West Seattle development: Design Commission revisits The Whittaker; see the art, landscaping planned around its site

The Whittaker update @ Seattle Design Commission

When the Seattle Design Commission gave its qualified approval last year to The Whittaker, West Seattle’s biggest development project ever (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW), they told the project team they’d have to come back when certain aspects of the project finished taking shape.

That return visit happened on Thursday, and revealed more details of the art and landscaping that will surround the building. We’ve since obtained the full slide deck shown at the meeting (see above), which resulted in some suggestions by the commission, whose role in the project is related to the fact it required an alley vacation (subsequently approved by the City Council this past April).

The design was described as being at 100 percent of what was necessary for construction to get under way (demolition followed by site clearing, so far), so commissioners acknowledged their comments were maybe a bit moot – later refuted – but they offered suggestions nonetheless, after the project team presentation, led by Andy Rasmussen from the landscape-architecture firm Weisman Design Group:

*The upgraded crosswalk between The Whittaker’s site and Spruce (the former “Hole,” an almost-complete mixed-use project) across the street, with pedestrian pushbuttons and ramps on both sides, is in the works.

*The project will have art at all four corners – its artist, Troy Pillow, was present to discuss it; he is a West Seattle resident with a studio in the International District; he reiterated the art’s theme, as discussed in previous meetings, “The Water’s Edge,” with materials including weathered steel (corten), beach stones, driftwood, glass – no sharp edges, very “approachable” for the public, “meant to be explored.” The artwork at Fauntleroy/Alaska will be lit by LEDs.

Pillow spoke of “gateway piers meant to be reminiscent of piers coming out of the Duwamish Waterway,” featuring all the elements of which he spoke, 4′ to 8′ high, in the front plaza along with a water feature. “They’ll be part of the pedestrian experience.” The 40th SW side will have “artwork down the entire street,” per Rasmussen along with “lush” streetscape featuring trees. The art here will be inspired by ferry-dock pilings and beach grass, in a 120-foot-long sculpture; the columns will tilt at different angles for a “wave pattern.” A “modular system” green wall running the length of the Masonic Hall will be a feature of the mid-block connector going through the property from Fauntleroy to 40th SW; Rasmussen said the “modular” system is meant to avoid some of the problems that have kept other “green wall” projects from being successful – any plant that isn’t working can be removed/replaced.

Along Fauntleroy, where smaller businesses are envisioned, 4-and-a-half-foot artwork inspired by “stacked stones” at the beach will be featured, “very smooth around the edges, invites kids to play,” Pillow explained.

On the south side along Edmunds, some green wall is planned, with a corner plaza space and sculptures “inspired by the Olympic Mountains, two freestanding sculptures comprised of stacked logs and steel, in the shape of the silhouette of the mountains,” explained Pillow.

*Setting the building back six feet on Fauntleroy is enabling a bike lane and other “complete street” features

*Undergrounding the power for the building is instead becoming “running the power through the buildings” including vaults

*Design evolution on the facade – the “brick mass” across the entrance to Whole Foods has extended westward; the residential levels above it are stepped back a bit

*The plaza space at the Alaska/Fauntleroy corner (below) has features that will make it feel larger

PUBLIC COMMENT: Deb Barker – who has been commenting on this project for years, as she told the board – asked first how many people on the board had seen the project before; a few hands went up. She started with what she considered is “good” about the project – that the project team had done a good job along 40th Avenue SW, as well as the southern building “and its relationship to Fauntleroy.” The vaults inside the building sounded like a good idea to her, as well. What she found disappointing was the size of the gateway plaza “in front of a 7-story building, in front of a ‘tower’ that is essentially an elevator shaft … and the lights to that elevator lobby is what you’ll see at the gateway to West Seattle … essentially a slap in the face to West Seattle.” (A project-team rep said later that you won’t see the elevator doors, and that they are looking at “art options” to enhance the “gateway” view as people approach it.)

She expressed continuing concern about the trucks and pedestrians sharing the midblock connector through the building, and the below-grade entrance to Whole Foods, where it’s “been since Day 1. … Disappointing to see a brand-new building with an entrance to its key tenant below-grade.” (Rasmussen clarified that the east entrance to WF is at grade, while the stepdown entrance is further west.)

