Spent the lunch hour today at a gathering in The Junction where reps from Conner Homes — developers of the upcoming buildings @ California/Alaska/42nd (city map above) — met local leaders, to start keeping their promise of making the rounds to talk about the megaproject, and to listen:
Still no drawings to share yet; the Conner delegation — Alison Conner, project manager James Miller, and West Seattle resident Chip Marshall from Lowe Enterprises (same company that’s developing the High Point commercial center) — had just come from a meeting with architects Weber Thompson, in fact. They have to have concepts ready to present to the Southwest Design Review Board on April 10, but for now, it’s more questions than answers.
Much of the basic information that Conner presented today was already reported here, in our March 7 article following an interview with Alison Conner. A few new tidbits emerged, such as their hope of starting construction by the end of next year, and the tentative plan for the residential units to be condos, not apartments, depending on how the market is doing by then.
Much of what else emerged today came from questions, concerns, and ideas voiced by the other participants — West Seattle Junction Association president Dave Montoure (from West 5), WSJA executive director Susan Melrose, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce executive director Patti Mullen, Chamber president Dawn Leverett (from Windermere), and city neighborhood-services coordinator Stan Lock (whose office is in the city-services center next to Rocksport and will therefore have to move once this all gets rolling).
A fair amount of discussion centered on the alley that will run between the two buildings comprising the Conner project; Miller says its north end will be closed for around 10 months during the construction work, and that led to concerns about how local businesses will get deliveries and pickups, especially considering the alley will also be servicing the now-under-construction Mural (the Harbor Properties project in the ex-Petco parking lot) by then. As Melrose put it, “It’s a very active alley.”
Miller noted that while there will doubtless be temporary pain during the alley closure, the alley will be widened by their project (the Mural side of the alley is being widened as well) and will be made “pedestrian-friendly” so it’ll all be for the best, eventually. They are hoping to get city permission for an entrance on 42nd so that all traffic for the Conner buildings will not have to be routed through the alley once they’re done.
The parking plans are the same as described when we first reported details — 100 additional spaces are planned to serve the retail components of these buildings, which Conner says is twice as many spaces are available on the street now. They say those spaces will be free for customer use, NOT paid parking. The number of spaces for the residential units in the buildings, they say, will average 1.5 spaces per unit — essentially “one parking space per bedroom.” (As previously mentioned, the underground parking garages will connect beneath the alley, so that while the two buildings will be separate above ground, their garage space will be joined beneath.)
One more parking issue that’s yet to come — Junction-area residents already are concerned about construction workers filling up neighborhood parking spaces during the day, and Miller notes that the major projects under way right now (Capco Plaza, Mural) are only in the “concrete” stages, with what he described as “only about a sixth of the personnel that will be there” when the buildings reach more labor-intensive stages — let alone when more major buildings are under construction, such as theirs, Fauntleroy Place, and the Harbor Properties projects in the works for ex-Huling land and the SW Alaska motel site. “Our project WILL have a parking plan,” Miller promised.
Regarding this issue, and several others, he frequently referred to a Green Lake project built by Conner Homes, The Greenlake, which – like this – was the first major development of its kind in its specific area in a long time. (Read more about it here.) The Conner team takes pains to say the Junction project isn’t just like it, but certainly will have some things in common.
That also brings up the matter of these two buildings being separate, yet neighboring. The western building (with California and Alaska frontage) will be one story shorter than the eastern building (with 42nd and Alaska frontage); the western building will be wood frame, the eastern building concrete and steel. Neither is proposed at the maximum height allowed in the area by code — Miller said that’s a direct result of community concern expressed when their first development proposal for these sites came out several years ago. “We hope the shorter building will be more acceptable on California,” he said.
So how alike should the two buildings look? The Conner delegation was interested in attendees’ thoughts. Their thoughts, Miller said, so far, are that the two should be “cousins” but certainly not twins – if they had identical exteriors, it would resemble one gigantic building that would overwhelm the area even more than some are worried it might overwhelm the area as it is.
They’re also interested in opinions on street-level touches: What kind of retail should fill the 30,000 square feet that will be split between the two buildings, with frontage expected on California, Alaska, 42nd, even the alley? Miller said they project one “anchor tenant” for each building, and then smaller shops to fill. He said they have not signed anyone yet and will certainly offer space to existing retailers first. They are looking now at such details as awnings — should those be varied, for character, much the way the blocks have something of a hodge-podge charm now, or should they be continuous and uniform?
Montoure suggested that if there is any space given to an eatery, particularly on California, he’d love to see the building set back so that there could be some outdoor tables, which don’t exist on California now because of sidewalk/space limitations. Outdoor seating “would be hugely appealing,” he suggested.
Bottom line – this is in the early phase – and while the matter of whether they are going to build is not in dispute, Conner Homes is looking for community comments on how the new buildings can best “fit in.” They read WSB, by the way, so whatever you say here will be seen there; they also likely will try some other ways of collecting opinion. And the first major public meeting on the project is the Design Review Board “early design guidance” meeting, 6:30 pm April 10, Chief Sealth High School – that’s where you can get your first look at their first intended-for-the-public drawings, and have a say on the concepts the Conner team presents.