Southwest Design Review Board sends 4508 California SW back for 2nd try at 1st round

(The “packet” prepared for the Design Review meeting)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

For the second time this summer, a West Seattle Junction business owner brought a California Avenue SW mixed-use redevelopment project to the Southwest Design Review Board for the first time.

Both reviews started similarly – with the business owner introducing himself and talking about his history in The Junction – but they ended differently.

Thursday night, unlike two weeks ago, board members sent the project back for a second attempt at the first phase of the process, Early Design Guidance.

The project is 4508 California SW. The entire board was present for the review – chair Don Caffrey, Crystal Loya, John Cheng, Scott Rosenstock, Matt Hutchins – plus assigned city planner Allison Whitworth.

PROJECT TEAM PRESENTATION: The longtime local entrepreneur who owns the site, Leon Capelouto, stood up and opened with some personal history.

He described his background (which we covered in this 2014 story) as “the American dream.” He noted that he has long represented the “interests of the merchants and the (Junction Association) and will continue to do so.” He also mentioned serving on the board of Trusteed Properties, owners of the land that holds The Junction’s “free parking lots,” and being committed to continued parking availability.

Capelouto said his ~70-apartment project will include 25 percent affordable units and says he’s offering the existing commercial tenants on the site “a chance to relocate (in the new building) at a reduced rent if they so choose.” (One of the three spaces in the buildings proposed for demolition is vacant, the former West Seattle Cyclery; the other two spaces have long housed two restaurants, Kamei and Lee’s Asian.)

David Reddish and Andrew Kluess from Caron Architecture were introduced; Reddish led the presentation. Reddish said the site’s proposed 19 parking spaces (plus 1 bicycle stall per unit) – in a zone with none required – would be accessible off the alley. He detailed the context of the site (as explained in the packet) as a mix of small commercial structures and newer mixed-use buildings. He showed a massing rendering with a two-story base that he said would be consistent with the older building next door. As is standard during Early Design Guidance, he went through three massing (size/shape) options for the site. (You can see those in the packet too.) The project team’s “preferred” option, #3, would be 75′ high (the zoning would allow up to 85′) and would have multiple setbacks as well as a “simple palette of materials.” Reddish contended this would “respect” the nearby architecture. It would include an “outdoor amenity” on a higher floor.

Landscape architect Karen Kiest said they want to keep the existing street trees and they are working on enough street setback to “provide pedestrian space.” She added that the project has “a considerable number of terraces.”

Reddish noted that the lot is only 75′ wide and they are planning “small” spaces “to encourage the local retailers to come here.” He also said the upper levels will have “architectural elements like balconies to create interest.”

BOARD QUESTIONS: Among the points/issues that emerged here was an explanation of what “lodging” – planned for part of the non-residential space – meant. “Month to month, not a hotel,” elaborated Reddish. Asked about material change/contrast, that might emerge along the alley, he allowed. Loya wondered about recessed retail to provide for pedestrian activity; “our goal is to recreate what you see along the avenue today,” replied Reddish. Could be restaurants, could be other types of retail, the project team added. Caffrey noted that they spent a lot of time talking about the street plan, so he wondered about the 12′ sidewalk; that’s 10′ now, including 4′ for trees, Reddish noted. Loya asked about the private decks on levels 3 and 7; those go with specific units, while the rooftop deck would be for the entire building, the team clarified.

(Alley side of the three storefronts that would be replaced by the new building)

Caffrey asked about the alley, pointing out that many in West Seattle are more like “secondary roads,” and wondered about the trash-room plan; it’ll be right off the alley similar to the new AJ Apartments (also Capelouto’s project and almost directly across the alley from this one), said Reddish. How many retail spaces? asked Loya. “Several smaller shops,” replied Reddish.

PUBLIC COMMENT: First, Whitworth read written comments received before the meeting. One had to do with the “height and massiveness of the building and how it would affect the historic quality of the street,” she said, and others had to do with non-design factors. Another was from a Capelouto tenant nearby, Pizzeria Credo‘s proprietor, who vouched for him.

First, Margaret said “it looks like a very well-designed project” but wondered if West Seattle really has a vision for the two blocks in the heart of The Junction. She said the community that’s created there is vital. She invites “residents of West Seattle to consider, what is it that we want to see happen in those two blocks?” She believes people “hang out” in the area “because it’s not super-urban.”

Next, former Design Review Board member Deb Barker, who talked about the 2016 survey “What Makes the West Seattle Junction Special?” including the Category C building on the site, and the Category B building immediately south (at one point proposed to be part of this). “I feel this building needs to acknowledge both sides” – a 1927 and 1955 building – “and this design does not.” She also advocated for brick materials and “small storefronts.”

The next woman to speak said she’s concerned about parking and traffic.

Next person said she is concerned that the “location choice” will affect the West Seattle Farmers’ Market. “Putting a 7-story building in front of it” will “deprive vendors of sunlight” and affect its character, she said. She cited a recent report about unfilled apartments nearby, saying AJ is offering 2 free months of rent and a free TV. “What is the need for (this new building) and why here?” She also noted that she is a renter and is concerned about affordable housing. “I”m very afraid that we will lose the culture of this West Seattle community.”

