By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Southwest Design Review Board took its first look last night at the mixed-use project proposed for 2749 California SW [map], longtime site of PCC Natural Markets (WSB sponsor), which will get a bigger new space in the project.
Result: As often happens with sizable projects, this one will have to come back for a second round of Early Design Guidance, the first phase of Design Review, in which the focus is on a project’s “massing” – size and scale.
Along with four of the board’s five members plus the architects, the meeting drew more than 20 members of the public, including nearby residents whose major concerns included how trucks for a doubled-in-size PCC are going to get through the alley between Lander and Stevens. It’s already a problem now, some of them said.
For board members, the 300-foot length of the building and how its ground-level features will interact with the street was a concern, as it had been for other big projects in the area – Admiral Safeway to the north, Springline Apartments to the south.
Here’s how the review unfolded:
The first review for any project goes into more context and concepts than details; here’s the official design packet prepared for the meeting.
Julia Nagele from Hewitt opened the presentation: 4 stories, 3 stories residential (112 apartments currently planned) over 1 story new PCC store, and 2 levels of underground parking (~152 spaces; the surface parking lot on the site’s southwest corner also is staying).
The project has four goals, she said: “To be a good neighbor; a good place to meet and connect – a grocery store is a community hub … a good place to live – there is a certain residential density that is appropriate for this zone … (and) the values of the neighborhood,” on California, West Seattle’s “spine,” plus Hiawatha Playfield across the street. She noted that the project is in the “zone edge,” with smaller-scale residential development to the west, and larger places (Hiawatha, West Seattle High School) to the east. She went into detail about the “neighborhood conditions” nearby (you can check the official design packet to see the renderings and photos). She also spoke of the views that upper-story residents will have – “one is distant and regional; one is part of the neighborhood experience.”
The existing street trees on California “will all remain,” she said.
Site strategy: Entries would be off Stevens, for people. Cars going into the parking would be off the alley and existing surface parking lot (which is remaining). It’s south of the homes that abut the alley, she said. Trucks will load toward the northwest corner of the building, with a space in the building, not on the alley. The residential entry will be on the northeast side.
Design Review’s Early Design Guidance phase always requires presentation of three “massing” – size/shape – concepts. “A” would be a “long bar,” as Nagele showed. “B” would divide the building into “three blocks,” with gaps “visible to the street.” It would have trucks exiting onto California, though Nagele said that would not be ideal.
“C,” the development team’s “preferred scheme … is a positive blend of attributes … a 5-block scheme that picks up the rhythm of the commercial buildings (nearby) with a little more meaningful relationship to the site.” The building’s “amenity spaces” would be away from the nearby single-family homes so that residents aren’t butting up against “people’s back yards.” This would require two “departures” – zoning exceptions – one would involve setback; the other would involve overhead weather protection – less in one place, more in another.
BOARD’S ‘CLARIFYING QUESTIONS’:
Board chair Todd Bronk asked about the requested “setback” departure – it would involve a small corner of space that would be accommodating the height inside the grocery store. Bronk also asked if there really wouldn’t be any entry to the building along California between Stevens and the residential area on the north edge. The design isn’t finalized, said Nagele. Board member Don Caffrey wanted to be sure windows were envisioned on the south end as well as east and west; Nagele said yes. Board member Alexandra Moravec asked about a fitness room /common area space, and Nagele said that too was being worked out.
Nearby resident Nikole was the first to speak. “It’s a rather modest neighborhood right now,” she said, saying the building seemed “rather grand,” and wanted to know more about how it would be integrated into the neighborhood. Nagele said it’s difficult to show that with “massing models,” which do look “rather grand,” but said there will be touches like trellises, screens, balconies, windows, that are “just not there yet.” Setbacks will make a difference, she said.
