By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Aegis Living assisted-living/memory-care complex planned for 4700 SW Admiral Way has won Southwest Design Review Board approval in the minimum number of meetings – two.
Giving unanimous approval were the three board members present for the second review tonight – Matt Zinski, T. Frick McNamara, and Alexandra Moravec. Joining them was the city’s assigned planner for the project, Holly Godard. The board members agreed that Aegis had listened and responded to the feedback given at the first review last July (here’s the official city report from that meeting).
Here’s what the project team, board, and community members said before the board made its decision:
PROJECT PRESENTATION: Walter Brown of Aegis opened the presentation. He gave an overview of the company and what this three-story, 80-unit complex is intended to be – “home” to residents “until the end of their lives.” He said the average age is 82; “we do not have independent-living residents.” Only about 2 percent have cars; almost none have bicycles; residents seldom leave the complex.
She first outlined the site, with two curb cuts on Admiral Way (one of which they plan to close), and a “very wide entrance” off Waite Street that will be narrowed and will have access to underground parking. The site is highest on the east, lowest on the west, and the massing – size and shape – agreed on at the July meeting – follows that. She said that on every side, the project is set back more than the city requires.
Signage and “a signature tree” will be at the Admiral/Waite corner. The trees and slope area toward the west “will be maintained and preserved.” Despite the expectation that few if any residents will have bicycles, they are planning parking for 20, to accommodate staff and visitors. They are asking for a zoning exception (“departure”) to have a driveway slope up to 20 percent. “The existing alley that we’re not impacting is actually greater than 20 percent.” Another “departure” request – to exceed maximum structure width. But they are trying to soften its appearance, with a feature planned south of the Admiral/Waite corner, and pulling back the mass of the building from the streetfront. “We have parapet heights going up and down” as well as articulated windows, to help break up the building’s mass even further, McDougall said, “to make this look like … a cluster of residences.”
Other “departure” requests include some surface parking and access from SW Admiral Way, with six parking stalls for easy access from there – otherwise, the rest of the parking is underground. Another departure is for a separate driveway – non-alley access to the parking garage and loading. They’ll build a fence along it on the west property line, made of “solid cementitious panel” with stained cedar siding, and plantings on both sides of it, along with “lush planting along Waite.” Service and storage areas will be part of the underground garage area, a level on which residents also will have access to a sports lounge and theater. There’ll be a courtyard in the back, on the northwest side.
Primary material for the project is stucco, which the project team feels enhances the feeling of “home,” since it’s “made by hand, someone’s applying it to the building; that texture is about permanence,” McDougall said. There’ll be wood detailing in the soffits and fencing. “A variety of balconies and window types that are all residential in character” also is part of the plan.
The landscape architect said both streets will have new planting strips, 6 feet wide on Admiral, 10 on Waite, “new sidewalks on both streets.” The hillside will have a “coastal Northwest” type of landscape. Two new crossings on Waite with curb ramps and crosswalks are proposed. In the lighting plan, the current streetlight pattern will remain, with some “low-profile” fixtures on the building. Signage will be at four spots – a low wall at Waite/Admiral, another one by the entry, one on the south side, and one on Waite by the garage.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Following the standard design-review format, the board got its chance to ask questions before public comment. Moravec wanted to know more about the service entrances and how they will work with underground parking. Answer: There is a turnaround area on the northwest side, so service vehicles can get in and out. Food deliveries will be made there. McDougall said Aegis does a lot of this so “it’s very coordinated … (they use) as small a vehicle as (can be used).” She also wondered about the lines shown on the building in the rendering. That’s scoring on the stucco, not pre-fab panels, said McDougall.
What accommodation will be made for those waiting for the bus out front? Moravec also asked. A paved area was pointed out.
Zinski asked to confirm that it’ll be real stucco. Yes, real stucco, said McDougall. He also wondered about the complexity of detailing, citing some inconsistencies in the packet renderings. “Above (some) windows, we are proposing … a shadow line … in keeping with the residential character of the building. A home has richness and variety, as opposed to something that’s the same over and over,” said McDougall.
The memory-care courtyard will have some panels with introduced color, added the architects, to echo Alki, the water, and sea glass. “A lot of this is responding to the needs of the residents in memory care. … we don’t want to create a situation where a resident wants to go to the fence and wants to go through the fence. … All the pathways are held back from the edge of the fence.”
