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 email@example.com.