Admiral Safeway, Design Review #2: Board members “disappointed”

When we showed you images this morning from the presentation to be made at tonight’s second “early design guidance” meeting for the Admiral Safeway redevelopment proposal, we wondered aloud if there was much difference between the applicants’ “preferred alternative” from round 1, and the “preferred alternative” this time around (rendering above). Short answer: No, except for an “alley vacation” transformed into an “alley relocation.” And the lack of change did not go over well with most of the board members – though before the meeting was over, it became an interesting case of what happens when design philosophy clashes with economic reality – read on:

Design Review Board meetings are often the only chances the community gets to publicly speak out about a major development proposal. Technically, all land-use proposals have comment periods — that’s what those big white signs (and golden flyers) are all about — but those don’t get as much visibility as Design Review meetings with architect/developer presentations, public comments, and ultimately, a vote.

When tension arises in these meetings, it’s often between the public and the developers – people worried about how big projects are going to change their neighborhoods.

That wasn’t the case here. Most public comments were positive. But the Design Review Board members — all volunteers, by the way — have a job to do, and they take it very seriously. When the Admiral Safeway project came before them in September, they told the architects and developers that they wanted to see something that better maximized the site, something less “suburban,” more distinct options, and sent the project back for a second “early design guidance” meeting (only one is required).

Architects Fuller Sears did present more options – but each one was said to have flaws that didn’t work with Safeway’s “program” — project requirements — except #7, which was almost identical to #3, the “preferred alternative” from September, except for a wider drive-thru from California to 42nd in front of the store, described as an alley relocation.

In the first review, the preponderance of parking — rooftop and surface lots — came in for some criticism. This time around, architect Bill Fuller explained that Safeway still wasn’t even following suburban standards for this project — “If we were building in the suburbs, there would be five cars per thousand square feet of store, not three (as in this project).”

And they stressed something that turns out to be at the absolute top of Safeway’s shopping list for this project: The store must be closed for as short a time as possible. It’s a “very successful store” even in its current shape, Fuller said — 130 employees, 25,000 customers a week, “so we want to disrupt it as little as possible.” 16 months is the expected construction time, and even that, he said, is a “pretty compressed period.”

The new alternatives presented were #4, which would move the store further north on the lot, with 70 residential units on its south side, facing Hiawatha, with a parking-access ramp on that side too:

#5 wrapped 45 residential units around the 42nd and Lander-facing sides, but Safeway said it didn’t allow enough parking stalls:

#6 was described as the result of “what if we didn’t need a rezone, what if we didn’t need an alley vacation, what if we had no ‘code’ departures?” That one didn’t work for Safeway, Fuller said, because it only would allow for a 50,000-square-foot store:

So that brought in #7, the new applicant-referred option, with the “alley relocation,” and a residential component on the 42nd-facing side, four stories with the top floor “set back” to “respect adjacent properties.”

Pressed by board members to describe exactly what was different between the “preferred options” of last meeting and this one, the architects confirmed it was only the “alley relocation” and the change of the driving path to an “alley and pedestrian way — it would feel like driving through Pike Place.” The building “massing” — size and shape — is the same, they confirmed, “because we believe it’s viable.”

“How did you address the concern we had last time, that the store would be too ‘suburban’?” asked board member Joe Hurley, an architect.

They listed differentiating factors such as “lots of glass” compared to the “typical Safeway today with four blank walls,” plans for the produce section to “spill out into the alley,” and “garage-door” type roll-ups to open up parts of the store.

The architects said they didn’t think they had a bad plan before, but they didn’t think they’d done a good job of “communicating it … We’re doing all the things the community wanted us to do.”

“But we haven’t seen a proposal with underground parking,” interjected review board chair David Foster, a West Seattle architect.

The Safeway team said flatly that it “cannot do underground parking” — too much time, too much money. They stressed again that they have to work within the Safeway “program” — specifications: “If we deviated from the program, we could have shown you a lot of stuff, but that would have led us to a project that wouldn’t have gotten built.”

