3210 California SW: Preview the plan, 2 weeks before Design Review

(Renderings in this story are courtesy Nicholson Kovalchick Architects)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When we first reported last month about the five-story apartment building proposed for 3210 California SW – part of the south-of-Admiral block contentiously upzoned in a three-year process – we promised a followup with details.

At the time, we hoped to connect with the developers within a day or two. Didn’t work out that way, but this week, we sat down to talk with the architect, for a preview two weeks before the project’s March 14th Early Design Guidance session with the Southwest Design Review Board.

The 166-apartment building is planned for 400 feet of frontage along California SW – but the design proposed by West Seattleite-owned Nicholson Kovalchick Architects utilizes several means of breaking it up so it’s not, as NK’s Tom Steidl said, “a monolith.”

Architects/developers are always required to bring at least three options for “massing” – the size/shape of the project and where it sits on the site – and what we discussed with Steidl in this week’s interview is their preferred option. That’s it, above, looking at the facade on the east side of California.

They are keenly aware of neighbors’ concerns, voiced during the rezoning process, long before the Seattle-based developer Intracorp took an interest in this site and started pursuing this development proposal. Six different parcels are involved, starting with a parking lot on the north and stretching across commercial and residential buildings.

One of the recurring concerns was the height, as the site was originally zoned for 30 feet and then upzoned to 40 – though that number is deceptive; because of the somewhat steep slope of the site, west to east, the building will average 50 feet above the site’s lowest point, according to the development team. (The site’s grade change is 26 feet in height between highest and lowest points, they said.)

There is no alley between the site and the homes on 42nd SW to the east, another point of much discussion and concern long before this project emerged. The development team says they have multiple ways of trying to soften the transition, which is also an issue of concern for the Admiral District design guidelines. For one, they propose that the building be “set back” from the property line 10 feet more than required by city rules: “We really think it’s appropriate to pull the building away” from the line. The setback, he says, is proposed at 23 1/2 feet.

At the back of the site – the eastern edge – the top three stories will be in view. Below the peak of the site, there will be sunken decks, for units on lower floors. And there will be a gap between the the building’s two distinct sections, at least 35 feet wide, with residents east of it looking down onto a sloped “green roof.” You can see the front of it in the rendering atop this story; below, here’s the landscaping diagram, with those lower-floor back units across the top of the rendering:

That spacing is also part of their attempt to soften the impact of a building this big spanning multiple parcels. And they anticipate it will be a benefit for future renters, as there will be more corners, and more corner units.

The plan gives unique treatment to the requirement for commercial space. Sensitive to the fact that West Seattle’s ground-level commercial space is far from fully occupied now, and that there’s more on the way, this project will start with five ground-floor live-work units as part of the frontage on California – including four contiguous units that will be built with the commercial-grade 13-foot-high ceilings so that if the market is favorable in the future, they could be converted to more-traditional commercial space. For now, their emphasis will be on a varied streetscape experience, including stoops for some ground-floor units, as well as the live-work, and the “gap,” breaking up the potential “monolith”:

The north side of the building also will have a bike repair/parking area.

As for motorized vehicles: Though the city webpage for the project suggests it will have one parking space per unit, Steidl says there will be more – they don’t know exactly how many more, yet. Site constraints are leading them to design what are really two underground garages that partly overlap – one entered from a curb cut on the north end of the site (where the small parking lot is now), one from a curb cut on the south end. (The city prefers to have entrances from alleys, but with no alley, that’s not possible here.) The garage wall, too, has been pulled back from the property line so there can be some plantings that actually go into the ground, rather than springing up from above-ground planters.

Other vegetation points: There is a big redwood tree adjacent to the site – actually growing from someone else’s property, but close enough that they will be taking steps to make sure it’s not harmed. And they’re hoping to keep at least some of the existing street trees, while planning to plant more trees on the site, in general. They’re planning a rooftop deck with a P-Patch-type garden, too.

As for the building’s look – Early Design Guidance is usually too soon to get into materials; Steidl says the theme is something along the lines of a “modern take on the midcentury modern” and for materials/colors, “probably a softer palette than in The Junction … (but) we want to get the massing set before we start talking about materials,” and that depends on what the SWDRB and members of the public have to say at the March 14 meeting.

Meantime, the project’s local ties were stressed – NK co-proprietor Brandon Nicholson lives relatively close to this site; the firm was founded and based in West Seattle until recently, when their continued growth led to a move to Pioneer Square office space.