COMMISSION QUESTIONS: They were interested in details of the art composition and its placement, how the locations were chosen. “Kind of a natural selection to see where the plazas were and where the setbacks are,” replied Pillow. Rasmussen spoke of wanting to have “wayfinding elements at each corner.” He also spoke of public comments favoring “unique yet connected” spaces. The “planting palette” for the green-wall sections was also a topic of discussion – just developed in the past two weeks, and still undergoing “testing,” according to Rasmussen – as was the raingarden planned on the site. Commissioner Bernie Alonzo thought the green wall on the south side (hiding the Masonic Hall), with its composition, could be considered an art piece all its own.

They also are landscaping along the east side of 40th, past the Masonic Hall (which is not part of the project, but is getting its parking lot regraded and improved as part of the project).

“The art is just there,” commented the commission’s chair Osama Quotah, saying he wished there had been more of a dialogue about the art “informing” its location. He agreed that the gateway plaza seemed a bit small, and could suffer from “crowding” of its elements. Another commissioner said he didn’t feel the plaza would offer enough of a “gathering opportunity,” and wondered if the art elements could be brought closer to the water feature. A bench shown in the middle of the plaza space was singled out – whether it could be removed to add some space.

Summarizing the commission’s comments for the project team, they recommend final approval with:

*”We’ve reviewed the public benefit elements and agree they’re likely to be successful.”
*Regarding the gateway plaza, concerns about too many elements, and that they might consider removing the bench on the Fauntleroy Way side to create better passage through the gateway area or at least revisit its placement
*Regarding the green wall, it’s recommended they continue their plant experiments and make a decision in the fall about final plant choice, being mindful of what’s chosen, but removing the vines that are part of the rendering – “think of the planting of the green wall compositionally rather than just as blocks
*Appreciation was expressed for the design team balancing all the input they received from many sources

A project team member told the commission that they do actually have some room for tweaks, so they will take the commission’s input seriously and see what can be done. The project -for which ground was ceremonially broken last month, after the site was cleared – is expected to be under construction for the next two years.

28 Replies to "West Seattle development: Design Commission revisits The Whittaker; see the art, landscaping planned around its site"

  • DiverLaura December 22, 2014 (12:08 pm)

    I would love to read more about the rain garden and assorted GSI they have planned for the site. Pervious pavement, cisterns for capturing rain water for watering the greenery and the likes… I may have missed it in all the discussion about art installations :) I see one section of ‘rain garden’ and a then the planter areas. Wouldn’t it be smart to work with someone to make every planting area possible into something with environmental benefit in addition to ‘public benefit’ I could imagine modified splash boxx installations or something of that genre.

    If anyone has info on that, could you point me in the right direction? (i read through the 58 page presentation) Also where it will stand from a future point of view, obviously its not attempting to participate in any living building challenge, but there seems to be a gap in the descriptives where LID etc. is concerned.

  • pupsarebest December 22, 2014 (1:41 pm)

    The architectural equivalent of mules in horse’s harness.

  • Morgan December 22, 2014 (2:38 pm)

    Is public art required for developers when they build a new building in West Seattle? I sure hope it is. Sitting at a light in Ballard yesterday at the intersection of 15th NW and Market it occurred to me how developed Ballard has become (I grew up there). I think some public art a long with the new development would have made it feel like like Aurora.

    I love the thoughtful approach to development in South Lake Union where every single new building has some element of public art.

  • Diane December 22, 2014 (4:30 pm)

    Thank you Deb for being there; that “gateway plaza” is tiny and ridiculous; especially, as Deb said, in front of a 7 story towering building; and there is nothing is the design of that plaza that speaks to West Seattle; very disappointing

  • Vincent Dakotah Langley December 22, 2014 (5:08 pm)

    I know, I know — this seems really quite trivial to most people. However, I just simply want to point out here, after having read all of the above and thus seeing that there is already talk of removing a bench, some people are either elderly or physically-challenged — or both. Those people more-than-likely, surely, need that bench as a place to sit, if only for a little while. And, let’s not forget mothers with children and so-forth, as well… A lot of people who are a part of the youthful, able-bodied part of the world so oftentimes completely overlook factors about other people, like what I have just pointed out, above. …Just sayin’. THANK YOU!

  • Bill Nye December 22, 2014 (6:58 pm)

    Oh I thought Whole Foods was going to be what was being constructed right now across from Trader Joes. So looking at the plans, what is being built right now across from Whole Foods (North of Alaska)?

