Nova passes 1st design review, but city parking policy puzzles

(One of the “massing” graphics from the meeting presentation)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Harbor Properties‘ next West Seattle development Nova (36th/Snoqualmie) stirred little controversy as it sailed through “early design guidance” last night, at the Southwest Design Review Board‘s first meeting in seven months (if there’s no project to review, they don’t meet).

However, a revelation about recent city code changes loomed large: The fact that Nova and other developments in certain areas of the city could be built with no on-site parking at all (though Harbor is currently looking at providing .6 of a space per unit, about the same as its nearby Link and Mural [WSB sponsors] developments).

“When did (the rule) change?” asked Triangle property owner Jim Sweeney, saying that he believes few are aware of the changes.

Here’s the answer we found afterward:

It was part of the “multi-family code” changes that worked their way through the City Council for the past few years, finally approved in December. The key points are listed on this page of the city website. Among them, the provision in question:

Waive parking requirements for projects in growth areas and within .25 mile of frequent transit service (15 minute headways), allowing the market to dictate the level of parking to provide

And that’s how city planner Scott Kemp attempted to explain it, after Sweeney’s question at last night’s meeting: “I think it’s a shift in the way our City Council and planners are thinking about the automobile … In the past we were thinking people are going to have all these cars … and now we would like to let the market determine how many parking spaces are going to (be provided) … and create transit-oriented areas of the city … That’s the thought; I don’t expect you to agree with it, but that’s the thought.”

Another attendee’s retort to that: “That’s not market-driven, that’s government-driven.”

In this case, the developer believes the market requires some parking: If what Harbor’s Onslow said at the start of their presentation carries through, .6 of a space per unit, with about 60 units envisioned, that would equal about 37 parking stalls in a garage that would be underground on the west side of the site, entered through the lower east side (on the alley). He said based on what they are seeing with Mural and Link, they believe it’s “the right balance.”

It was acknowledged even toward the start of the meeting, by outgoing SWDRB chair Christie Coxley, that parking had been a hot topic in WSB comments following recent coverage of the Nova plan, though she reiterated that parking is not one of the project elements that design-review boards are empowered to review.

She also provided the 40-strong audience with a quick primer on the process, after joking, “Welcome to the first annual West Seattle Design Review Board meeting,” since its last meeting was midsummer 2010, regarding a Delridge project. And the process had high-level oversight: Bruce Rips, current interim manager of the entire citywide Design Review program, was at the table with the board.

Yet another unusual element of the meeting: Context for the discussion of the project, something new – Susan McLain, senior planner assigned to the Triangle planning process, provided an “introduction” to that still-under-way project, which has sought to lay some groundwork for a unified vision for the area as its redevelopment unfolds in the years ahead. (Behind her during the presentation was a graphic provided by Harbor Properties labeled “Fauntleroy Triangle Neighborhood Plan” [not yet adopted].)

McLain recounted how the planning process began with the Huling properties, and questions about “how is this area going to develop over time?” She mentioned the “draft concept plan” that is now in existence as the result of community meetings, focusing on the area’s streetscapes and “how (they) might develop in the coming decades,” how it might affect the area’s 70 businesses and the residents in and around The Triangle, as well as business customers and visitors. McLain said SDOT is reviewing the streetscape plan right now. (Triangle Advisory Group members were in the audience, as McLain noted, including Sharonn Meeks of the Fairmount Community Association immediately south of The Triangle, Denny Onslow of Nova/Link/Mural developer Harbor Properties, and Kandie Jennings of Tom’s Automotive Service (WSB sponsor) which is in The Triangle.)

Then, after the aforementioned process refreshers, the presentation began, first with Denny Onslow from Harbor Properties: “This is our third project in West Seattle,” after Mural and Link (which is getting its first tenants within days). He described it as something of an extension of Link – not a twin, but similar finishes, similar landscaping, similar tenants. “We want to make it street-friendly, to fit into the neighborhood.”

The architects are Runberg Architecture Group, whose Brian Runberg provided the overview – again, “early design guidance” is for a broad look at project concepts and principles, such as a building’s size and shape (“massing”).

Runberg gave a nod back to McLain’s appearance, saying the 19-foot “right of way” along 36th would allow for street trees as suggested under the not-yet-finalized city Triangle plan.

For “early design guidance,” developers are supposed to propose three alternatives for massing. In the Nova plan, A and C would be five stories, B would be 6 stories (the maximum allowable under current zoning), with a live-work commercial space on the ground floor. While B would “maximize development potential,” Harbor described C as its preferred option.

