1st Design Review meeting for 2 precedent-setting projects


That’s a “design concept” Baylis Architects showed last night on behalf of Harbor Properties, for the site at 38th/Alaska where Harbor wants to build what its presentation noted would be the first mixed-use building in the “Fauntleroy Triangle” area. (See updated clickable WSB map of Triangle/Junction development and real-estate offerings.) The presentation spent more time discussing the characteristics and future of that area than of the proposed building itself, but Southwest Design Review Board members were impressed enough to advance the project to the next stage. Different results, though, for the other project on last night’s SWDRB agenda in the Chief Sealth High School library, the Conner Homes proposal for California/Alaska/42nd. Here’s what happened on both:

If you had to guess which building would draw a bigger crowd to the two-part meeting — the Harbor 38th/Alaska project was up for presentation, review, public comment, and board discussion a 6:30, the Conner California/Alaska/42nd project at 8 pm — you might have guessed the latter.

Not so. 38th/Alaska outdrew the other one, in large part because it is displacing most of the longtime home of West Seattle Montessori School (which is the reason we had first public word of the project two months ago), and might include space for the school in the project.

That’s what drew most of the public comments, from a crowd including WSMS administrators, teachers, and parents – they expressed concern that the plan included no playground space for the potential school, and that the alley dropoff area would be much closer to Fauntleroy than it is now. “I’m not sure this building takes the school seriously,” said WSMS parent Ian Lurie.

Terry Williams, a West Seattle architect, wondered how accommodating the developers should be given that the school might not be there forever; it was subsequently pointed out that WSMS has been at its current location for 28 years and is seeking a “10-to-20-year lease” for its new one.

The board members struggled a bit with the question of how to provide feedback to developers regarding a school as a potential tenant, even asking Harbor Properties for some help with context — development director Denny Onslow said simply, “We’re trying to make it (the school proposal) work.”

But first, let’s back up to the discussion of the “Fauntleroy Triangle” — as it was labeled on maps and drawings like this one — bordered by Fauntleroy, 35th, and Alaska:


Printed on one of the drawings was the explanation, “The Fauntleroy Triangle is a neighborhood in transition, from the auto sales and service culture of the past, to the high-density urban village foreseen by the city’s Neighborhood Plan … As the first mixed-use building in the district, 38th/Alaska will set a precedent.”

Onslow began Harbor’s presentation by saying his company was trying to help “create a vision for the neighborhood.” (During public comment, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce executive director Patti Mullen lauded that, saying, “We acknowledge the challenge in this (Triangle) area and commend SOMEBODY for taking it on!”) That vision could include tree-lined streets and angled parking, a neighborhood Susan Busch from Baylis subsequently said would be perfect for “walkable, affordable housing” and described as “quieter” than surrounding areas (despite the traffic of Fauntleroy and Alaska and the presence of Fire Station 32 across Alaska from the project site).

As is usually the case at “early design guidance” hearings, the architect presented three options for how the building could be oriented on its site, and described one as the development team’s preferred option. That in this case is what they had labeled “Option C.” Here’s Busch with the “massing sketches”:


Since the space for this project is long and somewhat narrow — 318 feet by 115 feet — they chose to have this configuration be “delineated” as “two buildings, angular and active on the north, rectilinear and composed on the south,” as Busch described it. Most of the 200-ish units are proposed as apartments, but this would include some units described as “live/work townhouses” in the middle. The vehicle entry for the 1 1/2 levels of underground parking would be on the alley behind the building, which is more or less SOP for these types of buildings in Seattle now, to address city expectations.

In discussion of the presentation before deciding to advance it to the next phase, board members did have a few points of criticism, including the proposal for a “below grade” — stepdown — entry to the retail area at 38th/Alaska. “Alaska is too important, and that corner is too important, to be even two INCHES below grade,” said board chair Deb Barker. But overall, they gave this early stage of the plan good reviews; “a very thoughtful presentation,” said board member David Foster.

Now, to the first building on the night’s agenda, Conner Homes‘ revived and revised plan for neighboring mixed-use buildings — joined underground by a shared parking garage — at California/Alaska/42nd. Weber Thompson‘s design principal Peter Greaves showed three options that board members later suggested weren’t different enough to be considered as three options, part of the reason why they would like to see the project return for a second round of “early design guidance.” Here’s Greaves during his presentation, followed by a closer look at the sketch you see in the background (keep in mind, this is the “early design” phase, so that is more of a “massing” sketch than anything else, without design details):



As reported here previously, the west building in the Conner project would run from (the current sites of) Super Supplements to Rubato Records, with a pedestrian corridor between the south end and the existing Junction buildings that begin there; the east building would start with the city, Rocksport, and travel-agency storefront area on Alaska/42nd and run all the way south to another pedestrian corridor that would buffer it from what’s under construction on the block now, Harbor Properties’ Mural building. A key component in their proposal is to turn the alley between the two buildings into a more pedestrian-friendly space including retail storefronts; the alley would still remain open to building traffic, however.

