From City Hall downtown: The Seattle Design Commission has finished its two-part review of the portion of the Admiral Safeway redevelopment project on which it’s required to sign off, the “alley vacation,” and the vote was in favor of approval. (If a project requires a street or alley vacation – asking the city to give up its right of way – that requires several levels of approvals, including the Design Commission’s blessing in two stages, urban design and public benefit, what citizens theoretically are getting in exchange for giving up publicly owned property.) After the first presentation (WSB coverage here), which resulted in the group approving the urban design, they made it clear they wanted more information about its possible traffic effects, so at this afternoon’s review, architect Bill Fuller was joined by a traffic consultant. She said they’d studied the effects of five Safeway redevelopment projects in the region and by extrapolating those results – particularly knowing that these projects are not geared to bring more people to the store, so much as to add improvements that would have existing customers spend more money at the store – they do not expect a sizable traffic impact – about 300 additional “trips” per day beyond what the site generates now. The project will include about three dozen residential units and almost 100 “flex-work units” as well as almost doubling the size of the grocery store and adding a 6,000-square-foot retail building along California on the northwest edge of the property. Landscape architect Andy Rasmussen also joined the presentation, during which it was noted that the project will be trying for LEED certification. The only member of the public to attend and speak was longtime Admiral neighborhood advocate Dennis Ross, who again voiced strong support for the project. Leaving City Hall now to return to West Seattle, will add details of the commissioners’ concerns when we get back online.10:33 AM FRIDAY: Highlights finally added, ahead (note – we also have added graphics from the presentation – thanks to Fuller Sears for answering our request for digital copies):
First, one other note on addressing the traffic concerns voiced at the previous meeting, which also included questions about parking: Safeway’s transportation consultant noted that they don’t expect the property’s various uses to overlap so much – residential parking primarily in the evening, shopping parking peaking in the afternoon, flex-work units’ parking peaking in the morning. (The project will have a surface parking lot and parking on the roof of the store.)
Separate from the traffic issues, most of the concerns centered on whether what the architects described as “public benefits” really were additional public benefits worthy of an alley vacation – although, as one commissioner also noted, the alley in question is not really used much – it’s an L-shaped path that you wouldn’t necessarily recognize as an alley, running from SW Lander to the southeast side of the store, then over to 42nd SW.
Architects stressed that what they’ve been calling the “shared street” in front of the store will include clear pedestrian features to make it a workable way to walk between California SW and 42nd SW. They will need to cross in the middle, though, to get from the south side to the north side before the area where Safeway will have its loading dock on the east side of the store (near the flex-work units). Safeway says the truck traffic is not expected to be major, because their deliveries are streamlined thanks to a regional warehouse – they expect three trucks a day, like they have now, “each will just have more stuff in it” – several products such as Coke and Pepsi are delivered directly by their distributors.
The “public benefits” were described primarily by landscape architect Andy Rasmussen, and many of them already have been covered in our previous reports. They include some upgrades to pedestrian features getting people from the north side of Hiawatha over to the Safeway side of the street, including new handrails on steps down from the park and “seating walls.”
The south side of Safeway, facing the park, will include plaques about Hiawatha’s history as an Olmsted park (above), and the developers/architects have been working with the Friends of Olmsted Parks on that; the group also will get a donation from Safeway for plaques on the park side of the street.
Along 42nd SW, where Rasmussen said there are basically “no improvements” now, the development will bring features including street trees and planters. He noted that the plantings for the project will focus on drought-tolerant plants and water-saving irrigation, as part of the LEED certification for which they are trying; they hope to incorporate native plants, too.
Bike racks, trash receptacles, and street lights along California on the west side of the site were also noted, as well as more planters, and seating plazas at the California/Lander corner (below) as well as along the storefront’s north side, just off California.
But the interfacing with Hiawatha was mentioned time and time again in particular. As Fuller said, “It’s not always we get a project that’s next to a phenomenal, almost-hidden gem of a park.”
SDOT has to sign off on street/alley vacations – as does the City Council – and its specialist in those reviews, Beverly Barnett, was the first to say in the meeting that while she gives Safeway major kudos for its urban-design features, creating a project that “looks distinct and fits into the neighborhood,” she wasn’t entirely sure that what Safeway unveiled could be described as true “public benefits” – for example, at the corner of California/Lander, she said, “I can’t quite tell what will be a retail entry and what would be a ‘public benefit’ if I’m not going shopping and just want to sit down.”
Some Design Commission members agreed with that assessment, though in their defense, Fuller noted, “There’s tons of stuff we’re not getting credit for” — such as adding many more windows to the storefront on all sides, so that people will no longer be walking past a blank wall on the south, as they are now — “there’s little wiggle room for us to accomplish things we find meaningful.” He insisted that along the “shared street,” walkers “will feel like (they are) in a pedestrian realm,” with both ends raised slightly from the street, and bollards making sure that cars don’t veer into the pathways. He also mentioned visiting the new QFC in The Junction and noting how merchandise “spills out” from its entrance at 42nd/Alaska, and expecting this will be possible with the new Admiral Safeway as well.
Commission chair Mary Johnston suggested, “The public benefit will not be so much in the physical things you do, but in the programming of the area – maybe think about a festival, or other exciting things that could happen for the community.”
Ultimately, they voted to approve the “public benefits package” in a motion incorporating the concerns they hope the project will address – John Hoffman, in his last meeting as a Design Commission member, read the motion, saying they hope the public benefits will be more “crisply defined” as the project moves ahead.
WHAT’S NEXT: You are likely to hear more about those features when the Admiral Safeway project returns to the Southwest Design Review Board in two weeks – 8 pm December 17th, Youngstown Arts Center.