By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The tree was off the table.
At the start of the Southwest Design Review Board‘s doubleheader nightcap last Thursday, the third Early Design Guidance review of the mixed-use proposal for 4532 42nd SW, planner Katy Haima made that clear.
She declared that the issue of “tree removal on the site” – referring to what happened after the project’s last meeting in November, with an $11,000 penalty revealed recently – had been “referred to [the city] and had been resolved” and asked participants not to bring it up.
Only one did.
Compared to the lightly attended review at the start of the night (1606 California SW – see our report here), this one had more than a dozen spectators, though most were there to observe and not to comment. All five board members were present for this review – chair Todd Bronk, members Don Caffrey, T. Frick McNamara, Alexandra Moravec, and Matt Zinski.
At meeting’s end, they voted to allow the project to proceed to the second phase of Design Review. Here’s what happened along the way:
ARCHITECTS’ PRESENTATION: The project has changed design teams. Brenda Barnes, a West Seattle-residing architect, spoke on behalf of Clark Design Group. She began by pointing out the site’s split zoning, 65′ to the north and a shorter slice of 85′ on the south side, next to Capco Plaza.
She also pointed out a typo, saying they’re proposing 64 units, not 54 as mentioned on the city site, and 50 offstreet parking spaces. (Here’s the packet, so you can review what the board saw.)
Since this is another “Early Design Guidance” review, the focus was on the project’s size and shape (mass, bulk, scale) rather than fine points of design.
She went through the site’s design history (though not going all the way back to 2009, when different ownership won approval for a 36-unit proposal). Barnes said they talked with the planner about going with “one massing scheme,” an L shape, that “does a lot of great things,” saying her firm believes “what’s good for your neighbors is good for you.” To the north, the “neighbor” is a single-family house, zoned for more development in the future. Meantime, the new design firm “got a more-thorough survey” of the site, Barnes said. The northern facade “is now 5 1/2 stories.” The reduction in height brings added light for the neighbors, she said.
There’ll be a planting strip along a five-foot recess by the alley entrance to the retail/residential garage entry, to improve sidelines. Two retail spaces are planned on the ground floor – one 2,300 square feet, one 1740 sf. Showing the floor plans, she said the roof deck will be “centralized so it’s not a nuisance to the neighbors.”
They’re hoping for a “more muted palette” than some of the other projects on the block (Oregon 42 and CAPCO Plaza were shown). While those details don’t usually get discussed until the next Design Review phase, page 11 of the packet showed a possible appearance for the building. They intend to use “warm, high-quality materials” for the pedestrian level, she said, saying that type of appearance is an attribute of West Seattle.
Landscape architect Karen Kiest spoke next. The “deep setback on 42nd” was one focus for them, Kiest said. She hopes they can “borrow some cues from Junction Plaza Park. … We’re interested in using more native materials on the site as we go forward.” Part of the landscaping “may turn out to be a stormwater planter” along the alley, she said. “As people know, we’re trying to capture all the roof stormwater, a new requirement since the first of the year.” The open-space corner, she hopes, will have some conifers.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Chair Bronk asked about the trees in planters along the south side. They might be 15 to 20 feet tall within a few years, said Kiest. On the east-side alley, Bronk wondered if the two garage entries “could be combined into one.” Doing that would mean less parking, Barnes said. What about adding another underground level? Bronk pressed, “in order to increase the safety of that corner.” Moravec thanked the architect for the “trash solution” and for “stepping aside from the townhouse side.” She also expressed thanks for the “muted palette … to bring harmony to the block.” McNamara asked about the “blue zone” on the massing drawings – that’s the “retail zone” where they’re looking for brick and other materials like that, said Barnes. Zinski asked why “asymmetry” was embraced since this is an infill/midblock site. Barnes said it seemed to make sense in the context with other buildings. She also noted, “We want to create a rich, textured building that we’ll be proud of, that will be here when I retire.”
PUBLIC COMMENT: First to speak was Abdy Farid, who owns the aforementioned house north of the project site and wanted to refute a comment made during the previous meeting which he said had inferred that he (not present) at that meeting had an “unfavorable view” of the property owner. He noted that he works with developers for a living. “I don’t have an unfavorable personal view of the owner,” he said, turning back toward the rest of the gallery. He then moved on to a comment about the shadow study on Page 9, pointing out the windows on one side and asking for more setback, as apparently was provided during the years-earlier proposal for the site. He then brought up the issue of the $11,000 fine that was reported to be in the works because of the tree cut without authorization; Farid thinks that the money should be spent to decorate the building instead, perhaps public art, “something visible, something from West Seattle so at least the building would have something the public would benefit from,” instead of having Parks choose other sites to plant trees. Finally, he asked for a 7 1/2 feet setback from the project.
Next, Deb Barker, former Design Review Board chair, who said she was at the previous EDG meeting for this project. “The teensy-weensy setback of this building from the northern side blows [previous feedback] completely away … this gets to a point I made at (a previous) EDG that the setback needs to be increased from this project’s north side, push it back.” 10 feet of setback would be great but she said even 7 would be better.
