Followup: Design Review doubleheader details, project #1: 4724 California

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two detailed reports from the Southwest Design Review Board’s two-project meeting last Thursday night.)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

4724 California – the 7-story mixed-use building planned for what used to be the Junction’s Petco store (among other things) – could start construction as soon as April 1st.

That is, if the rest of the planning/permitting process goes as smoothly as the project’s second and final session before the Southwest Design Review Board.

We reported the result shortly after the meeting last Thursday night at the Senior Center of West Seattle. Our report ahead, for those interested, runs through the details of what was shown, discussed, and recommended, from the board and the public:

First, the architects’ presentation:

Architect Jeff Bates from Weber Thompson recapped the project and outlined where it stands following revisions since the first Design Review meeting in May (WSB coverage here):

It’s slated for 15 live-work units on the second floor, 78 units on five levels of apartments above, and ground-floor retail which will run up to 47 feet deep measuring from the facade inward. Bates pointed out that the current site is “out of character” for its surroundings – not because of its height, but because it’s a “block-long” single-retail storefront (most recently held by Petco, which moved to Capco Plaza at 41st/Alaska). With that, it had a “pedestrian disconnect,” they felt, which is why they have put a lot of energy and design focus into the midblock connection that will be on the building’s north side, leading to the alley between 4724 California and the Mural mixed-use building (which, as shown in some renderings, is actually higher than this building will be).

The ground level also is envisioned as enabling pedestrian activity, with a five-foot “recess” to enable some sidewalk tables, likely linked to a coffee shop. Seating also is expected along the south side of the midblock connection, closer to the California SW facade.

Vertical pavers and accent-color soffits were shown for the connection, to provide visual interest. Materials for the California-facing front of the building will include textured (described as “corduroy”) infill panels in a “khaki” color, accented with red. Some classic brickwork is expected on the street level, and there will be some wood paneling around the residential entrance off the passthrough. From the “packet” of renderings prepared for the meeting, here’s a look at the materials:

Back to the alley, Bates pointed out the “staging area” we mentioned in our preview story, intended to get activity such as moving vans out of the alley and into the building, and discussed nearby technical changes that they are working on with SDOT:

The alley-facing facade also has been “modulated,” with windows into the gym area, and “a couple different colors of cementitious ceramic panel” on the building’s upper levels.

The apartment’s main entry remains off the midblock passthrough. The building itself is divided into “two very different massing(s),” as he put it, with a “stepback” at the third-floor level on the southern two-thirds, far enough for a landscaped area. They also are using “horizontal banding” to “layer the building horizontally,” including balconies for some units, and windows wrapping on the northwest and southwest edges of the building.

On the south face of the building, which will be exposed until and unless the parcel next door is redeveloped, there will be some texturing so that it’s not a “flat wall,” which was a concern expressed at the first Design Review meeting:

The roof will include an arbor as well as “green roof” area.

(You can review the online “packet” here, to see before/after views with details on how the project team answered concerns voiced by board members and the public at the previous meeting.)

In response to one of the “clarifying questions” from the board after his presentation, Bates said most of the signage for the apartments – which don’t have an official name (4724 California is the official address and workingtitle) – will be around the midblock-connection entry.

PUBLIC COMMENT: Junction restaurateur/West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board chair Dave Montoure said he “really like(s) the activation along California Avenue,” and notes its contrast with the former Petco. “It really grabs me.” He also expressed appreciation for the midblock passthrough and said it would be “like a new corner for The Junction.” The “staging zone” inside the back of the building also appealed to him, he said.

Susan Melrose, director of the West Seattle Junction Association echoed something else Montoure had said, that early community input that led to what she considers a “great-looking building … with quality materials.” She too thought taking residential loading off the alley would be “a great addition … I think it’s turning out to be a great project.”

Sharonn Meeks, a community advocate from Fairmount (south of The Triangle), said the presentation was one of the best she’d ever seen for this type of project before the SW Design Review Board. She expressed hope that landscaping would be consistent with the rest of The Junction, and reiterated that signage in The Junction has been an issue, with multiple banners hanging off the sides of buildings in the area.

After Meeks came Morgan Junction community advocate Deb Barker, a former SWDRB chair, who rose to ask about the second-floor live-work: If she were coming to visit a professional based there, she asked, “How am I getting into what’s a residential area?” since this is a divergence from the more-common live-work with a first-floor direct entry. Bates pointed out there’s access to the elevator or stairs once someone comes into the building’s lobby. It does conform with city zoning rules, according to the project’s city planner Shelley Bolser; Barker said again that it seemed “off-putting” to her.

Next, an attendee who identified herself as Victoria asked about alley traffic. Bates explained that it meets city standards in terms of width, but yes, it would be busy, given Mural’s ingress-egress nearby, and other businesses. But, he pointed out, Mural has no loading zone, while as he had pointed out earlier, this building would have the “staging zone.”

