4724 California’s owner-to-be: ‘We are the right firm to do this’

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

This week, we’re likely to learn a lot more about what’s envisioned for the 4724 California development on the ex-Petco site in The Junction.

For starters: 10 days after WSB first reported the plan, the “fact sheet” promised by developers is now available- see it here – and the official website’s look and contents have evolved too.

Most significantly, the development/ownership team continues to circulate for conversations with community leaders, as they were doing before we even found out about the proposal. West Seattle business-community members met with the development team last week. This time in addition to the “on the ground” Seattle team members from Urban Evolution (who talked with us for an April 20th followup), the group included Peter Wolff of The Wolff Company, the privately held firm that’s buying the site and funding the development.

The morning after that meeting, he sat down for an interview with WSB, in which he explained, among other things, why he believes his company is “the right firm to do this”:

Peter Wolff is a member of the third generation to run the company, founded by his grandfather Alvin J. Wolff in Spokane in 1949. The company – which just relaunched its website – still has a Spokane office, but is headquartered in Arizona, which is where Peter Wolff lives now, though he has ties here: He’s a former Seattleite and has an architecture degree from Washington State University.

“It’s important that people know our company is behind this 100 percent – it’s not just another project,” Wolff says. “We care deeply about how we’re perceived; ultimately that perception will arise out of what we do.”

What they’re doing right now is getting ready for the first Southwest Design Review Board meeting for the project; Chris Rossman from Urban Evolution, who accompanied Wolff to his interview with us in The Junction last Wednesday, said they are hoping for May 24th (as of this writing Monday at midday, nothing is on the Department of Planning and Development’s online schedule). The project is being designed by Weber Thompson (which also designed the forthcoming California/Alaska project up the block).

The new FAQ outlines the plan with language similar to what we had originally found on the DPD site and what the Urban Evolution partners had described in our first interview:

The plan is for a mixed-use residential building with approximately 100 total units plus ground-floor retail along the full front of California Avenue SW. The property is zoned NC3P-85, which allows 85 feet in height. The current plan is to build 7 stories, with five floors of residential, one floor of live/work, and one floor of retail at the ground floor.

But back to “perception.” Wolff says he understands that some will be suspicious of, or at least skeptical about, developers. (Particularly, we note, in a community with a four-years-stalled development excavation, just blocks from the 4724 California site.) So why should you trust they’ll be different? One factor cited: The family ownership, for one. “It’s rare that you have four brothers and a father who work together, and we do it well. That’s extremely rare – there are five of us running around who are principals. We love it, we breathe it, it’s in our blood. We’ve been a very intense real-estate family for a long time.”

And the company has “deep bench strength,” says Wolff, ticking off other attributes, from “well-capitalized” to “can get the job done.”

He says they strive to leave a site “better than we found it” and hope that their projects will help “stitch together and enhance the community in a way that only we have done. … We want to be part of making this a great place.” And he says they have a longterm stake in that, since “the better the place becomes, the better the investment becomes – not altruistically, but from a personal-gratification standpoint: We want to look back and say we were part of that.” And he repeats what the Urban Evolution team had said in our interview with them: “We do intend on holding this one forever.”

The Wolff Company has not built in Seattle before – and now they are embarking on not only this project, but also another one on Capitol Hill. Overall, Wolff says, the company is moving toward more in-city development (other projects are mapped here). “We’ve tried to get into Seattle for a long, long time. The economic environment hasn’t been right for a long, long time.” His family’s company does a lot of research in deciding on its “target” markets, evaluating a variety of factors. “In Seattle right now, the conditions are perfect,” he says, noting that in addition to starting development projects like this one and Capitol Hill, they also “have been buying,” usually apartment buildings.

We point out that West Seattle has more than a few apartment projects under development – Youngstown Flats in North Delridge, Nova in The Triangle – and on the drawing board, and that some are warning of the possibility of overbuilding (including economist Matthew Gardner, speaking to the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s awards breakfast earlier this month).

Wolff acknowledges there’s “a lot of news about overbuilding and (what’s in the) pipeline; it’s also true that there continues to be a lot of great news on the demand side as well. We’re very encouraged by the general demographics of the region, this being a gateway city – people are generally tending to choose lifestyle locations … We’re very bullish on Seattle for that region.” As they are, he adds, on Colorado and the San Francisco Bay Area, to name two other locations where they are focused right now. “There probably will be some overbuilding, but we’ll hold this for a long period of time, and it tends not to be a problem for us. We’ll be there when times are good and when times are bad.”

