Design Review goes online, starting with West Seattle mixed-use building 4406 36th SW

(Renderings by Ankrom Moisan)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Five months into the pandemic, the city’s Design Review program has joined the online-meeting world, and a West Seattle project was first up.

The Thursday afternoon meeting for 4406 36th SW – one-half of a two-building megaproject planned by the Sweeney family, longtime Alki Lumber owners – went smoothly, and concluded with the Southwest Design Review Board voting unanimously to advance the proposal to Phase 2.

The online meeting followed the same four-segment format of in-person Design Review Board meetings, with just one alteration – signing up to comment was supposed to be done within the first half-hour.

All five board members (a volunteer position) were present – chair Crystal Loya introduced members John Cheng, Alan Grainger, Matt Hutchins, and Scott Rosenstock; all are West Seattle residents. Three city reps to – planner Sean Conrad, assigned to the project; Lisa Rutzick, the program manager; and Daniel Kopald, handling the tech.

Here’s how the meeting unfolded:

ARCHITECT’S PRESENTATION: Jenny Chapman from Ankrom Moisan led the presentation; she also introduced Sweeney family point person Lynn Sweeney and developer Ed Hewson (who also participated in the briefing on which we reported last month, and the early community-outreach meeting in February).

The zoning is NC-75; the project will have roughly 275 residential units and 190 vehicle-parking spaces, along with 12,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. (The design packet also lists an expected unit count of 49 studios, 28 “open 1 bedrooms,” 173 one bedrooms, and 25 two bedrooms, with unit sizes ranging frm 450 to 900 square feet.) Chapman offered other context including the site’s location – along with the neighboring building that the board will review in two weeks – near the entrance to the West Seattle Bridge and in potential proximity to a future light-rail station. It’s an “evolving neighborhood,” she noted.

As usual for an Early Design Guidance meeting, she presented three “massing” (size and shape) options.

They’re all inspired by stacks of lumber, in a nod to the site’s long history as a lumberyard, she said.

The project team’s preferred option was #3, with a “strong north-south orientation,” the street-level setback on 36th shown during our preview, and the “through-block” connection that would lead toward 35th SW – where the RapidRide stops and West Seattle Stadium await (at the bottom of a public stairway alongside Aura). Stairs along an alley would also take people to SW Oregon, which some ground-floor units would face.

She also showed the street concept for 36th SW between the two planned buildings, with boardwalks between the building and sidewalk.

As mentioned during our preview discussion, they’re requesting a ‘departure” – zoning exception – that would mean less setback toward the top of the building, in exchange for street-level setback. The latter wll be public, while the former would be private, she pointed out.

BOARD MEMBERS’ QUESTIONS: Cheng asked about the length of the sides in Option 3; Chapman said “less than 150 feet.” He also asked about the fate of Alki Lumber’s iconic neon sign.

It will be saved and will be incorporated into one of the sites, she replied. Hutchins asked about bike infrastructure on 36th SW. “Right now (there’s) a sharrow, and SDOT’s current plans also show (that),” Chapman said, but they’re still talking about the street with SDOT and could bring it up. He also asked about the through connection to Fauntleroy through the other building; it’s so busy, and might have a future light-rail guideway, so “dumping pedestrians (there) was not something we found to be very positive.” Rosenstock asked which building will be built first. She said they’re expected to be built together or “sequentially close” – the ‘entitlement” will determine which goes first. Chair Loya expressed appreciation for the ‘stacked lumber” concept – would it still apply to the lower levels? Chapman said it was more a tool for the “big massing” vision and so the lumber elements will inspire the lower levels in different ways.

PUBLIC COMMENT: Planner Conrad first noted that the city had not yet received any written comments. Emi spoke first; she mentioned past involvement with early Triangle projects Link and Nova, and 10 years later is happy to see other parts of the neighborhood “coming to life.” She supported the requested departure. Other commnters present at the meeting opted to have the tech moderator read their comments aloud: Shanna was the next commenter, and she too supported the project vision. Rupert‘s comment was next, and he also was in support; “the boardwalks are a very nice touch … kudos to the building designer.” Joe, a nearby resident, said the area is “very car-centric” now and he’s glad to see the interest in a pedestrian-friendly zone, but thinks 36th SW should have a bike lane, wider sidewalks, and less car parking. Commenter John, a Fire Station 32 employee, also expressed support; the final comment was by Megan, who called it a ‘beautiful design.”