At that point, Hurley expressed frustration, saying the board can’t be constrained by a developer’s wishes when trying to work by the city guidelines. “I understand Safeway wants to only be closed 16 months, but how long is this building going to be here – 75 years? 100 years? What’s 16 months (in comparison to that)?”

Sara Corn from Safeway’s regional real-estate division broke in at that point. “This has always been a huge dilemma for us, the closing time (required by a redevelopment project). We’ve been thinking about it for the past decade. We finally said, we can’t leave this eyesore in the community any longer. If it’s not feasible for us, we can’t do the project. I’m not trying to bully you, but that’s the way it is. Safeway might be OK for the next 50 years if we just painted and did some remodeling – it’s a hugely successful store. But we’re trying to do something nice for the community.”

In the ensuing public comments, one person voiced a similar sentiment, saying they thought the community should be grateful merely for the fact that in a capital-challenged time, Safeway was choosing to spend some of its capital in this community. Other comments included Jeff Larsen supporting #7, as long as the colors are “toned down … earthier tones,” veteran Admiral commnity activist/advocate Dennis Ross also backing #7, while Diane Vincent said she’s now seen the “same thing” at three presentations (including a community meeting at which Safeway presented its plan a week before the first Design Review meeting), adding she would support underground parking in no small part because it’s more convenient and comfortable during bad weather.

One comprehensive comment came from Admiral resident and local architect Brandon Nicholson, who also happens to be on hiatus from the Design Review Board for a few months. He echoed Hurley’s comments, saying, “I think Joe is right on with the fundamental issues with the project — This is a neighborhood center, meant to have a lot higher density … a denser neighborhood core where you have restaurants, dry cleaners, floral shops, banks, all the businesses the neighbors around should be able to walk to. I like the alley but I still think there is a fundamental mis-read of the site. They could actually not close the store at all (during construction) – dig an underground parking lot on the north side (first). And there could be a lot more retail than the token 5 to 7 thousand square feet. There’s not that much land left in Admiral – this is half the development potential that’s left. What they’re designing now is a 30-year building; they should be thinking 100 to 150 years.”

KT Plett then voiced concern about too much density: “For the next 40 years, I don’t want to see huge, packed-in buildings in that area.”

Jim Del Ciello suggested to the Safeway team: “If you have to stay within the parameters of the 16-month time frame, tell us about the costs involved, what would it cost you to dig a hole, to be closed more months, and I think that would be more compelling to me as a resident to hear that … I’m not wild about these designs, but I’m keeping open ears, open mind.”

After public comments, the board had to truncate its deliberations, after learning that the meeting site — the West Seattle (Admiral) Library branch — was booting everybody out at 8 o’clock sharp; that meant 15 minutes for the board to make its decisions.

Hurley was still frustrated. “This is an unbelievably great site … and the idea we are looking at, a suburban building slid onto here that satisfies the owner … We are looking at a fantastically important site in an unbelievably important location, and I have to say, we have to see something better than this. I am disappointed to come to this meeting and be looking at the same building.”

Board member Deb Barker also pronounced herself “disappointed … We didn’t get a lot of the things we asked for.”

Board member Christie Coxley said she agreed with a remark Foster had made earlier, admiring alternative #5, which she termed “a really interesting scheme … it may not meet Safeway’s program, but, interacting with the park, I think it makes those units more salable, I think it ends up being a more interesting building.”

Foster at that point reiterated his interest in #5, acknowledging “there’s a downside to parking, but I think it’s up to the applicant to figure that out.”

Fill-in board member Jeff McCord – who by the way had earlier disclosed that the company with which he works, Nickel Brothers, may wind up saving and moving the house that’s on the southeast corner of the Admiral lot – said he was concerned the site was “clearly not built to its density,” but also impressed that it’s an “urban” type of building, especially with the expectation of some merchandise “spilling out onto the sidewalks … I do think it clearly addresses a lot of the current community desires.”

For his part, Foster said, “This is a hugely important project for the community and we need to get it right … There’s an incredible opportunity here that’s being squandered … I need to be convinced that this is the best they can do, and I’m not convinced right now.”

