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RSS icon Comments on City Design Review Board Undermines Denny


Sadly, since the 14 acres of downtown from Denny south won't be developed soon - the firm that owns most of that area has a big cash crunch - we won't be seeing many 40 or more story buildings anytime soon.

I agree that not having ground level retail is a bad decision, but am more concerned by the lack of greenspace around the buildings in the designs.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 15, 2008 3:05 PM

You're a twat, Will.

This is a tragic decision. Even Aurora has small-scale retail along its best stretches, at least until the traffic engineers get to it. They're turning Denny into a freeway -- gridlocked just like I-5 on a July 4th Friday, too.

Posted by Fnarf | May 15, 2008 3:20 PM

That's disgusting.

Posted by w7ngman | May 15, 2008 3:21 PM

It would be comforting to know that whatever ends up on the ground floor, could be retrofitted in the future to accomidate retail.

Posted by faf | May 15, 2008 3:30 PM

Exhibit #1 as to why Design Review is no replacement for SEPA (or anything else in the Land Use Code) - it doesn't address any issues of significance, and is not even binding on those relatively trivial matters that actually do fall under its purview.

Posted by Mr. X | May 15, 2008 3:32 PM

And it's a fucking ugly building too.

Posted by keshmeshi | May 15, 2008 3:34 PM

I wish Seattle would design outrageous, decadent, lavish and distinctive penthouses on their high-rise residences like Vancouver does. Instead the only difference between the penthouse and the floor below it is that it is one story higher.

case in point:

Posted by jeff | May 15, 2008 3:36 PM

What is it about traffic engineers in Seattle?

I don't just mean the obvious gridlock. I mean, don't the seem overly, you know, creative? Like streets that are open or closed to traffic at various nutty hours. Or intersections that you have to have grown up in the city to read properly. Squirrely, weird, incomprehensible shit.

People expect staid banality in road design, and Seattle street design is so punk rock. And not in a good way.

Posted by elenchos | May 15, 2008 3:36 PM

Umm, I see people walking and biking on Denny all the time. It's in the middle of the city; it needs to be walkable.

Unless they'd like their 800-car garage to be broken into on a daily basis.

Posted by tabletop_joe | May 15, 2008 3:38 PM

Oh yeah. And that building looks like something Patrick Nagle would envision if he thought of buildings instead of women.

Posted by tabletop_joe | May 15, 2008 3:39 PM

Keep an eye peeled for more designs squeezed out with retail missing, since that segment of the commercial leasing economy is showing strong signs of tanking, which is starting to scare developers quite a bit. They can all see how those nimrods at Cristalla got stuck with a somehow unleasable retail space on the prime corner of Second and Lenora.
With so many developers still competing for the disappearing high-end condo buyer, they may try to avoid pedestrian-friendly retail until they are more certain they can get long-term leases with more posh-friendly tenants than Nails Etc. or Subway.

Posted by tomasyalba | May 15, 2008 3:49 PM

It is pure Miami architecture. Having said that, I kind of like Miama architecture, but we should have a distictive Seattle style. Vancouver has a distinctive style, more or less. And yes they do stress the penthouses. They also have lots of glass to offset the overcast northwest gloom.

Posted by jomama | May 15, 2008 3:51 PM

I dunno, Elenchos, but you're right. The city seems to have an obsession with intersections where each lane is allowed to do one thing and one thing only, but you have no way of knowing what those things are unless you've been driving through them all your life -- and even then, they're in the process of changing them now. You can almost hear the screams of "but I don't want to go to fucking Ballard now!!!" from here.

A lot of it is terrain. There's something to be said for the SF approach of just laying the grid on top of the hills and to hell with it, instead of trying to wind around everything like we do.

But in general the city transportation people think all streets are essentially freeways. They're always trying to remove street parking, time lights, make turns illegal, force pedestrians to cross, etc. Aurora is the biggest victim of this mentality; the city really wishes all the storefront retail would just disappear forever and turn into big boxes with vast parking lots, accessible by widely-spaced arterial cross streets.