She also voiced concern that the applicant had not shown visuals showing the relationship of this property to the single-family house next door. She said adjacent sites were “not being respect(ed).” She said it was good that the townhouses to the east would be affected less by this proposal, but she wasn’t sure guidelines were being met. As for “public life,” she noted that the courtyard is private, and there’s “no area for placemaking” in the project; there’s not enough “facade landscaping,” she suggested. “I would strongly encourage this project to stop being so introverted” and provide seating areas, maybe a tree, fountain, things in the walls to “enliven the space instead of just a gray 5′ wall.” She also was concerned about two garage openings onto the east-side alley
Next to speak was Emi McKittrick, who voiced appreciation for many aspects of the project including the retail spaces in a “side of the Junction where (they’re needed).” She liked the setback and greenspaces in the alley; centralizing the roof deck “is the only thing I kind of disagree with”; she added, “This needs to look like West Seattle, and I think this accomplishes that.” She said the proposal is “a huge improvement from the previous design.”
The fourth and final commenter was West Seattle resident Paul Cesmat, who said the “site seems to be a derelict site” so he is glad to see the project progressing. “This site being developed is going to be good. I think as much parking as they can get into it is good … we need as much parking in the core as we can get.” Regarding the alley, he mentioned that QFC was supposed to put a “Do Not Enter” sign to keep traffic from going north. “That never really happened, and so a lot of cars come out, and at Oregon Street “there’s a traffic jam going over the crest of the hill.” He pointed out a memory care center is going in nearby (4500 block of 41st SW) and “its trucks are going to access at the same time cars are going in.” He thinks the alley should be one way.
Board chair Bronk expressed skepticism that would work with two garage entries. Planner Haima invited Cesmat to speak with her afterward.
BOARD DELIBERATIONS: They began with a “quick roundtable of issues.” Zinski began: While the proposal seemed “code-compliant” to the zoning transition, it didn’t seem to meet the spirit of what’s advised for those transitions. The “suggested materiality, texture of the building that they’re started to allude to” would be grounds for a “lively discussion,” he said. And he thought the window arrangement seemed illogical and unrelated to the “interior program.”
Moravec said she had similar concerns, including how the interior design correlates to the exterior. She said the “major issue” is the north-side setback, relating to the site’s current use while planning ahead for its future.
Caffrey also expressed concern about the north-side setback and the zone transition, as well as the sidewalk on 42nd.
Bronk said the shadow studies need to be examined a little more closely regarding the northeast corner. “Safety is a big concern, and it was last time,” regarding the alley, he said. That was brought up last time but “I don’t think we got an appropriate response to that,” he said, “and that’s a big deal.” He also thought that public spaces needed to be discussed.
Barnes said that she and Kiest “intend to develop public space” on the site, including “outdoor space for retail,” addressing one of the concerns.
Regarding height/bulk/scale, Bronk called out the north-side setback concerns again. Zinski then elaborated on the zoning transition, saying he believes massing should ‘step back” more, like Oregon 42 nearby. A brief discussion of the wall north of Capco Plaza ensued.
The discussion came down to “in this packet, (there) are guidelines we said were important, (but that) we don’t feel have been met yet,” Bronk summarized. He noted that the north-side setback didn’t seem to have been addressed yet, especially how it would interact with a neighboring property. “If you’re having a party on (that corner), you’re asking the neighbor for pizza,” he quipped. So did they want to give guidance on that? he asked. Also, he suggested they should get a window study for the next meeting.
Moravec mentioned again that it’s tough to design for how the adjacent site looks now and what might happen in the future – since it’s zoned for more than a single-family house and will someday almost assuredly be redeveloped.
At a previous meeting, it would noticed, a possible midblock crossing for the site was discussed. McNamara said that didn’t seem to make sense now but maybe in the future.
Zinski thought that rather than thinking about a future midblock crossing, a “strong urban framework” for the project would matter a lot.
In debating the setback issue, they again brought up the fact that the previous project proposal had a 10-foot setback. Bronk said he thinks they should “at least see some options for how that setback would work.”
That discussion alone took 20 minutes. Then it was on to other setback issues; Zinski suggested they “look to Oregon 42” a few lots north for a jumping-off point. Bronk pointed out that this project seemed to be in danger of creating an amenity zone with no light at all.
Then to the alley. Bronk insisted that the access didn’t seem safe at all, on the southeast edge of the property (adjacent to the CAPCO Plaza alley), with all the egresses on the alley. “Under the safety guidelines, there should be one access point, and it should be toward the north side of the site. … I’ve seen two (crashes) coming out of that alley this year,” he said. He also said he looks forward to seeing some of the public space developed for interaction.
The clock ticked on. At 9:30 pm, an hour and a half into the review, planner Haima asked them to be very specific. “The upper level setback doesn’t help for this property,” said Bronk. “It’s about the lower level.” Moravec said she thought that there needed to be more setback on the north side. “Maybe 5 feet in some spots but more at the house?” suggested McNamara.
“Minimum 7 1/2 feet and they can decide how to deal with it?” suggested Bronk. And that’s where it went.
The “notch” in the corner “does not successfully create a transition,” was also one point of feedback.
Shortly thereafter, Zinski and McNamara discussed what the view might be for people coming down 42nd.
Finally, the board members agreed, with some trepidation, that if they “condition it very tightly” – giving very specific official guidance – they could send the project along to the second phase of Design Review.
4532 42nd SW will have at least one more Design Review; you can comment on it at any time before it gets through the permit process, by e-mailing planner Haima, firstname.lastname@example.org. Her official report on this meeting should be available online in a few weeks.