At that point, a bit of testiness erupted between board members and city planning staffer Michael Dorcy, who is handling the project; to the suggestion that Safeway return for a third “early design guidance” meeting, Dorcy said he didn’t think that was fair to the applicant.

In the end, board members made that recommendation — over the applicant’s objection — but Dorcy’s department, DPD, isn’t required to follow it, so some clarification is needed as to exactly what happens next. (FRIDAY MIDDAY UPDATE: We’ve confirmed the final verdict: Safeway can officially move to the next phase, applying for the “master use permit,” which requires at least one more Design Review meeting, for the “recommendations” vote, at which time they will present a further-fleshed-out design; we’ll let you know when that date is set, and also when the permit application triggers another comment period.) And even the Design Review process is only a relatively small part of a big picture — because the Safeway project could require some rezoning and an “alley vacation,” it would require other public hearings and city proceedings; if you have comments or questions at any time, Dorcy is the person to contact — – you can see the project’s official page on the DPD website by going here.

Whatever stage the project is in when the Design Review Board sees it again, Foster warned, “I want to see a better proposal.”

If you missed the link earlier, you can view the full presentation from tonight’s meeting here.

27 Replies to "Admiral Safeway, Design Review #2: Board members "disappointed""

  • Beach Drive November 21, 2008 (12:18 am)

    I’m sorry, but ANY of those alternatives are better than the UGLY old blank concrete ‘wall’ that Safeway presents on California currently. Bitching over these options is seeming silly. Hell, we’ll be lucky if Safeway doesn’t just go bankrupt and close up entirely. Debating which way the housing faces and the location of the alley is the LEAST of our problems right now.

  • old timer November 21, 2008 (1:32 am)

    It’s too suburban, but put in something truly urban, like high rise, and they won’t like that either.
    They want plans for buildings that will work for 150 years in the future even though no one can say for sure if companies like General Motors or Citibank will be viable two months from now.
    And this future vision is demanded in a town that tore itself down to wash the Denny regrade into Puget Sound, because after all was said and done, it didn’t work the way it was built the first time.
    You know, when you plant a shrub next to a sidewalk, every dog that passes has to whiz on it. The shrub gets yellow leaves and sometimes dies.
    These review folks need to get something real to do, like how to help shelter the homeless, how to ramp up donations to the food bank.
    Let’s hope Safeway manages to make a good investment in our community with minimal harassment.

  • JanS November 21, 2008 (7:39 am)

    I was extremely disappointed that I couldn’t make the meeting, as I live on 42nd SW just across from this site. The DRB seems to want to call the shots…more housing, as they think 34-40 units isn’t enough (heck, we can’t fill up what we have going up now in the core of West SEattle) They want density, density, density, cleaners, nail salons, hair salons. We have those in the neighborhood already. Like it or not, we are an “urban suburb”. We’re not downtown Seattle, and shouldn’t pretend to be.

    I respect what Fuller Sears and Safeway are trying to do. I’m not a planner, I’m not an architect, but what they’ve presented seems to work for the community, why can’t it please these few board members. Try to change it too much and we may end up with refurbished ugly for the next umpteen years. Why can’t it be different? Why does it always have to be the same ol’, same ol’….as the person above said, all of these plans are better than what’s there now.

  • cjboffoli November 21, 2008 (7:39 am)

    As always, I appreciate the neighbors who participate in these reviews. And with David Foster as chair of the review board, I have complete confidence that whatever iteration is selected will be the best option (or the best compromise) and will be in good taste.

  • WSB November 21, 2008 (8:05 am)

    One more side note for additional context – this past process was mentioned by one board member last night, but I didn’t work it into the story: Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, the fact is that without Design Review scrutiny, Petco would probably be at the Charlestown Cafe site by now. That proposal too went through the same kind of bumpy “early design guidance,” and the meetings were generally jammed because of the “save the cafe” campaign. Here’s my story from the same point in the process, August 2007.
    Ultimately, about six months later, the project was shelved (days after that news, came the fire that closed the cafe for several months), and Petco has extended its lease in The Junction, while continuing to seek a permanent home, most recently mentioned as a possibility for one of the new BlueStar projects in The Triangle.