The lobby would be at the corner of 36th and Snoqualmie, with some ground-level housing, since there is room for “landscaping buffers” and “transition thresholds of space,” as Rundberg put it. (In terms of another transition, there is an alley between Nova and Merrill Gardens-West Seattle [WSB sponsor] to the east; that’s where the entrance to the parking garage would be, as per current city preference, which means curb cuts now existing along 36th for the current parking area will be eliminated, creating more street parking.)

Runberg also noted that the development is attempting to follow some of the design guidelines for the West Seattle Junction area, which official city documentation currently describes as including The Triangle, in addition to the proposed Triangle guidelines.

As always, images of the principal entities’ past work were shown – Runberg showed a West Seattle project his company had worked on, as well as Link and Mural (which they did not). Another similarity to Link: A landscaped roof. And his presentation concluded by saying they are not proposing any “design departures” – no exceptions to current guideline/rules.

*The site is only 11,500 square feet, and as Rundberg put it, “there’s only so much you can do with it.”

Public comments came next, and there, the parking issue reappeared, and not just with the comments mentioned earlier from Jim Sweeney. The first commenter, identifying himself as the manager of a nearby apartment buliding, declared that “this whole project comes down to parking,” saying he “deals with (the parking crunch) every day.”

Diane Vincent said she appreciated hearing the discussion of parking, and also noted she’s glad development is getting going again. She also suggested that, before Design Review Board meetings, a printed-out copy of the “meeting packet” could be made available locally somewhere, perhaps at a library, since downloading a big PDF (like the one for this meeting) can be difficult (not to mention impossible for those without computer access). And she thought at least a bit of retail might be appropriate for Nova: “I’m not completely convinced this is going to be so passive once we have the RapidRide and a lot of people (in the area) – something like a convenience store could be helpful for people,”

Sharonn Meeks, of the Fairmount Community Association and Triangle advisory group, said she was OK with the absence of retail in the “preferred scheme,” but did want to make sure the landscaping would be significant. “This is a dominant corner for the neighborhood,” she said, “and it would be nice to have some greenery when you come out … as part of the design we’ve been working on for our Triangle area. … I like what I see here.”

Judy Sweeney, now a co-owner of the undergoing-renovations motel adjacent to the Nova site, said she wanted to be sure the alley to the east would remain an alley, because of utilities and other business-related needs (as well as parking entrances for Merrill Gardens and now for Nova), countering an earlier musing that it might be “activated” for pedestrian use. “It’s going to be an alley,” Coxley declared.

At DRB meetings, public comment is followed by the board’s final discussion to settle on recommendations for the developer and architect; this is done in the open, with audience members and project presenters all invited to gather around the table and listen in, though not to offer further comment.

In the board discussion, board member Brandon Nicholson had generally positive comments about the.massing.

Robin Murphy said he has some concerns about getting into the building and circulating, though he agreed that the lobby belongs at 36th and Snoqualmie. He thought the ground floor should have higher ceilings and needs to “embrace the street” more than it does now.

Norma Tompkins agreed that “C” is best, and mentioned that she is familiar with the neighborhood, as a relative once lived in Merrill Gardens.

Overall, the board’s back-and-forth highlighted the fact that The Triangle is an area in transition – as McLain’s presentation at the beginning had stressed.

“It’s not just what’s happening right this very second, but how the future is proposed,” observed Coxley.

There were a few words of advice about how the building could and should look when an actual design is brought back to the board in the second stage of the process:

Nicholson noted that Runberg had mentioned some decorative grill work where the parking level would face 36th; he wondered if perhaps it could be like Site 17 in Belltown.

Murphy said he is concerned about the face of Nova being right up against the south property line, flat wall up against the motel property and rising above it, with no windows on that side.”That’s an area that’s going to be very visible coming from the south, visible to all the residences over there, and that has to be dealt with.”

Nicholson noted it’s certain the adjacent motel site eventually will be developed to full height too (the board was going to ask the Sweeneys, but they had departed).

Are they addressing the corner enough? it was asked. Corner lots are one thing – but this isn’t necessarily a significant corner, it was pointed out, not like, oh say, Alaska/California (Walk All Ways in The Junction).

How much ‘modulation’ in design does this building need? was another topic of discussion. Nicholson thought that since it’s such a small lot, not much. Others said – well, it’s 51 feet high, so it’s still not that small a building. At the street level, they expressed hope for some stoops, a transitional space along the frontage, and some “overhead protection.” Bottom line, “if they come back with some horrible plaid vinyl box, then we will have a discussion … a quality track record spares you (over) scrutiny,” Nicholson quipped.

