Admiral Safeway at Design Commission: 1 addition to the plan

The architects working on the Admiral Safeway redevelopment project have made one big change since the project’s most recent Southwest Design Review Board session two weeks ago – one that answers repeatedly voiced criticism from citizen commenters as well as board members: They’ve added an entrance along the store’s west side on California SW. That was the big headline from Thursday afternoon’s presentation to the Seattle Design Commission, which has to sign off on Safeway’s request for an “alley vacation” – asking the city to give up an L-shaped path that you probably don’t even think of as an alley.

View Larger Map

The commission usually makes its decision in two sessions – reviewing the project’s “urban design” first time around, and the “public benefits” offered in compensation, the second time. Read on for details of the meeting:

Architect Bill Fuller from Fuller Sears led the presentation, with other key figures from the project team on the sidelines, including Sara Corn from Safeway, landscape architect Andy Rasmussen, and major city point people on the project including Beverly Barnett from SDOT – who handles street/alley vacations – and city planner Michael Dorcy, who’s been handling most major West Seattle projects in recent years.

Fuller offered a relatively lengthy briefing on the context for the project and the alley vacation, explaining that the site once had a north-south alley that was broken into two L-shaped paths when the store was developed in the ’60s. The first one, along the north side and then turning off to Admiral Way, won’t be changing, but the one that currently runs along the southeast side of the property will. He also explained that since the store is expanding to 58,000 square feet, they’ll be requesting a zoning change, from NC2-40 to NC3-40 for most of the site, except the southeastern plot that now holds an old house (slated to be sold and moved), which they hope will go to NC3-40 from its current L (for lowrise) 3.

The project features Fuller highlighted include most of the same ones that he first presented to the Admiral Neighborhood Association on October 14th (here’s our report) – including “transparency” along much of the store’s west (California SW) and south (SW Lander) sides, allowing passers-by to see in, and on the converse, “visual screening” of the rooftop parking that remains on top of the Safeway store itself.

The newly added — just in the past few days, said Fuller — midblock store entrance will take people into the store past its Starbucks kiosk, which will be a bit of a drop because of the grade change at that point (“it’ll feel just like a shop entry,” he promised). He also touted the seating areas that are planned for the California/Lander and 42nd/Lander corners, as well as improvements to the entrance to Hiawatha across the street, working with Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, to which the architect said a “cash contribution” would be made to pay for plaques paying tribute to Hiawatha’s history.

The “shared street” path through the development, from California straight across the front of the store, was mentioned frequently as a potential public benefit, helping pedestrians get from California to 42nd, as was the plan for street lights and street “furniture” along Admiral north of the store, to synch up with the district’s look. But the benefits were not the main topic of this review – the first of two; instead, commissioners’ main task was to sign off on the “urban design” aspects of the project.

Asked her opinion of the project so far, SDOT’s alley/street vacation specialist Barnett said that while the “odd-shaped alley” is not particularly functional for anyone beyond Safeway, reorienting its traffic to the “shared street” will direct more traffic to a major arterial – California – something the city has tried to avoid.

Also speaking before the commissioners began to share their comments, longtime Admiral neighborhood activist Dennis Ross, who voiced his support for the project, as he has done at past Design Review meetings, while offering a hope that the project will also pay attention to pedestrian details along 42nd, since the Admiral Neighborhood Plan singled it out as an important corridor between the Olmsted-designed park and the Carnegie-designed (West Seattle Branch) Library to the north.

(Ross’s mention of the Neighborhood Plan drew kudos from planning commissioner Dennis Ryan, who said he wished he’d heard that mentioned by the architect and city planner. “Just an oversight, I’m sure,” he said, drawing a few wry laughs.)

Asked about signage for the store’s entries, Fuller said the main indicators they envision are curb cuts and bollards.

Commission chair Mary Johnston said the project “seems a little upside-down” and wondered if the team had considered putting its 90-plus flex-work units on California instead of 42nd. Fuller said they had, but it didn’t work.

Commissioner Julie Bassuk suggested that it would be better for Fuller to return with renderings showing the “public benefit” components closer up – since the existing renderings were more of a “helicopter view.”

Commissioner Andrew Barash was first to ask if more information would be available about traffic volumes and traffic flow, including school buses and pedestrians from Lafayette Elementary across California SW, as well as people going to and from Hiawatha.

View Larger Map

Commissioner Julie Parrett echoed his concern.

Commissioner John Hoffman praised Fuller and his team for doing “a good job getting an urban-design solution in here.” He then summarized the commission’s official position, approving “the urban design merits with the condition that we need to be comfortable with the traffic analysis” and describing those merits as “an authentic set of uses” including the flex-work and residential components of the project (42nd SW view shown above, taken from Design Review presentation), as well as the “retail continuity and transparency along California” and “the east-west through street (introducing) a smaller scale to the block.” The rooftop parking, which had remained controversial with some in the West Seattle design-review hearings, struck Hoffman as “a very urban response,” as did the “stoop entrances” for the residential units along 42nd:

Looking ahead to the next review, focusing on the “public benefit,” Hoffman said concerns will include concentrating what are now three entrances to the store site into one, from California.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE PROJECT: At least one more Design Review meeting, the date for which is not yet listed; another Design Commission meeting to finish reviewing the alley vacation; City Council action on the rezoning request; a boundary adjustment on the site that will allow Safeway to build the small retail building on the northwestern side of the property, so that it can function as a pharmacy while the store itself is being built.

2 Replies to "Admiral Safeway at Design Commission: 1 addition to the plan"

  • Fred November 6, 2009 (5:11 am)

    A pedestrian bridge over busy California Ave. would be a nice addition– for the safety of elementary school kids, the convenience of parents and for the store.

  • Mark November 6, 2009 (10:53 am)

    Thanks for the great report, WSB.

Sorry, comment time is over.