  • JanS November 21, 2008 (8:05 am)

    I don’t know any of the board members. I don’t know David Foster, although I know OF him. Do any of these board members live in the Admiral area? Are they listening to the community? I’m sure Safeway and Fuller Seara are extremely frustrated right now, as what they envision is being totally rejected by the board, it seems. Compromise, working together…this is what will get the project done. Certainly not delays as they’re sent back to the drawing board time and time again.

    We don’t need a concrete bunker, and we don’t need a strip mall with tacky little shops. There are vacancies all over West SEattle where things were built, and the space cannot be leased. Bigger is not always better. I drive by the project at Charlestown and Calif. I see a hair salon (yes, a nice one), and yet, another gym/fitness center. And a lot of For Lease signs. In the beginning the word was a medical office and a restaurant. Well..things change.

    There is a reality that speaks to all of this. This Safeway needs to be made better…or it will just remain an eyesore, and not serve the community well. Let’s hope the city will allow them to get on with things, and get it done.

  • Mike on 44th November 21, 2008 (8:08 am)

    Of all the alternatives, I understand why the preferred alternative was chosen by the client to pursue however I too wonder why there is no below ground parking since the city has deemed the Admiral neighborhood an urban village and wants less car traffic. There’s a lot of parking area currently in front that could be cordoned off to begin construction of a new store with underground parking, leaving the existing building operational until below ground construction completed. The temporary parking would be on the sides and in the back. Anyone who’s shopped at Costco knows that you typically have to walk a little from the parking lot, so why not Safeway. This should actually save Safeway money by staying open longer and more of the space can be developed. By developing the space in phases, we all really get an optimized space. I do believe more can be done than what has been presented thus far and as a resident of the neighborhood, I’d like to see any changes be good for the neighborhood and West Seattle as a whole.

  • JanS November 21, 2008 (8:10 am)

    Thanks for that, TR. Yeah…what the architects drew up for the Petco site originally was butt ugly, I think. And the Review Board so much as told them that. None of the designs for the Safeway are unaesthetic, I think…justsome work better than others. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

  • noggytime November 21, 2008 (8:34 am)

    Mike on 44th – during the meeting last night Safeway addressed the underground parking issue. A make or break issue for them is that the store only be closed for 16 months during the construction period. This is because of both lost revenues and not to burden the store’s employees too much. Additionally, the cost of underground parking would be far more expensive.

  • noggytime November 21, 2008 (8:40 am)

    Additionally, I’d like to add that I am in support of Safeway/ Fuller Sears current design. They have taken a lot of the Communities desire’s into account on the site and I think that it will be a great face-lift for our neighborhood. The DRB seems to want more density, but we are already getting a ton of density in the Alaska Junction. Further, it is my understanding the West Seattle is doing quite well already meeting the City’s density guidelines.

  • big gulps,eh? well, see ya later. November 21, 2008 (8:57 am)

    I support Safeway’s preferred alternative. This area has a distinct character. It is not Ballard and I don’t want it to be Ballard. The Junction is already getting massive density through the many large projects. I understand the zoning is only 40 feet vs. 60, but you can build some monsterous 40 foot boxes. The preferred alternative fits the scale of the area now and in the foreseeable future.

    Speaking of foreseeable future, it is arrogant for anyone to think they can plan 100 hundred years in the future. The first model T was invented 100 years ago and subsequently nullified all “planning” that was done to that point. What does the next hundred years hold? Please tell me, oh Sages of the DRB… You benevolent Nostradamus’s of Brusselization.

    West Seattle is ahead of the set density goals. Please go force developers to jam more giant, human habitation boxes elsewhere and allow this project to enhance the neighborhood.

  • Johnny Davies November 21, 2008 (9:38 am)

    What, nothing to add Johnny? .. That’s cause Big gulps said it all.

