Conner Homes’ Junction project clears another hurdle

(added 5:12 pm, newly released rendering of proposed western Conner project building at California/Alaska)

That’s Conner Homes boss Charlie Conner speaking briefly to the Seattle Design Commission this afternoon at City Hall, before commissioners’ third review of the “subterranean alley vacation” that’s needed for his project to have one underground parking garage shared by its two proposed 8-story buildings at California/Alaska/42nd. Any kind of “alley vacation” — allowing a land owner to take public property — generally requires the owner/developer to offer some kind of “public benefit” in return; as Conner recapped in his remarks, that’s the part that commissioners hadn’t been so sure about, though they signed off on the design concept during an earlier meeting. The extensive discussions of the previous reviews — which we covered here and here — were not replicated today; project architect Peter Greaves of Weber Thompson recapped a few elements in which he had responded to commissioners’ previously voiced concerns, and the commission gave its approval with few comments/questions. This isn’t the final approval for the alley vacation; SDOT’s alley-vacation specialist Beverly Barnett told WSB after the meeting that her work on it is not yet done, and once her department has a recommendation, it goes to the City Council’s Transportation Committee. The Conner project has an even bigger date before then – next Thursday, 6:30 pm at High Point Library, what could be the final Design Review Board look at the entire project. We have images from today’s presentation, courtesy of Weber Thompson, and will add them later this afternoon.

ADDED 5:06 PM: For starters, here’s the full Conner presentation (5 MB PDF). Also just added the first image from that presentation at the top of this report – a new rendering showing what the western building of the project might look like.

ADDED 6:36 PM: Jump ahead for more images made public today, and a few more details from this afternoon’s Design Commission meeting:

That’s a new rendering of what the storefront/sidewalk space along Alaska, western Conner building (where Super Supplements is now) might look like. That’s one of the “public benefits” detailed today — the sidewalk along that stretch. The planting strip you see in the rendering has been added, as a buffer to the buses that will be going by frequently on the RapidRide route. Speaking of which, it was explained today that part of the reason this has dragged on through three reviews is a misunderstanding regarding whether a RapidRide stop will be on Alaska alongside either of the Conner buildings; as e-mail correspondence that’s included in today’s packet (here again is that link) confirms, it’s not. So that issue was dispensed with quickly.

The other major area of the project where the plan changed a bit before today’s review, to address previously voiced concerns, is the walkway between the south side of the western Conner building and the north side of Mural, the Harbor Properties building that’s almost done in what was the Petco parking lot (and monorail property):

The walkway now leads to a hollowed-out spot on the eastern building, to “create a place that will receive you from the alley,” Greaves explained. As for the alley itself, here’s a new view, looking south toward the existing businesses on that half of the Alaska to Edmunds block:

The plantings and bollards are considered part of the “public benefit” amenities. So are hollowed “corners” of the buildings, at California/Alaska and Alaska/42nd, which aren’t retail entries and so wouldn’t have had special treatment otherwise. One concern that loomed large in our report on the second Design Commission session involved the 8-foot width of the sidewalk along California SW. The plan now includes 8 1/2 feet of sidewalk there and 5 feet of street-tree/planter – the project team says the building can’t be moved any further eastward, because it’s already been arranged so that the ground-level section will look like a four-story building, with the top four floors “pulled back”:

Other components of the “public benefit” remain as detailed in the presentation — everything from walkway canopies/overhangs, to pavers, to bike racks.

Comments before the vote were few and largely positive – one commissioner said the space looks “much friendlier, more real than before” in the current graphics, especially the alley space.

And with that, commissioners voted their final approval for the “alley vacation” component of the project – the only part they get to review, with a few minor notes, including ensuring that the passageway from California to the alley continues to “feel public” even if the eventual live/work unit residents personalize their front yard/garden spaces.

NEXT STEPS: As briefly detailed during the original short version of this report, the Conner project goes to the Southwest Design Review Board next Thursday, 6:30 pm at High Point Library. This is the “recommendations” meeting – where board members will review a more fleshed-out design for the project, and can choose to vote to send it along to the final stage of the permit process. Board members also will have to decide whether to agree to a “departure” requested to allow parking garage access from 42nd SW, instead of the alley, which is what current city guidelines would require otherwise; architect Greaves said “it won’t change the way we develop this” if permission for the 42nd access is denied. City Council approval is needed for the alley vacation, if SDOT staff recommends it move forward.

