West Seattle development: Why the Southwest Design Review Board wants to see 4505 42nd SW for the fourth time

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For the first time in a long time, the Southwest Design Review Board had a two-project meeting last Thursday night. Our report on the first project, 4515 41st SW, is here. This morning, on the other side of the holiday season’s busiest weekend, here’s our report on the night’s second project.)

(NK Architects’ rendering: South side of 4505 42nd SW)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The Southwest Design Review Board wants to see 4505 42nd SW at least one more time.

The city’s Design Review process requires at least two meetings for a project – one for Early Design Guidance, at which size/shape are the primary focuses, and one for Recommendations, at which final design touches are discussed. The board needed two meetings to sign off on EDG, and determined last Thursday night that it wants a second one on the final phase. A major sticking point was what the building should look like on its south side, considering that side is expected to eventually be hidden from view by future development.

(The south side currently borders one of The Junction’s no-charge parking lots; while the site has no proposal pending, it was explained at the meeting that it could be developed as long as the public parking was still accommodated.)

NK Architects is designing this project, with Karen Kiest Landscape Architects.

NK’s Curtis Bigelow led the presentation – you can see the “packet” here.

(NK Architects’ rendering: Corner of 42nd/Oregon)
The site is zoned NC3-85, meaning up to 8 stories. The single-family house and trees on the lot – none of them “exceptional,” according to the architects – are all slated to be taken down; the street trees will be saved. The changes from the early-design round, as requested by board members, were described: “We tried to make our tower as tall and thin as (possible).” On the alley between the project and the Senior Center, you’ll see “Juliet balconies.” The south side, facing the parking lot for now but someday likely to “disappear” if the lot site is developed, was the “biggest challenge” for architects. It too will have Juliet balconies, along with top floor setbacks, and a line of sight to part of the big orange tower that will be most visible on the north side. Kiest said the roof will be “fairly active,” with a P-patch and landscape planners, “a lot of the things that are becoming more active on roofs.”

The building’s 41 apartments will include studios, 1 bedrooms, and 2 bedrooms; it’s planned for 15 underground parking spaces. The nature of the building’s 9 “lodging” units was explained later in the meeting – it’s a solution to the project’s requirement for more non-residential use than the ground-floor retail provides, and the units, spread among the project’s floors, are expected to be offered for “minimum one-week, maximum one-month” use, furnished units expected to appeal to “corporate types,” perhaps people coming to West Seattle for short-term work assignments.

Looking at options for the 3,500 square feet of retail space, which will have a bit of differential from the street grade, the architects said they found lots of successful examples of ways it could be configured. They also looked at the issue of whether the sidewalks were too narrow and said it actually was close to the standard for California.

Also mentioned: No name for the building yet. Lighting will be focused on the entries and the corners, and some on the alley as well.

BOARD QUESTIONS: This is where chair Todd Bronk asked about the status of the parking lot to the south. “There’s a covenant with the city that it will always be parking – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be developed, WITH parking,” Bigelow replied. There’s a construction easement for part of the parking lot but that will be restored, with landscaping.

Board member Daniel Skaggs wondered about lighting between the top and the base of the building. He and Bronk also asked about the orange color shown for the tower and got clarification that it would not have any south-facing windows. Regarding the choice of color, the architect said they wanted “a little pizzazz.”

Board member T. Frick McNamara wondered about pavers or any special streetscape treatment along 42nd. Kiest said there would be some in the center space, and some furnishings. “As a plaza, it will have the opportunity for public seating, a privately maintained, publicly accessible space,” she elaborated, saying it currently is designed to accommodate fixed or movable seating. McNamara also voiced concern about the activation of the 42nd frontage. The architect said that ideally, a restaurant will take the entirety of the retail space, primarily fronting on Oregon, but also activating 42nd. “We don’t have a tenant in mind yet,” NK’s Steve Fischer clarified. What if it instead went to several smaller retailers? McNamara pressed. If need be, the architects said, they could alter the design to add more doors.

Asked about materials – which are shown in the packet – discussion turned to concrete with some possible “rustication,” as well as metal plates. They also hope to use some unspecified newer materials but are waiting for word on pricing. Board member Matt Zinski asked about the corner details and was told they’re working to make sure there aren’t jarring color or material changes. The windows will be inset “to give them more of a punched feel.”

PUBLIC COMMENT: Deb Barker, former Design Review Board member, revisited some of the comments she had made at a previous review of this project. She said it’s exciting to see that the tower had evolved – she had suggested previously that it needed to be stronger. But she said that below-grade retail is still “not acceptable” in her view. She pointed out that Oregon 42 across the street already has retail presence on 42nd (Emerald Water Anglers [WSB sponsor]) and thought that floor-to-ceiling windows would be good – “Make this project have a presence on 42nd.” She’s also worried about the tower’s lack of a cornice or other strong element, saying the tower would look almost “comical” without it. She also thought a “sign package” was needed to head off possible problems. “What we tend to get (otherwise) is signage advertising whether a business is open or closed and what kind of sale they’re having on Tuesday,” if there’s no “package” determined in the design-review phase.