  • WSratsinacage November 21, 2008 (9:41 am)

    Funny thing is, I have been to many design review meetings and when the final product is rolled out it often looks nothing like the suggesstions given at the meetings. So, whatever the outcome with this latest “development” project, be prepared to have your hopes dashed in the end. I’ve decided to focus my energy towards more productive things.

  • Meghan November 21, 2008 (9:57 am)

    I think the current design is really good. And I think it’s totally unrealistic and unfair to try to make Safeway do underground parking there. Look across the street at the Bartell’s site – or Jefferson Square. The reality is that people avoid underground parking when they can; they just don’t like it. I’m so sick of Design Review board (which are voluntary and not always full of people with the best taste level) bogging projects like this down in the infamous “Seattle process”. If someone doesn’t just make the decision to build this project, what’ll end up happening is that Safeway will just paint the current (god-awful) store and we’ll be looking at that for the next 15 years – just like we’ll be looking at the old Auto Buff and Admiral Benbow buildings across the street – because that project got so bogged down in the ‘process’, the developers finally walked away. Ugh!

  • Mark November 21, 2008 (10:17 am)

    I currently live and work on the east side and and looking to buy a house in the Admiral neighborhood, precisely because it is the environment I am looking for and want to live in. I see Admiral as a small town in the city. Being a recent immigrant, this is the only place in the area that truly feels like “Home” to me. I do not want 100% urban nor 100% surburban, I want trees and being able to walk to shops.

    I have been to the Admiral Safeway several times and acknowledge it is an urban store that is in need of refurbishment. I looked through the PDF and would be happy having the proposed solution in my neighborhood, as a solution that would integrate retail and residential in a pleasing way.

    Having done construction in a controlled area, I understand dealing with design boards, but also understand that everything is a compromise. I think the applicant proposed solution is a good one that makes good use of the space, time, neighborhood, and business constraints. I hope it gets approved so I can enjoy a new store when I move in the neighborhood.

  • dars November 21, 2008 (10:26 am)

    I guess Mike on 44th would rather see a COSTCO at the site!!

  • dars November 21, 2008 (10:33 am)

    I can’t believe Deb Barker et. all is representing the community as is her’s and other board members charge. Obviously they are more concerned for thier egos than the Admiral community. Thanks to the business representative who spoke up in Safeway’s behalf.

  • dars November 21, 2008 (10:39 am)

    Diane Vincent Spoke i favor of the preferred alternative at meeting no. 1 of the three she attended. What is her problem??

  • DW November 21, 2008 (10:40 am)

    Meghan/WSB –

    Can you add some clarification as to what happened to the Admiral Benbow site?

  • WSB November 21, 2008 (11:12 am)

    What about the Admiral Benbow site? Are you asking in relation to the post earlier this week about the 42nd/Admiral property going back up for lease? The Admiral Benbow site adjacent to T and T wasn’t specifically mentioned in the lease offerings.

  • Arciteuthis November 21, 2008 (11:31 am)

    I didn’t go to the meeting, but I think the drawings look good. I believe it fits the neighbourhood well. Could you imagine towering six story buildings throughout admiral like in the junction?

    What I’m most curious about is what kind of shops everyone would like to see in the retail spaces?

  • Arciteuthis November 21, 2008 (11:32 am)

    I’m hoping for a full fledged BECU branch at the site to say the least!

  • JanS November 21, 2008 (12:22 pm)

    Arciteuthis..I think the Safeway representative suggested in the first meeting we had that they would be very choosy. They’d like cafes, etc. that can spill out onto the street and have a presence. It was suggested at that meeting that there be no nail or hair salons…WS has enough of those. So…hopefully something that will add to the neighborhood.

  • Mike on 44th November 21, 2008 (12:44 pm)

    Yes dars…I want a Costco so I don’t have to deal with the detour to 4th. Seriously, that’s what you thought? My point was to GET UP AND WALK!! I just as soon have no parking there whatsoever. I live in this neighborhood whereby a lot of people just drive to it and then leave. I want the best for the site, that’s all! I don’t hate the proposals shown, I just believe it could be better and just building whatever in this “scary economic time” is how we got into this mess. All the boxed townhomes and such was due to the housing shortage/need, so these ugly things got thrown up overnight and now everyone hates them. My house is 80 years young and I love it’s design because it was thought out. I just hope the same can be said when the Safeway site is redeveloped.

