By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The apartment project planned for 3039 SW Avalon Way has gone before the Southwest Design Review Board for the second and final time.
As with the first review of the evening (4220 SW 100th – our report is here), board members were chair Matt Zinski, Alexandra Moravec, and an ex-member filling in, Robin Murphy. From city staff, Lisa Rutzick was sitting in for the project’s assigned city planner Bruce Rips.
The biggest contrast from the night’s first review – only a few members of the public in attendance, and only one offered comment. But first:
Fischer began with a project summary update: 71 units, 18 offstreet parking spaces. He said that as part of the application process so far, they have proven they are within what the city considers a “frequent transit” zone, so they actually don’t have to provide any offstreet parking. at all
He recapped the “massing” – size and shape – that won support at the Early Design Guidance meeting back in February. One of the issues then involved whether alley access, which the city prefers, would be available instead of having the building’s parking entrance come off Avalon. Fischer said the project team had sought and received an “alley improvement exemption” from the city after exploring what it would take to make the alley on the site usable – an issue explored in detail at the February meeting – and concluding, with city concurrence, that it was basically impossible as it would require major alterations to an adjacent property.
Other toplines: The trash area will be up on Avalon. The roof will be terraced, with views looking toward downtown.
The building itself has a “grid laid over a grid laid over a grid” for its facade, as Fischer described it, with black and white “painted cementitious panel” around the building, and wood paneling on the front that he believes “warms up the appearance.” The back side of the building, “further away from the public view,” will have a similar appearance, using painted paneling rather than wood.
Back to the front, the building had to be pushed back a bit because of a power line, so it has a “simple holistic mass.” He said that while the sidewalk along Avalon is not a heavily used pedestrian zone, they have added some landscaping and other touches to make it appealing at street level. The lighting scheme is “super simple,” he added.
Kiest picked it up from there. Avalon “is one of the key points of this project,” she said, adding that the power poles helps the landscaping scheme – street trees and a landscape buffer “before we step down to the units” for an “overall transition that is appreciated by us.” Because of the grade – slope – of the site, the back of the project has a lot of walls, but “we are using the rear of the site for our Green Factor as we step down.” They’ve added conifers since the EDG meeting, “and we’re happy about that,” she noted, moving on to the roof, where “the view is wonderful” but the active areas have been kept away from the edges.
First – what about departures requested from zoning rules? One, Fischer said, would involve a small (less than two feet) configuration change to accommodate the driveway and make it safer. Another would involve a slightly smaller setback at a higher level to avoid a situation that Fischer contended could lead to a “wedding-cake” look and a “waterproofing nightmare.”
Moravec asked for a view of the rear wall, to get a better look at what’s envisioned.
Zinski asked about a specific aspect of the materials – it’ll probably be “Hardie board,” Fischer said. Zinski also wondered about the black-and-white framing, and how it will remain “crisp.” Probably a painted product, said Fischer, pointing out that it will have inset lights. Concrete with anti-graffiti coating? Yes, according to the architects. It will be “super-smooth” rather than textured, though. Other questions went into specifics such as the depth of the framing materials.
Final question: What will be “pushing it forward as a really great project?” Fischer noted that NK does “a lot of work throughout the city and in West Seattle ..” and is aware of how much change is happening, so they “never really think short term” on a project, but rather “how is it going to work in 10 years, in 50 years.” They look for “great neighborhood interface” with elements such as the patios. This project in particular has a landscape design, Fischer said, that, more than any other project he’s working on now, “speaks to the value of it … simple and yet complex at the same time.” He also spoke of the “high contrast” and “ground-level” appeal of the project.
Only one person spoke: Cindi Barker, a Morgan Junction resident who is active on land-use issues. First, a concern re: the streetscape, “I’m a little more dubious and cynical about the activation of the street and those patios.” She wondered about the regulations for midrise zoning, and whether the patio-unit residents might instead put up fencing and take other steps to close themselves off from the “pedestrian environment.”
Zinski said that the design review would look at how that “edge” plays out, including buffers from grade change to landscape. “I would hope you would put those in now rather than let the residents decide what to do,” Barker said. Zinski mentioned that landscaping buffers are part of the project, and that since these aren’t proposed as condos, fencing might not be a factor. “I rented, and I put in a fence,” she retorted, then adding that if people don’t get privacy as part of the design, they’ll find a way to make it happen.
Barker also requested that they be mindful of what sound like good features that might cost neighbors across the street their views. And she wondered about the plan for the trash – where will it sit every week and how will that affect pedestrians? Fischer said there’s a designated area within the bounds of the planting strip, to hold what they expect will be two Dumpsters – to be wheeled from the garage, up to Avalon, every week.
Murphy noted that he wasn’t present for the first review. “My biggest issue is finishes, color, texture, articulation …” and the “grid on a grid on a grid” concerned him somewhat. He also said the narrow soffits seemed too small for the mass of the building. “The massing is fine … it seems like an issue of scale to me.”
Moravec, who also hadn’t been present at the first review, declared, “I have no concerns about this building … it’s a much more coherent design than we often see. … I think it’s a great design.”
Zinski recalled that the trash situation was a big concern at the first meeting and he believes it’s now been “addressed adequately.” So he led the group on to the topic of materials and design.
Murphy said the black Hardie board seemed to be an anchoring material so he was looking for “more texture, more projection” overall and wanted more specifics on the dimensions. Fischer said they are still mapping out some of the plan. Zinski observed that the frame is defining the “window wall” of the building so they do need to see depth and texture. After a little more discussion, Murphy said that what’s “bugging” him is that there’s some high-quality material planned but everything else doesn’t seem high-quality enough. Moravec observed that much of the building is glass. Zinski said he agreed that the “frame” of the building that “announces it” needs to be something significant – not extravagant, but significant, to “set this design off from just being a Hardie box.” Murphy suggested that “composite metal panel” could be a good material – which he believes would be noticeable even to passersby. This discussion basically boiled down to that they like the way the design looks but want an additional material used, so that the “frame is further enunciated and pronounced against the rest of the building,” as Zinski summarized.
Next, regarding “the relationship of the units to the street,” Murphy suggested that “more thought” needs to be put into “privacy separation.” Moravec said that she thought there was enough, with the landscape buffers. Landscape architect Kiest said they currently have two- to three-foot shrubs in the area, but could do something more.
Regarding the departures – as Murphy described it, “this is one of those rare departures that” improves things. All three board members supported it. They also agreed to support the other departure request regarding a slight change in the setback.
The three board members agreed unanimously that the project merited moving out of Design Review – which it has done in the minimum number of meetings, two. If you have comments – about the design or any other aspect of the project – send them to the designated planner, Bruce Rips, at email@example.com.