In the second part of Thursday night’s Southwest Design Review Board doubleheader, a 31-apartment, 31-offstreet-parking-space building proposed for 9021 17th SW was told to give Early Design Guidance a second try – though board members agreed the design had promise from the start, they were most concerned about how the building would relate to its setting.
Four SWDRB members were on hand – chair Todd Bronk and Matt Zinski, who are West Seattleites; Donald Caffrey from Beacon Hill; Alexandra Moravec from the Central District.
With them, Tami Garrett (at right in photo above), the DPD planner assigned to the project.
Bob Guyt with Bremerton-based Blue Architecture and Design said it’s a 4-story building over underground parking “optimiz(ing) the zoning for the site,” which is LR3, and noted that all three of their massing (height and shape) alternatives are “code-compliant” – no zoning exceptions. “The scale of the neighborhood per zoning is beginning to change and become more dense.” The single-family house that used to be on this site has been torn down, he said. The architects pointed out the transitions in the area – some single-family housing, some apartments, some commercial zoning. “This is kind of a middle ground.” They tried to respond to a couple of large trees on the south side of the site, regarding solar shading.
Option #1, the project team’s “preferred option,” has some pitched-roof elements, and a larger residential-amenity area “on the sunny side of the area.” 20 spaces would be under the building, 11 on the north side of the building, all accessed off the alley (and later noted, on the lower point of the site). A raingarden is planned on the site to divert rainwater.
Option #2 “would take advantage of the entire zoning envelope,” including 4 feet of additional height and a flat roof. No overhangs at the top, so the building would be closer to the south property line, with less shading of the properties on the north side.
Option #3 “brought back the shed roof elements,” with a raingarden space, but the parking “flipped over to the south side,” with the building pulling back a bit from those two big trees on a neighboring property.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Bronk said he wasn’t really seeing much difference in the massing – at the Early Design Guidance stage, there are supposed to be distinct options. He also wondered why they hadn’t gone for entirely underground parking. It had to do with circulation, the architects said, while promising the surface-parked cars would be in carport-type enclosures to “minimize the impact.” The cars wouldn’t be parked directly at units’ window level, they said.
Zinski asked for elaboration on the amenity area. Guyt said it would be a place for residents to “barbecue, hang out,” and noted that they are required to have a certain amount of square footage devoted to that. Moravec asked about the private patios and whether they’d be basically equal to the shared spaces. The architects are still working that out.
Three people spoke. The first did not identify himself. He said the building looks a lot like many other buildings in West Seattle. “What distinguishes this building from a lot of the other buildings” in the area? “Is this a building they can be proud of, want to go and spend their life there?” He also wondered if the roof for the outdoor parking could be a green roof. And he wondered about the need for outdoor barbecuing space. Finally, he said rectangles and squares seem to be the “operative word in architecture,” but maybe there’s some other way to go about it. “I don’t see this as being that welcoming to passers-by.” He wondered “what’s the personality of this building? If I seem rather critical … that’s the general environment we’re facing in the community now … I would like to see more character, quite frankly. This building’s going to be here for quite a while, and people are going to be living with it in their neighborhood.”
The second was Deb Barker, former Design Review Board member, who pointed out that the architects had erred in declaring that this was White Center. She pointed out it was the Westwood-Highland Park Urban Village. She voiced concern that too much would be crammed into the site – that drew applause from the dozen or so attendees 0 and also noted that the three options didn’t have much differentiation in massing. She also felt the applicant had jumped to far ahead by setting up the unit counts before seeing what the site could accommodate. She also pointed out that the “underground” parking is NOT underground, that the site’s not being dug into, that it’s really “at grade,” and if it was being dug into, the building’s units would’t be separated from the street. “To set your whole facade in a seating wall, you’re really separating your pedestrians from the residents.” She also said she’s a fan of roof overhangs as seen in Option 1. She urged the project to come back with other massing options, maybe a U shape with internal courtyard.
The third person to speak didn’t identify himself. He said he likes the U shaped idea and he expects at least half the units to have kids so there should be a courtyard for them to play in. He said he was nervous about fencing because graffiti vandalism is a problem in the areae and landlords usually aren’t very responsive about painting it over. He also said he “really really really appreciate you guys putting parking spaces in.”
Starting with concerns: Moravec said she didn’t think it was a bad design but would have liked to see more options. She also voiced concern about at least three units in the shade and looking at parked cars. Caffrey’s concerns included the interaction with the site – retaining walls, fences, etc. Bronk said he doesn’t see the project doing anything to be of value to the neighborhood. He doesn’t “feel great about approving a project that gets a bonus for having only half of its parking underground.” Taking a single family lot and putting 15 cars on there just feels “not in concert with being a good neighbor.” He also is “not in love withthe big ramp that’s going to be necessary at the entrance.” He also voiced concern about the “self-constrained program of 31 units.”
Issues of concern for the board include topography. They gave props to the project team for trying to save plants/habitat, and expressed appreciation for the raingarden that’s proposed; some “significant” but not “exceptional” trees are proposed for removal, and that requires replacement, Garrett noted. One of the architects pointed out that this building is not required to have parking but “street parking there is a mess” and so they have opted to provide some.
Adding 31 people to the block without a real “meet your neighbor” aspect to it is a problem, said Bronk, looking at the public life/open space guidelines for the area. They asked to see a “window study” to see how nearby residents will be affected. They asked the team to consider where people would park bikes and how bikes would be brought into the building, as that wasn’t shown in the presentation. Zinski said he didn’t think the building had to be a “jumble” of facade treatments. Bronk voiced concern about the size of the outdoor amenity space, and whether it would be accessible to more than the people next to it.
Ultimately they wanted to see another Early Design Guidance round because they weren’t seeing three distinct options. Though this isn’t a bad design, a majority of board members said, they would like to see a U-shaped option among others. Bronk said he doesn’t think the building’s design is in the best interest of the neighborhood. He’d like to see another massing option “with the building on the ground.” Moravec agreed that she’d “love to see another option.” Zinski said he saw a “lot of unresolved (issues) … all of the unresolved pieces of this are really going to drive the massing.” Bronk said that when issues are left unaddressed in Early Design Guidance, the building might wind up having the next phase of the Design Review process stretched out. “It feels like a mini-fortress,” is how Bronk summarized the concerns about the current massing. But while saying the changes might just be “little tweaks overall,” cumulatively they are “big enough that we need to see it again.” That means at least two more meetings; in the meantime, if you have comments on the project, contact planner Garrett, email@example.com.