Design Review Board doubleheader, report #1: West Seattle CVS sent back for second round of Early Design Guidance

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

In the first of two Southwest Design Review Board sessions tonight, the early-stage plan for the proposed West Seattle CVS drugstore at 4722 Fauntleroy Way SW was sent back, with the project team told to try again.

Key concerns included the fact that the project team hadn’t brought three truly distinct shape/size/siting options for the board to review, as required, and the fact that the one siting option would appear from the Fauntleroy/Alaska gateway nearby as if it were floating in “a sea of parking.” The entirety of the discussion, from public comment to board discussion, was underscored by the awkwardness of this 1-story building being on the drawing board for an urban, rapidly densifying area and a site zoned for much more than this project would bring – even though the early design does include some “plaza” area and could accommodate a food truck as community members had hoped. Pedestrian safety all around the site was also a key concern. (See the design proposal in the “packet,” here.)

Here’s how the meeting unfolded on the way to the “try again” decision:

Four board members were present: Matt Zinski, Daniel Skaggs, T. Frick McNamara, and the newest member, Alexandra Moravec.

A rep from the Velmeir Companies, developing the site for CVS, said various aspects of the project – 12,000 square-foot store with 49 parking spaces – were shaped by conversations with the Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO) and also noted that the site is being leased and that a condition of the lease is that the building remain a single story.

John Feit from architect Schemata Workshop opened the presentation with toplines of the project, most of which you can see in the packet, such as the project objectives and the design context from the surrounding area (Junction and Triangle).

He showed the store’s envisioned relationship to Fauntleroy, with parking to the north and east. The perimeter of the store, visible to pedestrians, will not have “decals” or anything else obscuring pedestrians’ views into the store, Feit said.

As is customary for an Early Design Guidance meeting, three options for the project were shown (they are summarized and compared in the packet). Option 3 is the project team’s “preferred” configuration. Its characteristics include an angle that’s “more deferential” to a future midblock crossing, plus a ramp and stairs toward the entry that are more oriented toward Alaska and Fauntleroy, and they would like to keep the food truck that’s now on site (Beloved Mexico) or something similar. Option 3 also has “landscape walls.” This option’s roof has a “flip-up” facade facing its plaza, which Feit said would give it a more “proud presence.”

Materials are not usually included in Early Design Guidance presentations, but Feit showed some of what he said would guarantee a “high-quality building,” including masonry (brick) touches. The siding near the roof might be flat aluminum instead of sheet metal, perhaps a polished piece for the soffit, with wood nearby. The south wall “presents a bit of a challenge because it contains the pharmacy and concerns include privacy for the clients using the pharmacy” – so instead of windows, they suggest “a highly detailed, crafted facade.” This option could include “site furniture” and landscaping options such as seating walls, a raingarden. The project’s landscape architects also worked on the Southwest Precinct project.

BOARD MEMBERS’ CLARIFYING QUESTIONS: McNamara opened by saying the three options didn’t differ much – the building was generally the same size and shape, and in the same position, in all three. One reason for that, said Feit, was having the midblock connector as far south on the site as possible. She also asked how the drive-through would work being so far below the alley. Feit said it would have guard rails and a landscape buffer as well as lighting. In response to another question, he mentioned permeable pavers would be used on part of the site. McNamara’s questions also brought out more about the fact that some of the store would be at a level raised from street/lot level because of the grade of the site/ steps are envisioned from the Fauntleroy sidewalk to the entrance.

Skaggs asked about the ceiling height inside the store, resulting from the grade change. Feit noted that his firm is not involved with the interior design but said some of the roof’s underside would be view.

Moravec asked for more information on the flow into the site; if you were driving south on Fauntleroy, for example, Feit said, you would make a left turn into the drive-through lane on the south side of the site. For loading, a truck would be parked in the alley on the east side of the site, and there would be some kind of elevated entry into the building from an area adjacent to the alley. About two-thirds of the motorized-vehicle parking would be east of the north part of the alley. Bicycle parking is near the northeast corner of the store.

Zinski noted that the graphics seem to infer a corner site without showing how the site will relate to Les Schwab and its parking to the north. Feit said the orientation is attempting to strengthen the connection to Alaska/Fauntleroy corner “even though we are distant from it.” He also noted that “having the parking in front of the building” is a requirement of the client.