The “packet” for March 14th’s meeting has just appeared online, as we finished this story – see it here (we’ll likely add a few more images to this story once we’ve reviewed it). That meeting will be at 6:30 pm at the Senior Center of West Seattle – public welcome. (If you have never participated in the Design Review process before, here’s the city-published “community guide” to how it works.)

ADDED 2:17 PM: A key bit of information omitted from the story – we had asked for an explanation of how a five-story building was allowed in a 40-foot-height zone. Here are the heights, and explanation, provided:

The average height of the building measured from the sidewalk along California and along the rear property line. The grade information is as follows:

· Average Height measured along California – 52’ from sidewalk to roof top

· Average Height measured along the rear property line – 33’7” from grade at property line to roof top

Average grade for calculating the allowable height limit as defined in DR 4-2012 is 374.158’.

Maximum height limit based on this grade is (374.158 + 40’ + 4’) 418.158’.

Actual building height to the roof top is 415.333’, which is 2’10” below what is allowed.

36 Replies to "3210 California SW: Preview the plan, 2 weeks before Design Review"

  • Alvis February 28, 2013 (2:00 pm)

    The site is zoned for a 40-foot high structure measured from the lowest point of the property. Though some builders in Seattle have gotten away with measuring from some higher point of a property, it must not be allowed here. Any variance for a taller building- -whether by 10 feet or 10 inches above zoning, and regardless of any other amenities proposed for negotiating credit- -needs to be rejected by the Design Review Board.

    • WSB February 28, 2013 (2:16 pm)

      Alvis, I apologize that I neglected to add the developers’ answer to my question about that, which I received in e-mail after my meeting with the architect. I’ll add it to the story, but this is why they say the height is within what’s allowed:
      “The average height of the building measured from the sidewalk along California and along the rear property line. The grade information is as follows:

      · Average Height measured along California – 52’ from sidewalk to roof top

      · Average Height measured along the rear property line – 33’7” from grade at property line to roof top

      Average grade for calculating the allowable height limit as defined in DR 4-2012 is 374.158’.

      Maximum height limit based on this grade is (374.158 + 40’ + 4’) 418.158’.

      Actual building height to the roof top is 415.333’, which is 2’10” below what is allowed.”

  • Resident of 42nd February 28, 2013 (2:35 pm)

    Basically, the developer gets to take advantage of the fact that along the rear property line of most of the lots, there is a steep embankment that bumps up the average grade.

  • DTK February 28, 2013 (2:40 pm)

    Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
    and never thought upon;
    The flames of Love extinguished,
    and fully past and gone:
    Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
    that loving Breast of thine;
    That thou canst never once reflect
    On Old long syne.
    On Old long syne my Jo,
    On Old long syne,
    That thou canst never once reflect,
    On Old long syne.

  • Phil February 28, 2013 (3:00 pm)

    It has always been my contention that the high points used in the developers’ calculations are taken at the highest points along the top of the Eastern Wall.

    The best way to show whether the developer is taking unreasonable advantage of the elevation of the Eastern Wall (back side of the lots) would be to show lot elevations on a cross section created by cutting with a transverse vertical plane (parallel to Streets, perpendicular to Avenues). At points along the backside of the site, the Eastern Wall actually is a tall vertical retaining wall (north end), while in the middle to south end the Eastern Wall is a very steep brush covered tall bluff.

    If someone had the spatial data (horizontal coordinates plus corresponding elevations) it would be easy to create a visual of the lot topography the would be eye opening.

  • Chuck & Sally's Van Man February 28, 2013 (3:25 pm)

    @ architect and spin doctor Tom Steidl: How, exactly, is this not a “monolith?” That’s like saying the Death Star in Star Wars was just a satellite. They both are cold, impersonal and built to destroy all that is around them. Shame on you. Shame on greed. Shame on this “design.” West Seattle deserves better. And smaller. What a blight on what used to be a charming part of the world. If I wanted to live in downtown San Francisco, I would do so. I say again, blech.

  • Resident of 42nd February 28, 2013 (3:27 pm)

    I wonder if it is appropriate to use the “average grade” method described above when only the back few feet of the lot is at the “high” point and the vast majority of the site is closer to the “low” point. Taking the average would make sense if the lots sloped gradually from California up to 42nd, but they don’t.

