DEVELOPMENT: Aegis Living plan for 5252 California SW sails through first Southwest Design Review look

(Massing rendering of Option 3 for 5252 California SW, by Ankrom Moisan)

In their second online meeting of the night – after months with no meetings at all – the Southwest Design Review Board gave the Aegis Living plan for 5252 California SW approval to move into the next phase of the review process.

The first phase of Design Review is about “massing” – buildings’ size and shape – and this project is a lot larger than what’s around the site right now, so that was a major factor in the discussion. The meeting was led by SWDRB chair Patrick Cobb (Fauntleroy), with board members Alan Grainger (Fauntleroy), Johanna Lirman (North Admiral), and Gavin Schaefer (Camp Long area)=. From the city Department of Construction and Inspections, the project’s assigned planner Theresa Neylon was there. Here’s how the meeting went:

ARCHITECT’S PRESENTATION: Some background on Aegis Living was given by the company’s development director Bryon Ziegler at the start, including that the company’s 4700 SW Admiral Way complex is usually “at or near capacity.” He showed some of the company’s other buildings and explained how they plan for this one to take on the Living Building Challenge. He introduced Jenny Chapman of Ankrom Moisan, who identified herself as a West Seattle resident. (If you’ve seen the design packet, she noted the presentation had been reorganized but included the same information.) As we’ve been reporting, they’re looking at 100 units – one-third memory care, the rest assisted living – 750 sf of commercial space, and parking for 40 cars. She also recapped the site – vacant buildings across from West Seattle Nursery.

The Living Building Pilot Program, Chapman said, is an “ambitious … sustainability” program, and it would allow them to add height and bulk to the project. It requires seven areas of compliance and “enhanced compliance” on three of them. In city guidelines, they are emphasizing three that focus on both open space and how the project interacts with the streetscape. The site has a 12′ grade change. Here are the three massing options she presented – first with an “central courtyard,” second “traditional” with alley-facing courtyard, third “sculpted”:

The preferred massing scheme, #3, would have a central lobby and underground parking, plus a west-facing courtyard, plus the most setback from the alley. It provides more views and daylight “while being most sensitive to neighboring properties,” Chapman said. The west-facing courtyard reduces the massing along California, she added, and “provides a wonderful entry sequence from the dropoff to the front door.” Materials are mostly addressed in the second phase of Design Review, but early consideration is being given to using brick in the ground-floor mix.

Reese Cowan Stewart briefly presented some of the landscaping information – street trees along California would be kept, and some would be introduced along Brandon. (The packet has other landscaping details.)

BOARD CLARIFYING QUESTIONS: Cobb asked whether the courtyard will be secured or open to the public. Likely the latter, as it’s a transition zone from the sidewalk to the entry, Chapman said. “It’s a porch, but won’t have a gate across it,” Ziegler added. Grainger wanted more details about the setback – how far back the southeast corner is from the alley line, for example. Answer: 30 feet. Grainger also wondered if a canopy shown in the packet as a “concept image” was representative. “We’re pretty early in the design,” Ziegler said, but they’re interested in feedback. Lirman wanted more information on an aspect of the second level; Chapman explained that because some of the residents will be people in memory care, there are certain regulations for a specific outdoor space serving them. Lirman also wondered about the “materiality”; Ziegler reiterated that the Aegis ownership wants the building to be “very lush and green,” so they’re working with that in mind. Schaefer asked for the intent of the “extra stepping”/terracing on the east side, and Chapman said it’s an attempt to show the most sensitivity to the “lower zone” (single-family homes) on that side – with the terracing, she explained, the building “performs” as if it were a story lower than it will be. “On all sides of the building we’re trying to get as much access to light and air” as possible.

PUBLIC COMMENT: Before the meeting, staff said, they received nine design-related comments. They were summarized as several questions as well as a request for a “visual impact analysis” for adjacent neighbors, as well as a concern that the building is out of scale for the area. Other comments included, they summarized, parking concerns, equity, increased density, and other issues. SDOT and Seattle Public Utilities technical-requirement comments were read into the record too. Then the floor was turned over to attendee comments. Three were written to be read by staff. First one, whether the project fits into the intention of the zoning (NC2-40). The commenter said that the building “seems massive and out of scale” with the smaller commercial buildings nearby and doesn’t offer architectural elements to “buffer” the neighboring homes. The second commenter asked “Does anyone care how this giant building affects the residents nearby?” They feared more traffic, noise, and vegetation loss. The third commenter also thought the building should be shorter and said, “Ironically you talk about adding solar panels while you overshadow the homes around you.”