Their preferred option, “C,” proposed configurations for buildings that can best be described as modified T-shapes, with the tops of the T’s along Alaska, and the buildings narrowing a bit as they run southward from there.

Greaves showed what were described as “inspirational” photos — projects with some similarities, such as the Greenlake building developed by Conner, and alleys with the “vibrant pedestrian environment” he said they’re seeing here, such as Post Alley downtown, and Alley 24 at South Lake Union.

The configuration of the retail spaces — two fronting California in the western building (each about 2,000 square feet), two on Alaska and the alley in that building, then a much greater number in the eastern building — would offer a “greater variety of retail options,” Greaves said. That would set up both corner of the project, California/Alaska and Alaska/42nd, as retail entries; California also would have a residential entry for the western building, which drew some concern that it might be a “dead space” in the middle of the bustling Junction retail district.

Vehicle access is proposed from 42nd, which would require special city approval, since it would be a “departure” from the alley access that (as mentioned above) is standard these days.

Though the crowd for this section of the hearing was slightly smaller than for the Harbor Properties presentation later, the public comments covered more facets of the project and revealed deep-lying concerns. One theme that emerged repeatedly was concern about the height; the site is zoned for 85 feet, with the western building proposed at 5 stories of residential over 1 of retail, the eastern building 1 story taller. “I’ve talked to dozens of people and everybody’s horrified by this height,” said Sue Scharff. Later, Bill Leaming worried that the height would lead to an effect similar to what he called a “monstrosity” at California/Edmunds (south of the 7-11), a building he called “just butt ugly … not just height, but bad materials.”

“I see a very monolithic (building) sitting on the corner,” said Junction-area resident Patrick Manley. “Why did you spend so much time on the courtyard of the building – is there some assumption that the California Ave side isn’t worth (attention)?” He and others also worried about the building front jutting straight up from the California/Alaska corner.

Several other comments centered on concerns that the project also paid more attention to the alley between the buildings than to the street frontage. Admiral Neighborhood Association president Mark Wainwright said, “I’m seeing an obsessive focus on the alley. Activity is going to happen on California and Alaska and you have to focus on the pedestrian experience there, since The Junction is a lounge for West Seattle and all its residents.” He suggested that the building present its first two or three stories against the corner at California/Alaska but set back its higher stories at that spot, so that its height is not so imposing.

Junction Neighborhood Organization president Erica Karlovits also suggested “more setback” for parts of the project, “so it’s not so overwhelming to pedestrians on the street.” (Her organization is likely to focus on these and other area developments at its next meeting; keep watch on the JuNO website for more.)

Many of the above concerns were echoed when the board members got to their deliberations. Foster, a West Seattle-based architect, said, “I’m not convinced that tall buildings are inherently evil, but (in this area) there is an existing context (to consider).”

That context, said new board member Brandon Nicholson, also a West Seattle architect/developer (whose firm is based in the building that’s kitty-corner from the proposed project), can’t be underestimated: “Alaska/California is the most important corner in West Seattle.” He added that he is usually opposed to the idea of sending projects back for a second round of “early design guidance,” but, “this is too important.”

Chair Barker, who works in another city as a land-use planner, summed up the concerns about that corner and Alaska/42nd by declaring the buildings should “step back and not appear as tall as they can.” Perhaps four stories visible at the corner, she suggested.

Next step for the two projects on last night’s agenda: Michael Dorcy is the city planner for both, and your first stop for feedback and concerns, not just regarding Design Review, but regarding other decisions the city would have to make in reviewing them. His contact information is here. His department will decide whether to go with the Design Review Board’s recommendation of a second “early design guidance” hearing for the California/Alaska/42nd project, which then would be followed by the board’s official “recommendations” meeting on the project, the phase that the 38th/Alaska proposal will move to now. Once projects like these make it through city Design Review, the next step is decisionmaking regarding the permits they need before they can demolish what’s on the sites now, and move on to construction, a process that often takes a year or more to play out.

