot of sunlight, so “sun-hardy materials” should be considered, she added. She said the lobby/public amenity area concept didn’t seem so clear, but if the apartments are going to be microhousing, the board should really consider how functional the area is going to be for its residents. She isn’t sure that microhousing is right for the area because there are many families and single-person units might lead to a lot of turnover – “it’s actually not true that the shopping center is a congregation area, the restaurants are more (lunch spots)” – White Center is more of a gathering place, farther away. Her final point was about safety, “a serious consideration for that block,” and if you read the local news (such as WSB) there’s a lot of property crime going on, she pointed out. “Making sure that those kind of incidents don’t happen with this property, which would demoralize the residents,” is important, she said.
Diane Vincent said she loves the “zigzag design … anything that’s not just squares and rectangles.” She said she agreed that the sun would be a big issue – not just the hardiness of the outside materials but “the lives of the human beings that will be living inside.” She also voiced safety concerns. She wondered if they could “define affordable,” given that term gets tossed around for small units that turn out to be at least $1000/month, and she wondered about the unit size. “They will be just a hair under 400 square feet,” responded Korasani. He said he agrees that the “word affordable has many meanings,” and he said the project would be “economically sensitive,” probably around $850/month. “We like to call it for a professional community,” he said, adding that the owner intends to keep the property rather than flip it, and that there will be a manager living on-site. Vincent also said that many microunit buildings don’t have sufficient access for seniors and people with disabilities, so she urged the design to address that – “people of all abilities who need housing.” She also suggested that “outreach to the community to find out what they would like in the retail space” would be “very important.” Finally, she warned that plant choice for the potential “green wall” would be vital so it doesn’t turn out to be a “black cage” on the side of the building.
Weber said she had received two e-mails about the project in the past week, including one concerned about a “large blank wall” on the facade, as well as a concern about the viability of live-work on Delridge (referring to what was proposed in non-preferred Option A).
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Moravec said that she preferred Option C, and that she shared concerns about blank walls, sun/light, as well as parking/traffic flows and trash. Caffrey said he’s concerned with the alley and the north facade. Lora said she too had a facade concern and was worried the sawtooth pattern wouldn’t be visible ‘when you’re driving down Delridge.” Zinski said as far as massing went, Option C indeed seemed to be the consensus. He wondered about the transition to the single-family homes and if this project was handling it well enough. Some discussion ensued with concerns about “a big concrete wall.” Zinski eventually observed,”You guys have brought up almost every facade.” Then they talked about various ways to get “some texture.”
Their talk turned to safety concerns, especially around the parking area, where there could be a “prime shelter for someone.” The project team will have to “figure out how to get eyes on the area.” (The architects later said that there will be security cameras on site, especially out back: “If the building is not safe, it’s not going to be economically successful.”)
Zinski suggested the project needs higher-end materials than what the packet might suggest. He also wondered about the components that would comprise the sawtooth/zigzag design – an upgraded platform with something above it, in which case the expression of the project’s base would be important. Alignment of materials would be vital, he added; details of the retail space would be important too, to set it apart. He urged mindfulness of other details.
After picking out specific design criteria to ask the project team to be sure to heed, the four board members voted unanimously to let the project move to the second phase of Design Review.
WHAT’S NEXT: The project will come back to the board for at least one more meeting, the Recommendation phase, at which time the design packet will have much more detail about how it will look and how it will be laid out – a date will be set and announced later. In the meantime, you can send comments about the design and/or other aspects of the project to planner Weber at email@example.com – she also will be preparing a report on this meeting that you should be able to find on the city website within a few weeks.