Southwest Design Review Board’s first look at 4448 California SW ends in call for a second try

(WSB photo: Project site in foreground)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The newest mixed-use proposal for The Junction will have to try again for Early Design Guidance approval.

That’s what the Southwest Design Review Board ordered tonight after its first look at the 96-apartment mixed-use plan for 4448 California SW.

SWDRB chair Scott Rosenstock and members John Cheng, Patrick Cobb, and Alan Grainger were in attendance for the online meeting, along with the project’s assigned city planner Greg Johnson. This phase of Design Review focuses on the building’s size. shape, and placement on the site, and board members generally favored the exterior of the development team’s preferred option, but took issue with mostly interior details.

Here’s how the meeting unfolded:

ARCHITECT’S PRESENTATION: Michelle Linden of Atelier Drome led the presentation. She said that “two local residents” have joined with Housing Diversity to develop this project. (The developer listed in online files is Craig Haveson of STS Construction [WSB sponsor].) She noted that this site is just north of the busy heart of The Junction and within walking distance of many amenities. The site is zoned for 75-foot development, which means a transition to 95-foot zoning to the south, 55-foot zoning to the east, but remains smaller in scale than some new projects elsewhere in The Junction. They took design cues from recently approved projects (including the not-yet-built one a few doors south at 4508 California SW). They’re also taking into account the site being one door up from a “gateway corner” that is not set for redevelopment any time soon.

As is mandated for the Early Design Guidance phase, Linden showed three “massing” (size/shape) options:

They were dubbed, left to right above, Shifting Stacks, Erosion, and Pinwheel. Option #2 would compensate for “blank walls” (someday to be hidden by neighboring redevelopment) with murals. The first and third would include a throughway from California SW to the alley on the east side. The third is the development team’s preferred option, with Linden describing it as “playful” – with a concept that might look something like this:

The proposed one-and-a-half-story base (rather than the 20′ in Junction design guidelines) would better honor the area’s scale, Linden said. Breaking the mass into multiple sections would offer “visual interest,” she added. Three commercial spaces would provide a “market hall” experience along the throughway.

Two outdoor amenity spaces – 2nd floor and top floor – are proposed. The complexity of the design would call for a simplified material palette. See the full design packet here or below:

4448 California packet by WestSeattleBlog

BOARD QUESTIONS: Cheng asked about the transition west-to-east because of the lower height to the east. “For our preferred scheme, we have angled the building away from the alley,” Linden replied. Cheng also asked about how the retail massing would relate to the property (including Shadowland restaurant/bar) next door. Linden mentioned an angled, recessed entry that’s a “nod” to the neighbors. Cobb wondered if the throughway could be a little more pedestrian-friendly if the retail spaces were rearranged; “that’s great feedback,” said Linden. Grainger said that with the throughway, “the residential lobby gets lost in all this.” He also wondered about placement of residential units; the current scheme was aimed at “maximiz(ing) the rentable area,” Linden explained, while again welcoming the feedback. How wide would the commercial passageway be? asked Rosenstock. Answer: 10 feet.

PUBLIC COMMENT: Comments that came in via email were summarized by planner Johnson as concern about height and desire for a green roof, plus SDOT comments that the existing curb cut on California has to be removed and an additional street tree is needed, as well as SPU noting that solid-waste collection will have to be on the alley and encouraging on-floor access for all three street treets. There were comments on parking (the project doesn’t include any and isn’t required to), the planner said, but Design Review has no say in that. No one signed up to provide comments during the meeting.

BOARD DELIBERATION: First they listed “hot-button issues”:

Cheng – retail facade/entry, transitioning on east side, blank facade – especially on the south
Cobb – pedestrian passthrough, further development of residential access, unit layout
Grainger – respect for adjacent sites, zone transition, internal passageway being diluted by being almost like street connection
Rosenstock – height of ground floor

Then the detailed discussion: Cheng agreed with the development team that the pinwheel massing is “most intriguing.” Cobb liked that massing architecturally but thought scheme 2’s unit layout seemed “more successful.” Grainger supported scheme 3 but also agreed with Cobb’s observations about “how the building worked inside,” suggesting that some of those features of scheme 2 could be melded with scheme 3’s massing. Rosenstock agreed. Regarding the zone transition from 7 stories on the site to 5 stories across the alley to the east, board members wanted to see more acknowledgment, since the building is proposed “so close to the alley,” in Grainger’s words. Linden said they’re open to stepping the building back and/or down on the alley side. Regarding the facade, Cobb warned about expecting the building to do too much – busy form plus some other sort of decoration could get “messy.” Regarding the massing of the retail level, they discussed nuances of the entry. Grainger reiterated concern that the building seems devoid of a residential entry. Rosenstock agreed that there needs to be more definition of where pedestrians/shoppers/visitors/residents would be going. It’s a safety/security issue, too, he added. As for the height of the ground floor, the issue is whether to design for relating to what’s there, or what will be there in the future. There was no conclusion/concurrence to that dilemma.