51 Replies to "Conner Homes' Junction project clears another hurdle"

  • ericak March 5, 2009 (4:06 pm)

    I know the commission had been concerned that the public benefit wasn’t enough in the past. What change in this benefit did you see today Tracy?

  • WSB March 5, 2009 (4:09 pm)

    I’m about to switch locations before my downtown parking expires but in short … one of the key points was that they dressed up the walkway from California eastward to the alley. There will be a “hollowed-out” receiving area of sorts in the eastern building so that people walking to the alley don’t just hit a dead-end. It also seems that some of the questions from last time focused on a misperception that there would be a RapidRide spot alongside the project on Alaska, and thinking therefore that Conner needed to work with Metro on that – but it was clarified today, no, there’s no stop there. More in a bit … TR

  • cjboffoli March 5, 2009 (4:55 pm)

    As I see it the public already will be benefitting from the increased property tax revenues of the new residential units on this property, not to mention the sales taxes from the new retail below. The developer won’t be taking public land. They’ll be taking the ground UNDER public land. This seems like a no-brainer to me.

  • WSB March 5, 2009 (5:04 pm)

    Part of the concern also was the closure time required for that side of the alley during construction – SDOT’s Barnett says there’s no final verdict on that but it’s largely a DPD issue now and she thinks the originally feared times were longer than what will really happen.

  • cjboffoli March 5, 2009 (5:16 pm)

    Wow. It is creepy how realistic those computer-rendered photographs are getting these days.

  • JW March 5, 2009 (5:28 pm)

    Does the permitting process require any kind of assurance that their financing won’t fall through midway through the project and we’ll end up with a hole in the ground at this location for years? Looking around town, it seems all too plausible.

  • WSB March 5, 2009 (5:39 pm)

    That is a GREAT question and I will fully admit to not knowing the answer of what happens in a case like that. Will take some research (anywhere from quick Google to phone calls). Still working to find out the current status of the existing hole in the ground, btw.

  • JayDee March 5, 2009 (6:06 pm)

    With the chosen angle of light, looking south in the sunshine, the project looks great. I like the little step-back 4 stories up.

    However, I’d like to see the worst case as well–lets say 9 AM when the shadow cast across Walk All Ways hits Easy Street.

    This development will happen in any event with the density-favored development coming. However, like others might say, just because it is inevitable, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. One of the things about the Junction is the interplay between the sunlight, rain, and the folks walking around. I frequently figure out which side of California to walk on based on the sun. But in a canyon, it is darker and less enjoyable. Looking forward to two 6-story developments up and down California, my heart sinks.

    My two cents.

  • No On Holes In The Ground March 5, 2009 (6:57 pm)

    I’m with JW on this one. I’d like to see some follow up that question. Keep up the great work WSB.

  • Herman March 5, 2009 (7:54 pm)

    And with that, West Seattle becomes Redmond.

  • WSMom March 5, 2009 (7:58 pm)

    I like the mid-block pedestrian walkways. I’d like to hope that there may be a chance that local small retail businesses could afford to go into that walkway….a bead store, a funky jewelry store, a cheese/wine shop, an art gallery, a butcher a baker a candlestick maker…one can only dream

  • Sharonn March 5, 2009 (8:04 pm)

    Like it or not, any aspect such as height or dodging cars in the alley to patronize a business, it will be set as the presidence for all future development. At least Ballard kept their Main Street in tact.

  • oddreality March 5, 2009 (8:17 pm)

    Oh boy!West Seattle becomes Bellevue light!

    Looks awful.:(

  • p March 5, 2009 (8:22 pm)

    my concern as a small business owner, can they make the rent for the small business owner affordable?

  • roddy March 5, 2009 (8:36 pm)

    I’m with Herman and oddreality….even with all the new condos everywhere, this particular project symbolizes the end of the West Seattle I so fondly remember. It makes me sad.

  • yumpears March 5, 2009 (8:57 pm)

    I’m just wondering in the current financial climate when all these projects are done will there be anyone in the market for a condo? Given the ones in the Petco place, or above the new QFC, or above the new Whole Foods, and now in the Conner buildings seems like a lot of new housing. If our job market isn’t expanding where are these new residents coming from?

