The two-building “Sweeney Blocks” megaproject in the West Seattle Triangle is halfway through the final stage of Design Review – the east building, at 4406 36th SW, got unanimous approval tonight from the Southwest Design Review Board, which will review the west building in two weeks. Here’s the “design packet” from the meeting:
Four board members were present – John Cheng, who chaired the meeting, along with Johanna Lirman, Patrick Cobb, and Alan Grainger. They were joined by the city planner assigned to the project, Sean Conrad.
PROJECT PRESENTATION: Developer Ed Hewson introduced architect Jenny Chapman, both West Seattleites, as well as property-owner rep Lynn Sweeney, saying, “We’re excited about how this turned out.” Sweeney said she was representing “the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations” of her family, who continue to operate Alki Lumber and hope this will be a “livable, walkable, new community center in the West Seattle Triangle.” It’s been almost three years since the family announced they were “exploring alternatives” for the property.
Chapman, of Ankrom Moisan, presented the design for the “east side of the Sweeney Blocks,” approximately 284 units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space, 162 offstreet-parking spaces, on a site zoned Neighborhood Commercial 3-75. She described how the design team had revised its work to respond to concerns voiced by the board in its first look at the project in August 2020 (WSB coverage here) – including breaking up what board members worried would be too long of a facade. The exterior of the building has features meant to evoke the “stacked lumber” of the Sweeneys’ legacy business. She handed off to David Cutler of Northwest Studio, which has focused on the “urban design” of 36th SW – what surrounds the building. So they’ve added “tabletops” and removed the previously proposed angle-in parking. He showed two walkway options – saying the second was the project team’s preference, featuring “boardwalks” and various community features.
They believe “36th can be one of the great neighborhood streets” with that option. In addition, Chapman spoke of features including “barn doors” that would be a reference to the original lumberyard (for which the Sweeneys have indicated they’ll seek a new location). They’re also proposing a lobby entry that would be a “singular architectural element”:
They’ve also designed outdoor meeting spaces to feature small areas rather than one large gathering space, saying that seems more in line with recent trends.
Another note: They would like the signage considered an art piece – the legacy neon sign – rather than signage. But it might fit better on the west building, which will be reviewed in two weeks. Here are potential placements on this building, meantime:
For departures (zoning exceptions), they’re seeking three – one involves setbacks on the upper floors, another for a “small amount of blank facade, and a small change in the amount of window space.
BOARD QUESTIONS: Cobb asked about the placement of the boardwalks; Chapman explained that the street is unusually wide, so that shaped the decision. Grainger also had questions about the streetscape – sidewalk access in particular – and wondered about an area for the rental bikes and scooters so common throughout the city, and where package-delivery vehicles would stop. Lirman asked about the LUMBER sign – though it’s shown in two possible places, it’ll just be placed in one, the project team clarified, and it’ll be a replica only if size restrictions or conditions make the original not reusable. A replica would use neon and would resemble the original sign as much as possible.
PUBLIC COMMENT: Planner Conrad quickly summarized a variety of comments he had received previously and sent to the board in a pre-meeting memo. Since his memo, two email comments had come in, one supporting the project, another asking that a tree and retaining wall at apartments east of the site be kept. No one signed up to speak during the meeting.
BOARD DELIBERATION: Cobb said the presentation had seemed shorter than the project deserved given its size, and wanted to hear more about landscaping. Concerns were voiced that some of the courtyard landscaping might not have much access to light, so they hoped the plant/tree species chosen would survive that. Grainger wanted to be sure the streetscape wasn’t going to seem “walled off.” Other concerns: Bike entry, alley, signage. Grainger was worried that transit users coming up from 35th would face an accessibility challenge, suggesting the building needs a better entry on that side, closer to the midblock connection. Board members agreed to support consideration of the LUMBER sign as an art piece, while emphasizing that the north wall needs some kind of sign regardless of whether it’s that one. Regarding the material palette, Lirman wondered if it included too many different types – 16, by Cobb’s count, and he said he too believed “there’s too much going on.” The board’s recommendations are flagging this as a concern. As for the 36th SW streetscape, the project team’s preferred design got support. Lirman said it was something of a “Portland Pearl District vibe.” They supported the revised massing (size/shape/placement on site) of the building and the proposed departures. They then voted unanimously in support of clearing the project out of Design Review.
WHAT’S NEXT: Planner Conrad continues working on the project review, including non-design aspects – you can send him comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meantime, the second and potentially final review for the west Sweeney building, 4440 Fauntleroy Way SW, is at 5 pm November 18th, online; attendance/commenting info is here.