PUBLIC COMMENT: Sierra Hansen spoke first, noted for disclosure that she worked with the project team in the early going but no longer does and is commenting as a longtime West Seattle resident. She said she’s happy to see features such as the angling and landscaping “to tie it in and make it more of a pedestrian amenity.” She said the south wall near the drive-through is an opportunity for a public-art project rather than “simple brick.” Second, the integration with the bus stop is vital, she said, as there are currently “very few bus amenities in the area.” Third, she requested more native/edible landscaping, maybe even a P-patch or community park, which she said was suggested in the early going. Finally, she wondered how this ties in with the potential Fauntleroy Boulevard project (which is in the city’s Move Seattle vision but not currently part of the newly proposed levy).

2nd, Sharonn Meeks, a resident of the nearby Triangle/Fairmount area, spoke. She wondered about parking in the alley because of a community staircase nearby, asking how people will be guided through the alleyway to reach it. She would like to see the alley more pedestrian friendly. She also stressed the importance of being able to see into the store, and not seeing ads “on” the store.

3rd, Elaine from Seattle Green Spaces Coalition said she likes the raingarden feature but would like to see even more greenery on the site. She also wondered about other green integration, and what percentage of the site is devoted to “open space and greenspace.” The architect wasn’t able to answer.

4th, Junction resident and JuNO member Brian Kenny said he’s been involved with vetting this project out of concern that it’s a car-oriented project in a walkable neighborhood, a “suburban-style development.” He mentioned the CVS project in Queen Anne working closely on a “neighborhood-specific urban solution … an amazing evolution through Design Review” and thought there could be something better. Maybe a 3-story building with 2 stories of office over retail, to offer new office space to West Seattle companies? Or even a solution that would offer covered parking? “Walkability must be prioritized,” he stressed.

5th, Chas Redmond, who was on the Triangle Planning Committee. He says he’s encouraged by the use of pervious pavers but “there’s a large roof area” and wondered if perhaps electricity could be generated through solar or something else “that might pay off for CVS.” He noted the site’s current lively status with multiple vendors, and also mentioned that additional canopy for weather and sun protection might be helpful.

6th, Abdy Farid from JuNO said that parking is a concern – he said the 49 parking spaces were “at least 19 over what was needed,” 3,000 additional feet of “impervious surface.” He said, “That area could be used to satisfy some of the design guidelines” such as public life and open space, “to have more outdoor uses and activities,” such as Hansen’s mention of a P-Patch, or maybe more vendors. The pedestrian connection to 38th could be improved by that extra space, too. “The north parking lot is not needed,” he suggested.

7th, nearby resident Diane said she’s concerned about property values and adequate neighborhood parking.

8th, Deb Barker, former Design Review Board chair and Morgan Junction resident, recalled the long-ago Design Review meetings about the Petco building once proposed for the Charlestown Café site. She had praise for the CVS sites that Velmeir and Schemata have worked on so far, including a Wallingford site where part of an old building will be preserved as part of the project. She also mentioned the Queen Anne project’s evolution. She said she was part of four of the five meetings the project team had with JuNO and had “high hopes for this big-box project,” harkening back to her days as a land-use planner in a suburban city to the south. But this is in an urban village, she said, where buses pick up people every few minutes, even before 700 or so more apartments come on line within steps of the site. “At this key location, there’s a huge responsibility to respond to the neighborhood plan and the visions of the neighborhood.” Her specific comments: Same thing McNamara pointed out, the siting/massing options don’t diverge enough for an appropriate Early Design Guidance review. Also, pedestrian connections, especially in regards to the alleys, are lacking, she suggested; they need to be treated like the ones across the street at The Whittaker project, where the alleys will include sidewalks, for example. She said the connection to the north, including the RapidRide bus stop, will be stronger than the midblock connection eventually envisioned on Fauntleroy. And she voiced concern about the character of the plaza outside the building, saying it needs a stronger identity, and might just “dribble away” later in the project engineering process.

9th, René Commons, director of JuNO, said they worked hard to uphold the vision for the area, which was intended to be mixed use at this spot in particular. A 275-foot-long building in this spot on Fauntleroy “is a concern,” she said. Perhaps small retail could have been mixed in to make it more of a complement to the neighborhood. She pointed out the “gateway corner” across the street nearby. She stressed that it’s important to consider “what’s happening across the street.” She added that “awnings are important” and showed images from University Village, with landscaping and awnings that “provided a nice break between businesses there.” She requested “serious buffering” to the midblock connector which “is in the Triangle Plan to have a crosswalk and a light someday.” And she agreed the alley needs to respond to pedestrian needs, including the staircase mentioned by Meeks.

