By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
It’s been a question spanning many years and many plans – what will be built at High Point’s last big vacant corner, 35th and Graham?
The two-building mixed-use project Upton Flats at 6058 35th SW might be the one destined to happen. It won final Southwest Design Review Board approval tonight.
Four of the five board members were present along with the project’s assigned city planner Tami Garrett: Chair Tod Bronk, Matt Zinski, Alexandra Moravec, and Don Caffrey, to take one more look, and offer one more round of feedback on, the project with two 4-story buildings, about 100 residential units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space, and 100+ offstreet-parking spaces, now planned below grade.
Here’s the full design “packet” posted for tonight’s meeting. Much of the discussion centered on the finest of fine points, signifying this project really is ready to move on.
The presentation was led by SMR Architects, whose reps included several West Seattleites, and the declaration, “We look forward to putting this iconic building there” at the corner.
The plan has evolved over the course of its design reviews; this was its third, after meetings in June and September last year. The parking is now below grade; the building is split into two, with a pedestrian connection to the planned Polygon residential development elsewhere on the sprawling 35th/Graham site.
Many of the common areas are now moved to that “pedestrian connection” for a real “focal point,” along with what they’re hoping will be a “pedestrian plaza” right at the corner.
John Putre from SMR showed the details. They see the corner as the “Gateway to High Point,” highlighted by “rich blue siding,” with a parapet and plaza. He said they believe the colors they’ve chosen tie into the adjacent commercial buildings on 35th. The 35th-facing facade also includes some brick and a steel channel. Closer to street level, they will have patios and other streetscape features to make it “inviting.” With a closer look at the pedestrian walkthrough, he emphasized that they expect it will tie together the whole site, their development and what Polygon is working on.
A closer look at the landscape plan showed it broken into multiple areas, including the streetscape, with “some nice existing trees” and a wide planting strip with a mix of plantings. Trees will include a mix of sizes, including birch and Japanese maples, to “create a variety of height, texture, seasonal color”; low plantings are planned by the café space at the 35th/Graham corner; three existing trees on Graham will stay, and a large beech tree will be added, “a gateway tree in a sense.” North side plantings will be simple, with a native-planting focus. Bioretention (stormwater facilities) is also planned along the northeast side of the project.
Lighting, benches, and bike racks were shown briefly (see the packet for detail).
BOARD QUESTIONS: Not many. Caffrey and Zinski asked about materials. Zinski also asked about the “design intent” or rhythm for the windows. Moravec lauded the architects for a “comprehensive” packet.
PUBLIC COMMENT: First person to speak was former Design Review Board member Deb Barker, who said she was “floored” that streets were mislabeled in the packet. “Guys, it’s southwest. Not south, southwest.” She suggested “deeper modulations” for the north building, maybe kicking up elements of its western facade. She is excited about the plaza planned at the project’s southwest corner, but suggested a little more separation from 35th because of its speeds and traffic, even knowing that rechannelization is ahead there.
A High Point resident said he had missed previous meetings but has talked to some of his neighbors. He complimented the architects for the packet and its great ideas. But he has a question about the SW corner – scene of protests and tributes after the death of pedestrian James St. Clair, killed in December 2013. “Many neighbors are still under the impression that there’s an ongoing plan to have that corner larger, partly because of the folklore that the ground is unstable … partly for a memorial there honoring the victims of traffic on 35th, people think the money is there, think there’ll be something more than a little plaque. I like the look, I like the plan, glad it’s going strong, and I urge you to continue to be involved with SDOT in some kind of a park.” Garrett asked him about the name of the SDOT contact, and he mentioned Jim Curtin, project manager for the 35th SW Safety project. (Later Putre said yes, they’re working to keep that space as big as possible.)
Catherine from SHA said it’s very important “to create a there, there” for this corner, to make the corner a “gateway,” to become a special place and foster a sense of place.
The next commenter offered thanks to the board, “you guys have done a great job of improving the project.” But she was concerned that page 4 of the packet is not faithful to the scale of future and current buildings. She also was concerned about the yellow-green Design Review notices not getting removed. What about service delivery to the development? There’s a trash staging area off Graham, for example, the project team replied. And would there be a hood for cooking in a business, and what about HVAC venting? Putre pointed out a space on the east side. He also mentioned venting for the coffee shop that’s expected on the corner.
Where did the Upton Flats name come from? was asked at the end of public comment. The architects said it didn’t seem right for them to claim all of High Point by putting that on their building, so the project has its own name. (“What does it mean?” wasn’t answered.)
BOARD COMMENTS: Bronk opened by saying that he was pleased to see how the massing had evolved. The southwest-corner plaza needs to evolve more, he said. He also wanted to hear observations about materials. Moravec said she thought the corner is “elegant and understated.” Caffrey said most of his remaining concerns were “minor materiality” issues. The corner remained a center of discussion: Bronk likes the detailing and the simplicity but “it feels a little flat” otherwise, though he likes the color and “how it punches out.” But “the plaza and sidewalk don’t speak to each other … and that’s a missed opportunity.” Zinski took up the concern about the corner paying tribute to pedestrian safety. They continued to discuss whether certain materials were appropriate for the corner. Zinski said he also had concern about the flatness of the materials on the corner – board, for example, and the trim detail. Maybe instead of using hardie board, they could use something creating a shadow line and some depth, he said. “If we’re going to use one of the cheapest materials out there, we want to see it done really well,” said Zinski.
Regarding landscaping, Bronk offered a few minor points, including a suggestion to use a more-solid material in spots that are going to be lit. For landscaping lighting overall, he was concerned that what they were using wouldn’t hide the light source at all, “so people just go walking through and they’re getting blinded,” instead of creating “a glow.” And he warned about a “big concrete slab” for the plaza, because if the commercial space doesn’t go as envisioned, it could be a big dead space, like California/Charlestown. But overall, he thinks it will be a “great building” for High Point.
COMMENTS? If you have something to say, there’s still time up until the city gives its final approval to the project. E-mail planner Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org