Lora Swift of the West Seattle Junction Association spoke next. She thanked Capelouto and said “he was 100 percent correct when (he said) he helped us preserve our free community parking.” Then she discussed this project’s design. “What we are seeking … is harmony in The Junction itself.” So she said they hope the board will look at whether the building “does match the historic nature of the West Seattle Junction itself.”

Next, Lynne said she had a question and a comment. She said Option 3 was “probably the best.” She wondered how many lodging units it was expected to include; 14, replied the project team. She asked that they would “rethink that.” She voiced concern that it would affect safety in the area.

Randy Leskovar said he hadn’t realized the height could go up to 85 feet in this area; it had been that way since the ’90s, was the response. He also said he’s concerned there’s not enough parking.

Brad Chrisman of the Historical Society’s We Love the Junction group noted that this building will be adjacent to the “Penney building, which was really the anchor business in The Junction for decades in a historic 1920s building.” He said that his group “will be monitoring the project.”

Next Jeff McCord, the Historical Society’s executive director and a former Design Review board member, spoke. “With this particular building’s design …I would ask the board to consider how its design relates to existing buildings” like the aforementioned Penney building next door.

Finally, Corinne said she had never been to a meeting like this before and said she sees WS as the “last community that has a heart. … This really does matter to everybody here.”

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: First, chair Caffrey asked about “hot-button items.” Board members listed various issues related to the building’s base, as well as materials, the south-end “blank wall,” landscaping (including street trees). They then discussed preferences in massing options; Caffrey said he felt the “preferred ” #3 did the best job of “breaking up” the blank walls. Cheng said he liked options 1 and 3. Rosenstock said he “kept gravitating to Option 1.” He liked its “bonus open space” among other features. Ensuing discussion led to acknowledgment of a concern voiced by one attendee, that the Farmers’ Market would be shaded; Caffrey said he didn’t see a way around that. Rosenstock noted that this building will be very visible, and Hutchins agreed “it’s almost like a corner lot.” He too said he had some affinity for option #1 – though it seemed to be “the smallest of the three options.” Hutchins’ concerns about Option 3 included a “weak” stair tower. But Rosenstock said he didn’t feel he could commit to passing the project out of EDG with an Option 1 recommendation – he said it seemed to have inconsistent aspects. Loya thought some parts of Option 1 needed more study. “If it was Option 1, there’s a lot of high risk in there,” observed Caffrey. The board brought the discussion back around to the “hot-button issues” and whether they could offer enough guidance to let the project advance to the second phase.

Reddish at that point said they had put a “level of thought” into respecting the historic context. He also said one concern they had about Option 1 was its 85′ height. But subsequent discussion led to Option 3 being the preference, 4-1 (Loya stuck with Option 1 and Rosenstock said he still had 20 percent sentiment toward 1).

Reddish pointed out that all three options were maximized with FAR (floor-to-area ratio) so they don’t have much wiggle room.

After a bit of a digression into issues that aren’t supposed to come up until the second stage of Design review, and a look at which design guidelines they want the project team to take heed of, the board concluded that they wanted a second round of Early Design Guidance rather than advancing the project to Phase 2 (Recommendations).

Their summary: “Option 3 showed promise but is not well-developed enough yet” – particularly in respecting neighborhood history, a concern that came up multiple times in the meeting.

WHAT’S NEXT: As Caffrey mentioned, even if you weren’t at the meeting, you have chances to comment right now – for one, you can e-mail the planner at A date will be set for the second meeting weeks or months from now; we’ll publish an update when that date is made public.

15 Replies to "Southwest Design Review Board sends 4508 California SW back for 2nd try at 1st round"

  • Dana August 3, 2018 (8:36 am)

     I understand that people want to take advantage of the recent prosperity in the Seattle area but we have to think long term. I’m very concerned that there will be far too many rental units and that prices in the future can change.  There’s already a trend where home is listed for sale are having price reductions and there are vacancies in apartments as noted in this article. I’m also very concerned that Our Junction has a very rare community feel and this kind of change does not seem to fit. I’m also very concerned about light on the street. Does anyone know what can be done by us as a community to help better plan for the long term and to prevent this kind of growth in West Seattle where I think we all still want to feel like an urban village.

  • Cindi August 3, 2018 (10:09 am)

    Was there any reference to the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Design Guidelines?  Or do they look at that for guidance in the next phase? 

    • WSB August 3, 2018 (10:12 am)

      Yes, they ticked off a list of guidelines that would apply, as is usually the case in EDG. Those should be in the final report.

