West Seattle development: 4400 SW Alaska passes Design Review round 1

“This building’s going to be very visible,” one Southwest Design Review Board member pointed out during the board’s first look at early-stage plans for 4400 SW Alaska, a 37-unit building kitty corner to the home of the West Seattle Farmers’ Market (see the design packet here). It was one of two projects reviewed last Thursday night (we’ll cover the other separately), and that visibility shaped the discussion:

Nicholson Kovalchick Architects‘ Steve Fischer led the presentation for this 37-unit project – 33 apartments, four live-work, and six parking stalls – on a 7,900-square-foot site. It’s in NC2-40 zoning in what’s basically a patchwork of zoning west of the Junction business area, a transitional zone between business and residential, but now densifying as zoning allows.

The developer is Isola Homes, which already has a project in the area – the five-townhouse Junction 5 “rowhouse” project that is just now going on sale at 45th/Oregon/Glenn.

This one, Fischer said, has the potential for Puget Sound views from the southwest corner, and also for people-watching as it faces the Farmers’ Market corner of 44th/Alaska.

Given the building’s somewhat-prominent location, they decided to – for the developer/architect-“preferred” massing (size/shape) option – go with a courtyard facing south (shown in the rendering above, appearing as sort of a notch in the building shape), and the live-work units at street level facing east, toward The Junction’s commercial area. It would have a rooftop amenity area, too.

The live-works form a sawtooth pattern along Glenn, and open onto the courtyard on the other side:

The exterior would be “contemporary,” yet “warm,” with possible influences including the aforementioned Junction 5, shown on one page of the meeting “packet” presentation.

One zoning “departure” is requested – one unit facing SW Alaska would be closer to the sidewalk than code language requires.

Asked during the board’s question period if they had thought about retail space on the Alaska/Glenn/44th corner instead of live-work, Fischer said they were a little worried it’s a bit too far from California SW to be a sure bet. As so many architects/developers are saying these days, he said it could certainly evolve to true retail if the market and economy permit it over time.

About the parking? “We’re presenting a building that’s not parking-reliant, a young, professional person that doesn’t want to live in Northgate, that wants to be in the city, in an urban environment, in close proximity to the bus … that’s the urban-village strategy.”

The building would have a staircase that would be covered at the top but open-air on the sides.

In public comment, former Design Review Board member Deb Barker had praise for some components and also suggested that along with contemporary decor, there could be touches respecting the “adjacent structures,” such as stone or brick to match what predominated in previous decades. “I’m excited to see this corner develop (for) a great anchor to our Junction,” she wrapped up.

Local resident Diane Vincent, noting she’s a “lifelong renter in a fourth-floor walkup,” expressed appreciation for the open-air staircase proposed with this project.

A third speaker expressed concern that the project includes “a lot of very small spaces … a lot of tiny spaces … small studios and 1-bedrooms, small live-works.” He also said some of the “grade issues” from the site seemed to be unresolved.

In board deliberation, member Todd Bronk wondered if the building was trying to be more urban or more residential, given the transitional zone it’s in. Chair Myer Harrell thought a few features from other options might be worth incorporating – such as a rooftop deck proposed in Option 1 as looking toward the Farmers’ Market.

The configuration of the ground level came back around, and how the corner will be viewed by people in the area. Board member T. Frick McNamara flatly declared that corner “a cluster.” In the end, they supported the Option 3 massing, but wanted to see a re-envisioning for the corner when the project returns for the next round of Design Review. “High-quality materials especially at the base” were also a focus chair Harrell urged, with a “timeless” quality.

WHAT’S NEXT: Since the board recommended passing this project to the next stage of Design Review, its developers will be able to apply for their Master Use Permit, while getting ready to bring it back for that next meeting. No date set yet. You can comment on the project’s design, environmental impact, or other aspects at any time during the process without waiting for that next meeting – e-mail the assigned planner, Lindsay King, at lindsay.king@seattle.gov.

39 Replies to "West Seattle development: 4400 SW Alaska passes Design Review round 1"

  • Fire Ball July 1, 2013 (7:03 am)

    37 units and 6 parking spaces, Where’s the rest of the car going to park????