Trends and overviews are one thing. But what about the people whose only concern is the face of change – a low-rise business district, long zoned for higher development but only now seeing it starting to arrive, with both this proposal and the two-building Equity Residential (ex-Conner) project planned at California/Alaska? We ask Wolff what he would say if a local resident asked him about it face to face.

“I get why people like the single-story (buildings),” he begins. “It’s romantic. It harkens to the past. Sweet little streets. The reality is, it speaks to a time when there was less density, many fewer people in the city. The most sustainable urbanism can be very, very good if done right, especially in something like this. The key there is, it needs to be done carefully. Indeed, tall buildings jammed together can be done poorly, can ruin an area. I acknowledge that. But done well, this kind of density can magnify the positive effects, including having a better street front. More engagement, more people to bring up the shops, better shops and sidewalks and better street furniture, better transit …”

Bottom line: “The small street like this in the middle of a city is not practical, not sustainable, not environmentally or economically sustainable. The demand (will come in), the supplies aren’t able to meet it, and people will go somewhere else, the dollars will go somewhere else. It has to grow. You can’t fight urbanization – it’s happening, no matter what.”

Here’s what else he would say to someone who’s worried:

“We are the firm you want to do this. You can’t fight urbanization – it is happening – but you can fight who does that. We need to convince everybody that we are the right firm to do this. It’s not the building itself, it’s who’s doing the building. We ‘get it’.”

Is there a particular Wolff Company project to which he can point, we ask, as evidence that they “get it”?

Since their company’s “move to urbanization has been relatively recent,” he says the most comparable example is a project in Boulder, Colorado (Gunbarrel Center), but it too is in design right now. In Boulder, too, he explains, people are passionate about their community, as in West Seattle, and how it’s changing and growing.

What about the traffic – building in an area that has a rush-hour bottleneck, aka the West Seattle Bridge? “We acknowledge the traffic, for sure,” he says, but doesn’t see it as a dealbreaker. He also points out that they are planning to build parking into the project – “we would have an issue with our residents if there is none” – even though the newest city rules do not require a development like theirs to offer ANY parking. (While the Urban Evolution team had mentioned .8 spaces or so per unit during our previous conversation, the new fact sheet says they’re looking at .7-.8 – that would mean, if they build 100 units, 70 to 80 spaces.)

Acknowledging that it might “feel like we’re playing into a bad situation” regarding outbound traffic jams, Wolff has a glass-half-full view, hoping that as the population increases, transportation authorities “will allocate funding to solve the transportation problem. … Urbanization is a series of iterative steps; there’s more incentive to build the right kind of transportation infrastructure if it serves more and more population density.”

And the conversation comes back to our question of, what would you say to someone who feels that new development is costing them a place, a feeling that they love? “We do hear that and we understand it. We’re not blind to it. All we can do is acknowledge that fully, and the reasons why (people feel that way). Don’t just say, ‘big buildings are bad.’ What are the aspects (of the area) that you love currently? What are the pieces that you love? How can we preserve that as best we can, (knowing that) nobody can stand there and hold back the tide of growth? How do we take the best of what we have and make sure we do the best we can, in a big building, to preserve that? That’s all we can do. Simply not acting is not an option, for us or for the next guy who comes along, so let’s do the best we can.”

For starters, if you haven’t already, send your thoughts to them via the contact form/address on the 4724California.com website. Wolff and Rossman say they are all being read: “We will do our best to try to balance the neighborhood concerns, the urban planning and architectural considerations – it’s a complicated puzzle to put together. Our pledge is not that we’re going to do everything that everyone asks; we’ll do the best we can. That’s the most we can do. The location demands it – it is a core location in the neighborhood, and it needs to be manifested … that great care was taken.”

Second, participate in the Design Review process, and the rest of the feedback process (we’ll have city contacts on those as soon as they are formally posted) – follow that through the city website, by watching this page (which is where we got the original details).

If the process moves at the expected pace, it will be about a year before construction at 4724 California begins.

45 Replies to "4724 California's owner-to-be: 'We are the right firm to do this'"

  • george April 30, 2012 (2:59 pm)

    You can have the Alaska Junction, its going to he11 anyway as a high rise villa now. I’ll spend time/$ in Admiral and Morgain to save the traffic headache. Sorry Ebay, husky, cafe royal, qfc, village ww, n2n, w5, ATB, BBar, etc.

  • Trying! April 30, 2012 (3:00 pm)

    I do worry about the promises. I believe the Admiral Safeway project promised live/work space and retail, then claimed it couldn’t carry out much of the plan because the banks wouldn’t finance that kind of space. We don’t need another tall condo desert. Once it starts we can’t stop it. How can we be assured the street scene will be as promised?