  • Senio August 3, 2018 (11:51 am)

    Danayour concerns are valid, however the horse is out of the barn, the soul of the junction and west seattle was lost a decade ago,and continues to be dissected away with the run away density and the poor quality.and design of the schlock that developers  Put up in our communitydevelopers own the politicians  and the majority of them don’t give a hoot about the community and neighborhoods, destroying piece by piece, end of the day our responsibility for electing such a versus a moderate group who care about the neighborhoods but are fiscally moderate and  actually care about the history of our individual neighborhoods

  • TJ August 3, 2018 (12:27 pm)

    Cram em in. No discussion once again on street approvements for the added cars? Strange they want to address concerns but completely ignore accomodating more traffic? These buildings would be more affordable in surrounding areas. Also, developers were put on notice federally in 2009 that there are no more bailouts the next big downturn. Time for a reminder that there are no bailouts or more importantly bankruptcy protections. We’ll see how aggressive builders are knowing that. 

    • WSB August 3, 2018 (12:47 pm)

      That’s not in the scope of the Design Review process. If you have comments about traffic etc., you are welcome to e-mail the same planner, who – outside the board purview – does have to consider them for other aspects of the overall project-review process.

      • Mark Schletty August 3, 2018 (2:06 pm)

        That is the problem with Seattle’s Design Review process. Traffic, parking, pdestrian and bike impacts, and infrastructure suitability all should be part of Design Review. They are in every other city I have lived in, and are a major integral part of any design review. Ignoring them is just another giveaway to developers, and sending comments to City Staff outside a public review arena is useless.

    • JVP August 3, 2018 (8:57 pm)

      But isn’t this exactly where new residences should go to ease traffic?  This is one of the places where you can do 90% of what you need without a car, and car share is everywhere in the Junction, unlike single family areas.Shopping – check. Dining and entertainment – check.  Transit now – check with C line.  Great transit in future – check with light rail.   It’s even on the side of the street where afternoon light isn’t blocked.  I don’t get all the opposition to this. I get it, everyone is frustrated that our city is growing so fast, and it’s easy to vent about new apartments going up.  But still, this is exactly where new stuff works best, and those old buildings are ramshackle.

  • Steve August 3, 2018 (3:35 pm)

    This is great news! More great neighbors to spend money and make friends at Junction businesses and the farmers market, plus a new ground-level space for new businesses. I have a friend who used to work in one of the businesses this project will replace, and she said the building was very much in need of replacing.

  • CAM August 3, 2018 (4:58 pm)

    I’m very pleased to read that the owner is planning to put the required affordable housing in the building rather than paying the fees. Here’s hoping that stays part of the plan as it progresses. It also seemed extremely reasonable to offer reduced rent to his current tenants should they choose to move back in after the building is complete. I know that’s probably unlikely to occur due to the expense of moving a business twice but it does show an interest in maintaining what’s good about the Junction while planning for the future. 

  • Patrick Manley August 3, 2018 (5:52 pm)

    No parking required, but 20 stalls are included.  Well at least that’s something.  Where the other 40 or 50 vehicles the new building will produce will park?  God only knows, but we keep lying and deluding ourselves that all these new residents don’t have cars when they obviously do as with each new building, all the side streets within 3 blocks fill up with cars all day and night.  Instead of the developers and their reps repeating the mantra that “Millennials don’t drive cars,” it’s time the community pushed back and called BS on this shell game.  The developers know their buildings are producing massive amounts of external parking spilling into neighborhoods, and they should be held accountable for it instead of being patted on the back for “transit oriented development” when the evidence tells a different story.   And before anyone cites the 50k per parking space additional cost, think about amortizing that over the 50 or 100 year life of the building, and the cost is peanuts.  

    • Jon Wright August 4, 2018 (11:34 am)

      What is wrong with people parking in neighborhoods on public right-of-way?

  • AMD August 4, 2018 (9:05 pm)

    Last week the weather was a major topic of conversation with the vendors at the Farmer’s Market.  The ones on the side away from the sun were grateful for their locations.  I don’t think being out of the sun is a real issue.  In the cold months there isn’t much sun to be enjoyed much and in the hot months it’s a bother.  Other neighborhood farmer’s markets around the city are in locations near tall buildings and the shade hasn’t hurt any of them.

  • J August 6, 2018 (1:41 pm)

      Let’s be real the the developers are building here one for money and two to sell and market a small urban community which in turn they are destroying over time, block by block. The days are coming to an end when you say ” hey want to go walk around the Junction?” answers is no. They will build and they will sell and move on to the next. When was the last time you have seen a real house built here. Now it is just pre-fab square boxes with zero PNW vibe. We should learn from San Fran who stopped it years ago. If you want to build here you should  PAY to build into not over the West Seattle history.

    • Walldawg August 6, 2018 (7:19 pm)

      “We should learn from San Fran who stopped it years ago.”Sure, the same city that has allowed selfish nimbys to block almost all new housing, resulting in median home values well over a million dollars. Where a room with a shared bathroom and kitchen leases for thousands a month. Where anyone other than the wealthy is fleeing due to the astronomical prices of housing. The ablsolute selfishness in your comment, all wrapped in this misguided notion of “save our small community from greedy developers! They build apartments that offend me so much I refuse to go on walks anymore!”What is offensive is your attitude of “I was here first! Nothing is allowed to change without my approval!” You are denying future generations of any hope to remain in the area that their parents and grandparents grew up in unless they make six figures. Honestly, that is far greedier than a builder of housing creating new homes and making a profit

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