Posted by Fnarf | May 15, 2008 3:53 PM

"Falconer excused the lack of retail on Denny, saying that there was no place for to park cars. But with 800 (!!!) below-grade parking spots in the proposed development, his assertion seems ludicrous. "

Being that this set of towers will be 400 feet tall with "thousands of new residents and office workers.", how do you justify the comment that it is ludicrous for retail? Where are all those extra retail folks supposed to park? Or in your vision are they all going to be merrily skipping along as pedestrians?

You really believe with the barriers created by I 5 and all the traffic, that folks will walk down steep hills from the Cap Hill neighborhoods to wander around some monstrous towers to shop?

Sorry but there will be many people who have at least 1 and possibly 2 vehicles that will be buying those ultra expensive condos. They will use up all 800 spaces in a heartbeat. How many condo units and/or hotel rooms are in that complex?

You think 800 will be more than sufficient to also handle all that AND the additional retail traffic?


Don't think so.

Posted by Reality Check | May 15, 2008 3:55 PM

@6 and @7 have good points, but Fnarf continues in his delusion that on-street parking is not going to continue to disappear even faster as density grows.

That said, one way to implement ground-level retail in a low-retail-investment cycle is to reimagine it. Although cash flow into REITs is increasing, the higher scrutiny level makes it a hard sell nowadays (delaying the funding cycle) for development, and there's a backlog of scared bankers to work thru, so you need to look at other choices like semi-retail spaces - set up with the facilities to convert to full retail, but with the spaces designed for other uses to get the financing thru, like ground-level daycares, barbers, groceries - not so much shops. Easier to get funding for uses that aren't so economy-dependent.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 15, 2008 4:06 PM

Denny sucks for retail. The high traffic curb lane makes it too unpleasant (see also NE 45th St) . Yes people walk it but only to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. They would have to redesign the whole streetscape to make it viable

Posted by jonglix | May 15, 2008 4:14 PM

you all know what i was going to say so i'll save it for when it really counts.

btw; I agree with Mr. X on this one.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 4:27 PM

The 800 units in the two buildings themselves seem like a good start for a clientele. Not to mention the thousands of other nearby units. People won't have to come down the hill. This thing is a shithole, and destroys the possibility of civic life. Ugh.

Will, you're a fucking colostomy bag of anti-information. Go away.

Posted by Fnarf | May 15, 2008 4:28 PM

Turn those podiums into free-access greenspaces. Put up escalators and let people go up there and chill.

Posted by AJ | May 15, 2008 4:30 PM

uh, this project is waaaaaaaaay too big for that lot and where are the plans to improve traffic flow and mass transit? Mayor McCheese and the Developers That Be are determined to densify the city at any cost. Denny is already a traffic mess. I haven't heard of any plans to improve the situation to accomodate the thousands of new residents and workers in that area.

Also, this building is dumb and ugly.

I love Seattle and it's complete lack of intelligent urban planning.

Posted by michael strangeways | May 15, 2008 4:33 PM

denny will never get better if someone doesn't put retail on it.

i'd rather see 2 SLENDER towers than these 2 choads.

Posted by max solomon | May 15, 2008 4:33 PM

@20, thats because theres never been anyone in a position to be accountable for a lack of urban planning.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 4:43 PM

Dominic, Fnarf, Max Solomon et al are correct.

Posted by David Sucher | May 15, 2008 4:56 PM

anyone else seeing the Space needle vanish from that vantage point of Capitol Hill when this goes up and that old folks home is finished? No more turning off of Olive on to Denny and seeing the Mountains, water, and Space needle

Posted by :: shawn :: | May 15, 2008 4:58 PM

@17 - I'm glad you agree we need more 40-100 story residential rental apartment buildings surrounded by greenspace.


You were going to say that, weren't you?