  • sara July 1, 2013 (8:11 am)

    West Seattle is going to look like Ballard in to time at all. Canyons of tall drab non-aesthetic architecturally boring multi-story complexes. Traffic has become awful already. The small town feel of West Seattle is no more. Big Sigh.

  • robespierre July 1, 2013 (8:43 am)

    You’ll get over it.

  • K'lo July 1, 2013 (9:10 am)

    Fireball – why, everybody is going to give up their cars and take the fantastic C-Line bus. That’s the City’s hope anyway. .
    Sara – I agree! :(

  • Gene July 1, 2013 (10:08 am)

    Yep once again repeat like a mantra– Robespierre’s ” wise” words– ” you’ll get over– you’ll get over it– you’ll get over it”!

  • meh1138 July 1, 2013 (10:14 am)

    Parking is an issue. How do we require equal number of parking spaces to apartment / condo construction? OR we can get rapid-transit / rail construction accelerated in West Seattle?

  • a July 1, 2013 (10:32 am)

    37 units and 6 parking spaces for the modern city professional who doesn’t rely on a car. Haha so what about when these non car reliant people have a friend or boyfriend or girlfriend over? Is everyone that will be visiting this complex non car reliant as well? Seems to be alot of building going on with no regards for parking or the affect on traffic. How much is a second bridge gonna cost? We’re gonna need one.

  • dsa July 1, 2013 (10:36 am)

    Wasn’t there a rule that three floors or more kicked in a requirement for elevators? Or is that just commercial uses?

  • J-me July 1, 2013 (10:39 am)

    We can’t be too surprised that urban sprawl has reached West Mayberry. However, I hope the planning committee requires better quality/aesthetics than the condos that went up a few years ago near my house.

  • SomeGuy July 1, 2013 (10:45 am)

    Crazy. Someone get Tim Eyman on the horn – we need a new initiative that mandates that all new construction must have one parking space per unit.

    • WSB July 1, 2013 (10:47 am)

      The rules that they DON’T need one space per unit are fairly new. However, with the Legislature failing to OK transportation funding, meaning those worst-case-scenario bus cuts are apparently unavoidable (we’re working on a followup), you might have new impetus.

  • Seattlite July 1, 2013 (11:20 am)

    Let’s face it — Seattle is sooooo mismanaged. November 2013 is right around the corner as in Mayoral race. New leadership might be the answer.

  • Appeal it! July 1, 2013 (12:25 pm)

    Seems like there must be a way to appeal the decision to eliminate parking spaces from a residential development…?

  • DTK July 1, 2013 (12:53 pm)

    West Seattle passed away peacefully while everyone was asleep after a valiant fight with overpopulation. Battling runaway density, city ignorance and developer greed in its final years, West Seattle was unable to survive due to infrastructure collapse and residential gridlock. Born in 1851, West Seattle was home to millions of people who today are mourning the loss of the once idyllic peninsula. This sad passing will be remembered by her far-flung friends and families who will forever hold a special place in their heart for this formal jewel of the Pacific Northwest. In lieu of flowers, please vote out the incompetent, revenue obsessed pin-heads downtown.

  • Diane July 1, 2013 (1:03 pm)