  • WSB March 5, 2009 (9:05 pm)

    If you follow the link to our coverage of the meeting in January:
    you’ll note that the Conner contingent told us they were “going in the apartment direction” though the units would be built to condo spec. Certainly things could change and they haven’t made a final decision, but if they were opening those units today, it’s apparent they would likely be rentals, not sales – TR

  • KSJ March 5, 2009 (9:35 pm)

    A couple thoughts here –

    Regarding whether this will lose financing and end up a hole in the ground – Conner Homes isn’t a flash in the pan builder, they’ve been doing this for a while. Not to say that means anything in this market, but I have higher hopes that they won’t start demo and digging until they have solid construction financing in place.

    Regarding whether the market can absorb these – yes. The market is cyclical and these will take a couple years to build. By the time they are built we will likely be out of this market downturn and these could be absorbed as either condos or apartments.

  • 56bricks March 5, 2009 (9:44 pm)

    Aaaah, just the thought of basking in all that sunshine in the new canyon. Enjoy!

  • beatrice March 5, 2009 (10:47 pm)

    I’m with yumpears – who’s going to buy or even rent all of these dwellings??? Where are the people going to come from?

  • Brandon March 5, 2009 (11:01 pm)

    Yuck. Uglier than previously imagined. Good bye to the Junction as we know it. Can’t wait for all the dust, dirt and traffic congestion from the construction too. So this is what West Seattle wants to become.

  • Joe March 5, 2009 (11:27 pm)

    I wonder if that blue Toyota pickup in the last picture is owned by who I think it is.

  • acemotel March 6, 2009 (12:31 am)

    Soul-le$$. Looks like every other place everywhere else: Southcenter. Lynnwood. Auburn. Kent. Redmond. Bellevue for sure. People will become disoriented, they won’t know where they are! Greed trumps charm.

  • Meghan March 6, 2009 (7:24 am)

    Some of you make me laugh. West Seattle is going to change and grow whether you like it or not. It’s not some small town in the middle of the Cascades, for heaven’s sake. It’s the center of a highly populated part of a major city. (Did you know that West Seattle has a higher population than all but 6 cities in Washington State??? And yet we don’t even have a decent hotel!). If a smart, pedestrian-friendly development (which is replacing substandard, retro-fitted one-story buildings full of asbestos from the 60’s) makes us “Bellevue” or “Redmond”, then it’s the best of those cities. And by the time these units are done (or very soon thereafter), the market will have cycled back. Oh, and by the way, we live in a free market society. If bead stores and funky jewelry shops (which I’m sure few of you would actually shop at on your way to Costco or Target) can come up with a successful business plan and pay market rate rents, then I’m sure these developer would welcome then. They generally do prefer local ownership (like the new restaurant from Herban Feast across from Jefferson Sq.). But the reality is independent retailers are struggling across the country.

  • WSratsinacage March 6, 2009 (7:43 am)

    I thought he had a black pickup?

  • Kayleigh March 6, 2009 (8:49 am)

    I kind of like this development, actually. But I do think people should be able to express a preference for the old West Seattle or the funky or the non-Bellevue-esque without being laughed at or looked down on.

  • acemotel March 6, 2009 (9:31 am)

    If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Beijing has a vacancy rate of 20 per cent after the building frenzy prior to the Olympics. Just because development will happen, doesn’t mean it has to be the same as development everywhere else. Unfortunately developers use the same formula everywhere; that means sacrificing creativity and quality for the lowest building cost per sq. ft. and results in buildings that look the same in Bellevue and Redmond and West Seattle. It’s not inevitable that the United States becomes one long freeway with strip malls, office building and condos just because we are planning for density. It’s not inevitable that we all must shop at the same seven or eight chain stores just because our economic system rewards consolidation. It takes a deliberate effort, time, a lot of creativity, and focus to break the chain, though. It means you have to think outside the box.

  • concerned citizen March 6, 2009 (9:42 am)

    You know, I too prefer the funkiness of West Seattle but this “progress” is reality. If we’re able to maintain a combination of “funky WS”/Bellevuesque vibe, then I’d be a happy camper. How do we contribute? By patronizing our local businesses…often.

  • Mike March 6, 2009 (9:59 am)

    That design looks like a**.