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 15, 2008 4:59 PM

Ha ha! Mayor McCheese.

Posted by Justin J | May 15, 2008 5:02 PM

@24 - no, not really, it's a preserved view.

At least, until the Mayor accedes to Bill Gates or Paul Allen wanting to build taller buildings.

(you know it'll happen)

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 15, 2008 5:02 PM

ha! i was going to moan about how its ludicrous to have a government bureaucracy that never to rarely gets it right dictate what property developers should and shouldn't do.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 5:03 PM

oh, well, that's an interesting viewpoint then, @28.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 15, 2008 5:04 PM

Will, Avon don't want you up in them towers no more. You in the Pit now. Go get with Bodie.

Posted by elenchos | May 15, 2008 5:12 PM


Yeah, we'll also lose the view of the EMP. Somehow I don't mind so much.

Posted by keshmeshi | May 15, 2008 5:27 PM


Posted by Fnarf | May 15, 2008 5:34 PM

So many Libertarians in Seattle

Posted by AJ | May 15, 2008 5:37 PM

Can we just call Libertarians "non-evangelical Republicans"? Too long?

PS Who chooses who is on the design review board? Can we get Dominic on there? For fun, can we get Will in Seattle on there too? (39 stories? TOO SHORT!)

Posted by poppy | May 15, 2008 5:50 PM

#24, #31: the Space Needle, EMP, et al. are north of Denny (as are most angles to the mountains?) so their view from Denny itself wouldn't be obstructed by this building, which is south of Denny.

You would, however, lose the view of Cornish!

Posted by w7ngman | May 15, 2008 5:55 PM


With lines like "A lack of sidewalk activity makes for a dull and dangerous street" and "Shoppers and workers make the street lively and keep an eye out for public safety"...

... It's hard to tell that you were ever (or still are) an opponent of the war on drugs. Exactly what are the "eyes on the street" really looking out for? Violent crime, which is at a 30 or 40 year low? I don't think so.

Posted by Trevor | May 15, 2008 6:03 PM

@8 and 13 - some of the problem is also a result of the competing Denny/Boren street grids - with one running largely north/south and the other more dictated by topography and often running diagonally.

That said, the City's unwillingness to do left turn only lights would be a good example of planning that undermines effective traffic flow (in re that - there's a proposal to eliminate the peak hour parking restrictions on the 11th/12th Ave NE and Roosevelt couplet to put in a bike lane. The Cascade bike club doesn't like it because they think they'll be doored, and drivers are gonna hate it because it will jam rush hour up even more than it is. Talk about the worst of both worlds!)

@20 and 22 - there used to be a Planning Department that was separate from the Building Department, but they were combined in the name of "simplification" or some such thing (you know, kind of like the Mayor and Council just rationalized eliminating SEPA reviews for smaller projects in Urban Centers because we have Design Review).

@17 (Mr. X faints) :)

Posted by Mr. X | May 15, 2008 6:13 PM

Now Trevor, you ignorant slut, just stop and think about what a stupid remark you just made.

Posted by asfsf | May 15, 2008 6:15 PM

If i put a can of PBR under your nose will it revive you?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 6:17 PM

further stated; i support actual rules put down on paper rather than the opinions of appointed officials on "design and planning"

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 6:21 PM

If supporting development of condos in the city core, rather then having people spend the same amount to buy a house in the sprawl of the suburbs makes one a Libertarian, then Vancouver is the Libertarian capital of the world. Who the hell would not want to live in Vancouver?

Posted by afsf | May 15, 2008 6:22 PM

lmao at elenchos and the wire reference

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 15, 2008 7:07 PM

That building is ugly as sin, and I think the type of development in that area is kind of awful.

But who cares about denny? Shouldn't Fairview and Stewart (and maybe Dexter??) be part of this discussion instead of Denny?

People are not going to be walking up Capitol Hill. They're going to be walking to the lake or downtown.

