“Unique place … unique time”: Tackling the Triangle’s future

(from a Harbor Properties aerial map of the Triangle area, first published here in April)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“We’re here tonight to start a conversation.”

That was the opening line from city DPD urban designer Lyle Bicknell last night, kicking off a gathering of more than 20 people — local leaders, developers, architects, city reps — to initiate a big-picture look at the future of the area known as the Triangle, before the onrushing wave of development drowns the chance.

While Bicknell used the word “start,” in some sense this is a continuation of many conversations that have been going on in recent months — including last week’s Fairmount Community Association meeting (WSB coverage here) and two September events, the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce presentation by major Junction/Triangle developers (WSB coverage here) and the City Council briefing on a Gateway/Triangle vision (WSB coverage here).

Many of the people involved in those meetings (and many others) were part of last night’s gathering — including, alphabetically: Emi Baldowin from Harbor Properties, Easton Craft from BlueStar, David Hewitt from Hewitt Architects, Erica Karlovits from the Junction Neighborhood Organization and Southwest District Council, Sharonn Meeks from the Fairmount Community Association, Susan Melrose from the West Seattle Junction Association, Dave Montoure from WSJA, Patti Mullin from the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Brandon Nicholson from Nicholson Kovalchick Architects, Denny Orser from Harbor Properties, Vlad Oustimovitch (who is an architect as well as involved in several local community groups), Chas Redmond from the Southwest District Council and Sustainable West Seattle, Josh Sutton from the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor), Terry Williams from Thienes/Williams Architects. City reps on hand also included Ann Corbitt from the office of West Seattle-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.

They all already knew the truth of what Bicknell said next, in opening remarks: “The Triangle is a unique place in a unique time … with challenges, and remarkable opportunities. Change is coming, and we have a window of time to shape it.”

Some of that shaping already has been done merely by the deals that have been made and the projects that either are proposed or under way — this is an updated version of the map we first made earlier this year, showing projects and for-sale parcels in the Triangle and Junction areas:

View Larger Map

While three large projects — Mural, Capco Plaza, and Fauntleroy Place — already are well under way, none of the Triangle projects have broken ground yet, so that “window” isn’t closed yet.

Last night’s gathering was in a private room at Merrill Gardens on 35th — no luxe affair; participants snacked on cold sandwiches and candy bars, with most having come directly from work, given the 5:30 pm start time. It proceeded along a fairly standard meeting format — PowerPoint presentation, suggestions for discussion-shaping, small-group discussions, large-group reconvening to share results of the small groups, “next steps” plan.

In that opening presentation, the “best elements” of the area included its “small-town feel” and the ability to “walk to shops, businesses, parks.” General goals — “improve the Fauntleroy Gateway to The Junction” and develop SW Alaska as a “pedestrian (friendly) corridor, 35th to The Junction,” while also making the Avalon corridor to The Junction more bike-friendly.

Bicknell declared that the area already has “great bones for a comfortable, walkable neighborhood” with Triangle attributes including wide streets, a commercial core, the YMCA, park and trails (Camp Long), an established community, and transportation connections.

The wide streets are something you might take for granted, but it was pointed out that the north-south streets in the Triangle are 80 feet wide, almost a fourth wider than the average 66-foot-wide Seattle street.

After Bicknell’s points about Triangle attributes, Harbor Properties’ Denny Onslow spoke for a few moments about the task at hand: “There is a lot happening right now, an unusual opportunity to create a vision.” He also noted the unusual amount of city support from departments including Parks and Transportation (though it was later pointed out by a representative from the city Office of Economic Development that West Seattle hasn’t been one of its focus areas because things are going relatively well here).

Onslow also spoke of caution to accompany vision — the need to respect the existing businesses in the Triangle, even if some may not be consistent with the area’s ultimate “highest and best use.” He gave a nod to transitional use of buildings, such as Diva Espresso having converted a former garage some years back. And his list of challenges facing the Triangle’s future included the one that’s on just about everyone’s list these days: “Let’s be honest, the economy’s a challenge and it can stop anybody.”

Before breaking into small groups, participants had more to add to the list of the attributes — a sense of pride, a sense of place — and to the list of challenges: Is West Seattle truly a destination, aside from our famous parks? How can transition be managed without disrupting existing businesses too much? Shouldn’t Fauntleroy, as an arterial that spans the entire length of the peninsula, be the preferred route for future transit (such as RapidRide) instead of hopscotching it around on other streets? Even: Is the Triangle the right name for the area in question, just because that’s the shape of the district?

Once the small-group discussions were over – and in the one which we monitored – it was clear that parking is a huge issue. It was on everybody’s list, in a big way — right now the Triangle area has 170 on-street spaces, and 108 of those are “all-day, no-charge” spaces which tends to mean not much turnover. What about one or more parking structures to serve the entire area with affordable parking, as is done in other cities? it was asked. Boulder, CO, and Portland were mentioned as examples. Is it really “sustainable” for every individual development to have its own garage, instead of creating an overall parking vision for an area like this?