    Hi; Diane Vincent here; more re my open-stairs comment; the 4 story walk-up where I live on top floor is enclosed, in old 50’s building that is stinky, stale, gets even stinkier in winter, and super hot in summer; our building is supposed to be smoke-free, but there are tenants who cheat, like they think we can’t smell it, and smoke in their apts, and other odd unidentifiable odors, which gets locked in hallways, and seeps into other units, because it’s all enclosed; I went to see another NK project in lower Queen Anne, that has covered open stairwells that work great
    much more important, TRANSIT; I also made lengthy comments about the lack of parking, lack of transit, and all the developers marketing to “young professionals”, as if those are the only people who rent; we are usually told to not talk about transit/parking in design review, but the DRB brought up the lack of parking (6 spaces) and there were only a few of us from the public to comment, so I went for it
    All the “TOD”, transit oriented development, is being proposed and built around insufficient transit, which is also being threatened with more significant cuts; it’s insane; the city changed the building code to zero parking in transit corridors, so of course developers are going to take advantage of that; and they all say their focus is “young professionals who don’t have/want cars” in order to rationalize as close to zero parking as they can get away with
    Developers have told me that underground parking spaces cost $20k+ per spot, so just add up how much they are pocketing without any contribution to transit, or our community
    Prior to change in code, residential projects were providing 1.5 parking spots per unit; even at 1 spot/unit, that would be 37 parking spaces here; this project is proposing 6 spaces, so they’re saving/pocketing 31 x $20K = $620,000
    this is not to pick only on this particular project; this is happening with nearly all the apt projects being built along our transit corridors in West Seattle; the projects are selling them as “quick easy access to Rapid Ride” which is already overloaded; Metro is threatening huge cuts due to lack of funds; developers are building with less and less parking, many with zero parking, which will severely overload our buses; people will not be able to get to work via bus, so they will get cars, cause more bridge traffic, and park in our neighborhoods
    my constant question for a year now, why aren’t the developers required to contribute to transit if they get to make HUGE profits/savings from no longer being required to provide parking?
    every developer who is building on the transit corridor should be required to buy 1 Rapid Ride bus for every 100 apts (or equivalent amount) and contribute to ongoing operations of the buses, if we really want transit oriented development, we need a whole lot more transit
    the Amazon towers being built on at 7th & Lenora, are buying a streetcar and paying for operations for 10 years
    that same concept should be required in West Seattle, and citywide
    it’s election season; write letters to all the mayoral candidates, to all city & county council candidates, and to current mayor’s office, current city council, county council, city design commission, dept of planning, SDOT, state reps, the governor; who am I leaving out?
    and btw, I am not “young”, but I am “professional person that doesn’t want to live in Northgate, that wants to be in the city, in an urban environment, in close proximity to the bus”
    we don’t have enough damn buses
    and developers should be required to help pay for more buses

  • Diane July 1, 2013 (1:04 pm)

    oh, and just remembered, one of the answers in response to DRB question about where tenants would park; the presenter suggested they could rent parking spaces in bank parking lot across the street

  • Julie July 1, 2013 (1:23 pm)

    I don’t know anyone who lives in Seattle without at least one car per household and that’s including young professionals.

  • neighbor July 1, 2013 (2:40 pm)

    Diane-I would vote for you in a second!

    Throughout the country this is how development is done. The developers in this city are having an orgy and we just get to clean up the mess.

    Run Diane run!

  • Diane July 1, 2013 (3:07 pm)

    Thank you very much neighbor; and I agree, there are other cities doing it right; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel; we do need some brave, real progressive leadership in this city

  • Vanessa July 1, 2013 (4:04 pm)

    Diane, BRILLIANT commentary. I just learned a heck of a lot more than I knew this morning. Thank you.

  • Fish July 1, 2013 (4:10 pm)

    Step 1.) Go on vacation to Seattle.
    Step 2.) Decide it’s so much nicer than where you live that you need to move here.
    Step 3.) Realize you can’t afford to live in the nicer parts of town so you move to west Seattle.
    Step 4.) Moan and whine on the west seattle blog about how there isn’t as much parking or as big and fast of roads as there were in the paradise you just moved from, and that all the people moving here now that you’re settled are making it less of the ideal fantasy you built up in your head.

  • Diane July 1, 2013 (4:46 pm)

    Thank you very much Vanessa; glad it made some sense; I think if the public were more informed about all the nuances of our current transit and development situation, how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and affect each other (like zero parking requirement, and lack of funding for transit) perhaps the citizens would rise up and demand smarter solutions

  • Diane July 1, 2013 (5:13 pm)

    @Fish; West Seattle IS the nicest part of town

  • JayDee July 1, 2013 (5:16 pm)


    I live in West Seattle for several reasons, including it was near my closest family’s house,and I could live in a house with a view to be sure that I had sun when it was here. After 16 years, I think I can offer an opinion that offering apartments w/o parking provides a benefit to the developer, and developer only, at the expense of the surrounding neighbors.

    I used the comparison to the tragedy of the commons in an earlier post, and regardless of what you think about cars, parking is an amenity, be it private or public. When the developer can score half a million in profit for FREE, why wouldn’t they? It is analogous to a mining company stealing minerals from the public for cents on the dollar only to leave us with the shaft and acid mine drainage.

