Rezoning for 6-story building now part of The Kenney’s plan


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, 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.

12 Replies to "Rezoning for 6-story building now part of The Kenney's plan"

  • nimbysuntie September 18, 2008 (1:40 pm)

    Looking forward to seeing people fight this and claim they’re not NIMBY’s followed by the always epic line “this is my neighborhood”.

    True. It maybe your neighborhood…but it isn’t your land.

  • Alvis September 18, 2008 (5:41 pm)

    I feel sad for people, invariably from outside the area, who get some personal thrill from glibly denigrating West Seattle residents as NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) obstructionists.

    Any neighborhood in any city has its share of people determined to block developments of any sort, yet I contend West Seattle is a QUIMBY neighborhood. That means Quality-In-My-Backyard.

    Too bad about simpletons who don’t expect neighborhood residents to negotiate for the best quality in projects that affect the local area.

  • transplantella September 18, 2008 (5:58 pm)

    I think it’s a great trade off. Give them their extra 2 stories and retain part of the park.

    I approve.

  • Rubs September 18, 2008 (8:35 pm)

    I’m a NIMFY on this one, and I’m gonna fight it

  • Andrew September 18, 2008 (8:55 pm)

    Isn’t there any concern that they are going to tear down this historically significant building? It is now 100 years old and a true landmark!

  • JumboJim September 18, 2008 (9:12 pm)

    What is sad in this case (as in so many others) is that someone is once again looking to bend the zoning to their needs even if it is in attempt to preserve some green space. What good are zoning regulations if they are allowed to change every time someone wants to build something outside regulations? If your neighborhood is zoned single-family-residential for instance, would you care if someone wanted to come in and build an apartment house or a 5 story commercial building next door? I know I would.

    Call me NIMBY if you like but there does need to be some reasonable sort of planning in order to make/keep neighborhoods liveable. I am not necessarily opposed to this project in particular, but have seen too many other zoning changes that lead to poor neighborhoods.

  • WSB September 18, 2008 (9:14 pm)

    They will have to apply to have it reviewed as a potential landmark – two of the buildings, in fact, since they’re more than 50 years old; that’s the law. That will be the point in the process where those concerns, if anyone has them, can be brought before the city Landmarks Board. Sorry, I should have mentioned that in this report – I did in the original preview article that is linked inline – TR

  • fiz September 19, 2008 (7:15 pm)

    My mother is a resident at the Kenney. I am ever so glad she is not in the Seaview building anymore. It’s over 100 years old, folks. It does not serve its population’s needs anymore.

    I’m curious – how many of you in the above comments attended either of the public meetings?

    This project needs to go forward. The people involved are listening to the neighborhood and planning a quality campus that will fit into the community.

  • Pokey September 19, 2008 (8:45 pm)

    Sorry fiz—6 stories is 60′ high no matter how you slice it. Count me amongst the NIMBY’s except it’s in my FRONT yard. You can add on, restore or remodel a building without adding 3 stories to it. Of course, you may not be able to add as many rooms as you would like, ergo the ‘pre-sales.’

    What this means is that The Kenney is willing to harm neighborhood views and relationships on speculation, not a very neighborly thing to do. I totally agree with JumboJim on this one.

    I would imagine as soon as more people find out about it, opposition to the height variance will grow. I know I’ll do my part to help make that happen by notifying all my neighbors this weekend.

    Nimbysuntie–thanks for the up front sensitivity to others’ situations. How long have you been trolling?

  • WSB September 19, 2008 (8:54 pm)

    Shameless plug here but anyone who does talk with neighbors, friends, family, about development, regardless of whether you are for something or against, please let them know they can count on this site to continue covering all the major projects in West Seattle. We were the first to preview this project a month ago; we were the only media rep in sight at the Wednesday meeting; we couldn’t cover Thursday because we were at the Admiral Safeway meeting and the Alki Community Council meeting, but we checked with a contact who was there to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. We will also be at the Design Review Board meeting next month – 8 pm October 23, location still not posted on the city website, but we’ll report it here as soon as it is.

    If development is your main interest, you can check the archive (newest to oldest) any time here:
    The list of all coverage categories, one way we organize stories, is in the second half of the right sidebar. – TR

  • Pokey September 19, 2008 (10:13 pm)

    I agree! You guys do the best job around on keeping us informed. I’m usually pretty up on these, but for some reason, not so much on this one til tonight. Will definitely be at the Oct. 23rd meeting.

    Thanks for all you do! You’ve become a great asset to our community.

  • neighbor September 24, 2008 (9:00 pm)

    Reading these comments- I walked by the Kenney tonight. Don’t confuse a garden on top of a parking structure with replacing the large trees and gree space in the north west corner. If they double the capacity and actually it is more impact since they are doubling the residents but the increase will have larger units. This is a huge project with a big impact.
    Six stories is huge, towering, in a residential neighborhood. Six stories ensures the Kenney high value for the view units. This is not for low income or average income seniors.

    “Green” Kenney needs to take a closer look at their mission and their buildings. Sustainability means making use of what you have. They need parking to expand and the only way to get more parking is to dig down (there go the trees). The cost of structured parking is high $35,000 a stall and climbing so they need to build up to increase the value.

    The question is – should a project that is a conditional use in a residential neighborhood be allowed to double it size and height. Is this what is intended for the contract rezone. The six story portion of the building complex was quite long – it appeared to be half the block length.

    It does not seem that the Kenney team has studied this site well. What drove their height and layout? How are all the cars going to access the site? Are they widening streets? there is no right of way space so are they dedicating more land ? I will be interested to see how they address scale at the Design Review.

    Finally Peter Steinbruck had written an editorial in the ?PI or Times about the need to save and reuse our buildings just the night before the Kenney’s public meeting.

    It seems that they are demolishing a significant number of buildings without regard to neighborhood context.

    Not in my backyard … but in many people views. I think there is a more reasonable expansion opportunity and I am saddened that The Kenney has come to the neighborhood with this proposal.

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