(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.
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 email@example.com. 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.