Posted by Fuck Denny | May 15, 2008 7:18 PM

Goddamn those buildings are ugly.

Do we have the least inspired architecture in the world?

Jesus H.

Posted by Ryan | May 15, 2008 7:36 PM

God are these really that bad? I think they will look fantastic in context and do a great job in as a counterpoint to I-5/Denny Way.

As for retail on Denny, I also lament it is not there. However, we have to be realistic in that it is most likely that very very few people would visit this site due to extremely low visibility from pedestrian traffic and the developers would have a very hard time renting such space. Olive Way and Pike are MUCH more popular for pedestrians crossing I-5 from Capitol Hill. Denny Way just isn't "on the way" for most walkers.

I can understand the decision on this. We need more housing downtown and this is no time to demand crapshoot retail fronts. It's important that we build a vital downtown, but we have to make compromises if we care about progress. I have no doubt that this building will be a major improvement to the area.

Posted by Cale | May 15, 2008 8:15 PM

@9 had an interesting point - why not a bike-friendly retail side?

You know, it may not have parking, but it could have bike racks.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 15, 2008 8:29 PM

So they’ll be walking up Denny to get to Capitol Hill, crossing Denny to go downtown, or walking down Denny to go shopping. It’s the only street that functionally connects South Lake Union to Belltown and Capitol Hill. It will be a pedestrian corridor regardless of what we build, so we should plan for pedestrians.

The Lakeview-over I5-Eastlake overpass is used daily by many pedestrians, bikes, a few cars and even the occasional bus. It's a lightly travelled and very gentle grade for getting back from Lake Union to North Capitol Hill in the evening. It's not there solely as Jim Forman's backdrop for TV news shows about traffic, though it does get used for that a lot [seen 2 stations on the overpass, yet to see all 3]

Posted by andrew Taylor | May 15, 2008 11:33 PM

But the point is that this building will be there for the next 60 to 100 years . . . with no possibility of street level retail on Denny Way. Is that wall what we want to look at for the next 60 to 100 years?

Cities change a lot in 60 to 100 years. And the current vogue for the vision is to have "a walkable, livable, 24/7 neighborhood" or whatever.

So Seattle's addiction to short-sighted decision-making rears its ugly head - once again (sigh).

The remedy is to sue the Design Review Board. They are acting as agents of the city, and they are failing to uphold what is essentially a city ordinance. All the Design Guidelines are part of the land use code.

Seriously, sue them over this! All it takes is one person talking to a lawyer then talking to the dailies about how this decision violates the Mayor's whole platform of urban density for Seattle.

SERIOUSLY, just do it!

Posted by I am your Mother | May 15, 2008 11:35 PM

"The design boards need to think forward."

What about the developers? The way this is worded you'd think the design review board was the sole player in this drama. How many times did Lexas present something even less acceptable and try to force it down their throats? Apparently 3 times.

I agree the design review board should be able to hold steady and take the high road (this is a common sense observation - not enough retail in general, regardless of its Denny accessibility.)

I bet the "public space" will eventually be shrunk for retail and I can't for the life of me understand why there is "residential" on the first floor along exhaust alley so expect that to be flexible for future retail.

These muti-million dollar developers have agents (and architects, suprise!) hired specifically to harass, manipulate and negotiate every last bit of patience out of our public servants.

Show me the statute or code that requires any kind of ratio of retail to residential. Or one that dictates what street is has to be adjacent to. And why quote Vulcan? That's just non-sense.

I love how Paul Allen and his Napoleonic Commons plans and other conquests pale in comparison to this crap.

Posted by Diana | May 16, 2008 8:51 AM

@ 48) In defense of the design-review boards, they are volunteers appointed by the city. Most of the time they do great work and their service is tremendously valuable--transforming bad proposals into good buildings. The board members are design and development professionals from the private sector, so I don't even know that they can be sued in their board capacity. Moreover, they only provide recommendations--not binding decisions. That is done by the DPD. Even with the city, I'm not sure one could make a strong case against it for straying from design guidelines, as they aren't binding rules. However, the guidelines are there for a reason. They make sense and should be used. When the design boards or the city make a bad call--on the rare occasions that they do--they should be taken to task.