  • Forest November 21, 2008 (1:38 pm)

    I think the residential would far and away be best for the neighbors and potential renters/buyers if it were looking onto Hiawatha Park and appeared to be a distinctive building of its own instead of an obvious wing or roof projection of the store’s big box structure.

    Imagine if all those fairly new and attractive stand-alone condo and apartment buildings on the east side of 42nd were connected as one long building. It wouldn’t be pretty. I urge Safeway to abandon its proposal for a continuous residential facade on the west side of 42nd.

    Pursue option 4 where the residential faces Lander Street and Hiawatha Park, but dump the front courtyard and the big commercial driveway that plows into the center of the building for no apparent reason, unless it’s to undermine and disqualify that proposed design option.

  • JanS November 21, 2008 (2:32 pm)

    Mike on 44th. Unfortunately, when it comes to grocery shopping not everyone can walk. Especially if you’re buying bigger heavier items, so parking is here to stay, I’m afraid.I live across the street from the store, and there are times when I have a big shopping trip list that I run a bunch of errands, make that my last stop before going home. It’s much easier when you have 5 or 6 bags plus TP , etc…

    Forest, I’ve thought from the beginning that the housing should overlook the park. That would be attractive to me if I was looking for a place to live.That particular corner of 42nd AndLander is impacted by quite a few things. People parking twice a day to drop of and pick up kids from Lafayette; a function at Sanctuary at Admiral that requires lots of cars parked everywhere, since they have no parking.If it’s a wedding reception, it’s damned difficult to just get down Lander to 41st from Calif. with cars (sometimes illegally) parked on both sides of the street. Guess that will have to be addressed, too. I would like to see fewer than 70 units, though. 40 units would be an ideal # for this area, IMO.

    And let’s learn from Jefferson Safeway what WILL NOT work :)

  • Mark November 21, 2008 (5:45 pm)

    I was at the meeting the other night, and I didn’t speak up (I usually do), but rather sought to hear from the many voices in the room. Definitely a mix…
    I work in the design side of the real estate development world, so I’m very close to all of this. With that, I’ve had the luxury of coming to understand the littlest details of projects like this while also coming to look at them from a bigger perspective.
    I moved here 10 years ago with my then-new wife, bought a house and started a family. This is a great place to live and raise kids, and many people feel the same way.
    There are many guesses at the kind of growth (and when I say that word growth, it’s with people in my situation in mind, not some random concept… its people moving here because it’s a great place to be) that we will experience in the next 30 or so years. Seattle is close to 600,000 (580,000 or so?) now, and we might see that grow to 900,000 by 2040. Maybe, maybe not.
    So where do they live?
    They can’t all live in single family homes, because there aren’t many homes or lots available.
    So they need a variety of housing options: homes, townhomes, apartments, condos, whatever. And they will want to live in all types of neighborhoods, not just in South Lake Union or Ballard. And really, who wouldn’t want to live in Admiral?
    There is always a consequence to every decision, a reaction to any action. So if people want to live in Admiral, we can’t turn them away. They will end up somewhere in Admiral. And if that is the case, where is that?
    I would prefer that we provide this housing right in the middle of our “urban village”. And I’m talking about plenty of housing – 100 units? 300? 400? 1000? I don’t know, really. I do know that Admiral will take its share of the 300,000 new people coming here. Somebody has the numbers out there…
    Why do I want it to go there? Because the alternative is into the single family neighborhoods (which make up almost 70% of the land in Seattle). That’s the choice. It’s one place or another. And remember, they want to live in Admiral, just like us.
    So when the Design Review Board sounds like they are not in touch with the community today, I’m sure it’s because all of them are close enough to the dynamics of the real estate world that their comments are not about what they want to see in 3 years on that Admiral Safeway site. It’s what they want to see there in 30.

Sorry, comment time is over.