    • WSB December 22, 2014 (7:12 pm)

      BN, that’s Spruce, a mixed-use project with all its retail space going to an LA Fitness club (as noted on the banners on its fencing). Way way back before a lawsuit and foreclosure auction, it was a different project under different ownership and a different developer, and that former project included Whole Foods. The terms of WF’s lease were not met because the project stalled, so they were out as of summer 2010: https://westseattleblog.com/2010/07/bulletin-whole-foods-confirms-its-west-seattle-deal-is-dead – then in 2012, WF’s deal to go into The Whittaker was announced. – TR

  • Diane December 22, 2014 (7:09 pm)

    agree Vincent; thank you

  • Bill Nye December 22, 2014 (7:47 pm)

    Ah thanks for clarifying Tracey!

  • John December 23, 2014 (9:02 am)

    As a biker I see a new bike lane on the west side of Fauntleroy. That will be nice.
    I do get a kick out of the ‘cleanliness’ of the sketches. I note no power poles with power, cable, and fiber optic lines running from pole to pole. I also note the absence of ‘walk/don’t walk’ poles at the intersections.
    I’m concerned about how close I live to all this. I feel the parking in front of my home will be gone.

    • WSB December 23, 2014 (9:16 am)

      The power is being run through the project (they were planning to underground but instead, running through various vaults apparently worked out better). – TR

  • debra December 23, 2014 (11:06 am)

    John I support your desire to have parking in front of your house including your bike,,I am confident you feel the same for others
    How nice there is a bike lane, lets hope it does not take away from needed parking

  • Diane December 23, 2014 (11:42 am)

    what does this mean? when did this change? what is a vault? what is the cost differential?
    “they were planning to underground but instead, running through various vaults apparently worked out better”
    from the beginning, when developer team met with several of us community members, they claimed over a million dollars public benefit that they would be undergrounding the utilities, and that was repeated over and over, at every Design Review, and meetings at City Council

  • WSB December 23, 2014 (11:50 am)

    See above, over “Alaska and 40th” drawing. That one line is all I have. It was not discussed further; the presentation was mostly about landscaping and art. It did not seem to have changed the basic goal that the power lines will not be visible.

  • Diane December 23, 2014 (1:37 pm)

    thanks; did no one ask what that means? I’ll ask Deb if she knows

  • Diane December 23, 2014 (1:48 pm)

    it’s not just “basic goal that the power lines will not be visible”; it’s the fact that the developer used the million dollar cost of undergrounding the utilities in every official and non-official meeting, as their argument for NOT providing more public benefit; if this new plan “running the power through the buildings” including vaults is significantly less cost, then they owe our community more in public benefit; they made a REALLY big deal about the huge cost of undergrounding utilities and attempting to count that as the majority of public benefit, over and over and over; so to see this switch at the end, mostly under the radar, and no one on the Design Commission asked about it, very concerning; this is exactly the kind of action that creates distrust in developer strategies and the city process for vetting public benefit

    • WSB December 23, 2014 (2:27 pm)

      If you couldn’t see the slide deck embedded in this story via Scribd – we couldn’t upload it for a direct link here, too big – it’s now on the Design Commission website, where previously only one stamped DRAFT across every page was visible.
      On page 17, the public-benefit package is recapped. “Expanded public amenities along Fauntleroy & Alaska including widened public sidewalks and landscaping on-street parking and new bus pull out, all made possible by removing existing power poles and undergrounding utilities.” There was no change listed to the benefit package. It lists the $1.1 million cost for all of that work.

  • Neighbor December 23, 2014 (2:55 pm)

    Since we’re still on the subject of making demands to this private development that moved and upgrade an unused and awkwardly located alley (alley vacation) and created a second private alley for deliveries, maybe they can put my power line underground while they’re at it. And how about they repave my street and build me a parking space on the public street so that I don’t have to use my driveway or garage for parking? And when are we going to start making demands of CVS to make their site less ugly?

    My read of the SDOT ruling explicitly requires the Whittaker developers to come to an agreement with City Light on the wire placement, not public benefit. If this wire placement is truly an issue, perhaps take it up with City Light. Otherwise, it appears that we’re just nit picking and harassing a developer whose development has been approved, despite some WS residents and lobbyist groups disdain for one of its tenants.

  • ChefJoe December 23, 2014 (4:46 pm)

    Umm, fear the parking in front of his house disappearing… that must be a very different John from the ones I usually see in threads about high-density developments with limited/no parking who is pitching for on-street parking fees for all.