The next person mentioned issues with Lafayette Elementary and student dropoff on Lander – will additional residents and trucks exit onto Lander? “I invite you to be there during the school year and see what a mess that is … I’d like to know how that exit route is being attended to.” Bronk said “from the current standpoint it doesn’t change, it’s still PCC … but residences will be added. We don’t have any purview over that – I suggest you take it up with the planner.” (Crystal Torres is assigned to this project and was present for the review; her work will look at elements beyond design.) Bronk explained at that point that the development team will have to show at the next stage how the project will work with the alley and the street. “They have a couple steps at which those questions will get addressed.”
Nearby resident Erika said her “biggest concern is delivery trucks blocking the alley.” Right now, they back in and back out, rather than turning onto Lander, she said. Some school deliveries are made there too, she said. She said she hopes “the alleyway will be respected” and thought Option 3, with vehicles going onto and off California, would be better.
The fourth resident pointed out that the same thing, saying that having trucks exit onto Lander would be a “huge” change. And he said the existing residents already use the alley, and that’s where their parking is, because they have no access from the front of their houses on 44th SW. “I just want a beautiful building, we love PCC, we want them to stay … but we want the alleyway clear.”
The fifth speaker, former Admiral Neighborhood Association president Mark Wainwright, noted that the neighborhood is fighting hard to create a nice pedestrian environment,” and the Safeway redevelopment five years ago didn’t achieve that – “I would love to not see another driveway (like that) cutting through onto California.” He mentioned pedestrians from nearby businesses being interrupted by vehicle traffic. He also spoke of the importance of setbacks so that upper-story apartment dwellers won’t be having sightlines into people’s homes. He also recalled that “Safeway chose to ignore California way too much” and mentions empty storefronts, and thinks “there’s an opportunity to activate that California frontage,” unlike the wall of windows on the Safeway project (which even as it is was the result of many meetings and discussions during that project’s design process).
The sixth speaker, another nearby resident, echoed the hopes for a setback that will keep neighbors from having their windows stared into. She also voiced concerns about “a very long space” without entrances, hoping something will be added to “mix it up.”
The seventh speaker also expressed the concern about trucks, the alley, and Lander. “One thing to make you aware of is, the high school has plans to put a stairway down the front to Stevens,” and since high-school students don’t get yellow buses, their main Metro stop is the one on California in front of this site.
The eighth speaker said PCC also leads to a lot of parking in the neighborhood and says it’s a “treacherous” corner to go around. She has family members moving into the area, near 45th/Stevens: “There is so much traffic already, I can’t even imagine there being more … when you turn off of Stevens onto California … it would be great if we could consider a walkway like up in The Junction (Walk-All-Ways).”
The ninth speaker, Paul Cesmat, identifying himself as the longtime owner of 2700 California, said that changes over the years have made a big difference. “I do want to point out that you’re skirting your duties – (a city rule) does allow you guys to (have input) in vehicular access and circulation – it is your duty at this time to give these guys early design guidance so they start designing the building the way it’s going to flow through the neighborhood the most.” He also pointed out that while yes, it’s another PCC store, it will be double the size. He believes it needs to have “an appropriate amount of loading docks set back from the alley” or else “kids’ lives are going to be in danger. … The other thing I think could happen, you have the parking lot to the west, the loading docks could be adjacent to that lot and not forced down the alley adjacent to those neighbors who are going to have huge trucks in their backyards.”
Bronk acknowledged that they do have some jurisdiction over vehicle flow and said his words of caution had to do mostly with parking not being under their wing.
The next speaker recalled the incident in which a truck hit a pole (in March 2015) and hopes that won’t happen again.
Chair Bronk’s “hot points” – length of building along California, lack of entries along California, public engagement: I feel there is a corridor going on along California … there’s a street life that happens that we should be aware of … We heard the public say it seems ‘grand’ and discussing issues about access to the drive aisles … we didn’t even get into the location of the trash, utilitarian aspects of the building itself.” He also mentioned the placement of the building in reference to the school and park, “a sort of double intersection.”
Board member Matt Zinski was concerned about urban fabric. Moravec listed her concerns as including modulations, entrances, setbacks on the alley side. Caffrey said he shared concern about the entries. Bronk wondered about how people will get into the store and singled out the Junction QFC as an unsuccessful example of an alley entrance to a grocery store. “This is a big corner lot,” he added.