Posted by Dominic Holden | May 16, 2008 9:00 AM

Yes, the Design Review Boards are staffed by volunteers who give literally hundreds of hours each year of unpaid service and this should be applauded.

However, they also literally are acting in the name and under the authority of Ms. Sugimura, Director of Planning and Development for the city. She (or her staff using her authority) have to approve or reject every single decision made by all the Boards.

So when you sue a Design Review Board, or more technically, when you sue about a bad decision made by them, you are actually suing the city, not the individual board members. I believe the suit/complaint would first go to the city's Hearing Examiner, and then if you aren't satisfied with that decision, then you have the option of taking your case to King County Superior Court.

This is exactly what a Capitol Hill resident has done regarding dissatisfaction with the Design Review Board decision about the development planned for the 500 block of Pine Street . . . you know, the one with the old Cha-Cha, Manray, Bimbo's and Kincora's (and the much lamented Pony).

He (and others) felt strongly that the development plan that the Design Review Board for that area approved was inconsistent with the Design Guidelines for that area (as well as inconsistent with a few other things), and felt that the developers and the Board had not really heard what many residents who attended the Design Review meetings had been consistently asking for in terms of great design for that block.

The case is now in King County Superior Court. Perhaps you (Dominic) could persuade your masters to let you do a story on this case?

Posted by I am your Mother | May 16, 2008 9:35 AM

Due to the fact that Slog doesn't let you post more than 2 urls, I'll have to imply where to get info on zoning and municipal code.

First of all, all of these 7 original parcels were purchased for a grand total close to 24 million dollars. Most of which had been in families or previously purchased in the late 90's for half a million each - Much less than the 1.2 to 5.2 million each that was between 2004 and this past January.
You can study every inch of seattle and search the property report based on the parcel number at:

Second of all, according to map 1G of SMC Title 23, street level use is not required in this area. The developer is using the most general and generous zoning possible to their advantage. Also,according to the city clerks office, this is considered "Belltown".

Maybe we should take some initiative and personal investment in the development decisions and implore the city or previous property owners to rezone BEFORE its purchased by a huge corporation who is now able to lock in whatever zoning they want. All the complaining about DPD people is misdirected and too little too late.

All of this info is available online for free and every one of us can research all sorts of property records (again, I'd provide links but...) Who here commented during the review period? Jeezus, how much more do you want it spoon fed to you?
(www) seattle.dpd/notices/Overview/

I wonder how much more money it will take to finish a project already 24+ mil in the hole (1 million for pleading with the review board).

Posted by Diana | May 16, 2008 10:12 AM

Good points Diana. However, the Design Review program - and the appeal process - is a last resort citizens have to stop bad building design.

My initial read is that the applicable Design Guidelines do encourage street level retail because the site is (presumably) zoned for multifamlily and commercial use (since that is what they are building there).

The Belltown Neighborhood Design Guidelines do not out-and-out call for street level retail on any or all parcels - though they abundantly imply it, but the Citywide Design Guidelines for this type of development do call for street level retail. And the Citywide Design Guidelines also strongly object to long blank walls. See the specific guideline items below.

I think there is sufficient guidance in both the Citywide and the Belltown-specific guidelines that the Design Review Board could have insisted on something other than a block-long wall on the Denny Way side of the building - I mean for christ's sake, this is the arterial side of the building, which is the one side of the building you want to make as pretty and as engaging as possible.

From what it sounds like, with three DRB meetings already, this developer was being a turd and/or the architects are either uninspired or else are so hamstrung by the budget they've been told to work within that a block-long blank wall is the best they could do, and the DRB was worn out by having to spoonfeed these people across three meetings to raise the design to whatever dubious quality it currently has. (by the way, the same thing happened to the QFC site on Broadway, but that's story for another day.)