    At least when allowing greater building heights, the City can get some return for providing free money in return for amenities or lower income housing. This is just a freebie and no upside to the City except feel good points.

    One bright side: The 3 story building to the north is one of the ugliest buildings in the ‘hood. At least now it will be partially blocked.

  • robespierre July 1, 2013 (5:19 pm)

    Lol @ fish

  • Isola???? July 1, 2013 (5:20 pm)

    The new units just up for sale at Glenn Way and Oregon are listed by a Menashe. Is Isola owned by the Menashe family? The folks who decorate their home to the “nines” every Christmas? Menashe Jewelers? Owner of the West Seattle Post Office building?

    Just curious. The website only gives first names of the Isola “team.” Perhaps embarrassed? Who the heck knows.

    • WSB July 1, 2013 (5:48 pm)

      I = don’t know what website you’re looking at, but if you click on any photo on the “company” page of the Isola website, you get a full name, first and last.
      Jacob Menashe is the listing agent for this property – I know that because he sent us information about the open house “launch party” we listed in our daily events lineup weekend before last. But he’s not their exclusive listing agent so far as I can tell (not that they don’t have the right to list their projects with anyone they please) – I just hit a sampling of their West Seattle properties on this page (including one that’s being built up the street from us on a teardown site), and they all have different listing agents.

  • Anthony July 1, 2013 (5:42 pm)

    This is horrible for the Junction! This building has no set back from the side walk so it will create a dark tunnel at the top of Alaska. There needs to be parking on sight, it’s absolutely ridiculous to think that the renters in this building will not have cars. Studios and 1 bedroom apartments do not align with the family feel we pride ourselves on in this area. The builder is not being required to up grade sewer lines. The city is not requiring these builders to make any improvements to the electrical infrastructure in the area and there has been no mention of any provisions for public amenities. The city just keeps packing these developments into our neighbor hoods without any real plan for the 30-50 years that they will be in place. This is just another plan for today and forget about the future project that is becoming more and more common place. I think this project should be scaled way back, include off street parking and provide adequate set back from the street to allow for natural light to reach the side walk. This is horrible for the Junction! Lets work together to save the Alaska Junction!! We need to find out how to stop these developments and fun a good Real Estate Attourney who can assist us with this impending battle to prevent the junction from falling victim to these poorly regulated projects.

  • namo July 1, 2013 (5:52 pm)


    • WSB July 1, 2013 (6:23 pm)

      Well, Namo, nothing on the real-estate or development books at this point, but certainly a huge view lot like that isn’t destined to remain a seldom-full parking lot forever…

  • WorldCitizen July 1, 2013 (6:35 pm)

    Light Rail.

  • DTK July 2, 2013 (12:33 am)

    Resistance is futile…

  • the 206 July 2, 2013 (6:17 am)

    West Seattle needs light rail now or a second bridge!

  • Rick July 2, 2013 (6:48 am)

    Last I checked the Rite Aid property was still zoned for 3 stories so until that changes I imagine it will remain. But, ya just never know.

  • JoAnne July 2, 2013 (9:40 am)

    I think the city should pass a law that prohibits car ownership or rentals for people who live in buildings with no parking.
    After all, this whole high-density, no-care utopian scheme was their idea.

    Let’s see them put their money where their mouth is. If they really don’t want people to have cars they should outlaw cars instead of this back-handed pressure on the citizens.

  • Seattlite July 2, 2013 (4:24 pm)

    JoAnne — Good comment. Citizens can push back by not voting for the dweebs that currently make up the city council. November 2013 Seattle’s Mayoral election will be held — vote for a new mayor that has Seattle’s best interests at heart — for instance — doing the right thing and not the political thing for Seattle — get my drift.

  • Jimmy Turbo July 2, 2013 (7:08 pm)

    I is just happy I don’t live on 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th or 48th. Sounds like them there street parking spots are gonna be a bit, shall we say, well used.


  • Hank July 2, 2013 (9:19 pm)

    Julie you must not know a lot of people then. 16% of seattle homes are carless. That number is even higher for apartments and condos. In some downtown census tracts as many as 75% of the homes are carless. So, you should get out into the real world.

  • Velo_nut July 2, 2013 (10:44 pm)

    Y’all need to buy a bike or a bus pass.

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