  • w.s. maverick February 28, 2013 (3:33 pm)

    goodbye old west seattle

  • wetone February 28, 2013 (3:45 pm)

    Home owners behind this project could get together spend a little money and have a survey done if there is some doubt on the numbers, maybe old county records you could find the info. Sad part is all our city cares about anymore is income, a short term fix for all their bad decisions and spending. As far as parking I see 1 spot per unit so 166 parking spots ? how many 2bd units ? no parking for retail ? no parking no business from me. What a cluster that will be on the ave with people trying to get out of the parking garage. Things are getting way to big for areas like this.

    • WSB February 28, 2013 (4:11 pm)

      Wetone, as noted in the story, they have not finalized the parking plan yet. They say it will be more than one space per unit. Code in that area requires one per unit, they’re planning to go beyond that. And there will be NO retail in the project to start with, unless one of the live-work units turns out to be a retailer. So far, with all the live-works in West Seattle, they tend more often to be a services provider of some sort (though Morgan Junction has a couple retailers – games, perfume …) – TR

  • Mike February 28, 2013 (3:51 pm)

    hellllooooooo Ballard!

  • Paul February 28, 2013 (4:33 pm)

    I agree, Mike, it looks like West Seattle developers are trying to create another Ballard. Those designs are nothing like the style of that area, and, in my opinion, will stand out like a sore thumb. Sad to destroy the classic charm of that part of California Ave, while increasing traffic and parking issues. The only positive I see is maybe it will increase business for Blackboard Bistro, The Swinery, Prost, and the italian restaurants there.

  • raybro February 28, 2013 (5:31 pm)

    DTK, you are right on the money. What a disaster.
    You can see this “design” all over Seattle.

  • tmo February 28, 2013 (5:52 pm)

    As a homeowner who lives just east of this development, I wonder if this will impact our property value. Also curious what the vacancy rate is on the ridiculous number of condo/apt complexes already built – not to mention how this “monolith” will tarnish the block. I am all for urban density to a point, but when services can’t support it (read overcrowded rapidride), you have a problem. Sheesh.

  • pjmanley February 28, 2013 (6:11 pm)

    Hello Bellevue, Kirkland, Ballard, Northgate, Lynnwood, Issaquah, Burien, Tukwila, Renton…..

  • Fed up February 28, 2013 (7:05 pm)

    Ahhh, Seattle wisdom.

  • G February 28, 2013 (7:21 pm)

    Eventually, that whole block, on the west side as well, will be redeveloped. Just a matter of time.

  • annm February 28, 2013 (8:32 pm)

    It looks like a shopping mall you’d see in LA. Hideous. The architect ought to be ashamed.

    • WSB February 28, 2013 (8:49 pm)

      Sincere question, because this is what the Design Review meeting will be about, for those who say this proposal is not what you want to see (which is not the final design – Early Design Guidance is for size/shape, but the architect included a couple “streetscape” concepts in what they gave us, so that’s what you’re seeing here). What would you design on the site instead? It’s been pointed out that the existing buildings are mostly old and not built to last. California is zoned for commercial development – even before the upzone, this was “neighborhood commercial” and would allow for larger retail spaces. So if this isn’t what you’d want to see, what is?

  • W February 28, 2013 (8:45 pm)

    neighbors *please* do your part to make this a productive design review meeting …
    – comment on parking, property grades/ official rules for calculating building heights / or already approved zoning. (you cannot change these through design review & second guessing the professional surveyor, civil engineer & city officials will not make you look any smarter.)
    -complain that somebody is building next to your property, or expect the developer to cut the overall square footage in half. (they are not going to change the zoning or relinquish their property rights at this point )
    – make constructive comments about things you might influence such as: the proposed massing of the building, orientation, breaking up of the mass, neighborhood character etc.
    – share your thoughts about how the proposal might best fit into the neighborhood, and how you would like to see the design evolve.
    -suggest changes that might be reasonably accomplished. the developer is probably trying to fit in X number of units to make their financials work – while they won’t be cutting that in half, they *can* make smaller changes to improve the overall effect – but they won’t unless they’re given a reason to – that’s where you come in!

  • ellenater February 28, 2013 (8:48 pm)

    Surface streets can’t handle these.