Some of the previous recent WSB coverage of these projects:
California/Alaska/42nd (March 26 story here, March 7 story here)
38th/Alaska (February 29 story here, February 13 story here)

24 Replies to "1st Design Review meeting for 2 precedent-setting projects"

  • Kathy April 11, 2008 (7:53 am)

    I appreciate this in-depth coverage. It is really critical that West Seattle citizens participate in this stage of the design. These projects will define the Junction area and we don’t want to be stuck with ugly, monster, no-character, unfriendly structures. Thank you, WSB, for helping us be part of this process.

  • JoB April 11, 2008 (8:11 am)

    all i can say is i second that!

    and thanks for the drawings which lend perspective… i understand what it proposed and how it will or won’t fit into the neighborhood much better now.

  • Sue Scharff April 11, 2008 (8:48 am)

    brilliant coverage of the meeting, as always, WSB! you really know how to cover the news.
    two complete shockers i’d like to share: one was the slide shown by the architect for the connors project that showed the zoning for the area, with transparent cubes imposed over existing buildings to show what COULD happen (soul-chilling, believe me).
    the other was a comment form patty mullen, chair of the west seattle chamber of commerce, who said she represented the CoC and the west seattle junction association when she said they were not opposed to larger retail spaces (and the corporate clients – i.e. “big box retail” – they attract) because they will “promote family wage jobs” in west seattle. this was truly shocking, folks. i would like to challenge her to live on the wages provided by target, walmart, office depot, etc. the family wage jobs are the ones we are losing in the so-called “fauntleroy triangle” – the automotive and light industrial jobs. retail is notoriously non-family-friendly.
    this bears mentioning b/c the CoC and the junction assn may, in some minds, be seen as spokespeople for the community. just a reminder that they are not. they have their own agenda which is often in direct odds with that of the residents who live AND SHOP here.

  • wseadawg April 11, 2008 (9:11 am)

    I too was curious about the “family wage jobs” comment, but I don’t want to criticize until I know where Patty and the CoC are coming from. She didn’t have much time to elaborate on the point, so maybe the CoC knows or sees something we don’t. Last night was a great start.

    And kudos to Bill for the “butt ugly” comment. Dead on!

  • westseattleite April 11, 2008 (9:28 am)

    I agree with Sue, the Chamber’s focus is not going to be on what the residents of West Seattle want, it’s going to be focused on bringing businesses to the area and whether or not those businesses fit in design wise, neighborhood wise is not going to be their main focus.

  • WS Native April 11, 2008 (9:31 am)

    This coverage is outstanding. Thank you! As for the Junction project, the emphasis on activating the alley with pedestirans and shops, as well as cars, is excellent and should set a precedent for all four blocks surrounding California & Alaska. That would be a major change for the better in the Junction. At the same time, the commenters are right about needing a strong, well thought-out statement at the main intersection. The relationship to the two buildings to the north and northwest (housing Cupcake Royale and Easy Street) is critical to the character of the entire neighborhood.

  • Rick April 11, 2008 (9:35 am)

    And the c(harm) of West Seattle continues.

  • JW April 11, 2008 (9:40 am)

    A major reason I found this neighborhood attractive when making the decision to buy a house here was the independent, small-scale retail at the Junction and elsewhere along California. I’m actually rather shocked that anyone who represents the WS Junction Assoc would be promoting any more big box retail – I have to assume I’m not the only one who thinks the current scale is an unusual oasis worth preserving.

  • Mark Schletty April 11, 2008 (9:51 am)

    Here is a copy of a letter I have sent to the City:

    Mr. Dorcy,

    As a five year West Seattle resident who was unable to attend last night’s meeting concerning the proposed development at California and Alaska I strongly urge and request that you send this back for a second “early design review”. This proposal is way out of scale for our junction, it would tower over all other buildings facing on California in the junction area. It would turn West Seattle into the “suburb” that some not- in-the-know people already think it is. Just because a code designation permits something doesn’t mean it ought to be allowed. This proposal would permanently and irrevocably destroy our Alaska Junction commercial area, and in doing so it would destroy West Seattle. A “compromise” of a reduction to a four story California façade is ludicrous. It is just as destructive of the “neighborhood” nature of the Junction as a five or six story building. I would personally suggest that they be allowed to go no higher that the average (or maybe even the highest) height of the existing buildings facing California in the Junction area.
    I am shocked and dismayed that our Mayor, as a West Seattle resident, hasn’t found some nice way to quietly kill this project already. It would appear that he is not yet ready to be a truly “world-class City” mayor if he can’t even protect his own neighborhood. A project like this would have never made it anywhere near this far in the Bridgeport neighborhood of my old Mayor, Mayor Daley of Chicago. I know this is not Chicago and that Chicago is built tall, but not in its core historic neighborhood commercial districts, at least not without the strong support of the neighborhood’s residents. This project clearly does not have that support.
    Thank you for your consideration of this request.


