Design Review doubleheader, report #1: 3210 California advances after 5 meetings

(South residential, street level)
The 134-unit, 152-parking-space, ~450-foot-long building at 3210 California SW was presented to the Southwest Design Review Board tonight for the fifth time – and this time, the board voted to recommend approval. Here’s how it unfolded:

PROJECT TEAM PRESENTATION: Boyd Pickrell from Nicholson Kovalchick Architects said he wanted to “laser in” on the points that were brought up at the fourth meeting, and the architects’ response. He showed off, first, the massing changes – height/bulk/scale. “The big move here is that we have eliminated the top floor of the north building,” he said. That “creates stairstepping of roof lines along California,” he added.

“We also chose to set back the upper stories of the middle and south buildings. .. It also takes the windows with the most overlook on (adjacent) properties and pushes them further back from the property line.” And, he said, he followed their advice for 25-foot gaps between the buildings. With the lowering of the north building, more roof deck space has been created on that building, with reduced penthouses on the middle and south buildings. As for the bridge between the north and middle buildings, which had been a point of concern previously – a board majority wanted to get rid of it – he said it’s shorter since the northernmost building is shorter and it will be almost invisible from the street, and the project team thinks it should stay. If it goes, they will have to add more exits for the building to stand on its own and that will cost some retail. Plus, it won’t allow as easy access to the rooftop deck from other parts of the building.

Regarding materials, Pickrell said they were planning the buildings now as “friends, not family,” to include some relativity, when it came to materializes – some adobe colors on windows. He recalled the middle building was supposed to be “radically different,” so the west facade of the middle. There’s some bright yellow touches and other touches including a ground-floor recess. There’s some masonry work. Andy Rasmussen, landscape designer, discussed some of the exterior touches.

BOARD QUESTIONS: T. Frick McNamara said the windows didn’t seem to have changed, though the project team said they would. Pickrell said the sill height had changed, but not the amount of glass. She also asked about the size of the retail spaces – each about 2,000 square feet, they replied. And calling attention to the “north retail courtyard” and what looked like a materials change in an awkward spot, she was told that’s “probably a mistake.” Laird Bennion, who is now the board chair, asked about square footage of the roof amenity, now that it’s moved to one. He also pointed to the yellow-green now prominent on the second building, saying it looks like “post-it notes” on the front and is somewhat overwhelming on the east side. Pickrell said they weren’t necessarily sold on the green.

PUBLIC COMMENT: New chair Bennion called this the “most fun” part of the meeting, since “we get to hear what West Seattle wants the new building to look like.” He reiterated that the comments are to be addressed to the board, and “we’re supposed to (be the receptors) of your opinion.”

First, Deb Barker, former DRB member who critiques most projects, hailed “great steps” made by the project team. “Glad to see the top floor gone (on the north building), but I do resent the need for speed on the applicant’s part and I don’t think I’ve heard ‘oops, that’s a mistake’ so many times in one meeting. (And) I hope the skybridge will be gone; from the rear it still presents (this as) one big building. If there’s a rooftop deck,” she said, it should have glass around its perimeter, rather than being blocked off. Regarding the “friends, not family” material variation, she said “but they still shop at Old Navy,” drawing laughter from the gallery. She urged that the project not be rushed through.

Bernadette, who lives closest to the project, said, “Great job on some of the changes,” noting that she’s especially glad about the partial floor removal, but “when we talked about a setback at the last meeting, I’m having a hard time understanding how three feet is going to affect my house [in terms of shadowing] .. My PURSE is three feet long.” Pickrell showed the “shading study” page and said there would be a shadow, but the changes do lessen it.

Margaret, also a neighbor, said this was her first time at Design Review. She said she keeps hearing the term “urban feel,” but “this is not downtown … this is West Seattle.” As someone not likely to live there, she said she’d likely walk in front of it, but it would still “look like one big building.” And overall, she still said it looks and feels “boxy.”

Marci, another neighbor, said she wanted to clarify some information about the shadowing.

Chris said he was voicing his support for the project.

Another neighbor said he’s “behind the green wall,” and thought “maybe some brick to displace some of the scary green” would be appropriate. He also lauded the project team for some of the changes, along the way, and said “we’re closing in on a building that at least won’t be embarrassing for the Admiral neighborhood.” However, all that green might be somewhat embarrassing on the back side, he said. And ideally, “the other two buildings should be shorter,” too. He then wondered about the penthouses, which looked huge, and discussed ensued about how, without the bridge, they would need another elevator.

The next person to speak said she “agreed with comments about solar access for abutting residents,” and while the “average-3-foot setback helps on summer solstice, it’s not enough – this site is different, there’s no transitional zone, I feel like the mitigation should be significant as well.” About materials, she said, “maybe the applicant is trying too hard to make the west facades different from the east ones.” She thought it would make sense if the front and back sides had the “same language.”

