Isn’t there some way to save The Kenney‘s century-old original building, Seaview, as part of the redevelopment project? That was one question heard repeatedly Thursday night from both Southwest Design Review Board members and concerned neighbors, dozens of whom packed the project’s first official SWDRB review. After two hours of presentations, questions, criticisms, concerns, and suggestions, reviewers told The Kenney’s CEO and consultants to try again, ordering a second round of “early design guidance.” Board chair David Foster pronounced the situation more “complicated than any (he’d) seen in (his) 3 1/2 years on the board,” but in the end, the meeting was more constructive than confrontational — read on:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Thursday night’s Design Review session wasn’t the first public meeting about The Kenney’s $150 million “reinvention” project, but it had the most at stake.
We first brought you details about the plan with this article in August, after CEO Kevin McFeely agreed to sit down and discuss it with WSB, following a summer of meetings with residents, staff members, and other first-line stakeholders.
Then in September, The Kenney invited community members to come hear, and ask, about the plan, with two public meetings, during which a major change in the plan was revealed (WSB coverage here) — a proposal to open up the northwest corner of the site, recreating some of its current “park-like” feel, by taking units proposed for that corner and stacking them atop a new building in the middle – making it six stories high, which would require a zoning change.
That is partly what was at issue tonight: Design Review Board chair David Foster and member Joe Hurley, meeting without the other three board members (two with pre-planned absences and one sick), said they need to know what the project might be like without zoning changes and code “departures,” when it comes back for a second round of “early design guidance.”
But before we get to that — we’ll go through what preceded that pronouncement, including an extraordinary amount of constructive public comment which led Foster to conclude that section of the hearing with words of praise for attendees, who in turn offered something seldom heard at this type of meeting — applause.
McFeely began with a brief recap of what the nonprofit retirement center wants to do and why. Addressing the crowd of about 40 people, he was even more blunt than in the community meetings: “We find ourselves at a crossroads, with (potential residents’) demands and expectations unlike any we have ever seen. We are doing this for sustainability and viability … Quite honestly, without this, we are not going to be able to survive financially, and we are not going to be able to serve anyone.”
The rest of the presentation was handled by Gene Guszkowski from AG Architects, a Wisconsin-based firm that specializes in these types of projects.
He revealed one new development — The Kenney now will be able to develop the entire block, because they’ve worked out a deal for one residential property on the south side that previously had been a holdout. The presentation included this aerial view of the site (because of the new deal for the southwestern property, the purple border would now extend all the way to the corner on that edge):
“Our biggest constraint is the texture of the surrounding neighborhood,” Guszkowski said, foreshadowing some of what community members would say a short time later. “Our challenge is how to balance this denser development with the surrounding area.”
The Kenney’s proposed project would double the number of residents, to about 400, and would take down most of its buildings, replacing them with what would together become what Guszkowski termed “a modern-day continuing-care retirement community. The problem with the century-old Seaview building has been described as the fact it is too narrow, its units are too small, and it is in the wrong spot on the site — the new vision of The Kenney requires a common area that has to be in the center of the site, precisely where the Seaview building (with its landmark cupola) stands now.
The redevelopment also has to be accomplished with minimum displacement of current Kenney residents; toward that end, Guszkowski laid out the strategy that had been described at previous briefings — tear down the buildings on the south side, build the assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing units there, move current residents into them, then move on to the north side of the site, from which those residents would have been vacated, building a new structure at Fauntleroy/Myrtle, which would replace the apartments now in the Ballymena building, so that those residents could move into the Fauntleroy/Myrtle building before Ballymena is demolished and that last section of the site is redeveloped.
Here are the configurations that were shown in The Kenney’s presentation (which you can see here in its entirety):
That last one is what was described as the “preferred option” by the architects, the same one shown at The Kenney’s community meetings, with some open green space in the northwest corner and a six-story building in the middle. Here’s one additional rendering showing how its massing might look from Fauntleroy:
The architect also came equipped with information that was missing at the community meetings and had been something of a point of contention — given that the proposed six-story building would stand on a section of the site that is somewhat downslope from the Fauntleroy frontage, exactly how far would its roofline potentially protrude over the roofline for the Seaview building? The resulting rendering was not in the packet that is linked online, but it showed about 12 extra feet of elevation.
As is the standard format for Design Review meetings, board members’ questions followed the architect’s presentation. Hurley opened by asking, “Did you look at a scheme in which more of the existing buildings were reused?” and later said he felt disbelief when he first reviewed the materials and realized The Kenney was proposing demolishing almost all of its buildings: “I would be surprised that so much of the history of this institution would be disappearing in the process.”