Bronk ran through the various guidelines that the board is asked to consider – this leads to a long list in the final report that goes to the developer. Safety and security are two he brought up. (Here’s the city document listing Admiral guidelines.) He echoed Wainwright’s observation that (Admiral) Safeway “does not work” in terms of its relationship with the street, so care must be taken with “all these long buildings making streets dead in The Admiral District.” Moravec said that with a supermarket, “it’s not like you could put it on the fourth floor.”
Then they went on to the massing/bulk-scale discussion. Zinski said he agreed with the public concern about “modesty” – the building “doesn’t necessarily need to be heroic.” He said it should respect, for example, the architecture of West Seattle High School across the street. “I think we should consider how it could be modest.” Option C, for example, might need to have simple materials, “not six different materials competing with a five-part (mass).” He said it’s not an “urban corridor” but certainly a “corridor.”
Moravec said that option C seemed to address the modesty by separating the structure into multiple parts. “The length of the building on the California side – making it friendly, making it pedestrian scale” would be important.” Zinski said he thought the entrances and other activities would be important to activate. Bronk said the proposed massings fail in his view by having the store entries all on Stevens. “It’s just a really long block there. … California IS the design problem.”
Zinski: “We want them to reevaluate how the entrances are working and how they’re activating Stevens and California.”
“It’s a super-tough design problem,” agreed Moravec.
Zinski went back to the concept of respecting the high school’s design, talking about how it had character, including its usage of brick.
Bronk said he wasn’t inclined to support the departure that was being requested in order to accommodate store height in one corner of PCC.
He then asked the board to talk about what they like about the massing. Bronk said he liked the “modest corner” at California/Stevens – “competing with McDonald’s [across the street] is hard enough.”
Zinski said he liked the wider “underhang” that would lead to some extra weather covering, and the greater setback on the alley that was offered by both Options A and C.
Bronk said “I think the biggest thing we’re bumping into everywhere is that California is not activated at all.”
That came up again and again.
The grade (slope) of the store entry was also a point of discussion.
Then Bronk said, “We heard from the public and I think they’re spot on, the trucks aren’t going to make it down the alley.” Zinski agreed that there needed to be another solution, and the architects should work it out, rather than having board members make a suggestion. Technically they don’t need to show until the next phase how it works, Bronk said, but they want to see it before then. He said he wasn’t inclined to want to consider a cut-through on California (though PCC has a driveway there now). “There are solutions out there.”
“We all love PCC, we want this to be a good building,”
As for coming back for a second Early Design Guidance meeting, Bronk said it seemed like they needed to bring back something new incorporating the feedback they’ve given, rather than identifying one provided massing option tonight. “C” would be the basis.
Even though Zinski supported “A,” he said he didn’t think their feedback would destroy the massing.
The three others chose C, or something based on it.
Bronk was insistent that it seemed California was ignored by the “C” massing. He said he’d rather have them be clear on the massing rather than move on to the second phase and go through multiple levels of that. “We could pass them tonigh but I can garantee they’d coe back for two recommendation meetings.”
Bronk and Moravec voted to bring it back for a second round of EDG. She said, “with the expectation that we’ll save time later.” The vote was 3 to 1, come back with Option C … Zinski stuck with A.
Moravec complimented them on the packet and on offering three true options.
The ground level is what their feedback was about, Nagele sought to confirm.
That and a building that wasn’t so much “heroic” as “subdued,” Bronk clarified.
WHAT’S NEXT: A second Early Design Guidance meeting will be scheduled – we watch the city files closely so as soon as it’s set, you’ll see first word here on WSB, usually long before the formal notice is sent out. You can also send design comments to the planner at firstname.lastname@example.org, who also will be preparing the official report on this meeting – watch for it in a few weeks here.
WHAT’S NEXT: Bronk invited neighbors to send feedback to the city and also to come back to subsequent meetings about the project.