After her, Rene Commons spoke: “I have been to many Design Review Board meetings over the last four years and this is one of the best presentations.” She described the materials as “tasteful” and said she felt that the project team had really “listened” to the community; the ceramic material for the south side of the building, for example, has a 50-year warranty, she said. She also said that the street level would be “tasteful,” as would be the passageway into the alley, and voiced support for the tables likely to be placed along the facade on California and along the midblock passthrough.

Next, Diane Vincent, who also had participated in the early informal community reviews, thanked the project team for listening and for being responsive – “hitting it out of the park” in that regard, she said. Meeks’ concerns about signage were shared by Vincent; she added that “as a lifelong renter” she appreciates the “staging zone.” That was it for public comments.

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Opening their deliberations, board members were not as all-out enthusiastic as those who spoke from the public had been. Daniel Skaggs said he was disappointed in the “primary entrance” area and thought the northwest corner of the building could be more engaging. Rob Murphy said that that area had become “vanilla” and “homogenized” and lost some of its “pizzazz” since earlier drafts. The materials, meantime, met with his approval, including a belief that their textures will add interest that is not visible in the renderings. Overall, though, he thought the project seemed “muted” after so much committee/community discussion, though it remained, in his view, a “strong design” even after having “lost some of its flash.” He thought the northwest edge/corner of the building might be stronger if some of the accent materials are not used there; Murphy and Skaggs discussed that extensively, and an interest in seeing “something different” there. That corner also was the subject of discussion regarding whether there was enough contiguous covering for people who might be walking through there, or sitting there, in bad weather.

The column at street level between the two “massings” of the building drew some attention:

The question was whether it was too obtrusive, or whether it was a necessary separation between the two sections of the building’s massing.

And there was concern about whether the northwest-corner area “projects out” enough to be noticed from people looking down the block at California and Alaska.

Other details discussed: What the guardrails on the roof would be made from; they appeared “thin” in the project renderings, and Murphy thought that looked “weak.” He later expressed regret that the building had become “blander.” Layne Bennion said he didn’t “find anything offensive” about it, overall.

All four board members who reviewed this project (those mentioned above and Norma Tompkins; the board’s fifth member, Myer Harrell, sat this review out because he works for Weber Thompson) voted to let it advance out of the Design Review phase.

Other notes:

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: The presentation was preceded by a few words from Greg Van Patten, a regional representative of the project owner The Wolff Company, who said that thanks to public comment thus far, “This is a much-better building,” describing it as a “timeless design.” He also reiterated that “this is a long-term investment for our firm.”

NOTIFICATIONS AND FURTHER COMMENTS: Planner Bolser announced a slight change – you can now put your e-mail address on the sign-up sheet when arriving at a Design Review meeting, and they’ll e-mail you a copy of the report; previously, it was all postal mail. If you have any comments about the project – design, environmental (which includes traffic), etc. – you can send them to her at

34 Replies to "Followup: Design Review doubleheader details, project #1: 4724 California"

  • Amanda November 12, 2012 (7:28 pm)

    It just looks so massive in context with the other buildings. I think 7 stories is 3 too many.

  • fauntleroy fairy November 12, 2012 (8:49 pm)

    Spot on Amanda! There goes the fun in the sun street fairs we have been able to enjoy. Now we will be walking through a canyon because the entire junction will one day look like that, bit by bit. No one is saying that we don’t want “new”, it just doesn’t need to be THAT big……

  • Nitro November 12, 2012 (8:52 pm)

    Amanda, I agree. 7 stories is way too many. It looks so out of proportion with the rest of the surrounding structures.

  • DW November 12, 2012 (9:46 pm)

    The fact that the board members were not enthusiastic tells me that they have too much power over development decisions.

  • CB November 12, 2012 (9:48 pm)

    Is it me or do those images look flipped? I always thought Elliot bay was north of Talarico’s. Looks opposite from the pictures.

  • Rick November 12, 2012 (10:23 pm)

    No choice…

  • Ra-chan November 12, 2012 (10:45 pm)

    I agree with Amanda. I don’t mind new buildings going up, but anything over 4-5 floors right on California would be kinda canyon-like. Even in Ballard, the newer massive developments seem slightly more pereferal.

  • Mike November 12, 2012 (11:31 pm)

    I agree with many others, the building height is way out of proportion to anything on California. Not sure if it still can be petitioned.

  • anti-obstruction November 13, 2012 (4:39 am)

    Out-of-scale and cookie cutter-esque, devoid of warmth and classic elements that will stand the test of time…who will ponder this structure a few decades from now and be moved by its beauty?

  • sam-c November 13, 2012 (7:06 am)

    In general I think the design (massing, the break-down in scale) is ok. however, I find the colors to be very dark and bland. I am worried that it is going to look very similar to the Weber Thompson building on Eastlake Ave; I am definitely NOT a fan of that building. ugh. brown.

    if it’s zoned for 7 stories, it’s useless to complain about the height.

