41st/42nd/Alaska megaproject update: Blame it on the monorail?

After 2 1/4 hours in a room last night with the Southwest Design Review Board and a hearteningly sized group of onlookers, here’s what we can tell you about the big building that’s to go up on the east edge of The Junction, where Hollywood Video etc. once stood:

First things first: A Design Review Board meeting is not necessarily dull. We had consumed not one but two triple-talls during the afternoon in hopes of retaining some semblance of alertness during what we feared would be a long, laborious session of public business. Long, sort of. Laborious, not in the slightest.

Second, you should know something we didn’t: This project has been years in the making (click the HISTORY tab at the bottom of this page). Board members explained their powers were somewhat constrained by the approvals given to this project before; they were down to passing judgment on whether its latest plans alleviated concerns voiced in meetings many months ago.

The biggest concern presented last night was detailed eloquently by WS activist/watchdog Mark Wainwright: This building and its businesses will not be oriented toward SW Alaska; one entrance is on 41st, one on 42nd. That certainly made sense when the (once- and never-) monorail was supposed to travel along the building’s wide Alaska side; but the death of the monorail apparently didn’t result in any significant design change (in fact, some of the graphics/drawings shown last night still charted its ex-route), even though the Design Commission raised a similar concern two years ago, urging a “flexible design” for the Alaska frontage (page 23).

The development team made some noises last night, under pressure from public comment and board members, about doing a little something to liven up the Alaska front, but the bottom line sounds likely to remain that this building and the medical/office building across Alaska could end up facing each other with mostly lifeless Alaska-St.-level frontage (save their respective bus stops).

What you probably want to know most, however, we haven’t gotten to yet: What’s in it for you?

From the bottom up: Two levels of underground parking, then a semi-underground retail level with Office Depot and “TBA retail” (7,000 square feet worth, no tenant/s yet), then the QFC level over that, then supermarket parking OVER the store, then residential units over that — the site’s got two different levels of zoning, so one part of the building gets three levels of residential, the other part gets five.

The retail signs will be tasteful, promised the development team, including the architects and owner Leon Capelouto, a longtime WS businessman. He said this is supposed to be one of QFC’s more “upscale” stores; the signage will not be the gaudy yellow of many QFCs, but rather something more urban, like their Mercer project. It was also promised that the Office Depot signage too will be “metropolitan” in nature.

Neighbors from further north up 41st attended the meeting to find out how it will affect them, and weren’t thrilled — particularly because of the major parking-garage entrance/exit on the 41st side; they are worried the 41st/Alaska intersection will be impossible without a stoplight, once the project is up. Board members voiced concerns about this too, with guest member Vlad Oustimovitch describing that side of the building as potentially “nasty.”

Ultimately, board members gave their approval, with conditions, including some purely aesthetic issues — they gave props to one audience member who scrutinized past and present renderings and pointed out that the windows had been downsized on many of the residential units, taking away a significant amount of vertical interest; the board wants that reversed. (Another interesting visual point — the building’s side profile will be “terraced” — “sawtoothed” as one board member rephrased it.)

One of the liveliest exchanges came as the chorus of concerns started to crescendo regarding the building’s lack of an entrance along Alaska. Owner Capelouto jumped up to defend his project, saying it will bring The Junction what he feels it lacks — “synergy.” He elaborated by contending that restaurants are the only businesses doing really well in The Junction, and insisting that more “big box” retail will bring customers that will spill over to smaller retailers.

So — there’s some more process left here before the concrete trucks and cranes show up; then it’s on to the rival megaproject further east on Alaska, Fauntleroy Place (which has updated its website since our last blurb; it now says construction will start “early next year” with completion by “late 2009”).

11 Replies to "41st/42nd/Alaska megaproject update: Blame it on the monorail?"

  • flipjack June 15, 2007 (8:43 am)

    Oh great! I can hardly wait for the “spill over”

  • MW June 15, 2007 (10:47 am)

    Well done again, WSB…
    I’m cautiously optimistic after this meeting. Honestly, the design team is good and have done a nice job with the hand they were dealt, but it’s hard to put a 50,000sf box (QFC) and a 15,000k box (Office Depot) and another 7000sf box, along with all that lovely parking, into this type of environment without it creating real problems.
    The high-level question that you have to ask, then, is… is this the right kind of retail for this location? The big disconnect in the development world happens in circumstances just like this, when the community wants to maintain a certain type of smaller retail “environment”, but a developer has their own ideas about what kind of retail should be there.
    Thanks to everyone who showed up. It was great to see a strong community presence.

  • Andre June 15, 2007 (11:15 am)

    I went to this meeting as well (it was my 4th design review meeting). Generally, I was quite pleased with the design of the building, the presentation of the architect (lots of renderings and even a model!) and the conditions the board came up with (I also didn’t like that they shrunk the window surfaces of the residential part). From a firm like Hewitt Architects you would expect something above average and I think they delivered.