    Mark Schletty

    C.c. Mayor Nickels
    Council President Conlin
    Councilmember Clark

  • Sue Scharff April 11, 2008 (10:11 am)

    no doubt about it, the current zoning allows for heights of 85 feet all along california avenue. those of you who weren’t at the meeting, i wish you could have seen that mock-up. it’s horrifying. i wish i’d been in on the meetings that allowed for that zoning change. where was i?!?! where were all of us?? maybe we need to also keep an eye on the proposal to raise height limits on cal ave between hinds and hanford.
    the thing i wish someone would explain to me, is how this kind of development, at this pace, at this point in time, is of any benefit to anyone other than the developers. they are not building housing for people who NEED it, they are building for people who might potentially perhaps one day want to live in it. where is the waiting list of people dying to move into an apartment in west seattle? where are the hordes of people at the gate? why now, why so much, why so tall, why why why? whom do i ask these questions?
    on my own, all i can come up with is that all this is driven by greed and ego: make huge profits at the cost of a community, and see your name on a development. i truly fail to see the benefit to any of us “men on the street.” especially when our wide-open main street is poised to become a forbidding and shadowy canyon. i can’t even say i’m “pro-growth” when this is what growth means. looks more like death.

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 11, 2008 (10:25 am)

    Amen JW and Rick. Thanks Mark for your letter. I have sent letters to the mayor and various city employees related to development for the past 3 years to no avail. Maybe if we keep on keepin’ on we will get some where but I feel like the damage has already been done. I’m concerned about the Junction but also what all of the condos have done to Fauntleroy, 35th Ave, and California Ave. It’s ugly and congested and accident/road rage prone. Potholes being created/made worse by more cars but mostly construction vehicles. Guess we can thank the 1996 neighborhood urban village plan for all of this recent boom. I realize there are pros and cons but for me there are just more cons. I see others feel as strongly as I do on this blog. There is not much we can do to stop it, we can just give our opinion on how a building should look (as if that is going to help congestion for example or replace a favorite restaurant, or help keep crime, taxes, and utility rates down). I am so frustrated! I could go on for ever with examples of why I think this is a bad idea but I bet others would have counter points. I really don’t want to argue with anyone. It’s just frustrating when you feel like you are watching an accident that is going to happen and no one hears your voice of concern.

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 11, 2008 (10:36 am)

    I agree Sue .. You may have missed it but there were a lot of us at the upzone uproar meetings a few months ago regarding Hinds and Hanford .. WSB covered it extensively as well. I live close to California .. even the building at the old Shucks site is much taller than we thought it would be. It’s ridiculous .. you’ve got a little spanish style house being dwarfed by a 30 + foot tall building. New building occupants can look down into the windows and yards of all the houses around there.. I know it’s all zoned for it but it doesn’t make it right .. Who is ever going to want to live in that house next to a busy parking lot, intersection, with people coming and going all hours of the day and night. Especially if Petco or some place goes into the Charlestown site. Across the street, Charlestown CT is not going to be a landmark so more condos could go in there where there are already 3 or 4 new or existing condo sites on this block. California and Charlestown is going to be as busy as Alaska and California pretty soon. Trash created by businesses, it’s like we’re turing into Belltown but were not downtown .. we are or used to be a neighbohood of HOUSES not condos and town homes like Belltown.

  • Sue Scharff April 11, 2008 (10:36 am)

    roger that, toomanyratsinacage. i can’t sleep some nights thinking about the road we’re headed down. but thanks for hammering away at the powers-that-be as much as you have. i do know one thing: if we don’t do anything, we can’t do anything. what’s that line? 90% of life is just showing up? it’s hard not to lose heart, though!

  • toomanyratsinacageakaWS April 11, 2008 (10:37 am)

    thanks Sue

  • WSMom April 11, 2008 (10:45 am)

    In my opinion, this development on the corner of California and Alaska will set the tone and architectural style for the future of our beloved Junction. I’m hoping we can retain the small town feel of our business district and be able to have the interesting little shops that make West Seattle special. Will “Funky Janes” have a home in this new building, or will we be stuck with a LimitedTwo or Gap because the rents are too high for smalltime business owners? I like the fact that the developer is thinking about the Alley, but creating an interesting and livable California Ave frontage should be foremost in their consideration. I agree with Mr. Schletty above “just because a code designation permits something doesn’t mean it ought to be allowed”.