Separate from the issue of how parking will be handled for people who live, work and do business in the Triangle will be handled, this frequently asked question arose: Why can’t West Seattle have a park-and-ride lot, given the trouble in the Triangle and Junction areas with “park-and-hiders” (people who drive from other parts of West Seattle and leave their cars in those areas all day while catching transit from Junction/Triangle to downtown)?

Casey Hildreth from SDOT — who is working with the city’s side of what’s needed for the RapidRide project — noted that city policy “strongly discourages” park-and-ride lots. Policy vs. reality — and how to close the gap — has been an underlying theme of that discussion every time we have encountered it. One comment last night pointed out that some of the walkability deficiency can be traced to the way the city was originally laid out, and there’s really no way to go back and change that; another suggested that the park-and-hide problem could be addressed with truly frequent bus/shuttle services from all West Seattle neighborhoods to the Junction/Triangle — then the transit users could leave their cars at home.

Other issues that surfaced: Bringing more jobs into the area; being attentive/sensitive to the need for bonafide affordable housing, for family-size housing (a concern when some apartment/condo projects are offering predominantly singles/couples-size units), and for child care; keeping impending potential changes at West Seattle Stadium on the radar; being clear about whether the focus of future businesses in the Triangle would be to serve its residents, or to be a peninsula-wide draw (as, it was pointed out, the YMCA already is).

Lots of issues, no answers – but that’s what comes next. Summing up the meeting, Bicknell listed two actions, long-term and near-term: Long-term, when it’s West Seattle’s turn for a “neighborhood-plan checkup,” he suggested this would give that job a jump-start (the Triangle is covered in the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Plan‘s “urban village” zone; here’s the map; here’s the plan). Shorter term, a “design charrette” for the Triangle is on the drawing boards for early next year, Bicknell said, gathering “key stakeholders and decisionmakers to reach a specific design solution” for the area. He emphasized that while this can’t be a massive gathering with a large number of participants, they want to be “inclusive,” so anyone with a key Triangle stake who wasn’t at last night’s gathering should be “identified” and invited.

We’ll let you know when that date is set. Meantime, WSB coverage of Triangle issues and events – not just development — is all archived here (newest to oldest).

6 Replies to ""Unique place ... unique time": Tackling the Triangle's future"

  • Jill Loblaw November 19, 2008 (8:36 am)

    Here’s my concern: What about the bottle neck traffic that already happens everyday getting into and out of West Seattle especially during commute hours? Perhaps the developers should start thinking about how that affects the quality of life in “small town” West Seattle, which by the way, will no longer have that small town feeling after they are done. My suggestion: They put their profits from the new buildings into a transportation fund to build the add’l roadways needed to accomodate all those newbies they are adding to the area.

  • JaimeGummer November 19, 2008 (8:57 am)

    Jill: I don’t think the developers see West Seattle as a “small town.” And actually, it’s not. It is part of one of the largest cities in the US. I think developers SHOULD concentrate on building mixed-use spaces that give priority to pedestrians and bicyclists and potentially allow people to live in close proximity to where they work so that excessive use of cars can be reduced. The triangle seems well situated to take advantage of public transport routes. Accommodating private cars, traffic and parking should be dead last on their list of priorities in my opinion.

  • old timer November 19, 2008 (10:32 am)

    Would it be worth the effort to investigate the idea of an underground parking structure with a park area on top as part of the triangle parking solution?
    Also, I would agree with routing more bus service along Fauntleroy. The 54 has to cross California twice on it’s current routing, once at Alaska, and again at Edmonds, both intersections with insanely long lights to wait through.
    Finally. I whole heartedly endorse the idea of constant, frequent, area wide shuttle services to link the major shopping areas of the West Seattle peninsula, and to also provide this linked service to the many neighborhoods that now do not even have accessible bus services. A good shuttle system could do an awful lot to relieve many of the traffic and parking issues we constantly face.

  • Jill Loblaw November 19, 2008 (7:27 pm)

    Jaime,I’m sure you are correct in the fact they don’t see the area as small town, what they see is an opportunity to build without caring about what impact they create for the current community in regards to traffic leading to and from our area during key commute times. I am suggesting that they put money into funding transportation solutions that are necessary to get folks to other parts of the Seattle and beyond. Bikes are great but not to Issaquah. One good example of responsible business behavior is the Microsoft shuttle which is now serving W.S.

  • mark November 19, 2008 (11:05 pm)

    Good report, TR. I think it’s smart to mix in a few longer issue takeouts like this in “story” form, in addition to the normal “post” form of the blog.

    Nice to watch journalism evolve here.

  • Sandra M November 20, 2008 (2:21 pm)

    Bottleneck time!
    I’m concerned. This is NOT the place to build such high-density buildings! It’ll will create a huge bottleneck, with ‘frozen’ cars and buses in one spot, crammed together right next to the WS Bridge.
    Have you ever waited for a bus on either side of 35th (just south of Avalon)? Very noisy and unpleasant, as vehicles wisk by (not to mention vehicles splashing dirty runoff water on pedestrians on rainy days).
    What about placing several pleasant, clean and spacious bus shelters on the outskirts of the Fauntleroy Triangle area? Don’t forget good lighting, seating, roofs to shield bus riders from the rain. Are any developers even considering these things in their plans? What about city transportation planners?

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