(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.