  • Trying! April 30, 2012 (3:20 pm)

    The contact form/address button on the 4724 California project does not work for me. I tried four times and it does not forward the message.

    • WSB April 30, 2012 (3:58 pm)

      Trying – I meant to mention that to the project team; when I first found the site the night we reported on this 4/19, one particular browser was incompatible of the three I use … I can’t remember which one … what browser do you use?

  • Ripper April 30, 2012 (3:33 pm)

    I’ve heard all this bulls**t before. They talk a big game but then build some piece of junk and we’re all stuck with it as they laugh all the way to the bank.

  • george April 30, 2012 (3:37 pm)

    it’ll be a lovely compliment to the high rise project on the corner of CA/ALK. I guess we should expect all four blocks to go in the future.

  • Happy WS April 30, 2012 (3:50 pm)

    Thank you WSB! Apprecaite the great reporting! To the Wolff company, apprecaite you reaching out but wish you could share at least 1 completed multi-family project. That’s the part I think has a few folks nervous.

  • Rumbles April 30, 2012 (4:01 pm)

    Has everyone forgotten about “the hole” just a few blocks to the east?

    • WSB April 30, 2012 (4:11 pm)

      It’s actually mentioned in the story, Rumbles. Nothing’s a sure bet but the factors involved in that one (which we covered start to semi-finish … the next chapter, under the new ownership, has yet to be revealed) do not even remotely resemble this. – TR

  • Trying! April 30, 2012 (4:23 pm)


    Success: Foxfire works, Safari does not work.

  • mustangshelly67 April 30, 2012 (4:27 pm)

    I do believe re-doing the petco site needs to happen but 7 stories is a bit much. The retail space can be divided into smaller boutique sizes which I think would fit better in West Seattle anyway. I think West Seattle should have a building code that restricts how tall the buildings can be. If I wanted to live in an urban setting I would buy a condo downtown. I live in west seattle because I like the small town feel and seeing those I’ve grown up with walking the streets. I think 5 stories is high enough and allows the company to make its money.

  • Mike April 30, 2012 (4:29 pm)

    7-stories in the middle of the junction is a horrible idea, and it is pretty prevalent that the developers do not get our sense of community at all.

    Our single- and two-story buildings are romantic, but they also are sustainable. They also provide a unique character to West Seattle, that character is something that developers always fail to recognize.

  • I'mcoveredinbees April 30, 2012 (5:02 pm)

    WSB, I appreciate your comprehensive reports and the fact that you have taken the commenters concerns directly to the developers. Very cool, thanks. :)

    As for the Wolff, etc.

    -your link doesn’t work
    -I don’t believe your building is going to improve the junction and I do believe in density, as a general rule. I do not think that is the location for it. You have a Mayor Nickels attitude towards building first and dealing with traffic issues later. That’s absurd. The low level buildings ARE cute but that is not the only reason they should remain low; there is also the issue of light. It is not at all necessary to build so high. Stating that the rules allow you to do so does not make it right. Voluntarily improving on guidelines that are already too lax, does not make this project right. I agree that new street fronts could improve the area but your plans are not going to do that. You are most likely just going to make it more sterile and less of a natural meeting place. This happens everywhere and you are not going to be any different, despite the fact that you are a family owned firm. Ballard. There is tons of property that is NOT in the junction that is ripe for development, or you could build lower. So please do not act like you are doing West Seattle a favor by gracing us with your 7 stories right THERE. I don’t care how pretty it appears to be on paper.

  • natinstl April 30, 2012 (5:06 pm)

    Why does he keep calling West Seattle the city? I moved to West Seattle to avoid being downtown. I like that it’s close, but still has the small town feel. 7 stories is too high for the main Junction. It’s going to look like the same typical modern box that we’ve gotten everywhere else with zero character. Developers are in it for the money, especially ones that are from out of town and don’t give a you know what about what they leave behind.

  • ohmygosh April 30, 2012 (5:22 pm)

    7 stories seems about three stories too tall. That street is going to be dark and foreboding on all our gloomy days.The one south of it already is.Ugly.
    I know I ‘ll very likely avoid it as much as possible.
    I dislike the direction W.Seattle’s business district is taking.Will hate living in Bellevue light.Can only hope property values increase and we can move.

  • Aurora April 30, 2012 (5:58 pm)

    Great reporting WSB!

