By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A new mixed-use development proposed for central Delridge finished making its way through the city’s design-review process Thursday night, with the minimum number of meetings – passing “early design guidance” in one Southwest Design Review Board meeting last year, and the “recommendation” phase in one meeting tonight.
(2010 WSB photo of the site)
The project includes apartments, houses, and a small amount of retail, all on a site to be carved out of what is currently a green hillside on the north edge of the mid-Delridge commercial zone (the Delridge/Orchard area with The Home Depot, two gas stations, the Tug Inn, and a storage facility, among other things).
The meeting at the Senior Center of West Seattle was led by the board’s new chair, West Seattle architect/developer Brandon Nicholson, though its previous chair, Christie Coxley, was back as a substitute. The city planner assigned to the project, Shelley Bolser, was the lone representative of the Department of Planning and Development.
Warren Pollock (at left in photo, with Coxley and Nicholson at right), an architect for site owner Su Development, led the project presentation. To recap: 58 apartments, 3 houses, 1700 square feet of retail, and 77 parking units are planned. They’re excavating 88,000 cubic yards, but Pollock clarified that’s not “below street level” – they’re cutting it out of the existing site. “We are putting a building into a hillside that’s currently green,” he acknowledged, adding that it was “logged” in the ’30s and ’60s. He says a “beautiful grove” of trees east of the houses will be preserved, and will have “invasive species” removed.
While the building’s facade along Delridge would span its entire length, behind that, there’s a 82-foot-wide courtyard, so from the air it looks like a U; the building’s wings on either side of it would be 30 feet high, but Pollock says there will still be some sunlight. The three houses, to be rented, are behind the main building, and will have their main access from a cable-stayed walkway/bridge going to the building’s garage (which Pollock says will likely be an iconic element of the development; Nicholson exclaimed later, “I love the bridge idea”).
While the south side of the site abuts the gas station/convenience store on the northeast corner of Delridge/Orchard, Pollock says the city owns the parcel to the north (which includes a city-owned staircase up to the neighborhoods that are uphill and to the east, with this project planning three sidewalks connecting to the staircase’s landings) and that it’s unlikely ever to be built on, as he believes it’s reserved as “urban forest.”
One unusual aspect – there’s a level-2 terrace over the residential lobby, flush with the street but one floor above, which will also have an open space with a view into (or from) the courtyard. They’re hopeful the retail space, which would have roll-up glass, might be a “restaurant or shop that would want to open up on a nice day.” At the street level, additional seating would be provided as overflow for the bus stop that Pollock noted was immediately to the north.
The building “has a variety of materials and color,” including some corrugated siding in a brick-red tone, as shown at the meeting (with turquoise and bright green accents – as shown in the architect’s rendering, and the packet excerpt below – the building’s main color was described by the architect team as “off-white”).
One of the “departures” – exceptions from zoning rules – they’re seeking is that the building be allowed to be a bit further back than the maximum allowed (10 feet). Also, toward the north side of the building, the parking area – behind a wall that will face the sidewalk – is a “departure,” since codes say parking in the area can’t be allowed adjacent to the street. And there are two “exceptional” trees they want to be allowed to remove – one has six trunks, one has nine. Their arborist says the trees have no more than 20 years of life left (and these are not the same two trees shown in the packet made available online earlier this week); if they were saved, the bridge and one house would have to be removed from the plan. “There’s so much natural vegetation we’re preserving and protecting, and so much we’re adding,” said Pollock, that they feel they’re making up for taking out those two trees (many other trees will be removed by the excavation, but they are not considered “exceptional”). During board discussion, Coxley – a landscape architect – said even she had no problem with the concept – “20-year trees vs. 100-year building,” in the case of these two, Nicholson summarized it, also remarking on how trying to keep the trees would reduce the quality of the project including “cut(ting) the amenity space in half.”
Three people spoke in the public comment period: Diane Vincent said she loved the project and considered it a “precedent” likely to improve the area.
An attendee who said she has been living for a few years right above the construction area wondered, why three houses? “The site has enough property to be subdivided for that,” Pollock explained, adding it actually could have been subdivided for four, but the way the development is envisioned, they don’t need to subdivide at all. She also asked how the homes would be protected from the steep hill behind them; Pollock said their foundation would include “deep-drilled piers” allowing landscaping to actually grow under them. To her question of how far behind the houses trees would be removed, “right behind them” is as far as they’re allowed to take them out, Pollock said.
He also told her that the staircase will not be closed during site construction, though they will have to “clean up the area” as they connect their sidewalks to the stairway. In addition, she mentioned drug/crime/litter trouble on the stairway. (Perhaps the owner could place more lighting along the north side of the building, to help discourage that, board members suggested during their deliberations. Nicholson noted that the project itself may also discourage that type of activity, recalling that effect from a project on Queen Anne years earlier, built on the site of what was at the time a homeless camp.)
But the neighbor wasn’t opposed, just concerned: “It’s beautiful and exciting to see something new coming into the neighborhood,” she said toward the end of her comments.
Ernestine Morris, who lives on SW Myrtle nearby, wondered if the stairway would be rebuilt, since, she said dryly, it doesn’t look quite as nice as it does in the rendering. Pollock agreed “it desperately needs to be cared for.”
The board’s main discussion points in deliberation included what elements of interest the building contained; Robin Murphy worried that it might look too “vanilla,” but Nicholson thought the terrace and pass-through to the courtyard provided some visual interest. Norma Tompkins expressed concern about natural stormwater control on the site, such as a “green roof” for at least part of the main building.
Then as they finalized their official recommendations, the strongest criticism that emerged was from board member Robin Murphy, fearing that the building’s primary off-white color, colorful accents aside, is a little “flat.” They also want to be sure that the residential entry of the building is well-marked, given its proximity to the small retail area’s entry. And they’re directing the owners and architects to work with SDOT regarding lighting for maximum safety on the city-owned stairway immediately north of the site.
If you have comments on project aspects such as traffic effects, which are outside the purview of the DRB, you can send them to planner Bolser (email@example.com). Meantime, you can watch the site’s DPD page for progress toward permits for the project.