John said he’s watched this project and “feels they’ve done a terrific job addressing (the issues).” As for the colors, everybody wants something different, he observed, and if too many considerations/concessions happen, costs are added, and something will be taken out to make up for the price. He wondered if each review meeting might be costing the applicant another $20,000. (That led to audience members protesting that their home values were likely dropping $20,000 each.) He thought it was time to move the project forward.

The next commenter also said that the more the project is brought back, the more the chances are the site might turn over and someone maxing it out could try to develop it next.

After her, Chris, said he felt the project would be fantastic, “creat(ing) synergy between the two Junctions”; his family doesn’t usually head north of The Junction because things “tend to die out” there.

Frequent participant Diane Vincent said that it didn’t seem as if the rooftop amenity would be inaccessible if the bridge were lost.

And finally, Paul‘s main comments were that some of the slides shown tonight had not appeared in the packet that was uploaded to the DPD site, which he said also needed the FAR information (floor-area ratio). And with the details emerging about 3211 California across the street, he saw “West Seattle canyons” shaping up.

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: The matter of “bridge or no bridge,” regarding a bridge between the north and middle buildings, was extensively debated. McNamara advocated strongly for losing it, which she said would bring in more light and air. Bennion said he thinks the current version of the building works better with the bridge. They took a vote and it was 3-1 for the bridge, even though not everyone supported it strongly.

Regarding the massing revisions; Bennion said he was pleasantly surprised by the additional 3-foot setback and also noted they didn’t have to take a floor off the north part of the building: “The building has come a long way and it’s gotten to a point where I don’t have major problems with it.” Daniel Skaggs also said he was happy with the building’s evolution: “It’s come a long way.”

Colors: Todd Bronk thought the extensive field of green on the back could be reduced. Bennion said, “That’s kind of Kermit the Frog green and I don’t think it’s going to age very well. … It’s an extremely green statement to neighbors who live so close.”

They recommended various tweaks along the streetscape. McNamara thought switching between colored concrete and regular concrete seemed jarring. Bronk, who like McNamara has landscape-architect background, thought a pattern change could set up a nice rhythm.

WHAT’S NEXT: Planner Michael Dorcy is continuing to work on reviews of the project, so if you have something to say, you can still e-mail him – The official project page on the city website is here.

12 Replies to "Design Review doubleheader, report #1: 3210 California advances after 5 meetings"

  • mossfarmer April 3, 2014 (11:34 pm)

    Well, having been to every meeting pertaining to this project, this is the first that felt like a set-up. Laird ( yeah, development representative is now the lead guy) made mention twice needing to get to “the back row” team who, wow, all seemed to give impassioned speeches regarding the need to approve this project right now. In the four previous reviews, there was not a single speaker on the side of development but wow, this time, a building manager, a spouse of an undisclosed business owner and a neighbor- all chimed in in succession. How funny that despite being new to this meeting, they all knew to sit together. None of these individuals attended ( to my knowledge) or certainly none presented at any of the prior meetings but wow, they had some opinions that all were exactly in line with each other. What an amazing coincidence! At the end of the day, I have come away with four points that may be of use to others who may go through this process in the future and I’ll lead with the positive ones. 1. The DRB team has a really hard job and I don’t envy them.I’ll support their independent businesses just out of respect for crappy job they signed up for. 2. I now know my neighbors now more than most people do in Seattle so thats kind of awesome and has been the -pardon the possibly offensive yet appropriate expression-diamond in the turd of this experience. 3. If you devote a lot of time, energy and enthusiasm and perseverate at great length about solar impact, you’ll learn new terms like glazing, average grade, NC-40 and FAR which will only add conversational confusion to a person not familiar to the DRB process 4. When over half of your affected neighbors sell their property rather than continue to roll the dice betting on responsible development ( i.e. I’m cool with you making money as long as your development doesn’t denigrate the value of my home), you might want to consider jumping on that bandwagon. It’s difficult to build up a ton of enthusiasm around a project mediation process that results in a flat victory of ” This sucks less!”.

