At the first of two community meetings about the $150 million plan to “reinvent” The Kenney, the century-old retirement center in Fauntleroy, management and consultants revealed two big changes since the plan was first previewed over the summer (not only in this WSB article, but also in meetings with Kenney residents): There’s more “park-like” space planned for the northwest section of the site, which is famous for its greenery now, but in order to make that happen, The Kenney wants to double the height of one new building in the middle of the complex — that means six stories, and it would require rezoning, if the City Council approves. Tonight is the second of two community meetings to discuss the latest plans for the project – here’s our full report on what happened at the first meeting:
About 50 people gathered in the Fauntleroy Church sanctuary to find out what’s on the drawing board as The Kenney prepares to take its plan through the next stage of the city permit process: Design Review (its first public “Early Design Guidance” meeting is set for October 23rd).
Presenting the plan, then answering questions, were The Kenney’s CEO Kevin McFeely and the project’s major consultants: John Gray of New Jersey-based New Life Management and Development, and Gene Guszkowski of Wisconsin-based AG Architecture.
According to a show of hands requested by McFeely at the meeting’s start, those in the audience included Kenney residents as well as people who live near the site, which is bounded by 47th on the west, Fauntleroy on the east, Myrtle on the north.
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On the south side, The Kenney has been buying the residential properties along Othello, so that it can expand to cover the entire block. At least two renters from those properties were at the meeting too, including one man who said he had rented his house for almost 30 years, and already had told his family they have only two Christmases left there, so Christmas 2009 is going to be a big event — he wasn’t opposed to the project, though; he said his mother had lived at The Kenney into her “upper 90s.”
To recap why The Kenney is doing this: The nonprofit, which opened its first building — the Seaview building with the distinctive cupola (photo at the top of this report) — in 1909, says it must evolve to survive. Its market position is “the only continuing-care retirement center in West Seattle,” meaning that residents can move from independent living to assisted living and then to nursing care if/when needed, all within the same complex, but as McFeely told WSB in the interview for our article last month, they need larger units, and more of them, to meet the current (and approaching) market demand.
If you have an interest in the project, you probably read our first preview, so this writeup will focus on last night’s new information, and the community discussion.
One side note first — the presentation that recapped why The Kenney is changing offered a demographic peek at West Seattle, too: According to his figures, 25 percent of West Seattle’s population is 55 and up. The 2010 census is expected to show a 41 percent increase in the 55-64 age group over the 2000 census, and a 25 percent increase in the 85-plus age group.
To deal with the growing market, the plan would in effect double the capacity of The Kenney, from close to 200 residents now, to nearly 400. The unit type with the largest increase would be “independent living” – from nearly 100 units, to nearly 200.
Now, the plan:
John Gray from New Life Management, which specializes in projects like this, outlined it as “a three-story perimeter with a multistory interior in the bowl of the property, to give the impression of three stories throughout.” The “multistory interior” was later revealed to be six stories, combining what were to be two three-story, L-shaped buildings in the previous version of the plan that blocked off the “park” corner.
When Q/A time arrived, the discussion of that “multistory interior” became heated at times. One neighbor wanted a simple numerical comparison of exactly how high the Seaview (cupola) Building is right now (minus cupola), vs. the potential height of six stories (assuming at least 11 feet per story), and architect Guszkowski insisted he did not know the height of the building, and that it would be a potentially misleading comparison anyway, given the topography of the property. The site is currently zoned L-3, which means three stories maximum, so rezoning would be required, and indeed, the permit application currently online talks about a “contract rezone” (which means the applicant enters into a contract with the city, agreeing to certain conditions in exchange for the rezoning approval).
A neighbor said her husband had suggested she not bother going to the meeting to look into height concerns, because current zoning has the 3-floor limit, but now she’s worried because, she said, “Six stories is a significant blocking of the view in the neighborhood.”
“Height is the issue, it’s that simple” acknowledged Guszkowski after a few contentious exchanges including one man insisting “you’re insulting every person in this room” by not knowing the existing Seaview building’s height.
Regarding the fate of the Seaview building’s cupola: As we reported last month, McFeely said it would be “replicated” in the new 3-story assisted-living building that is to be constructed at the corner of Myrtle and Fauntleroy. That exact statement was not included in last night’s presentation — Guszkowski mentioned honoring “the history and spirit of Seaview” and said “it tears you up” to think about tearing the building down — but we checked with McFeely after the meeting, and he said the cupola re-creation is still in the plan.
Also planned as a re-creation: The “park-like” northwest section of the site. That area will be the lid on an underground parking garage, which means most if not all of the large old trees on the site now will have to come down. The section will not be as entirely open as it is now – a rough drawing shown last night opens it diagonally from the northwest corner into the interior. “We do want to re-create the park,” Guszkowski said, “(but also) enclose as much parking as we can. We would probably have to devise some sort of reforestation plan.” One attendee pointed out that with a 6-story building to the east of the “park,” and not much opening to the west, it will probably be in the shade much of the day.
Some neighbor questions centered on a lot that The Kenney has purchased on the northeast corner of Fauntleroy/Myrtle, across the street from the retirement complex’s north side. McFeely said they “currently have no plans for it … We originally thought we might have to incorporate that property into this design, but right now we don’t think we do. We don’t intend to turn it into a parking garage, as some (neighbors) have told me they’re concerned about. What we will probably see at some point in the future is, maybe a site for outpatient programs” — or possibly a staging area for construction management, when the time comes. He added that the site is being cleared of vegetation right now because of problems with transients camping there.
The construction is planned to last for four to five years, in phases, starting in February 2010 if the approval process goes smoothly. Regarding concerns that current residents will have their lives disrupted, McFeely reiterated the goal for all of them to have to move “only once” – and, he noted, those moves will be into “brand-new units.” The phases are expected to go as follows: First, the houses on the south side would be torn down (one of those residents was told last night it’s likely they’ll be able to stay till January 2010), and the “health-care facilities” would be built there, including the new Memory Center. Then the Ballymena apartment building on the west side would come down; the north side, including the 190-space underground garage, would be last.
That was a point of contention for some of the residents concerned about parking, which they say already tends to jam the narrow streets surrounding The Kenney. A neighbor pleaded, “Please do the parking garage before all the parking is
gone from the Ballymena or else we are all going to be going crazy.”
One more new point last night: One big caveat for the project — The Kenney “will have to achieve a number of presales” before major construction of the new residential units can begin. The health-care buildings on the south side can start without that, but project leaders said 70 percent of 160 new units would need to have takers before the rest could proceed.
WHAT’S NEXT: Tonight’s meeting, the second of two in the “early” stage of project design, is at The Kenney, 6 pm. The Design Review Board meeting scheduled for October 23rd does not currently list a location, but we’ll post an update here when that is announced. In November, McFeely says, he will start posting regular project updates on The Kenney’s website at thekenney.org, and he promised last night that additional community meetings would be held too: “We’re going to do everything humanly possible to keep the information out there,” he vowed last night.