Design reviewers say 5020 California needs a “fresh start”


First headline from tonight’s Southwest Design Review Board meeting on Spring Hill, the mixed-use building proposed for 5020 California and adjoining parcels: This was a textbook case of why it’s vital to participate in public meetings if you really want to affect the outcome — dozens of concerned neighbors showed up, many of them spoke up, and board members took their key concerns to heart in telling the architects and developers to try a “fresh start” and come back for a second “early design guidance” meeting. Biggest concern – the fact that the 3 early design alternatives (above; larger images are shown later in this report) presented by architect David Hewitt for this 65-plus-foot-high building all put its tallest, most imposing side against the alley that borders a line of single-family homes along 42nd. Board members want the architects to come up with alternatives incorporating a less abrupt the transition from this building to those homes. FULL REPORT AHEAD, ADDED 2 AM:

This was the biggest public turnout we have seen at a Southwest Design Review Board meeting in a few months, perhaps foreshadowed by a neighbor’s announcement earlier this month that she was organizing those with concerns. However, it might have seemed also unavoidable, given that, as one neighbor put it, “this is the most severe case of zoning you can have anywhere in the city” — going from NC2-65 (which allows buildings up to 65 feet with large retail spaces on the lower level) along California to single-family residential right behind.

Those attending the meetings seemed to hold no illusion that they could stop a large building like this — about 90 residential units, and 4,000 square feet of retail — from going up across the alley from their homes; that’s what the zoning allows for the parcels that, combined, will comprise a lot that’s 145 feet wide and 150 feet deep. But one by one, they asked for a design that would keep their homes from going completely into the shade for large parts of the day. Nearby resident Nancy Woodland recalled, “My 7-year-old said, ‘I want to see the ocean.’ I said, you’re not going to be able to. So then (the 7-year-old said), ‘I just want to see the sky’.” Right now, smaller, old buildings are on the site, and with the fact the land slopes upward toward 42nd, the homes do have view that will be lost, but neighbors note that blow can be softened if their new view isn’t so harsh.

Architect Hewitt noted during his presentation (which the city has now posted online here) that the slope means Spring Hill “gets a few more feet in height,” up to 68 feet high at the alley, in the current proposal. The three alternatives he displayed all featured unique elements for the front along California; “we’re very concerned about how the street edge feels,” he said, pointing out that five old street trees would be preserved (one neighbor later told the board that the trees “make a mess” every year and residents would just as soon see them go).

All three alternatives they presented (see images below this paragraph) included a courtyard — two with it facing west, one with it facing south. And all three included an element that was almost as controversial for neighbors as the concept of the tall “wall” of the building up against the alley – the plan for entry to the building’s 100 parking spaces (all underground) to be from the alley, instead of from California. Asked why, Hewitt said, “We didn’t feel a curb cut on California was appropriate … access would have been easier but in most of our mixed-use projects, we are encouraged to enter off the alley.” (Right now, Hewitt is involved with two other major mixed-use projects in West Seattle — Mural, going up in the former parking lot behind Petco, and Capco Plaza, on Alaska between 41st and 42nd.)




Of the three early design outlines you see above, Hewitt said the third alternative was his firm’s favorite, as it “allows more unusual-shaped units and more light in the corridors.” But all of them position more of the building’s “mass” along its backside, facing the alley and the homes along 42nd; asked why, Hewitt said, “We don’t feel we can give away allowable envelope” — meaning they want to maximize all the height and width the zoning would allow them to have.

Among members of the public who spoke, only one was pleased with the proposed design showing varying heights and facades along California, Patti Mullen of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce. She said the chamber had been “concerned with the continuing development on California Avenue, and the canyon effect” created by tall buildings lining more and more of the frontage.

Dave Gould, who lives on the block north of the project, wondered how many vehicles were expected to be coming and going because of this building. Planner Mike Reid said transportation planners were just starting to take a look, but they are working with early projections of 50 vehicles during morning rush hour, 60 during peak evening hours. Gould went on to express concern about how truck traffic might be handled — moving trucks, delivery trucks, etc. — with an alley entry and no dedicated loading dock.