BOARD DELIBERATION: Cobb started with concerns about the courtyard’s light and noise and whether “the stepping really is relating to” the homes to the east. Grainger expressed appreciation for the project team providing three distinct options (after an earlier meeting about another project did not honor that requirement). He also expressed alley-facing concerns and a thought that the courtyard ‘deserves a little more study.” The west-facing garden spaces will get a lot of light and exposure in the summer and should take that into account, he added. Lirman repeated an earlier concern about exterior materials. Schaefer was concerned about an overhang that might conflict with the windows, and expressed appreciation for some aspects including the landscaping. He thought the exterior materials might help with the scale of the building where it faced the neighbors to the east. Cobb also thought it was notable that the first floor, in a largely commercial zone, is largely dedicated to “residential activity.” Grainger noted that much of it would be dining space and so not that different from, say, a streetside restaurant. (Chapman soon explained that the zoning is NC2-40 “without a P – pedestrian – designation, so retail is not required.”)

Cobb circled back around to the height/scale comments from attendees. Lirman suggested the project actually is doing a lot to try to mitigate the neighborhood effects, “maybe overdoing it,” with the setbacks and tiers. “From my point of view I think they’re taking the neighborhood context into consideration.” Cobb agreed. He also wondered about simplification. Lirman thought the “tiered garden look” was appealing and that “paying careful attention to materials” especially on the east side would help. Grainger suggested that future discussion of the planned materials and “landscaped shelves” will clarify things. Further discussion included advice to more closely examine how people arriving at the building will get into it – whether they need weather protection, for example. Cobb said he takes solace in having seen, and been impressed by, other Aegis buildings and other work by Ankrom Moisan.

They voted 4-0 to allow the project to advance to the second stage of Design Review, adding that they support Option 3.

WHAT’S NEXT: The final Design Review meeting will be scheduled when the project team is ready (the board only meets when the city assigns them a project to consider). In the meantime, there will be a comment period when the application for a land-use permit is submitted; you can also comment any time on any aspect of the project by emailing

8 Replies to "DEVELOPMENT: Aegis Living plan for 5252 California SW sails through first Southwest Design Review look"

  • MassiveAttack February 3, 2023 (12:18 am)

    I’ll take massive and beautiful over the eyesore that’s currently been sitting there for years.

    • SLN February 3, 2023 (2:33 pm)

      Yeah for real. The public comments are disingenuous and classic NIMBY lines. It’s disappointing to see these ideas overrepresented in the record.

  • Barbara February 3, 2023 (4:47 am)

    The Living Building Pilot program needs to include glass solutions to avoid bird crash death. See

  • Conjunction Junction February 3, 2023 (12:22 pm)

    I listened to the whole meeting, and the discussion about outside space. I wonder if Aegis or the architects have looked at how much the outside space at either Admiral Heights or their Aegis on Admiral (or Brookdale Avalon, Kenney, etc if they have outside spaces) are actually used.   I find that many elderly people find these terraces too cold to enjoy.  Maybe they need to look at a 3 season room type of option.

    I don’t love how big this building is either but it seems inevitable that it will be built, and set backs will help.  I know Aegis thinks they are approaching this process sincerely, but as one of the Board mentioned, it feels a lot like pandering and making it too complicated. At this point they are really down in the weeds and need to take a step back.  I did like how they related the courtyard and the raised entrance to other buildings on California, and the green aspect.

    Oh, and Aegis and team, if you are listening, what about moving that “retail” spot to the corner of Brandon and California, invite a coffee shop, and put out chairs like Ladro or C&P.   A perfect example would be Olympia up by Charlestown.  Then we (neighbors) will be more likely to gather, walk, and interact with your community, not just notice its there.  I’m not sure why you need the exercise room or salon  in a prime retail location.  By shoving it in on the North side, you are dooming it to be a rotating string of businesses.  See all the mid block business up and down California, and just North of this site for examples. 

    • alki_2008 February 4, 2023 (9:54 pm)

      Another coffee shop? Too much competition for the existing shops you mentioned, and then not enough business for the new one.The residents likely need a salon more than they need a coffee shop. This is a building for elderly folks to live, not a place to serve the more youthful neighbors.

  • Zipda February 3, 2023 (7:28 pm)

    Only 40 parking spaces? I suspect the staff alone will need most of those.I own a rental property very close by with already limited parking on the street, so that issue is concerning,

    • alki_2008 February 4, 2023 (9:55 pm)

      Most of the residents will not be driving or owning cars. This isn’t a regular apartment building. It’s assisted living and memory care!

  • Bryan February 4, 2023 (11:24 am)

    Really wish this would include more retail/commercial than the single 750 sqft space. A single retail spot for a large new development directly on California is disappointing. I get that a lot of the space is for dining for residents, but no one else gets to enjoy that space. Hope the review board pushes them to include more

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