    We as a community need to come together now to while we still have an opportunity to have a voice in this new development.

  • wseadawg April 11, 2008 (10:45 am)

    Hang in there, toomanyrats. I feel your pain, but remember, there was no blogosphere in 1996.

    Strong opposition, measured by large crowds of articulate folks can and will make a difference. No, we can’t stop development, but yes we can have a say in it, and the citizenry’s opposition at the meeting was essentially unanimous.

    I believe the look and feel of a building has alot to do with getting people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks, which thereby mitigates traffic congestion – which, by the way, is one of the principal goals of the GMA and Urban Village concept.

    If by banding together we can have an impact, then great. If not, we’ll demonstrate for the rest of the City that the process is meaningless. Either way, we’re making a difference.

    Thank Heaven for this BLOG.

  • Sue Scharff April 11, 2008 (10:57 am)

    we will absolutely lose funky jane’s, rubato, the barber shop, the rocksport (folks i’ve heard from personally – i’m betting we’ll lose the other businesses as well. and where else is there a shoe repair store around here, i ask you?) and probably even super supplements to this development (heard a rumor that the reason we got them and not a starbucks, is b/c they were only offered a short term lease, as the owner knew this development was in the offing). the plans we saw last night delineate 4 retail spots in the western building, and a dozen or so in the eastern one.
    i for one could care less about the alleys and connections between cal ave and 42nd. it’s not even mid-block, as is the one between cal ave and the parking lot to the west, which makes sense b/c of its placement north/south. it seems like a red herring, a distraction: “oh, look at this nice shiny thing we’re making for you; now just ignore the fact that we’re building a behemoth that will block light, sun and cost way more to live in than 90% of you can afford!”

  • wseadawg April 11, 2008 (11:07 am)

    If you haven’t already, download the WS Junction Design Review Guidelines here:


    If the link doesn’t work, Google “West Seattle Junction Design Review Guidelines” and you’ll get to them that way.

    These are supposed to be followed or at least taken into consideration. Judge for yourselves if they were or not.

  • MSW April 11, 2008 (11:14 am)

    Just check out Fremont and Ballard and you will see what is coming to the Junction. Huge ugly mega condos, horrible parking problems, and sterile high income Ghettos with little diversity. It’s no better than the track housing and strip malls that our anti-sprawl mayor detests so much. But it seems to be O.K. when the city allows the developments of these “High-rise strip malls and track housing ” in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

  • elevated concern April 11, 2008 (1:48 pm)

    Put your comments in writing to the city planning department and ask that they be made part of the public record. It’s time consuming and often difficult to attend these design review meetings to give testimony or comments to the review board. Our best chance to be heard and make a positive impact with our neighborhood is to comment to the city and have it included in the public information so that formal “public information requests” can be summoned in support of our preferences. State your comments here on the blog but make an impact when you write to the city.

  • Sue Scharff April 11, 2008 (3:11 pm)

    well said, elevated concern. here is contact info for the city representative who attended the meeting in question:
    Michael Dorcy
    (206) 615-1393
    in the report above, wsb includes this link to the department and everyone in it; here it is again:

  • GenHillOne April 12, 2008 (9:32 am)

    Yes, this project is going to set the tone for others and I agree with most here – alley use good, design not-so-much yet. This would be a great opportunity for Conner to do it right and become a positive force in our community. Over the last few months I’ve been surprised at how many people have been lamenting the imminent closure (hopefully, just a move) of some of the Junction businesses, especially Rocksport. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to lose any of them – well, SS wouldn’t break my heart – but this goes WAY back to the monorail project. Rocksport has been living on borrowed time for years, hasn’t it? I don’t think any real longterm leases have been available for awhile – partly why we see things like the “seasonal” Halloween shop come in. I guess I’m just not up in arms because I’ve considered them moving for five years. Remember when All Around Travel, a solid longtime WS business (with employees who lived and worked here), was next door on the 42nd side? They consolidated to their eastside office when it was announced that building was coming down for the monorail. Think about all of the projects around us that are tied to once-monorail properties. I’d be interested to see if other neighborhoods are experiencing the same thing.

  • WS Guy April 12, 2008 (1:26 pm)

    The posters on this thread are right on. This is the development that will make or break the junction, as future projects will be likely to follow it in style. We’ll be boxed out (literally) unless we get some charm and quality in this particular project.

  • Join the club - concern about precedent setting development in West Seattle. — Smarter Neighbors April 12, 2008 (10:10 pm)

    […] West Seattle Blog always does a good job covering the news, and this time published a really great play-by-play of a Design Review Board […]

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