Kenney redevelopment plans, 2 years later: ‘Retooling mode’

August 10, 2010 2:27 pm
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 |   Development | The Kenney | West Seattle news

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

It’s been almost exactly two years since a WSB’er’s e-mail about redevelopment plans at The Kenney – the century-old retirement complex north of Lincoln Park – led us to sit down with CEO Kevin McFeely for a conversation that resulted in the first news story about the project.

It’s an understatement to say a lot has changed as the proposal – which stirred intense emotions, from neighbors, other community members, and from those with ties to The Kenney – has evolved over those two years. And now it’s evolving again – with the goal to have a new, smaller plan for consideration at community meetings in the next few months, according to McFeely, with whom we talked on Monday, along with the local architect/developer who joined the project team earlier this year, Euclid Development‘s T.J. Lehman, who describes it as in “retooling mode.”

This summer, Legos have even played a part in that “retooling – read on to see why, and hear what else McFeely and Lehman say is happening now:

First, the Legos. As Lehman describes it, they were meant to help facilitate “the beginning of what’s going to be a conversation with the community of what The Kenney should be over the next century,” by inviting people to shape a representation of the campus as they thought it should be.

The setup was in The Kenney’s booth at West Seattle Summer Fest last month, and will be on hand at its annual barbecue (August 19th). McFeely says it “sparked a lot of interest” at Summer Fest, telling the story of how someone whose booth was six booths away “chased me down” to ask what’s up with the project.

One major thing that’s up: Some new people. Lehman’s company, Euclid, is based in The Junction (he is a partner in it with Brandon Nicholson, the architect/developer who is also a partner in “sister company” NK Architects. At the end of January, McFeely explained, they parted ways with their previous developer – New Life (who had publicly debuted at the first September 2008 community meeting).

Why the change? McFeely said that once a variety of factors surfaced suggesting the previous project was too big – “the economic picture changed” and both the city and neighbors voiced concerns about “density and massing” – The Kenney took those to the previous developer, asking, “Is this really the right size?” and got back the answer, “Yes, it’s the right size.”

“We just couldn’t believe that,” recalls McFeely, “so we had a lot of negotiations with them at the end of last year, beginning of this year, and realized, the fit wasn’t there any more.” Besides bringing in Euclid, The Kenney is still working with the other firm that had been front-and-center on the project dating back to fall 2008, Wisconsin-based AG Architecture, and has brought in Craig Witz, whom he describes as having “worked for Life Care Services in Des Moines [Iowa] for (about) 15 years. … What’s really nice about this group is that TJ brings all the expertise for project planning, development, and intricacies … Craig brings the senior-living aspect …” He went on to acknowledge AG’s Gene Guszkowski for having likely “taken the most heat” regarding the project’s previous incarnation, “in terms of hearing from neighbors and the city .. he thinks on his feet, and hears what (people) are saying.” He sums up the team as having “good synergy.”

The big question, then, what have they come up with so far, and what will be different from the project as proposed while it went part of the way through Design Review in 2008 and 2009?

There’s nothing to unveil yet, McFeely and Lehman both emphasize. But we did get something almost-specific when we asked about The Kenney’s iconic Seaview Building.

(August 2009 photo by Christopher Boffoli)
In the original proposal, as noted in our August 2008 story, the Seaview was proposed for demolition, while something “re-creating” it would be built nearby on the site. Public outcry ensued. Then by May of last year, there was a new idea: Save it, and move it forward on the site. In the meantime, it became an official city landmark, after a Landmarks Board vote one year ago.

Asked what the concept for the Seaview’s future is now, Lehman said, “Our current thinking is that it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the Seaview right where it is. McFeely agreed.

The rest of the project, which they described clearly as “downsized” and “smaller,” will still seek to “strengthen … the continuum of care,” which was an original goal, when the project included a unit to help residents dealing with memory-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. But it will have fewer units, and less square footage per unit, than the previous version envisioned, according to McFeely: “There’s a new economic reality out there – we’re trying to be responsive to our neighbors – we’ve been here for 100 years and want to be here for another 100. … What we’re trying to look at is, what’s the right mix of units, whether independent, memory support, assisted living, skilled nursing … we’re still working on that.”

And that mix, McFeely and Lehman made clear, has to make sense for a variety of stakeholders – including the city, which would have had to approve some rezoning to facilitate the previous proposal.

“We think we’re going to come out with something pleasing to everybody – those who live here, those who live next door to us, those who regulate us, those who finance us,” they insisted.

WHAT’S NEXT: Once there’s a new plan, they expect to bring it to community groups such as the Morgan Community Association and Fauntleroy Community Association. Then they will set dates for general community meetings, which McFeely hopes will be possible in September/October. Will they have to start the city application process from scratch? we ask. Lehman says the fact they “anticipate the new project to be smaller” should mean that they won’t be going all the way to the finish line – after all, he notes, “nothing was really approved before” – they hadn’t taken the previous project all the way through Design Review.

For past – and future – stories, keep an eye on the WSB archive for The Kenney coverage – find it here.

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