  • John December 23, 2014 (11:45 pm)

    Right you are ChefJoe,
    But I am actually pitching monetising all on-street parking, as paying for street parking will encourage people to use their off street parking and control areas with near capacity street parking.
    It is the only way I have heard that can actually reduce on-street parking and free up spaces for turnover.

    John’s concern about street parking in front of his house may come true unless fees are instituted.

    I hope in his due diligence before buying, John evaluated the advantages of living walking distance to so many new services vs the inevitable density of choosing to live there.

  • John December 24, 2014 (12:12 am)

    Regarding the renderings of the Whittaker, I don’t see them showing ” front of a ‘tower’ that is essentially an elevator shaft … and the lights to that elevator lobby is what you’ll see at the gateway to West Seattle … essentially a slap in the face to West Seattle.”

    Deb is always enjoyably quoteworthy and a bit over-the-top, but what would she suggest?

    And ‘gateway to West Seattle’? I believe that would be 1/2 mile away at 35th and the West Seattle freeway and I don’t see anybody turning that long standing mess at the entrance to the triangle into anything significant.

    The Whittaker will be built as yet another testament of ‘crappy design by committee’.
    It is sad that in the end, no one will want to take credit for anything but a series of contentious compromises.

    What an uninteresting and disappointing project.

  • Born On Alki 59 December 24, 2014 (8:45 am)

    Is it just me, or are all these new projects of the same basic design? It appears all it takes to be an archetect these days is a toolbox filled with squares and rectangles. And whats up with the flat roof designs. People…it rains here, alot.
    I can see major mold issues with these roof designs leaking after a couple of years. It wouldnt surprise me to see these buildings covered in plastic in a few years for leak repairs and mold mitigation. Uninteresting and disappointing may be an understatement.
    Just my .02.

    • WSB December 24, 2014 (8:52 am)

      Regarding the flat roofs, we’ve had that discussion in comments before … they’re not perfectly flat, and they do have drainage systems.

  • John December 24, 2014 (10:29 am)

    There are a number of reasons we see the ‘flat’ or low slope roofs on these buildings.
    As well as access for patios and roof-top gardens, they provide for solar panels, location & easy service of mechanical systems, window washing access and less overall height than peaked roofs.

    The materials used for the ‘flat roofs’ (low slope of minimum 1/4″ per foot) are rarely the dangerous ‘torch-down’ smelly short lived asphalt of the past, but are now ‘lifetime’ lasting and absolutely watertight with welded seams.

    These new roofing materials do not shed granular sand or leach chemicals like conventional ‘composition shingles’.

  • Ray West December 24, 2014 (10:34 am)

    So the idea is to build an overpowering, obnoxious complex that looks as generic and repetitive as every other one being build but if you name it after a famous West Seattle resident everyone will just love it? Well, guess what? Wrong!!! Actually, the name is quite appropriate as this thing juts up in West Seattle like a mountain, along with the other “peaks” being built.

  • Born On Alki 59 December 24, 2014 (12:20 pm)

    Just like the high tech “lifetime” roofs that were used on several recent Alki condo builds? You know, the ones that were covered in plastic for months a few years after construction. They were riddled with rot and mold due to cheap construction methods that require perfectly installed welded roof seams and proper roof/window flashing on any NW flat roof/stucco type construction. We all know a roof top garden could never cause a water intrusion issue, right? These flat roofed compounds are chosen for one reason only, because it is the cheapest design for maximum square footage and pushing the boundries of height restrictions.
    Anyway, my point is….the appearance of these boxes lack any creative design and personality IMHO.

  • John December 24, 2014 (1:12 pm)

    Born On Alki 59,
    The widespread failures of ‘drivet stucco’ siding, flashing and window penetrations are a separate issue,
    with different materials and class action suits as proof.

    The roofing materials are long established in Europe with low failure rates, long lives and reduced landfill. They are the same rugged materials used for inflatable life rafts and those Coast Guard rescue boats.
    Additionally they are more energy efficient in their ability to reflect light.

  • Ray West December 25, 2014 (3:29 pm)

    It seems to still be about a 99% certainty that every condo built will, within a few years, develop serious water and mold-related issues, whether through faulty roofs, windows, or siding. You have to wonder why, after several decades of publicity regarding this, it continues to be an issue. Obviously, for the repair companies, it is a lucrative business. Prior to 1980, this rarely happen because building were constructed properly. I will never buy a condo. They are just huge money pits for owners.

Sorry, comment time is over.