  • Diane April 4, 2014 (12:59 am)

    Thank you mossfarmer; agree; I came home from this meeting absolutely furious; I’ve been participating in WS design review meetings for 6-7 yrs, and every one of the EDG and DRB meetings for this project, and I have never seen such blatant bias by a board member in favor of the developer
    btw, the “spouse of an undisclosed business owner and a neighbor” is a professional developer rep, and now married to well known biz owner and leader of WS Chamber; her comments were no surprise
    here’s my take on the bias in favor of the developer tonight; I had my hand up to speak from the moment public comment was opened; Laird looked right at me and said he’d get around to everyone; then he proceeded around the room, and you’re right, then came the comments from Laird about “getting to all of you in the back row” which turned out to be ‘plants’ for the developer; and THEN he was not even going to allow me my chance to speak, after waiting through all that “let’s get this moving ahead and let the developer make some money”, he tried to shut down public comment; I spoke up and said I’d had my hand up since the beginning, Laird said I could have a minute (after giving everyone else 3 mins); this meeting tonight was such a sham, through and through; possibly in violation of design review rules
    if Laird’s idea of what it means to be the developer rep, while now being chair of the board, is to aggressively advocate for the developer to push their projects through review, and not even give the community a chance to speak, then while the hell should anyone even bother showing up? this meeting tonight was so wrong

  • Diane April 4, 2014 (1:25 am)

    my main comment, that no one else addressed (or maybe didn’t notice) was the architect came in tonight with this lame argument in favor of keeping the skybridge, saying that without the bridge they could be in violation of Fair Housing laws due to tenants not having equal access to the amenity space on the roof of the north building; this is ridiculous; as long as tenants all have access to the amenity space, there is no inequity; equal access in fair housing is not based on how far one tenant has to traverse to get to the amenity; I also suggested in disputing his proposition, that as a renter, I would likely choose to rent in the building furthest from the amenity space, due to noise from people gathering in that space; it was obvious that the team presenting tonight did not have any really good reasons for wanting to keep the skybridge (which the board and community have been very vocal in opposing) so they were really reaching by coming up with this silly “fair housing” argument
    kudos to T on the board for being the only member to boldly stand up for what the community wants, and to state many clear valid reasons for getting rid of the skybridge, and creating smaller retail that could better serve our neighborhood

  • sad April 4, 2014 (6:57 am)

    Wow on those first comments. So sad that the process is being controlled by developers. There is basically no entity to protect the interests of residents.

    I feel so terrible for the single family homes that sit directly behind this behemoth, without even an alley as a buffer.

    I do hope the neighbors keep strong on this project and continue to fight. There are still appeals and challenges and decisions to be made by DPD. Don’t let the developer wear you down, because they are just hoping you’ll get too tired of the process.

  • SteveP April 4, 2014 (9:18 am)

    Wow 5 times and some of you will never be happy. Diane I didn’t even know they were married, thanks for the juicy bit of gossip. What would West Seattle do without you!

  • dsa April 4, 2014 (9:42 am)

    Now I am sorry I did not attend the meeting. I did however just now write to Micheal Dorcy about the sky bridge.

  • Ex-42nd April 4, 2014 (9:43 am)

    I WISH the loss in value to our home had only been $20,000!

  • TMO April 4, 2014 (9:54 am)

    I think it may be time to “get Jessie” on the story. This developer has blatantly disregarded the impact on the community while laughing all the way to the bank. They also picked an architect who on many accounts failed miserably (costing the developer time and money and wasting a bunch of people’s time. 5 review meetings? Need I say more?) I still hold out hope that the DRB serves an important role, but if the strategy is to just wear out the people until they give up….seems like the process is flawed and duplicitous. Don’t get me started on the skybridge!! What a joke. Welcome to West Seattle. The new Disneyland.

  • XXX April 4, 2014 (10:32 am)

    I get the feeling, looking at comment threads on these development stories, that there are a few people who have some sort of pathological need to actually develop the buildings in question. If they don’t get their way, then hysterical tantrums ensue, and they weep that things are stacked against them.

    Something gets changed, then it’s “no, this needs to be changed, too.” “And, this… and this…” It starts to turn into something along the lines of ‘here, just give me the plans, an eraser and a pencil, and I’ll draw up something cute that you MUST build, or else West Seattle will into the biggest hellhole this planet has ever seen (and my feelings will be hurt).’

    Kinda comical to watch in a sad way… But hey, everyone gets a trophy nowadays so it’s not all that surprising.

  • Diane April 4, 2014 (12:53 pm)

    @SteveP; it’s not gossip or a secret; she makes that announcement at every meeting when she speaks, which I personally do not find relevant in a design review meeting

  • happy friday April 4, 2014 (2:10 pm)

    Maybe because besides residents, any business would be profoundly effected by more or no development?

  • Diane April 4, 2014 (3:05 pm)

    as board member T pointed out several times during the review meeting; taking out the skybridge, and creating multiple smaller retail spaces could have increased access for small local businesses, instead of the approved plan with 2,000+ sf retail spaces that are not affordable for many locals; as a small business owner in the junction (happy 4 yr anniversary T) she also pointed out that such large retail space is not needed for small local biz, and the larger retail spaces are a boon only for the developer, to increase their rent and more likely to attract national retail; T made very detailed, smart arguments in favor of smaller retail spaces, which could have increased local retail, provided more variety, and would have been better for our neighborhood; sadly, only to be out-voted by the other 3 members

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