  • JW March 6, 2009 (10:21 am)

    Beware asking developers to apply the “authentic neighborhood funky vibe” to new projects. Have you seen the PCC building in Fremont?

  • villagegreen March 6, 2009 (10:52 am)

    JW – Exactly!

    I don’t think the building’s all that bad. It’s just the size that’s shocking. The recessed top floors help, but man, that’s a huge mass to fit in amongst a one-story ‘mainstreet’ type block.

    I guess I don’t make it over to Kirkland or Bellevue enough to get the comparisons, but I know there are plenty of buildings like this on Capitol Hill.

    I’m just wondering what type of building you’d prefer. The buildings that are there now are definitely the ugliest on the block and don’t fit in with the ‘mainstreet’ vibe either. Do people have a problem with the mass or the look of the building?

  • Mike March 6, 2009 (11:20 am)

    “Have you seen the PCC building in Fremont”

    Soooo true, that is one of the worst looking “art” inspired designs in Seattle.

    A few questions I have are:

    1. How do you expect to fill these units when there are thousands unsold in the Ballard – West Seattle area and have been for nearly a year now.

    2. If the developer runs out of funding, what happens then? This has become common in the last few months with projects around Seattle and they just up and leave with half completed structures.

    3. Why is it so massive? What benefit is there to that, how does that fit into ANY look and feel in the area. Keep in mind this is only a couple blocks from homes. These structures plummet the value of those homes. Will the developer be giving money to alleviate the extra depreciation in value of the homes around it?

  • W S Mom March 6, 2009 (11:26 am)

    Not a fan of the changes. Parking is almost non-existent as it is, and the new construction projects block the sun. Our junction has gone from family-friendly to yuppy-ville. Hope the small businesses are able to survive, because they are the heart of the area.

  • concerned citizen March 6, 2009 (11:39 am)

    The one thing about the new massive buildings being built is that underground parking is usually incorporated into the design…not sure if that is the case with this one though.

  • WSB March 6, 2009 (11:48 am)

    That’s what this story was all about (and our previous coverage). The alley vacation is subterranean, so the two buildings’ garages can be joined, and can be accessed through one entrance – TR

  • concerned citizen March 6, 2009 (12:03 pm)

    Yep…right there in the first sentence. :)

  • furor scribendi March 6, 2009 (12:04 pm)

    I grew up in Bellevue; I know Bellevue and love it. But I moved to the westside partly because it wasn’t Bellevue, where there are blocks full of mid-to-high rise condos and apts that are virtually empty now, and will be a urban blight in the years ahead. Yes, change is inevitable (Meagan) and Seattleites can be troglodyte NIMBY’s, but opposition to bad design and even worse implementation like this project is crucial. Wanna develop? Fine – propose something other than very cheap slab sided hard-to-maintain junk like Connor is trying to peddle. My background is in urban planning; look to places where comparable projects look and work better (Prague, Seoul, Vancouver, Munich, Portland, Frisco, Indianapolis, etc) because this development will become a blight even before it’s completed. We can do a lot better than this proposed development in the most important intersection in West Seattle.

  • villagegreen March 6, 2009 (12:49 pm)

    fs – can you give a specific example of a building in any of those cities (and there must be at least one in Seattle) that you think “looks and works better.” If nothing else, give me an address and I’ll take a look on Google Street View. Instead of bitching about the current rendering, could someone please show me the type of building they think would fit into the Junction?

  • jai March 6, 2009 (1:41 pm)

    You know, “shop local” as a mantra works a heckuva lot better when there are actual local people to shop. Wouldn’t dense condo/apt buildings such as these be really good for local businesses? Assumedly if you’re going to live in an urban environment, part of the draw is being able to walk to local amenities.

  • furor scribendi March 6, 2009 (1:59 pm)

    Village Green – I am not bitching. I’m observing the lack of any ingenuity, originality, or yes beauty in anything new going into 1st Hill, the Denny Triangle, Belltown, or yes our westside. It’s all poured slab / steel frame boxes without one rounded corner, with flat roofs that will leak in 10 years. Good design doesn’t mean it has to cost more or be harder to build. GOOD EXAMPLES: new bldgs on Monument Circle in Indianapolis; in Seoul, anything new in Mapo-gu or Sodaemun-gu; a good example: 493 Changchun-Dong, Sodaemun-gu, the Eastern Social Welfare bldg; in Prague, new bldgs in the 1st district near Zatecka and Kaprova; in western Vienna, new or old bldgs in the Thaliastrasse neighborhood; in Munich, newer bldgs in the Neuhausen neighborhood, esp on Wendl-Dietrich Strasse or WashingtonStrasse, including:
    or about anything on the west end in Vancouver BC.
    In Seattle? New construction on a corner of a local business district that’s not bad design or just plain ugly? Hard to find. Maybe the newer bldg at E Roy St & Broadway ; there are others, I’m sure, just way too hard to find.