  • james printz November 13, 2012 (7:28 am)

    born and raised in w/s moved 10 years ago . so sad to comeback and see no parking all the apartments going up very bad drivers good place to be from…………

  • Bill atDuwamish Head November 13, 2012 (7:42 am)

    Paris is all 7 stories high, and that is a pretty charming city.

  • Rick November 13, 2012 (8:41 am)

    So’s Harlem, Detroit, etc. Not so charmin’.

  • Lura Ercolano November 13, 2012 (8:42 am)

    Good point, Bill.
    I like it. This is SO much better than an empty Petco, but even if it were replacing cutesy small stuff, I think it is an attractive design, and they’ve been quite considerate to how the Junction community works and flows, with the mid-block pedestrian flow, and the off-alley loading.

  • CEA November 13, 2012 (8:42 am)

    Chop off 2 stories and I could live with it – but that’s not going to happen. A huge part of the charm of the Junction is its scale. I’ll miss that.

  • squareeyes November 13, 2012 (9:11 am)

    I like that the design contains sufficient sidewalk space to allow for cafe’ tables & chairs.

  • dsa November 13, 2012 (10:21 am)

    I would prefer a lower design too. But as I look at the proposed concept, it has two setbacks making the top smaller than the building’s footprint. That helps to keep it from being grossly overwhelming. They could have designed a big bad box.

  • george November 13, 2012 (11:22 am)

    The street fairs will be lots of fun this year with two big holes and construction on that block. Lets hope E-Bay and Husky don’t go under because everyone is avoiding the area during building.

    • WSB November 13, 2012 (11:37 am)

      Think positive. “The Hole” hasn’t killed West Seattle Bowl.

  • Amanda November 13, 2012 (12:14 pm)

    I’m all for new buildings, and even modern boxy ones, it’s just that it will be like Ballard. And I kinda hate the way the new Ballard looks. And Paris! Hahahah! All that was built when architecture was still beautiful :)

  • old timer November 13, 2012 (12:53 pm)

    I think it is exciting that there is money for new construction.
    Other parts of the country are deep into depression, but we have some cash flowing into jobs and our economy.
    The building looks like an interesting place for people to live and hopefully these people will participate in our community.

  • Ajax November 13, 2012 (1:17 pm)

    Yes, no doubt after this is built, people will mistake the Junction for the Marais.

  • Julio Bedoya November 13, 2012 (1:40 pm)

    I like the idea of the old Petco being replaced with something classy, but everything new being built along California is massively out of scale, too high and will create a canyon-like effect. You will get only about an hour of sunshine at high-noon on the avenue, then in the shadows. Seven stories is too high and should be limited to five max. The small-town character of this junction is disappearing rapidly.

  • JonF November 13, 2012 (2:14 pm)

    Guess this will block off the monstrosity on the other side of the alley’s views of the West. Looks like property reevaluations will become the norm. If you’re on 3rd or 4th floor of that other building all afternoon sun will be gone.

    Interesting times. I’d only be upset if retail was going to be removed. Thank gosh it isn’t. Hopefully we’ll get something interesting in those slots.

  • an November 13, 2012 (10:03 pm)

    For the scale comments, the Junction is zoned for 85 feet as noted by WSB above. There is nothing we can do about it other than try to influence developers to provide timeless, quality materials, activate the sidewalk and provide adequate sidewalk width, design and amenities. Complaining about the height at this point is useless. Perhaps the city will take a look and either require future development on the west side to set back to allow more light into the streets and find a way to get wider sidewalks in the Junction to create a more pedestrian friendly environment. The sidewalks are unfortunately too narrow today as it is. If you review the entire design review package, IMO this development/design team is doing a great job about thinking about all of the above. Height aside, they are planning to create a quality project for the neighborhood IMO.

  • Ron Sprinkel November 14, 2012 (6:04 am)

    Looks like HUD Housing! We need to get younger people involved in whatever citizen/planning review committees because this is a perfect example of citizens from ‘days-be-gone’ thinking their signing-off on something the next generation can be proud of! This says HUD Housing all the way!

  • hotlava November 14, 2012 (7:54 am)

    Re SWDRB – only two are architects?

  • soupcha November 14, 2012 (8:12 am)

    @anti-obstruction……very well (poetically) said.

  • steve November 14, 2012 (3:12 pm)

    When is the report on 4755 Fauntleroy coming?

    • WSB November 14, 2012 (3:14 pm)

      Late tonight if no breaking news.

  • Maris November 16, 2012 (4:28 pm)

    What is the status of the detailed report on the 4755 project?

  • steve November 20, 2012 (12:26 pm)

    Still wondering about 4755–are we going to see a write-up?

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