    I can also understand that the developer (Mr. Capelouto) is not too keen on adding another entrance to the Alaska side of the building as that would mean substantial changes/ cost due the slope from 41st to 42nd. I think it is also worth to note that the QFE entrance is wrapped around the corner of 42nd and Alaska (a little bit like in the Lumen project they did on Mercer). My wife and I spend a lot of time walking up and down that stretch on Alaska between 41st and 42nd (it’s on our walking route to California) and there is so much car traffic (as they come shooting around the corner from Fauntleroy) that I feel an entrance on that side wouldn’t make things any more pleasant.

    The issue I’m concerned about is the traffic load that is put on 41st (Residential/ Office Depot parking) as there are no traffic lights on either side of the block between Alaska and Oregon. I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to figure out that this will not work well. Instead of waiting for the first wave of accidents (or someone getting killed) I would have hoped that improving the infrastructure would a necessary condition for such a project, but I learned of the years that this is not the case in the city of Seattle.

    Last, but not least, my wife and I are very happy that QFC is coming to this complex. We ditched our second car when we moved to West Seattle and having a QFC close by makes a big difference for us.

  • Jiggers June 15, 2007 (11:25 am)

    No gain without pain

  • Jenny June 15, 2007 (2:31 pm)

    > The issue I’m concerned about is the traffic load that is put on 41st (Residential/ Office Depot parking) as there are no traffic lights on either side of the block between Alaska and Oregon. I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to figure out that this will not work well. Instead of waiting for the first wave of accidents (or someone getting killed) I would have hoped that improving the infrastructure would a necessary condition for such a project, but I learned of the years that this is not the case in the city of Seattle.

    Thinking of the traffic there now, I can see your point that it would be kinda useless to have an entrance off of Alaska Way. I just hope that face doesn’t look too much like a neglected monolith of a wall.

    Also thinking of the traffic, it’s hard enough as it is to make a left turn from the bank (either cross street) onto Alaska Way. With this development they’ll have no choice but to add a stoplight or two. That would actually be a good thing. :-/

  • MW June 15, 2007 (4:07 pm)

    Regarding the Alaska St. area not being good for outdoor activities…
    Andre and Jenny – you both make very good, and valid, points about the traffic on Alaska not making for a very pleasant environment, but…
    If we’re to someday hope to expand the pedestrian-friendly feeling you get on California, we need to start creating the opportunities for that to happen on the surrounding streets, including Alaska.
    One reason why auto speeds are so high on Alaska is because there is nothing to look at. Seriously – I’m not making this up. Lot’s of smart folks have done lots of work that prove this.
    When I drive (I’d rather walk, but for the sake of the conversation…) through the Junction on California, I do it slowly, not because there aren’t enough traffic lanes (same 2+2 lanes as Alaska), I do it because I like to look around and see if I can recognize anyone I know or to see what new shops are opening up or what’s showing at Arts West or what new window displays just went up at East Street.
    If you follow my reasoning, the more activity that is created on Alaska, i.e., sidewalk cafes, multiple store entrances, people hanging out, etc., the more likely we are to turn Alaska around and get it headed back in the right (pedestrian-focused) direction.
    And if you read through the Junction Neighborhood Plan, you’ll see that the long-term hope is to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment that extends all the way along Fauntleroy to 35th, and all the way along Alaska to 35th. This can totally be done (I’m talking long-term), but buildings that are going up now that don’t provide this active, lively streetfront activity don’t foster this type of environment.

  • HulaHands June 15, 2007 (9:59 pm)

    And speaking of traffic, is ANYONE thinking about the influx of new homes and apartments and the bridge commute? I think not…

  • flipjack June 16, 2007 (9:29 am)

    Ahh who cares if it take an hour or so just to drive in or out of West Seattle at any time of the day, as long as our businesses thrive that’s all that matters.

  • Chet June 18, 2007 (8:13 am)

    I hear ya HulaHands.
    “Shout outs” to Eric, Tha House, and Jiggers!

  • Lou June 19, 2007 (1:54 pm)

    I am hoping for a decent level of intelligent architectural design in this project. West Seattle is cozy along California, but I think we can all clearly see the one big problem we have in all of West Seattle is a near complete lack of aesthetic consistency and general visual appeal altogether in our retail establishments. West Seattle is not a pretty place to go shopping. It’s freaking pit, to be honest. Newer restaurants like West 5 and Matador have done great jobs. But there are tons more places that are just terrible outside and in. I am skeptical as to how a place like Office Depot is going to make anything better.

  • Lou June 19, 2007 (1:59 pm)

    Also, to the person wanting better scenery, foot traffic, and lifestyle options along Alaska, I think your main problem, aside from the fact that there’s nothing along Alaska to encourage that vision, is Alaska is a freaking hill. Who wants to walk up and down it when there are flat areas to do the same?

Sorry, comment time is over.