All four wanted the project to return for a second try at Early Design Guidance – in short, they liked the exterior looks of massing option #3, but preferred an interior layout closer to option #2. Cobb said it’s a “really prominent location in West Seattle” so deserved close scrutiny.

WHAT’S NEXT: At least two more meetings, dates TBA. Planner Johnson will in the meantime write a report on this one, and that will be posted online along with a recording of the meeting. If you have comments about any aspect of the project, is how to send them to him.

12 Replies to "Southwest Design Review Board's first look at 4448 California SW ends in call for a second try"

  • Marie July 16, 2021 (6:43 am)

    It has a very hard corporate aesthetic. 

  • Matthew July 16, 2021 (8:48 am)

    I have a hard time understanding why another Early Design Guidance meeting was recommended. The presentation and design are thoughtful approaches and it seems like the design board could have made those same recommendations and allowed the design to continue to design review. I’m interested to see the video when it’s released. 

  • JVP July 16, 2021 (9:14 am)

    Why on earth is the DRB getting into “how the building works inside”? Way outside their scope. Can they really know in one 90 minute meeting better than one the architects have been noodling over for months? 

    The process is broken, and makes buildings too expensive, therefore making reasonable rents impossible. Also knocks off any possibility of creative designs, the owners just go in with what they think can get past this groupthink mess of a process. 

    • Peter July 16, 2021 (9:39 am)

      Agreed. It seems like the review process is designed to reduce and delay housing construction, and this at a time when our city, state, and nation are suffering an extreme and worsening housing shortage. 

      • Kram July 16, 2021 (10:28 am)

        These are exactly the sort of incentives the city can offer to raise the odds of affordable apartments. Expediting permits (top of the line for offering under market rate), expedited design review, less permit fees, etc. Instead the process takes years from concept to building and now we add MHA on top. It seems to me the city just doesn’t really want under market rate rents.

      • Joe Z July 16, 2021 (10:45 am)

        Yep, the DRB guidance amounts to rearranging the deck chairs. They shouldn’t be allowed to delay the project — board members often have conflicts of interest with competing development firms. Their power needs to get stripped away and limited to non-binding advisory guidance on aesthetics only. 

        • WSB July 16, 2021 (11:13 am)

          Datapoint: Fast Design Review is not necessarily the gateway to fast construction, We have two long-approved projects in The Junction (one that cleared Design Review two years ago, one that cleared DR more than a year and a half ago) that have yet to break ground.

          • Joe Z July 16, 2021 (11:23 am)

            Thanks — good point. Design review is a popular scapegoat right now but it’s not the only challenge. It’s just sad how superficial and pointless the feedback is. 

    • halica July 16, 2021 (10:30 am)

      To provide some context to why the DRB was considering the interior space – it’s a part of the current (2013) Seattle Citywide Design Guide. Details are on page 21, but essentially the aspects that the board raised concerns on are fully within their scope and to not raise them would be a breach of the board’s stated responsibilities.

      I think it’s important to remember that the collective design of a building has a huge impact on the daily lives of the thousands of people who will live in the building over the years. I think it’s fair to say we all want our homes, rented or owned, to be thoughtfully designed to ensure safety, flexible functionality and a sense of belonging. So while, yes, it can be frustrating that projects take time because this area needs more housing now/10 years ago, it seems to me that it is time well spent that yields results for decades to come. 

      A note based on personal experience:  I lived in multiple apartments in WS before purchasing a home and encountered situations where more thought about the experience future renters would have would have been nice. Everything from confusing residential entrances that lead to unsafe lobbies and mailrooms to poorly thought out hallways, package rooms and more.  These decisions affect so many lives, and with the environmental impact that comes with building new structures, it is important to get it right the first time. :)

      • Steve July 16, 2021 (11:11 am)

        These are all good points, Halica. Thank you for raising them!
        With online orders showing up on our doorsteps within an hour, I think people lose sight of the fact that big projects can require careful planning and consideration.

  • Andrea July 16, 2021 (12:36 pm)

    I guarantee you building this is not helping the homeless crisis. 

  • JohnW July 17, 2021 (1:18 pm)

    I too, guarantee this building will not solve the homeless crisis.  The addition of nearly a hundred units of housing where before the was none is a small drop in the trickle down, but it does address housing shortage.Common sense logic and simple math do guarantee that the results of more housing availability will be less people homeless.   

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