Guszkowski repeated that the “site constraints” had kept them from doing that, as well as the buildings’ lack of “adaptability to the new uses.” He added, “Your heart tells you this is a terrific place, but your head tells you that from an economic point of view, the reusability of this space is a challenge.” At this point, Guszkowski mentioned something that McFeely had told us during our initial interview about the project – that there had been talk of designing the Fauntleroy/Myrtle building as something resembling a recreation of the Seaview building, cupola and all. McFeely also acknowledged that there would be hurdles to clear with the concept of demolishing the Seaview building at all — it will have to go through the landmark-nomination process, which always carries the possibility that the city Landmarks Board will decide to designate it as a landmark.
Board members pressed for more details on exactly what kind of “contract rezone” The Kenney would pursue – one consultant said they might request “midrise” zoning for part of the site, though without the intent to fully utilize the potential height that would enable. (Here’s a guide to city zoning designations and terminology, in case you are interested.)
To summarize the public comments that followed:
-Keeping a service entrance on Othello was of great concern to more than one speaker, since the street is so narrow but larger trucks might be expected to start serving the facility once its capacity expands.
-Keep the new buildings from looking “institutionalized”
-“It would be a real loss to the community to lose the cupola”
-If zoning changes were granted, what would the community get in return?
-Having a six-story building would be “a real impact on our neighborhood”
-Did a structural engineer review the Seaview building for soundness that might enable it to be remodeled? No, but that’s not the point, the architects reiterated
-Don’t let the buildings’ facades “create a wall” along the important Fauntleroy walking route to Lincoln Park
-Why didn’t the architect show a design option that would not require rezoning?
-Couldn’t the Seaview building be repurposed for something, like offices, even if it couldn’t be used for housing?
-The Kenney is important to the community, but its management has to be “absolutely truthful about what they’re doing … we’re going to want to know every little detail so we know what we are buying into”
-Concern that the new buildings will be looking down into the homes of those who live across the street, with the additional height and possible placement further forward on the site
-A suggestion that the streetfront facades be broken up so there is more open space visible to passers-by
-Concern about the “mature trees” on the northwestern corner of the site: An area resident asked if the architects had done a “tree survey” yet – the answer, “no”
Foster then thanked those in attendance, saying “I’ve heard some absolutely wonderful comments tonight,” and urging the attendees to stay for the final portion of the meeting, when board members discuss what they’ve heard and what they’re thinking before arriving at a recommendation.
That’s when Foster opened with, “This is as complicated a project as I think I’ve seen in three and a half years on the board,” elaborating that one major reason is the fact that the presentation relied heavily on assumptions that rezoning and departures would be granted, but without specifics on exactly what would be requested.
Those specifics, said city planner Michael Dorcy, need to be in the next presentation: “You need to ask them to identify exactly what they are asking … these would require tremendous departures from the board to achieve – you need to know the width and depth of buildings.”
Foster added that the board should be able to see “shadow studies” and a tree inventory as well as comparisons with existing zoning at the site: “We’d be doing the public a disservice if we didn’t get that information for them.” He also suggested the board would need “meaningful renderings” on how the taller buildings suggested at the site’s center would appear to residents in a variety of areas around the site, even up the hill to the east.
He and Hurley agreed that another early-design-guidance meeting would be in order, which means there will be at least two more public meetings in the Design Review process for this project. As their discussion wound down, architect Guszkowski started to offer some ideas, such as “reversing” the orientation of one of the buildings on one corner of the site, and some of the previously voiced ideas seemed to be catching a spark, even talk of reshuffling the buildings so that there might be a public pathway through the site, where people might take walks and even interact with The Kenney’s residents.
Before the discussion was done, Foster revisited one more point of importance: “I’m severely disappointed that we are not seeing a scheme that doesn’t try to save the Seaview building. Seems to me there are a variety of ways that building could be utilized.” He acknowledged that the idea of “recreating” it might have potential, but, “How does it even come close to matching the majesty of a building that was built in 1907? I’d be surprised if that building wasn’t a strong candidate for landmark status.”
After a few more “what if …” discussions ricocheted around the table where Foster and Hurley sat, ringed by those watching their official deliberations, Foster offered closing words: “I like the positive nature of these comments – maybe the idea of (a pathway through the site for) dog-walking, what a wonderful way to bump into an old neighbor who might now be living there. Let us encourage you to take the design further along those lines. It’s going to be an arduous process, we might as well admit it” — nervous laughter greeted that, from a few on hand – “I see no reason this can’t wind up being a positive project.”
Next steps: A date will be set for the next “early design guidance” review; we will let you know as soon as it’s made public, which generally happens with posting on this city page. Comments on matters other than design can be sent at any time to the city planner assigned to the project, Michael Dorcy, firstname.lastname@example.org. Different aspects of the project will have different processes — zoning and environmental reviews, for example; if a rezoning request ultimately is part of it, the city Hearing Examiner and City Council would be involved, with various opportunities for public comment. Also potentially in the works — leaders from the Fauntleroy Community Association and Morgan Community Association were talking afterward about possibly organizing a community forum to discuss the project and clarify the processes that will be involved along the path it takes through city approvals.