A similar concern was voiced by Tamara Vanderpool, who said she lives in a neighborhood west of California but has to deal with hazards posed by trucks making deliveries to the large building at California and Dawson, across the street from where this project will be. Without a loading dock for that building, she said, delivery trucks often park on the corner or further down Dawson, and as she negotiates that street, she said, “I often feel like I’m going to get rear-ended.” She and several others also suggested that perhaps Spring Hill should be all residential, rather than trying to squeeze some small retail in on the ground floor. City planning staffers told the board they’re not sure if that’s allowable, but they’ll check.

With so many concerns, board leader Deb Barker and the other three members in attendance ordered a second “early design guidance” meeting for the project, with Barker saying, “I’m inclined to ask for a fresh start on this – do something that honors and respects the single-family residential uses to the east.”

No timetable for that meeting – it depends on when the architects, developers, and city planners schedule it. Any comments about the project can be directed in the meantime to city planner Mike Reid, (206) 386-4646.

11 Replies to "Design reviewers say 5020 California needs a "fresh start""

  • JW January 11, 2008 (12:02 pm)

    I don’t think there’s an easy solution here.

    You can see the dilemmas. They are going to build to the height limit. No getting around that.

    65-foot buildings cast shadows and block views. 90 residential units and big retail spaces create a lot of coming and going. Is it better to have every car coming and going driving across the sidewalk and making the streetscape less appealing? Or is it better to make the neighbors behind and the other alley users get used to the influx of cars?

  • grr January 11, 2008 (12:23 pm)

    yup..someone is gonna get mad, no matter what.

  • Dawson January 11, 2008 (1:27 pm)


  • WSMom January 12, 2008 (10:43 am)

    I just received an invitation from Bluestar Management/Development for an open house for Spring Hill.

    Details: Neighborhood Open House
    Thursday, January 24, 4pm – 7pm
    Senior Center of West Seattle
    4217 SW Oregon St.

    Thank you West Seattle Blog for covering this issue.

  • WSB January 12, 2008 (10:04 pm)

    Hmm, that’s going to be a busy night. Also the night of the RapidRide public meeting @ The Hall at Fauntleroy.

  • Single Family Home January 15, 2008 (12:30 am)

    I attended the neighborhood meeting last week and was encouraged that Ms Barker called for a fresh start that would be respectful to the comments by the residents to the east of the proposed structure. We agreed that having such a massive wall rising 65 feet in the alley, fronting our backyards, was not only intrusive but did not allow much light to come through during the later hours. I hope that Mr. Hewitt will consider having a courtyard facing towards the east so that it would allow for some light and give an option for some green landscape to offset the hardness of the structure. This type of planning can only help set precedence for similar buildings in the future. Their current plan leaves little room for planting any tall trees or other plants for added privacy. Having the parking entrance in the alley would only add more cars traveling through the alley and increase the danger for some of the children who play in the alley. I hope that Ms. Barker and the board members make it a priority for the architects to balance the fine line of single famly homes and mixed use residential structures.

  • Mary January 23, 2008 (10:23 am)

    I would like to know if this open house mentioned in the post above is actually occurring tomorrow night (Thursday). Any one have any information on this?

    From post above:

    “I just received an invitation from Bluestar Management/Development for an open house for Spring Hill.
    Details: Neighborhood Open House
    Thursday, January 24, 4pm – 7pm
    Senior Center of West Seattle
    4217 SW Oregon St.”

  • Mary January 24, 2008 (6:25 pm)

    I stopped by the open house, and there was nothing new on display. Although they claimed 500 invitations had been mailed out for this, I never one, tho I had sent in two letters to the city, and others I know who both sent letters and attended the review board likewise got no notice. Very few people had shown up, possibly because few were notified.

    I was bewildered as to the purpose of this open house as there were no new designs to examine, just the originals which had been rejected already. They seemed to want to pursuade me that the original designs were really ok.

    They said three new ones will be proposed and that tentatively the new review board would be Feb. 14th or Feb 28th.

  • WSB January 24, 2008 (6:36 pm)

    We probably just missed you – we were there from about 5:55-6:10 pm. Eric from BlueStar told us they mailed to people “within a half-block radius or so.” I don’t think they’ll be on the 2/14 agenda since that already has two projects (including BlueStar’s other West Seattle biggie, Fauntleroy Place) so if they make it back to SWDRB in February, it will probably be the 28th.

  • Susan December 31, 2008 (11:58 am)

    What are the east/west cross streets on California where this is going up?

  • WSB December 31, 2008 (12:22 pm)

    It’s just north of Rite-Aid … Dawson/California, I believe that is.

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