BOARD DELIBERATIONS: Cheng listed three concerns – massing, alley, sign. Grainger had a concern about the alley side on both sides of the ‘through-block connection.” Hutchins’ points of concern are the sidewalks and lack of a bike lane, saying this would likely set a precedent for future development further south. Rosenstock also had concerns about the “street section” and how the ‘stacked lumber” concept plays out in the massing.

Regarding the big picture on massing, Option 3 was supported by a majority – Grainger, Rosenstock, Hutchins strongly supported it, Loya was in favor with a few changes, Cheng liked Option 1 best. They all supported the “departure” that would require. As for the street concept, there were lingering concerns that it’s too car-centric, as bicyclists have relied and will rely on that route, and pedestrian usage will undoubtedly increase too. Chapman noted that a “dedicated bike lane” is planned for Fauntleroy and that would likely take the pressure off 36th.

Grainger noted the visibility of the northeast corner and hoped for more landscaping detail there. Hutchins said partly below-grade units along SW Oregon made him wonder if the ground level there should be retail rather than residential.

Though materials don’t usually play a Design Review role until the next phase of the process, the project team asked for some early feedback on “potential material families.”

Finally – in discussing important principles, “active transportation” surfaced again, as did energy efficiency.

The board voted unanimously to advance the project to the second stage of Design Review. They expressed caution about the longest sides of the building and an interest in seeing them broken into “more human-scale” size. They also said they would like to see the bike-storage area moved closer to 36th rather than being off Oregon.

WHAT’S NEXT: The second building (at right in rendering above), 4440 Fauntleroy Way SW, will get its first review at 4 pm August 20th – go here for info on how to watch/participate. The first building will get at least one more review, date TBA. You can send project comments to

26 Replies to "Design Review goes online, starting with West Seattle mixed-use building 4406 36th SW"

  • Dan August 8, 2020 (7:31 pm)

    South lake union look, I for one dislike the bulk, and continue to be concerned about the west Seattle infrastructure which seems fragile at best.Too bad the promise during the urban village “sale” back when promised that we would continue to have a neighborhood feel ,  appreciate the Sweeney family trying to be  creative, but lipstick on a pig is still …    

  • kram August 8, 2020 (8:18 pm)

    Looks great!Can’t please everyone.

  • Cogburn August 8, 2020 (8:20 pm)

    Do you think that with the bridge out we could take a break from building WS to the max? 

    • WSB August 8, 2020 (8:32 pm)

      Even if this process proceeded at full speed, the building wouldn’t be open for at least 3 years, more likely 4. If repair is the course of action – and so far, as we’ve reported, that’s still in the realm of things – the bridge would reopen long before this is open.

    • Peter August 9, 2020 (3:03 pm)

      The bridge being closed does not change the fact that we are suffering an extreme housing shortage. Using the bridge as an excuse to not build housing is total idiocy. 

    • Vote Herbold Out August 9, 2020 (11:54 pm)

      100% agree – I don’t want to hear boo hoo about timelines. There should be a freeze on all new high occupancy building in West Seattle until resolution on getting in/out is clear and funded. I don’t care about housing shortage – it’ll have to be built elsewhere for the time being. In 6 months 35% of us won’t be able to pay rent/mortgages anyway. 

  • Plf August 8, 2020 (8:50 pm)

    Yes but the construction, the traffic will be miserable i must agree with dan, the infrastructure never seems to be part of the equation, unless I am not aware.  More toilets, more electrical use, water use etcwe have had lots of issues and seems like the fragility of the infrastructure should be part of the equation for increase density

    • JW August 10, 2020 (8:21 am)

      The infrastructure regarding utilities is a red herring.  Due to efficiency standards including “Energy Star” electric  appliances and “Water Saver” plumbing fixtures as well as environmental concerns by citizens (no more summer daily lawn sprinklers) as well as the efficiency of new electronics, there is less stress on utilities.  New developments are required to make improvements when they hook into the systems.  Rain gardens and infiltration requirements now reduce the load of water runoff that in much of existing homes is still  hardlined to the sanitary sewer, causing the storm surge overflows into Puget Sound.  Multifamily housing is also inherently more efficient than single family residences.The only infrastructure with insurmountable problems is our fully built-out road system, which we can’t increase.  Our car culture is the problem that affects and costs us the most.  Our current dilemmas, COVID and WS Bridge, are spurring a dramatic change in car use and transportation practices that may be heralding the future of a denser more livable West Seattle. 

