Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, project #1: 4515 41st SW sent back for second round of Early Design Guidance

(The project team’s “preferred” configuration, which didn’t meet the board’s favor)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The first half of tonight’s two-project Southwest Design Review Board meeting ended with board members telling the proposed memory-care facility at 4515 41st SW in The Junction to come back for a second Early Design Guidance review.

It’s on a site surrounded by ongoing redevelopment of other one-time single-family sites, such as the new Oregon 42 mixed-use building to the west, and among other criticisms, the early proposal was deemed too “suburban” to fit into the shape other projects are taking.

Here’s the design packet as published to the city website.

PROJECT TEAM’S PRESENTATION: Denis Bryant, president of Living Care Lifestyles, spoke first, saying they own 8 properties in 5 states, and are building a 9th one; Lynnwood is their only property in Washington so far. “We call this a residence, it’s not a facility; it’s meant to be residential in fit and finish,” Bryant began, “… to remove the guilt that families often feel” about placing loved ones in this kind of center. He said it would be “low impact .. our residents don’t drive; our staff will be provided ORCA cards and other mass-transit opportunities.” The building will have three 22-bed floors.

He said a “market study” indicates a need for these beds – 13 existing in West Seattle (at The Kenney [WSB sponsor]) but 100 needed. The street access is intended to keep the residents from “wandering off,” he said. While “architects from Portland” were introduced, NK Architects’ Steve Fischer, described as “advising” them, handled the presentation.

“Residents of the (complex) will have the ability for a family member to take them out for a walk,” etc., he said. The 11 parking spaces are for visitors and “some staff,” he said. Fischer talked about the multi-family development that has been happening around the site, which is between an alley and 41st SW. The zone is LR3, and while that would usually require parking access from the alley, Fischer said that the alley’s raised grade should allow an exception to that. The site currently has three single-family homes and two detached garages, as well as two “exceptional trees”; the structures are all scheduled for demolition, he said, and those trees, a dogwood and Japanese maple, are both diseased and recommended for removal, though they don’t have city signoff on that yet. A Norway maple that was just off their site apparently has just been cut down, unrelated, Fischer said, to the work on their site; he said they have been asked to remove the existing street trees and replace them with “city standard” street trees.

All of their proposed options have pitched roofs for a familiar residential appearance that they feel would be beneficial to the people who will be living there. A double curb-cut access point is proposed, to avoid congestion if dropoffs/pickups are happening at the same time, for example, Fischer said.

BOARD QUESTIONS: The rooftop garden would be accessible to residents if escorted, the project team replied to the first question, from board member Daniel Skaggs. The landscaped area between the two curb cuts would provide safety for pedestrians, his next question was answered. Board member T. Frick McNamara wondered if they had studied having parking entered from the alley; Fischer said it would “tear up the floors” of the building, to get through there to the underground parking. “The ramp wound up being 250 feet long,” someone chimed in from the audience. Board member Matt Zinski asked what other design features are “important for a facility of this kind.” From the audience, Bryant answered that “the ability to wander” was one, so they can “do so continuously” without reaching a dead end. Continuous supervision was important, as “they can do things you don’t expect if you’re not watching them all the time.” Also, “we try to provide something that allows people something from when they lived at home.” Zinski clarified that he wondered if views out the window were important. Bryant said that if there was a big dropoff going into the garage, that could “cause anxiety” for residents. Also, he said there “might be a water feature” to help relax residents. Another team member in the audience said that the U-shape allowed “two 56-foot facades on 41st” instead of one facade more than twice that long.

Board member Todd Bronk wondered how it would “activate” the street – Fischer said it’s not an apartment building, it won’t have ground-floor commercial, the best thing he can say is that it’s providing a residential atmosphere on the street – the units facing 41st SW, for example, will have windows, “putting eyes on the street,” and the building will have lighting. Bronk also asked if the building could function without parking. “It could,” said Bryant, “but we wanted to minimize the parking impact in the neighborhood, which is already fairly intense.”