  • Karin February 28, 2013 (9:53 pm)

    I just moved here and to be honest; the new design looks way nicer and welcoming then what’s currently offered on 3210 California.
    Seattle is up to par with new & modern & Leed Designs, this will be ONLY better for everybody.
    Let’s bring West Seattle to the 21st century

  • Jim February 28, 2013 (10:07 pm)

    Hooray for density! West Seattle will one day become urban, not sub-urban.

  • KT February 28, 2013 (11:29 pm)

    I agree with Karin. The current buildings in that location are worn and uninviting. I think the architect came up with some nice design solutions, based on the sketches presented. I like the large windows and the steps leading to the businesses. The open patios are a nice touch too.
    The entire area will benefit from some consistency in the architecture along California.

  • Stop The World February 28, 2013 (11:43 pm)

    This always makes me giggle. Most of the “West Seattle” folks pine for is a pile of horrible 40s/50s ugly cracker box buildings that only exist because we plowed under miles of old growth forest (and ‘moved on’ the natives who HAD been here for thousands of years). But now that we’ve killed the forest for a McDonalds, a hair salon and a few real estate and insurance offices, we’re freaking about about a 5 story building? The drawings show a building VASTLY more interesting than the nasty looking boring uninspired junk that’s there now. Most of storefronts along California Ave popped up from the 30s on, without ANY design review (obviously). You talk character, most of these buildings have NO character. There ARE a handful of nice/interesting buildings out of maybe 10 blocks, but most are garbage and can cheerfully be torn down. I’ll be there with a glass of champagne when the ugly monstrosity that is the old PetCo building goes down. What a horrible uninspired beige rectangle that building is. The new building designs for that site look much more interesting (and functional) than the literal “box” that is there now. Though my favorite HORRIBLE old Seattle building of all time was the old QFC on Broadway (Capital Hill). That was LITERALLY a block long blank wall facing Broadway. Just a wall. An entire block was just a wall (and a Taco Bell). Thank GOD for change and both of those are gone (and yes there was much complaining about the ‘uninspired’ new building, which made me laugh). Now the block looks much better (and has more ‘life’) today than it had in decades.

  • Brad Fletcher March 1, 2013 (5:40 am)

    I grew-up in a house behind this @ 3217 42nd SW It had a great view. I remember when there was a vacant lot between us and Calif Ave..We played in the “woods” that were there! Now that view will be gone.

  • wetone March 1, 2013 (10:08 am)

    Just curious why some of you people like Karin, KT, CSTW have moved to this area if you did not like the way it is or was ? most people move to a area they like. I have lived here a very long time because I liked the way it was. As far as W says he makes some good points about the Design Review Board meeting as from the results I have seen they deal with design (looks) issues only. Not the impacts on neighborhoods from parking,noise,traffic, and sometimes property value loss. If I as a property owner have an issue with a project that impacts myself or my properties I do my own research and never take city or builders word. In this case if you have questions on the elevation issue get your own survey and go from there, or talk to a land use attorney. The street level will be work space, office space,bar,coffee,food what ever you want to call it and should have parking for such. Don’t care what the builder wants to call it. They always do this and change at later date to avoid more impact and parking issues.

  • 24601 March 1, 2013 (10:55 am)

    To Stop the World,
    The block up on Cap Hill to which you refer did NOT have homes directly behind it without an alley for a buffer. We do need to improve the buildings, and old unattractive ones need to be replaced by new ones, but this block has been managed by the landowners for destruction for the last fifteen years at least — and to reward that type of commercial behavior with an upzone and a building that completely blocks not just the view, but also the LIGHT from the eight homes directly adjacent to it is a shame and something that only a group of shortminded thoughtless bureaucrats would choose. The very least they could do is compensate those homeowners for the 20%+ loss in value that they will suffer because of this choice. The increased taxes from this monstrosity in the first two or three years should more than cover the cost. This city should be ashamed of itself.

  • howty March 1, 2013 (1:33 pm)

    that whole block has for the longest time been such a weird collection of buildings….never really flowed together..rather ugly! Not all change is bad and so i have to say that this is not a bad thing!! it looks a heck of a lot better.

  • datamuse March 1, 2013 (3:10 pm)

    I can’t speak for them, wetone, but I moved to West Seattle because overall, I like it here. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t welcome a little more commercial business in Highland Park, or some updating of some of the apartment properties there. Since when does liking a place mean unalloyed love for absolutely everything about it?
    And what’s so great about the Petco building that people keep referring to it as charming? Cause I gotta tell ya, I don’t see it.