Till the next design-review meeting is scheduled, you can watch the project’s page on the city Department of Planning and Development website here; and again, the packet of information – including “massing” proposal graphics – for the project, reviewed last night, can be seen online here.

18 Replies to "Nova passes 1st design review, but city parking policy puzzles"

  • Alki Area March 25, 2011 (11:12 am)

    RIIIGGGHHHTTT. Kind of putting the cart before the horse aren’t we? The idea of not providing “any” parking because of the magic solution of “mass transit” is kind of nuts. All we have is buses. Sure there will be an extra express bus soon (big deal) in Rapid Ride. Not matter how you market it, it’s still just a bus. It uses the same roads as every car. If the viaduct is shutdown and the West Seattle bridge backs up, buses won’t go any faster than the scooters or cars. We don’t HAVE mass transit in West Seattle (no monorail, no light rail) which is SEPARATE from the road. If we did, then it would be great, but until we all have jet backs, or mass transit (other than the roads) probably not a good idea.

  • yikes March 25, 2011 (11:28 am)

    I don’t get the whole parking assumption… there are single family homes within a block of the apartment houses and our street parking is totally taken by people who don’t live here. There is no room for us or for those who visit us. In addition, many people drive to the Y… are they now expected to take mass transit, since there will be virtually no parking available?

  • coffee March 25, 2011 (12:07 pm)

    hum, just what we need, more apartments for people to rent and then drive from west seattle for a job on the east side….

  • Diane March 25, 2011 (12:22 pm)

    Wow, talk about bizarre assumption; why do you think anyone would come all the way to WS to rent if they work on the eastside?

  • Thistle March 25, 2011 (1:02 pm)

    Is it a bad thing to work on the Eastside but live in West Seattle? I have done just that for the last 5 years (and no, I do not work for a computer company…. I am an admin at a small appraisal firm that has proven to be an amazing employer). Would I love to work closer to home, sure, but that is not the way the dice rolled. Personally, I think its great to have anyone move into the apartments no matter where they work so long as they eat at West 5, get music at Easy Street, find art at Twilight ….in short become great neighbors who provide a stable economic base for our home.

  • Peggie March 25, 2011 (1:03 pm)

    Diane, it’s not such a weird assumption. For years my husband worked on the eastside while we live in West Seattle, because I’ve worked for years at Harborview. When more than one member of a household work, you have to make decisions about the best place to live.

  • Alki Area March 25, 2011 (1:10 pm)


    Probably work downtown. It would be FAR CHEAPER to rent out in the burbs of Bothell than West Seattle if you worked on the east side. Most renters here would work downtown or south (otherwise it IS kind of silly to move here).

    Regardless, the point is still, we don’t HAVE mass transit yet. I WISH we did have a light rail line that just went ‘near’ the junction or something, but we don’t…and aren’t likely to have anything like that in the next 25 years…so until then EVERYONE will drive cars to West Seattle, and not accommodating for that is insane.

  • JB March 25, 2011 (1:18 pm)

    @coffee – I know a fair number of W Seattleites and a number of people who work on the east side, and I don’t see any overlap in those groups. Not sure what you’re getting at…
    As for the parking regs, “let the market set the price”, sounds good on paper. Less than 1 off-street spot per unit sounds inadequate. Yes, folks are willing to tolerate the bus, but even the hardcore transit commuters I know have a car on hand for hitting the mountains on the weekend.

  • Peter on Fauntleroy March 25, 2011 (1:22 pm)

    People who are obsessed with cars and think everyone should drive everywhere all the time, and that the city and developers should make that a priority in all decisions, give me a headache. I’m betting most of you commenting here don’t live anywhere near the Triangle, but I do, and I want to see a lot more devolopment there. Bigger, taller, more.

  • pjmanley March 25, 2011 (2:06 pm)

    As we dream of things like light rail and functional rapid-ride, we live, meanwhile, with the reality that street parking in West Seattle is becoming a problem, and will be increasingly so for decades to come. As we wrestle with each others’ ideals, let’s not forget that the biggest proponents of fewer parking spaces are the developers themselves. They are the ones who got Mayor Nickles & Co. to reduce the per unit parking requirements, so they can sell more square feet of living space and let the neighbors deal with the spillover from their occupants. Case in point: Every street around the AK Junction is now wall-to-wall cars on both sides of the street, and lack of parking is starting to choke businesses and traffic all around it.

    We can dream all we want about less cars, and I’m all for it. But the present reality is crowded streets like Capitol Hill or Queen Anne, as people still need to drive to many places buses don’t go, or take exponentially more time to reach.

