Design Review doubleheader, report #1: California/Seattle project passes Early Design Guidance on first try

(North side of 1606 California SW; design concept by Roger Newell AIA Architects)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

In the front end of tonight’s Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, board members agreed that a residential project proposed for 1606 California SW in North Admiral, first mentioned here last October, deserved Early Design Guidance approval on its first try.

Architect Roger Newell says the project is envisioned to include 14 to 20 units, on a lot now occupied by two structures, on the southeast corner of California SW and SW Seattle. It’s zoned Lowrise 3, just west of a stretch of single-family-home zoning; that means 30 feet, with some extra height under certain conditions. He showed four possibilities for the site, detailed in its “design packet.”

The preferred scheme, #4, would have 16 units and 21 parking spaces, with an entry walk and entry court off the project’s southwest corner. It would be three stories over a basement, which in turn would be over underground parking, with its entry near the street-side end of the alley. They are planning to build to LEED Silver, which allows them to build more on the lot.

PUBLIC COMMENT: First was from Joe, who said he had grown up on SW Seattle St.; he wondered if the units would have one bathroom. He thought the project would fit in nicely. Next person said she only wanted to say, she hopes to live in the project once built.

Third commenter, Larry, lives in a condo across the street and said he had surveyed owners in his building and other neighbors about their concerns. He read extensively from city design guidelines. “Our first significant concern is congestion … California is a very busy street (already).” He didn’t think 21 spaces would be enough for 16 to 20 units “so that’s going to add considerably to parking difficulty.” He thought more rental units would bring more transients and more crime; he also worried about view loss, as this will be higher than what’s on the site now, and offered photos to the project’s assigned city planner, Lindsay King. The building lost its north view five years ago, Larry said, and this would take “almost the entire (east) view.” Area roads already need repairs, he added. And, “what we’re asking for is to respect the adjacent properties … (via) view corridors and massing choices. (And) to design a building with a successful transition between single-family zoning and Lowrise 3…. If you put in a building close to 40 feet, that’s right up against single-family.”

Fourth commenter was Deb Barker, who attends most Design Review meetings and offers critique on projects (she is a former Design Review Board chair). “While I’m excited about Version 4, I’m concerned that the entrance lobby is missing some things,” she said, suggesting the building go further west and give the lobby more of a presence on California Avenue, to help with visibility, presence, even crime prevention. She voiced concern about “the viability of the below-grade units,” especially the ones facing north, “which is really going to be dark and dim.”

Fifth commenter was Bill, who says he has a house “in the area.” He voiced concern about how the construction, including excavation for underground parking, would affect 1920s-vintage homes in the area. What happens if there’s damage? he wondered. Planner King said she could put him in direct touch with someone who could address his concerns.

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: The corner’s appearance came up repeatedly; member Laird Bennion thought glass on the corner – “a lot of glazing” – would enhance it. “It’s a highly visible corner,” agreed chair Myer Harrell. T. Frick McNamara thought the decks needed to be usable – not just for show. Todd Bronk noted that the landscape “needs to address the corner,” too. Bennion pointed out the “funky and strong” landscaping that the existing corner building already has – “it would be a pity to see (a new) building come in with worse landscaping.” In terms of massing, they all supported Option 4, the architects’ preferred scheme.

The building’s garage-access ramp, though, seemed like it needed a better home, due to being too close to pedestrians and appearing to create a “moat,” as board members put it.

Among other recommendations, they’re suggesting moving the building further to the west – along California SW – to assist with the transition from the single-family homes to the east, among other factors. And they suggest the architects take a closer look at a rooftop deck. Lighting in the lobby entrance, Bennion pointed out, will make a big difference, keeping that area from being a “gaping maw.”

COMMENTS/QUESTIONS? City planner Lindsay King is the person to send them to – She will accept questions until the city’s final decision on the project. It will have at least one more board review – we’ll publish an update when the date is set and announced.

10 Replies to "Design Review doubleheader, report #1: California/Seattle project passes Early Design Guidance on first try"

  • Jeannie March 7, 2014 (12:35 am)

    In the architect’s rendering, are those trees…or parachutes?

  • heather March 7, 2014 (7:18 am)

    Wouldn’t you like to know Jeannie ;p

    If the foliage was filled in it would obstruct your building view.

  • Ben March 7, 2014 (8:12 am)

    Wasn’t there a design review on the new development on Harbor Avenue last night too?

    • WSB March 7, 2014 (8:16 am)

      Yes, have not published that yet, it needs a few tweaks; coming up in the next hour. Short answer, it also passed EDG.

  • Patriot March 7, 2014 (8:47 am)

    Now that is an ugly building. WS is losing its charm one building at a time.

    • WSB March 7, 2014 (8:54 am)

      What kind of building would you rather see? What would it look like?

  • West Seattle since 1979 March 7, 2014 (10:11 am)

    Some of the older buildings aren’t that great looking either, though.

  • Kim March 7, 2014 (11:03 am)

    Great looking building. Not a single bulky mass, rather this one has a lot of modulation, decks, windows, color. Interesting roofline. Nice.

  • JoAnne March 7, 2014 (3:24 pm)

    At least the preferred option has some style and detail instead of the Soviet “machine for living” look.

  • Jeff March 7, 2014 (3:32 pm)

    Totally agree JoAnne. I like this one, all things considered.

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