  • Jeff J March 2, 2013 (6:59 am)

    Has anyone considered the impact of this development will have on the infrastructure of this area to accommodate the increased density, such as bus services (which have been recently cut), and schools that right now are over capacity? Who is coordinating this planning?

  • Mike March 3, 2013 (6:22 am)

    At least this monolith is not a DESC project that is blocking out the view and light of the neighbors to the East on 42nd. Think Delridge Way DESC project being built as we speak. With the massive new DESC building to the West and Puget Ridge to the East peoples homes on 23rd will be in a canyon.

    In an ideal world the owners, developers and architects ought to be forced to live in the shadows of their buildings.

  • Resident of 42nd March 5, 2013 (12:35 pm)

    What exactly *are* we allowed to talk about at the Design Review meeting? Obviously the upzone is done; there’s no point wasting everyone’s time complaining about that, and I understand this isn’t the place to discuss traffic/environmental impacts. But can we talk about the HVAC units and apartment windows that will soon be the only thing visible from the back of our house? How much light this is going to block? Why can’t we talk about the fact that even if a five story building is technically permissible, the developers are basically getting to build a full extra story because the back few feet of the lot happens to be a 20 foot retaining wall? Can’t we question whether that’s really the way the average grade measurements are supposed to work? Is this surprise fifth story a “design” issue or something else? How about setback? I am not sure of the line between “aesthetic” concerns we are allowed to voice and other issues that aren’t on the table. When you share a property line with the development, it is hard to separate the two.

    And Tracy – you ask a good question. What would we, the immediate neighbors, want to see on this block? Most of the existing structures are pretty bad, no doubt, and I don’t think any of us can claim any particular fondness for them. My answer would be two or three-story residential buildings (due to the no alley/lack of access for commercial operations), one or maybe two lots wide. The existing proposal is sort of the worst case scenario after the upzone went through – we have gone from potentially three to four and now to five stories tall, and five addresses wide. Apartments, not even condos. It just seems wildly out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

  • GT March 5, 2013 (11:32 pm)

    +1 Resident of 42nd

    On the SW Hanford side the average grade is only 5′ higher at the midsection of the 100′ lot then the lowest point at California. Does the city require the land survey to be published that determined the 13.5′ average grade change?

    Of note the design doc mentions the average grade of 374.158’ but the city meeting minutes has 369.25′. Being over 5 feet off is substantial when that could help reduce the structure height by an additional 9′ if the 4’ extra height is denied. With my eye level view at 406’ feet a 40’ max structure height at a 369’ average grade would be 409’ feet or a whole story shorter then what is being suggested at 418’.

    Interesting to see that the law used to determine average grade changed after the upzone was approved. I haven’t determined what has changed though but it looks like the interpolated rules changed which are being used for this structure.



    The building could actually be over 75′ tall when it is all said and done.

    13′ Retail
    10’x4 residential floors
    4′ Extra since ‘retail’ is used
    4′ Extra for parapets
    16′ for elevator penthouse

    Being almost twice as tall as the 40′ limit seems to be completely against the spirit of the zoning law.

    Is there another example of a building this tall anywhere on California abutting a residential area that is zoned NC2-40?

    The Olympic Apartments at 3200 California are 4 stories tall and this structure will be almost twice as tall. The Olympic apartment doesn’t block the view of any house behind it.

    The icing on the cake is the comment about the “increased height providing better views for the residents on the top floors” of this new development since they are using the maximum height possible. Maybe they will be gracious enough to let the owners of houses on 42nd to use their rooftop deck to see the mountains, sound, and sunsets we now enjoy from our houses that they are going to completely block.

  • your neighbor March 12, 2013 (7:51 pm)

    This is hideous, and it looks like the developer is trying to turn my neighborhood into Bellevue Square. I moved here because I love this neighborhood. It’s always been safe, affordable, and friendly. I’m not sure it will stay that way if this beast is going to be built. Whoever dreamed this up ought to be ashamed. I can’t believe that all of this fits within the boundaries of the re-zone.

  • JoAnne March 13, 2013 (4:43 pm)

    This is NOT going to be a nice, updated addition to the neighborhood. These are creepy storage boxes for people.
    I’m not even sure they are legal.
    Each unit has a little bin that dispenses Purina People-Chow or Soylent Green or something.
    Residents will be transient because any sane person would run like hell from a place like this.

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