  • sam March 6, 2009 (2:49 pm)

    furor scribendi-
    The new building at Broadway and E Roy- are you citing that as a good example or bad example ?

    IMO, that is a really bad example of a new bldg at an anchor of a business district. actually, it was designed be Weber Thompson, who’s also the arch. of this junction project.

  • furor scribendi March 6, 2009 (3:18 pm)

    sam/village green,
    The E Roy/Broadway bldg is a bad design (blocky, derivative) but still better design elements (the concave corner area, the western facade) than the westside Connor design. Another building with better design elements is at W John St and 1st Ave W in lower Queen Anne. Not good – but better. I have listed many examples, an international list of thoughtful design. Do you have better examples, or do you just love the Connor proposal?

  • BORN&RAISED WEST SEATTLEITE March 6, 2009 (4:32 pm)

    That new design sucks!!Can’t they keep some of the integrity of the Junction and make it look like it would fit in? We all know it is coming and we can’t to a thing to stop it but get a new designer!! UGLY!!

  • publicadministrator March 6, 2009 (5:38 pm)

    As WS resident let me concur with the chorus that the Connor design is bland and emblematic of suburbia. But in fairness our Junction has been loosing visual integrity of recent: witness the Rexall and Great Northern Bakery remodel and the Petco apparently dropped in place from a frontage road somewhere off of I-5.

    Destined to “become blight before its completed”, really fs? As a former resident of authentic blight (Harlem and SE Washington DC), far reaching hyperbole isn’t the best contribution for someone with an urban design background.

    As a mid-level city bueaucrat versed in public involvement my offering is this: simply complaining about aesthetics (no matter how well deserved) only goes so far. A more effective approach is to identify specific remedies to what is being proposed.

    For example, no visual link to other storefronts?
    Suggest the first floor have a brick or masonry facade.

    Pedestrian and streetscape appeal critical? Suggest how a concave corner or how large store windows would benefit tenants as pedestrians waiting on a traffic light (esp. under an overhand in the rain).

  • grr March 6, 2009 (6:22 pm)

    I agree…a little brick and facade work can go a long way.
    As far as affordability….the market correction will continue until housing gets to where people can afford it, and people will snap those condos up. It’s INSANE to charge (or pay) $350k for a 1000sq ft condo..PLUS condo fees.

    as much as I love knowing how much my home has appreciated since I bought in ’98, even in this hellish economy, there’s NO way it’s worth what someone else will probably pay for it, just because it is where it is, and has a little view. I ceratinly wouldn’t.

    and yes..I’ll be glad if/when Petco leaves.

  • grr March 6, 2009 (6:24 pm)

    and..fwiw..I’m not that fond of this Big Square with No Angles kind of design… it THAT hard to put some interesting lines on the damn thing?? Some eaves maybe? Some angles??

  • grr March 6, 2009 (6:25 pm)

    how about something like this?? This would fit in nicely!

  • big March 6, 2009 (9:41 pm)

    If they are going to put some big building there for living and business, I’d like something with at least some style.. like

    Art Deco, not Sammamish Microsoft suburbia.

  • john john March 7, 2009 (1:48 am)

    You all are a hoot. How about a big fat Costco? None of you have a clue about urban design.

  • acemotel March 7, 2009 (9:08 am)

    ha ha ha and what are you john john, the king of urban design? It’s people like you who give urban design a bad name.

  • DP March 8, 2009 (8:08 pm)

    Grrr – better than the Connor look. Our own Chinatown has good examples, too.
    Big – I like very much your CZ example – – which is beautiful, usable, and can fit in with whatever will fill the other three corners of the intersection someday. It could be done with our own anti-earthquake methods (slab & column) nicely. Thank you!

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