PUBLIC COMMENT: The first speaker lauded the building as “very beautiful” and “not overwhelming.” She lives about half a mile away. Similar facilities in her area, she noted, have parking effects, particularly when they have medical calls – the two that are in North Admiral on California SW – and also with employee parking.
Though parking is not in the board’s purview, Zinski asked Aegis to address that concern.
“Parking’s really important to our employees too – so in our new communities, we do a formula that says there are three different shifts, since it’s a 24-hour community. We take the morning shift, 6 am-2 pm, the maximum number of employees, add to that the potential for visitors in that time slot. So we do have enough parking to cover every employee, every visitor, during that time slot – 36 spaces.” He noted they also have spaces for people visiting for tours. If you are visiting a resident, you’ll go into the garage and enter through the lower level. The ambulances will use the Waite Street corner, they said. Also, they made some design changes after talking with Waste Management about the truck sizes. “The turnaround is large enough for the trash and the service vehicles. … We redesigned this so the truck can go forward in, and then back itself up.”
Next, a resident from the other side of the alley voiced some concern about the windows, “and lots of people looking right down on our house,” also worrying about the generator that would be “right behind our house.”
Zinski again asked the project team to respond; architect McDougall said “the generator is surrounded by concrete walls now, 12 feet tall, and covered … in terms of running, it’s one hour a week, in the middle of the day.” Another member of the team added that it’s new, has a muffler, and will be mounted on “rubber mounts” .. to mitigate noise. It will have cedar facing, too.
As for the privacy concerns, Aegis says the building’s setback is the primary means by which that’s being addressed. The trees will take a while to grow; they’re river birch, growing eventually to 25-30 feet, because they’ll be in a (stormwater) bioretention area, the landscape architect added. The courtyard will have trees growing to 20 feet, too. “There’ll be a fairly substantial buffer,” summarized the landscape architect, plus trees up to 30 feet in the memory-care courtyard.
“The height of the building is not much higher than a 3-story townhouse building,” added McDougall, emphasizing that the main views for residents are not in the direction of the neighbors.
The third commenter said she lives across the street from the front door on Admiral: “I’m three stories, all glass, 105 years old, been there a long time. Her questions included the lighting. They pointed out an LED fixture that’s “so targeted, you can customize the optics to shine the light right where you want it, so we’re working with the lighting designer to get just the paving and the entry plaza.” She thanked the team for “listen(ing) to us.”
Fourth was a neighbor who wondered about the window layout on the bottom floor, where the memory-care residents will be, wondering if they would get sunlight. “Windows and double doors on both sides opening out onto the courtyard,” said McDougall. The common area there is “flexible use,” she said. “Western exposure too,” added the landscape architect, meaning lots of afternoon sunlight. He also asked the project team to verify that the parking count does not include any street parking.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Zinski said “it really comes down to a lot to do with the … human scale of the project. …I think they’ve shown us a lot about how they’re capitalizing on parking and privacy/noise concerns.” Moravec said the project team seemed to have responded to all the questions from the first meetings. She thought all the requested departures “make sense.” Picked up Zinski, “It’s a long project … all the dimensions are consistently equal all the way across.” McNamara thought they were doing a “good job” with the plantings in order to soften the impact of the building.
Zinski said one human-scale question was that the building was “terminating without any sense of a base” – “the stucco just comes down to the ground. … it does feel a little unresolved to the base.” The window framing seemed to him to play into a “hierarchy of detail.” McNamara was concerned about material consistency with the fence – “maybe a way to expose the metal a bit” to tie in to nearby details. She hoped the alley fence would get as much attention as the courtyard fence. She also thought the bus-stop area could stand a little more activation. “This is a commute-home bus stop,” Zinski pointed out, with people getting dropped off on their way back from work (etc.), so there wouldn’t be much waiting/milling around.
McNamara suggested encouraging the project team to install the trees a little more on the mature-size side, rather than planting them small. “And be sure there’s enough soil in that courtyard for the trees to get to the size they’re (describing).”
Shortly thereafter, the “departures” were all approved, providing they maintain the details in the design “packet,” including keeping “human-scale” materials for the details – not asphalt, for example.
And with the 3-0 vote, the project was done with its second and final SWDRB meeting. But you still have a chance to comment on it, whether on its design or other aspects such as parking or noise:
SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THE PROJECT? Contact planner Godard up until the final decision on the project, which will be some weeks away. email@example.com