  • Todd April 30, 2012 (6:12 pm)

    No guarantees of promises. Believe it when you see it. My question continues to be…with all of the new apartments and/or condos in the Junction and no requirements for parking,assuming they all follow through with the plans and provide spaces for approx. 80% of the units, that still leaves many cars without spaces, not counting people coming to patronize the businesses and where are all of the new jobs to support this new “urban density plan” in West Seattle? It’s likely that nearly all of the new residents will have to commute OUT of WS for work. How far does the bridge back up in the morning now?

  • JanS April 30, 2012 (6:58 pm)

    I live across the street from Element 42, the new apartments plus retail behind the Admiral SAfeway. I am not looking forward to any retail there, I will admit. There is absolutely no parking to support it, unless they park in the SAfeway lot, which ain’t all that big. Even more of a concern is the price of new units these days..what they’re renting for. The ones in Element 42 are not cheap. The smallest is a studio of 440 sq.ft. that rents for 1100/month. And the kitchens in these apartments? They’re on a wall in the living room, not even in a separate room. Is this really what builders think people want? I can’t imagine living like that. Or paying those kinds of prices for less than half of the room I have now, paying much less rent.I just wonder what the demand will be for apartments that expensive in the Alaska Junction. Who will be renting them? People who already live here? Or are we adding more and more from other areas. I’d worry about the WS Bridge capacity, too.

  • Marcus M April 30, 2012 (7:44 pm)

    Trust me, I have a blue sweater and I come from a long line of developers.

  • James W. April 30, 2012 (8:34 pm)

    Daddy’s money coming to tear down your neighborhood. For those of you attending these little meetings, I do hope you realize these guys are getting you “involved” so that you won’t get in their way while they come do this to our community. In the end they will do what they want. Thanks, however, WSB. Really appreciate the very thorough reporting.

  • holycrap April 30, 2012 (9:51 pm)

    7 Stories? Is that a joke? Go there and imagine that colossus. You cannot fight urbanization, sure, but you can fight bad over-urbanization. This is like putting a air craft carrier in wading pool and tell people “everybody likes to be at the water”… Only after that there will be no more water.
    Would be interesting to set up a scaffolding dummy of that monster to see what it really looks like.

  • J April 30, 2012 (9:57 pm)

    I won’t mourn the Petco building–it’s ugly, despite being single-story. I’d rather see a 7-story tall building whose style fits the more beautiful buildings in the Junction (northeast and northwest corners). But I’m skeptical we’ll get anything with beautiful design.

  • ILoveWestSeattle May 1, 2012 (12:07 am)

    I agree with Ripper. Money-hungry jackals will build what they want, saddle us all with a cheaply constructed, poorly designed, ugly monstrosity. Modern-day robber barons, in this, a replay of the Gilded Age, minus any style or beauty.

  • Brandon May 1, 2012 (7:24 am)

    question is, How can we the West Seattle community change the zoning to not allow buildings of that height in the alaska junction. If it’s not possible why is it not possible.

  • Barb May 1, 2012 (8:47 am)

    I can’t imagine how awful the traffic on the West Seattle bridge is going to be. Too bad the monorail won’t be built that could have been a major help with the traffic. I wish developers of these huge buildings would be required to fund traffic improvements for the areas they build in. Oh, but hey we have reduced streets like Fauntleroy Way to only 2 lanes in each direction with turn lanes to no where for the 6% of people that ride their bikes. Yeah, that makes sense.

  • angel May 1, 2012 (9:17 am)

    Also, why is there such a boom these past 5 or 6 years when the urban village was decided upon in the late 80’s early 90’s? Decide on zoning, etc then wait 20 + years to build? Yeah right..

  • jissy May 1, 2012 (9:40 am)

    What James W. said!

  • amnesiak May 1, 2012 (10:13 am)

    i second or third or whatever the others that say that 7 stories is about 3 too much. IF the developers really want to listen to the community, I’m sure there’s over 100 years of community experience already on this comment page… Contrary to what they might think, we might know better what will work for our community even 20 years out, as opposed to your spreadsheets and projections.
    Looks like the block is zoned ‘NC3P-85’, which means ‘neighborhood commercial 3’, ‘pedestrian’, ‘less than 85 feet tall.’ I know nothing about proceeding from here but it seems like the ’85’ is the important bit.