    I’m sure we’d all like to do the right thing and bicycle or bus everywhere. But the demands of the current world simply don’t allow it. How many extra hours do people have to spend riding and transferring from bus to bus everyday? The evidence says, not many.

  • Diane March 25, 2011 (3:12 pm)

    good points pjmanley
    then when our streets get too full of parked cars, will the city then deem it necessary to put in those horrible pay stations?

  • Diane March 25, 2011 (3:22 pm)

    Re the renter/commute debate; as a lifelong renter, I take offense to being demonized as a renter; that may not have been intent of OP, but I’ve heard rude comments even in design reviews from homeowners in the Triangle about renters; we are about half of Seattle population, and no less worthy as residents of the community; and in the current real estate/financial market, and with increase of jobs (thank god) there are more and more folks looking for good apartments to rent
    this block is especially appealing to me as a renter because of access to transit, and to the Y, and walkability to junction, but I still LOVE my car, and I need my car for work, so the parking issue is important

  • foy boy March 25, 2011 (4:31 pm)

    Yea the people that move into these new homes may well use the bus to get to work monday through friday but what about saturday? They might want to go shopping or to ocean shores or to grandmas house. This will require a car. There is no light rail to Ruby beach or moclips. And if grandma lives on tiger mountain you will need a car.

  • Yardvark March 25, 2011 (10:53 pm)

    We definitely need to look into neighborhood parking permits. But I dig the idea that units with no parking included might attract residents who don’t own cars. Planning for a future where everyone here has a car and has to commute out of West Seattle is lame. Our present reality doesn’t necessarily have to be our planned future.

  • Ken March 26, 2011 (6:35 am)

    The .6 per was added about the time the design and funding was being set up for the Highpoint rebuild.

    May not have been connected, but SHA did away with hundreds of off street parking spots so they could sell the view properties to developers.

    My street now has so many cars parked on it I had to create a fenced parking area off the alley in the back yard.

    The above building site is going to be 1 block from the rapid ride stop (in any route configuration) and since there are no park and rides in the area (besides the on street parking at Morgan and 35th (21 express) spilling onto all side streets) and 35th north of Alaska, the .6 and far more will be needed if any resident wants to use a car occasionally.

    When WS becomes parking free (as opposed to free parking)them both renters and condo owners will start finding down town or the burbs more attractive. Is this the market force mentioned by the developers (who will have cashed their check and moved on by then…)?

  • Nulu March 26, 2011 (9:22 am)

    Neighborhood parking permits are a failed experiment.
    They ruin neighborhoods and just shift the parking load to outside the permit area.
    West Seattleites blog endlessly about driving and parking.
    We love to cry,”the sky is falling,” anytime a change is proposed.
    WSB would do a service to re-run some of the Chicken Little posts before the changes to Fauntleroy Way.
    It’s clear that progressive developments like this one are not aimed at car culture renters. If you have several vehicles stored illegally on the street, the planting strip, your driveway, front and back yards, this is not your choice.
    And all of you wailing about parking in front of your house, why not clean out your garage and park there or in your driveway? Even in the area immediately adjacent to the Triangle few house do not have driveways or curb cuts that you are allowed to park in.
    People who do not embrace the car culture, work locally, bike, use mass transit, use FlexCar, or have Grandma in Tiger Mountain warm-up the old Buick and travel to Seattle to see the family. As for the getting to the mountains, vehicle only used on the week-end, how about walking around the corner to “Mountain to Sound Outfitters,” right in the Triangle for an inexpensive, hassle free ride to the slopes?

  • foyboy March 26, 2011 (8:21 pm)

    Nulu, I refuse to partake in the liberal push on social change. And perfur to be on my schudle then someoneelse’s. This is America land of the free. If I want to drive I’ll drive. If I want to take the bus so be it. But quit trying to push your socail change on everyone.

  • ARE YOU KIDDING? March 28, 2011 (5:15 pm)

    I pity the neighbors. Talk to the folks who live near Endolyne Joes in Fauntleroy, residents of Alki, Wallingford, Green Lake, Capitol Hill. This is a bend-over by the city to greedy developers who SHOULD be required to build parking. This is a lose, lose situation for existing neighbors, new tentants and especially new businesses. There is a saturation point where folks who may want to try a new restaurant or visit a new business who will say–I WON’T because there’s no parking and I refuse to be gouged by the parking lot owners or overpriced meters. Yes, locals can walk, but good luck to a new business with no parking (and perhaps no Viaduct)! What is our city council thinking?

Sorry, comment time is over.