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Moravec re-stated that she wanted to see more distinct massing/siting options, including at least one positioning the store at a completely different spot on the site. Zinski said he’s struggling with the one-story drugstore on a site zoned for so much more – how could this be urban and dense? Skaggs declared it a “suburban building set in an urban lot” with “too much suburban parking” and wants to see “another scheme that looks at that.” The drive-through did not seem to have been “figured out” yet, he said, adding concerns about the access point from Fauntleroy. McNamara said she is “really surprised this project is in front of us” with “massing schemes (that all include the same) mass void” – she said they’re not even seeing TWO different schemes. She agrees it needs a more “urban” look, with more pedestrian-oriented site. “It’s very visible from the north end and right now, we’re coming into a sea of parking.” The south end of the site did not appear to be working either as currently envisioned, she said, especially in terms of safety. And the project has “five sides,” not just north/west/east/south, but looking down from above: “I would like to see something done with that rooftop,” which will be visible from all around, including The Whittaker across the street.

As discussion continued, it was suggested that the store might even need an entrance at the spot facing the mid-block connection. And board members agreed that it needs to do more to meet the “streetscape compatibility” requirement, given the much-developed streetscape that is evolving almost all around it. And it needs to be appropriate for the rapidly developing/changing area it’s in. Another look at the grade change across the site – particularly regarding the “plaza” on the north side – was strongly suggested. And the importance of pedestrian safety was stressed over and over.

Finally, a vote was taken, and all four members who were present agreed the project needed to make another try at Early Design Guidance. So, there will be at least one more “early design guidance” meeting for this project, date to be set later. If you have comments on the project, contact the assigned city planner, Katy Haima,

13 Replies to "Design Review Board doubleheader, report #1: West Seattle CVS sent back for second round of Early Design Guidance"

  • m March 19, 2015 (9:00 pm)

    What about public art?

  • Neighbor March 19, 2015 (9:30 pm)

    For once, I completely agree with the concerns raised during this meeting and am very pleased by almost all representatives who spoke on behalf of the community. Thank you. This is an urban corridor. Make it urban or take your suburban parking lot design back to Renton or Sammamish.

  • rg March 19, 2015 (9:57 pm)

    Seem’s like the designer is between a rock and a hard place. The board members are being tough, which is good, and I personally think a two story would make better use of the space. As a student of architecture I see the design proposals as a great starting point (the footprint of the building seems to be the most logical placement to me.) With the lease agreement specifying single story, and limiting funding options, things like rooftop p-patches, solar power and art installations are going to be a hard sell just to uphold our west seattle image. we could just keep the lot vacant.

  • AIDM March 19, 2015 (10:11 pm)

    I don’t know how I feel about this, but I do think its kind of funny that people are gawking over a ‘one story building’. The obvious alternative is an eight story condo with CVS retail space on the ground floor and NO parking :-)

  • Wsg March 19, 2015 (10:24 pm)

    If the lease agreement is only for 1 story MAYBE you keep WS produce and the consignment store where they are…. I think that might possibly be 1 story already!?!?

  • WSobserver March 19, 2015 (11:01 pm)

    This building looks nearly identical to the low slung, white, mid-century automotive buildings they just demolished on the very same corner.

  • HappyOnAlki March 20, 2015 (8:19 am)

    Agree, WSobserver — the first thing I thought of was car dealership. . . .

  • JeffK March 20, 2015 (10:00 am)

    The lease requirement for 1 story just makes this project a non-starter.

    The property owner is the problem, unless they were in cahoots with CVS to “require” 1 story as a way to have CVS railroad this project through.

    All 3 proposals are the complete opposite of what sort of building belongs here. If the owners are unwilling to use the property as intended by zoning then just let it lay fallow.

  • Peter March 20, 2015 (10:51 am)

    Thanks to all who came out to oppose this design. It really does not fit within the neighborhood plan and emerging character of the area. I would have been there to speak against it too, were it not for other obligations.

  • kj March 20, 2015 (2:29 pm)

    KEEP WS PRODUCE! It totally fits in this community

  • AJ March 21, 2015 (1:59 pm)

    So , we can’t have a variety of buildings? They all must be huge ugly reflective glass silos?

  • Sandy March 21, 2015 (9:47 pm)

    I find it hilarious that you people are complaining that the building is one story when all you people complain about the tall buidings in the junction.

  • Nancy March 25, 2015 (8:01 pm)

    I live one block from the site and am completely opposed to a CVS Pharmacy. NO big box stores should be in this area. I don’t want to lose the Beloved Mexico food truck or West Seattle Produce. That site doesn’t look great now but I’d rather have it as is than a CVS. And we certainly don’t need a business that is car oriented. It’s bad enough that we got the tacky Les Schwab and lost Diva Espresso to a tacky barbershop. CVS won’t get even a dime’s worth of business from me.

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