PUBLIC COMMENT: First to speak was Deb Barker, former Design Review Board chair and retired land-use planner (outside Seattle). She said she had reviewed projects like this during her career, and was familiar with the “total lockdown” concept, including 10-foot-tall walls. “Nothing happens … without being escorted, but it keeps (residents) safe.” She thought the “preferred” option looked too “suburban,” with no connection to the street, and thought the double-curb-cut driveway was “insulting” to the neighborhood, low in the “human scale” that the project is supposed to provide. She said the design still had a ways to go in meeting the design standards for this area.

Ken Spigarelli, treasurer of the Cielo condo complex next door, said his biggest concern is “what kind of design is facing us,” with concerns about “a loss of privacy” and also about the “lockdown” status. He noted the street is “very dark” right now so they’re wondering about lighting, as well as about signage. Another resident said “the alley is insanely busy” so they are hoping there is no alley access.

Area resident Abdy Farid said he hopes a street light will be required as part of frontage/landscaping improvements for the project.

Area resident Kevin Cyr commented on the parking, saying it didn’t need to be enclosed except for the floor-area ratio “bonus” the developers were seeking. He expressed concern about the building’s bulk and scale because of that “FAR bonus” resulting from the building spanning three or four lots.

Paul Cesmat spoke next, saying he has used the alley for 15 years, and that it’s become so busy, putting any more usage in it “would be a mistake.” He mentioned that the Capco Plaza/QFC project nearby was supposed to be built without northbound alley access, but “that was not followed up on” so the alley is very busy. He also said he “want(ed) to applaud the need for this kind of building in West Seattle,” saying he’s glad it’s in The Junction so there is bus access and walkability.

Grace Klein said the parking seemed essential and wondered about the light that would be allowed into units, especially from the west side. She also said the rooftop space sounded good but she was concerned about its space and wondered if it could be longer so “people could have more area to walk.” A team member said the west side was mostly common area; the windows would be north and south.

BOARD DELIBERATION: At this stage of Design Review, the focus is on published guidelines – those for The Junction and surrounding areas can be seen here. In more generalized observations, Zinski said the urban setting of this complex matters a lot, so more of a urban perspective should be shown in the packet and in the architects’ description of context. Skaggs and Bronk said they agreed. McNamara and Bronk went on to talk about the “street presence”/streetscape that would be needed for this to fit. More of a “sense of place” is needed, Zinski agreed. Bronk also observed that the examples of other buildings being built nearby are in the “new urban form,” close to the street, and that should be taken into account – regarding the guideline for “architectural cues,” he said, “I think this is one of the rare ones where I’m going to suggest they take cues from the NEW buildings.”

Bronk also made note of one of the trees that was said to be in bad shape, the Japanese maple – “it’s not the tree’s fault” – and wanted to hear more justification for “why it should be taken out.” Continuing through the list of guidelines, the pitched roof, Skaggs said, might be too “suburban” for this setting. “A little more modulation” seemed called for, said McNamara, and Skaggs elaborated on that regarding the project’s “relationship to the street.”

The issue of a possible fence came back around, harkening back to Barker’s comments, and architect Fischer said from the sidelines, “No fence.” That still left questions about how the project will relate to the sites around it. The facade would be a point of focus looking ahead at material choice, too.

Overall, in terms of size/shape, the four board members didn’t feel any of the three offered options was right for the site, and so they wanted to see another option at a second Early Design Guidance meeting, with “alternatives for how the parking and courtyard are laid out” that “basically conceals the drive aisle on the site itself”; they want the project to look less “suburban.” They also want to know how the project could compensate for taking down two “exceptional trees” – maybe a new one in the courtyard?

WHAT’S NEXT: If you couldn’t make it to the meeting but have something to say about the project, you can e-mail planner BreAnne – who was at the meeting on the city’s behalf, as was Lisa Rutzick, manager of the city’s Design Review program.

2 Replies to "Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, project #1: 4515 41st SW sent back for second round of Early Design Guidance"

  • John December 4, 2014 (11:27 pm)

    Zero setbacks?

  • Sari December 5, 2014 (4:01 am)

    What did they mean that the project was to suburban

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