  • amnesiak May 1, 2012 (10:26 am)

    Trying – the NC3 part of the zone requires the ‘street scene’ to be as you expect. Take it from this new expert that just now read the seattle zoning descriptions. :)

  • george May 1, 2012 (10:57 am)

    This block has already been written off when the new building signed off diagonally from Easy Street (where Super Supplements is/was). That paved the way, and the remaining block(s) is now doomed to high rises. I could see it on 42nd, 41st, Triangle, etc. But in the heart of the Junction, that just aint right. Welcome BellWest-BalSouth.

  • george May 1, 2012 (10:59 am)

    Suggesting 1 up and 7 down as an alternative.

  • lookingforlogic May 1, 2012 (11:03 am)

    I hope it isn’t as dull as most new construction.

  • waterworld May 1, 2012 (12:51 pm)

    The Wolff Company (and its associated entities) is slightly more than your typical developer. It’s a private equity firm offering “investment vehicles” for people who want to put their money into real estate investment trusts & partnerships. In addition to developing new apartment buildings, Wolff buys existing apartment buildings that they believe will provide a good return on investment. Nothing wrong with any of this, but it’s worth remembering that the company’s objective is not only to turn a profit for the owners, but also to ensure reliable and increasing dividends to investors who have bought into the trusts. These guys are not local and they don’t answer to us. It’s all about the bottom line.

  • Anonymous May 1, 2012 (12:57 pm)

    I hope the development company actually reads all of these comments. There hasn’t really been one single comment that might show neighbors are okay with this. 7 stories is way too tall. Develop all you want around the junction, there are more hills away from California avenue so it doesn’t affect the light as much. But at this rate our street fairs will be completely shadowed at all hours of the day. Being a family business doesn’t change anything, if they were a “West Seattle” family business it would be different, plus they wouldn’t even try to throw out and idea of a 7 story building… Shoot just build a 4 story building there. So what if you have less tenants? Ha..

  • natinstl May 1, 2012 (1:57 pm)

    If you look at the projects on their website there is certainly nothing architecturally different or special so I’m not hoping for much. Is there anyway to still fight this or is it a done deal? I would be up for a good old protest.

  • Mickymse May 1, 2012 (2:22 pm)

    Folks weren’t too happy with me when I asked where everyone was during the upzoning discussions that happened YEARS ago. The developer simply bought a piece of property to build on that allows him to build 7 stories.
    As I said before, perhaps you should have listened when volunteers came to your door 5 years ago about the Monorail Project, telling you why better transit was necessary across the Bridge and what was coming in 5-10 years…

  • george May 1, 2012 (4:13 pm)

    We did. We voted no. Apparently the developers didn’t get it.

  • natinstl May 1, 2012 (5:22 pm)

    Wasn’t here five years ago.

  • denise May 1, 2012 (8:10 pm)

    You believe all this bull****. Makes me sick. Our beloved West Seattle leaving by the month.
    How much do you think this family is worth? Oh off topic!

  • denise May 1, 2012 (9:18 pm)

    Take a look at this company’s website!! There is nothing anyone can do or say. This is a done deal.

  • quiz May 2, 2012 (10:55 am)

    Do what you say. Build a high quality structure and I see this as a win for West Seattle.

  • T-Rex May 2, 2012 (11:15 am)

    Hey Mr Wolff, are you going to live in your new over priced apartments? Are you going to drive around for a half hour looking for parking like the rest of us already do?

    Nope, didn’t think so.

  • sarelly May 2, 2012 (1:16 pm)

    What’s the occupancy rate for existing apartment buildings in West Seattle?

    Cheap finishes, dark interiors, bad air, no privacy, no access to outdoors, thin walls, lousy security, inadequate laundry facilities, no parking – these are a few of my least favorite things about apartment living.

  • DB Coop May 2, 2012 (2:37 pm)

    Let’s hope this new development does not compete with the over-size and over-scale of the abomination behind Petco! That thing was and is still too big for the West Seattle. You can see it from Blake Island plain as day, the only other strycture you can see from there are the water towers. So let’s hope proper scale plays into the design and future of West Seattle.

  • jim May 8, 2012 (9:56 am)

    Wondering if the developers have done their research. How will they be able to get market rates for these apartments? All the apartments on the back of their building will face Mural Apartments across a very narrow alley. Here at Mural the apartments on the first floor face the back of stores, and as I understand it are the least expensive here and not renting for market rate. Also, their front apartments will be very noisy not only with street noise, including frequent police and fire sirens, but there are at least seven business that sell alcohol in that block alone and several are basically saloons that stay open until 2AM. I hear rowdy crowds on the street almost every night, plus live music. Urbanism may be the trend, but this is West Seattle, not downtown. People wanting to live here expect some degree of quiet and open views.

Sorry, comment time is over.