  • JKK August 8, 2020 (9:56 pm)

    WS is over-full. Stop being greedy.  No wonder the bridge broke.  Too many cars and traffic of all kinds sitting in traffic because it can’t handle the doubling of cars and transit sitting in traffic on the bridge.  Too many people.  12 years ago when I moved here I didn’t want to live anywhere else. It was a small town feel with a neighborhood blog that would basically tell you if your neighbor sneezed.   Lots of non-chain restaurants and a lot of charm.   Now it’s like we live In a mini downtown seattle.  If I wanted to live where there is no grass.  I would not live here.  Every square inch of lawn or free space is being built on and above that.  People are living on top of each other.   This is not NYC.   They have overbuilt this area are ruined it.  So annoyed. Too many people and rude people with the “ME” mentality on top of that.  Can not wait to get out of here.  

    • AMD August 9, 2020 (11:18 am)

      This isn’t New York, but it is still a city.  It sounds like you’d be happier living in the suburbs.  I moved here because it’s what I could afford at the time (there’s no way I could afford to buy here now).  West Seattle shouldn’t be a suburban bedroom community just for those want and can afford to have the amenities of a city without the density that comes with it.  This area is not even CLOSE to over-built.  There is plenty of room for more density, more neighbors, and there will be more opportunities to buy decently-priced used housing as the better-off flock to the new construction.  I’m all for it.

    • Tsurly August 9, 2020 (1:35 pm)

      “Too many people and rude people with the “ME” mentality on top of that.”

      Pot meet kettle.

  • Don_Brubeck August 8, 2020 (9:57 pm)

    36th from Avalon to Alaska is a key bike route to the Spokane Street Bridge and downtown.  This street plan with angle parking is dangerous. If the Fauntleroy Boulevard Project with protected bike lanes is not built before this project goes in for land use permits without major changes to make it safe for biking: expect appeals and delays. 

  • 22blades August 9, 2020 (5:47 am)

    I agree with many of the posters above. 4 years of construction chaos is nothing to dismiss, especially with a challenged access issue. Ironically, they’re tearing down a lumber yard & having to truck supplies in from outside West Seattle… on the same roads that are overburdened. I think it will impact bicycle traffic significantly making alternative transportation just lip service. Even with the bridge reopened, West Seattle can’t handle the increased burden on it’s infrastructure. It was bad before the bridge went down. Look how easily our Fire & Police assets were stretched with the bridge out. Lastly, I think the City of Seattle needs to take a serious look at the post pandemic economy & growth figures; it’s a new world. Deal with it.

  • Busrider August 9, 2020 (8:12 am)

    I agree. Angle parking is dangerous for pedestrians and bikes. Street width is too wide. 36 th is commonly used by cyclists to avoid riding on. 35th.Also How are they intending to manage storm water ? Any green infrastructure? Given sites use as lumber recommend incorporating evergreens .

  • Metro August 9, 2020 (8:25 am)

    In option  2 would the mid block path be in line with the passageway of the apartment complex on35th. That passageway is often used by bus riders getting off and walking up to 36th rather than the dark stairway on south side of building. It would be nice to have a connection go through.

  • KM August 9, 2020 (8:42 am)

    If there is room for back-in angle parking (sigh) and parking on both sides of the street, there is room for bike facilities and wider sidewalks. The boardwalk/set back is cool, but cannot take place of a sidewalk due to the height difference. 

  • Mj August 9, 2020 (8:58 am)

    Don – back in angled street parking is far safer and needs to be signed accordingly.