Diane Vincent, frequent participant at design reviews and other community discussions, added that she’s disappointed about the potential accessibility challenge of the retail spacek. She said she’s glad to hear about the two-bedroom units and wondered how many – “we have seven,” Bigelow replied from the sidelines. She voiced concern about sun reflection off the orange tower and thought that the southern facade was being made unattractive so that no one would be upset at the potential prospect of “a parking garage” going in to hide it.

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Zinski voiced concerns about the building being “broken up” with seams of materials. Bronk said one side had six different materials “and that might be one too many.” The podium – lower level – looked good, though, it was noted. On the much-discussed south side, it’s still too much of “a blank wall,” Bronk opined. He suggested perhaps the tree line could go all the way across that side: “There’s potential for them to utilize plants, not just ground-level plants, to help mitigate the impact of a blank wall.”

(NK Architects’ rendering: Fronting 42nd)
On the 42nd side, it was suggested that the design doesn’t respond to concerns voiced last time. Because it’s going to be sunken, “it’s going to be a back of the house sort of thing” for the Oregon-fronting retail, Bronk said. “It doesn’t relate to across the street, doesn’t relate to the design guidelines,” said McNamara. (It was later described as having a “disproportionate ugliness.”) Much discussion ensued regarding how a door could be placed on the 42nd frontage.

Board members also asked for simplification of the materials and wrapping to the west (alley-facing) side of the building. Ultimately, their concerns and requests were too numerous for them to just pass the project along with conditions, and they decided it would need to come back for at least one more review.

WHAT’S NEXT: No date yet for the next Design Review meeting. You can send comments in the meantime to Beth Hartwick – beth.hartwick@seattle.gov – the planner for this project.

4 Replies to "West Seattle development: Why the Southwest Design Review Board wants to see 4505 42nd SW for the fourth time"

  • JVP December 9, 2014 (9:27 am)

    Is it just me, or does the SW design review board routinely step a bit over the line? I’ve been to a lot of these in the neighborhood, and it’s starting to bug me.

    Look, I really appreciate the value of design review, but it’s not their job to design the building. A lot of this stuff is personal preference. Yes, send them back when things don’t fit with the neighborhood plan or are just blatant junk.

    I worry that they are a little group of design dictators that aren’t letting the architects do their job. Will this result in a huge array of bland buildings that all look the same? Groupthink is the enemy. Allow the creative folks to do creative things.

    The architects spend many hours figuring out little details that present real constraints. Grades, entries and how to actually get retail to succeed in mediocre locations like this. This stuff is hard to get right, and to think you have the answers from a 2 hour meeting is arrogant.

    I don’t mind public comment like the very vocal Ms. Barker (who I almost always disagree with). Public comment is fine, it’s our right, just be sure to always take it as ONE person’s opinion.

    One final point before I end my mini-rant. The things we really need and care about – transit, parking, bridge congestion, transit and transit. Light rail, anyone? These are NOT design review board issues. These are city council issues. I wish the people on these boards and making comments would spend their energy at city hall making real change that we need instead of being design bullies. Maybe they are. Hopefully they are.

  • Diane December 9, 2014 (12:05 pm)

    if you disagree with Deb, why not show up and share your opinion at the meeting
    “transit, parking, bridge congestion, transit and transit. Light rail” is not DRB and was not discussed, so what’s your point?
    the DRB is all volunteer, and there is a paid DPD staff person who is supposed to keep the discussion on track; I would agree that in the past year there were some meetings way off track, but not this one; yes, DRB is there to provide design guidance, and that’s exactly what they did at this meeting
    many of us are also very involved in topics at city hall; if you are not aware, Deb leads up tons of “making real change” groups/committees (landmarks board, Morgan junction president, WS transportation coalition, WS land use, and much more)
    these architects are paid well for their time; the DRB is paid zero

  • John December 9, 2014 (6:16 pm)

    I too, often disagree with Deb.
    I attend meetings and share the facts that I am aware of. These are facts that are sometimes missed when we talk past one another.

    I also enjoy Deb when she she takes over the room, always providing quotable remarks, but not always as accurate as quotable. I have reminded her so.

    Regarding Design Review and the DRB, I always ask for a recent example where this resulted in good design?

    It is common knowledge that the DRB has led to compromised architecture as developers know from the start that whatever originality and quality in their design will get destroyed in the early rounds of review.
    As a result, they submit inoffensive projects that have a conservative sameness that lubricates it through the process.

    I wish the one time DR board member, whose firm now shows a mastery of the Design Review Process, would give West Seattle an original maybe even challenging design.

    I agree with JVP about so much of the blame and responsibility being misplaced to city departments when they are council and mayor issues.

    Happy Holidays Deb!

  • JVP December 9, 2014 (6:59 pm)

    I’d love to see some really creative design. Just not possible with the DRB. The system is broken. And yeah, I’ve been to a number of them I just don’t usually feel the need to speak.
    Notice I did defend Deb’s right to speak as member of the public. That’s not the broken part, it’s the DRB process that’s broken. It needs more boundaries so that some creativity can flourish. Man the DRB has a LOT of power. Too much power.
    I’d love to see some boundary pushing project in our community that might ruffle feathers, but is really cool and cutting edge. Just not possible under our system of institutionalized groupthink, which is sad.

Sorry, comment time is over.