  • Christine August 9, 2020 (9:12 am)

    It’s absurd to add any new housing in West Seattle when it could take up to a decade to replace the West Seattle Bridge. I appreciate the thoughtful design of this but our now “island” cannot accommodate another set of car driving people. How can we, as West Seattle residents, stop the development and make the West Seattle Bridge a REAL priority for the city?

    • JW August 9, 2020 (10:52 am)

      The bridge already is a priority for the city.  Stopping development will make no significant difference.  The car problem will not be solved with a new bridge.  Only a change in personal choices and  mass transportation offer alternatives to sitting in gridlock.

    • Peter August 9, 2020 (3:10 pm)

      Gee, thanks for lumping all of us together in your short sighted view that we don’t need more housing. “We” as West Seattle residents should recognize our extreme housing shortage and support housing construction. 

  • Brian August 9, 2020 (9:16 am)

    West Seattle is nowhere close to “full”. Any street other than 35th and California is single family homes and very little density. We have a lot of room to grow here and open up West Seattle for more people to enjoy it. Additional housing is key to keeping West Seattle somewhat affordable and making it a place for a diverse group of people to live. Glad to see this area being developed. There’s a lot of potential here and I’m excited to see what it becomes

    • 22blades August 9, 2020 (9:41 am)

      I am not aware of that much undeveloped land so I am assuming you mean re-zone, demolish & rebuild UP. I suppose you would like to zone out single family residences. I disagree: West Seattle is full. Besides that, there is movement out of West Seattle residences who don’t want to give 5 to 10 years of their life, the kids growing up, or time away from a commute. There’s no “new development”. If you want “affordable”, you’re in the wrong city until it gets it’s act together. Diverse residence starts with fair, equitable lending & zoning replacement laws. Prime example of this is what happened in the Central District when the light rail displaced locals. It suddenly became the hot place to condemn & “invest”. “Diversity” is whitewash. If you have a disdain for “Single Family” homes, so be it, but don’t call my home an underdeveloped opportunity by calling my street “not Full”.

      • JW August 9, 2020 (3:15 pm)

        Wrong there is absolutely new development taking place in West Seattle.  Examples include areas of High Point, the group of 15 new homes off of the 2700 block of Holden, new development on vacant Delridge addresses, new group development on 23rd Pigeon Point,  even Alki is breaking ground on new homes and the new group of houses on the undeveloped section of Beach Drive SW, and innumerable new residences of of legally divided parcels, not to mention DADUs which are new development.  Many of the so called or assumed “green spaces” of West Seattle are actually private property awaiting development.  I have developed multiple infill residences on vacant West Seattle parcels and own several more.  The property we have inhabited for the last 25 years at the top of Gatewood is nearly 20,000 sq ft., far to large for in-city from an urbanist viewpoint.  West Seattle is no where near fully built out, but I support the rezoning and housing for environmental reasons.   In our times, the former West Seattle as suburbia is no longer feasible. As far as claims to any particular street, no West Seattleites are having property condemned, razed and rebuilt without full complicity and likely obscene profits.  If your neighbors choose to sell or redevelop their property to suit todays’ world, they should not be prevented from doing so.  Any talk of diverse residential housing in West Seattle should take into account the unforgivable history of racist redlining in our community.

  • wseaturtle August 9, 2020 (9:58 am)

    Very sad to see Alki Lumber close.  This completes the monopoly of Home Depot, and their limited supply of junk.  Alki lumber will be missed. Dunn is a 30 minute drive. This sucks.

    • WSB August 9, 2020 (12:25 pm)

      To be clear, if you missed previous coverage – the family that owns Alki Lumber is the family that owns the property and is choosing to redevlop it. They were looking for a new location for the lumberyard; the hardware store is to be part of the new development.

  • Susan August 10, 2020 (8:57 am)

    Not sure I saw anything about garages. What are the number of spaces they are planning? Is there an affordable housing component? There is a shortage of senior housing in West Seattle, and the majority have waiting lists. I’d like to stay in West Seattle as I age. Are there any plans for low to medium income subsidization by the city of some of these 500 units? Is planned light rail going to be near this development?

Sorry, comment time is over.