Of course we should remember the Design Review program started about 12 years ago in part because of the large number of lawsuits citizens were filing over crappy development plans the city was approving left and right. The lawsuits would drive up development costs, etc. etc. and finally the city developed the Design Review Program to create a conversation between the community, the city, and developers so that better designs - or at least designs that everybody was sufficiently happy with - could be approved.

And it has largely succeeded. The number of lawsuits against developments has dropped sharply (like more than 70% I think) since the Design Review Program started. But still, there are some poor developments that get through the system, and citizens still have the option appealing or suing the Design Review Board decision.

Posted by I am your Mother | May 16, 2008 11:20 AM

(for the true development geeks among us)

Design Review Guidelines for Multifamily and Commercial Buildings
(these apply citywide wherever there is multifamily and commercial zoning and they are the primary guidelines which must be considered)

Check out:

A-4 Human Activity
"Ground floor shops and market spaces providing services needed by residents can attract market activity to the street and increase safety through informal surveillance. Entrances, porches, balconies, decks, seating and other elements can promote use of the street front and provide places for neighborly interaction. **Siting decisions should consider the importance of these features in a particular context and allow for their incorporation.**"


D-2: Blank Walls
"Buildings should avoid large blank walls facing the street, especially near sidewalks. Where blank walls are unavoidable they should receive design treatment to increase pedestrian comfort and interest."

And then there are the "Belltown Neighborhood Guidelines":
(these apply specifically in Belltown and extend and supplement the existing citywide design guidelines, but do not replace or invalidate the citywide design guidelines above)

Check out:

C-1 Promote Pedestrian Interaction
"The sidewalk is the essence of the pedestrian experience, and streets comprise the greatest amount of open space in Belltown."


"reinforce existing retail concentrations" and "vary in size, width, and depth of commercial spaces, accommodating for smaller businesses, where feasible"

(isn't there retail directly across the street from this project? i.e. Play It Again Sports and whatever is ultimately going to replace the Greyhound station? Having retail on both sides of Denny Way on this block would 'reinforce existing retail concentrations').


"Where appropriate, consider configuring retail space to attract tenants with products or services that will “spill-out” onto the sidewalk (up to six feet where sidewalk is sufficiently wide)."


C-3 Provide active - not blank - facades
There are no specific guidelines about this in the Belltown Neighborhood Guidelines because the authors felt that this issue was sufficiently addressed in the citywide Multifamily and Commercial guidelines, so see "D-2" Blank Walls" above.

Posted by I am your Mother | May 16, 2008 11:34 AM

Thanks, it's nice to see more research I encourage everyone to be a development geek.

From the drawing, it doesn't look like a blank brick wall, just awnings (or something?) over what I guess is residential. I'm assuming those giant facades go up 5 stories. I still see that the oversized "lobby" for tenants opens onto Denny. Probably there will be an assortment of coffee cards and maybe flower cards...

I don't know. just more food for thought.

Posted by Diana | May 16, 2008 11:47 AM

Reading with interest and several things pop immediately into my mind.

Re: “Denny is not going to be coffee shops and newsstands,” said downtown design-review board member James Falconer. “You’re not going to saunter down Denny. You have to accept it for what it is.” - where was that sentiment in relation to the make-over planned for Mercer? The changes scheduled for the Mercer corridor will run in the millions, and even the studies paid for by the City have shown that traffic flow and congestion won't be improved by the renovation. No, that stoicism wasn't there because the Mercer Project has Vulcan's stamp of approval (and, hence, the Mayor's), but also, and more importantly, because that's not the way buildings should be designed. The face of the Denny Triangle/SLU is going to change dramatically in the next 10 years, and developments should plan for the future. No one will be on the street? Well, of course not, if the development at street level discourages walk-ability and public access! It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, pure and simple.

Thousands of residents and business workers, but retail won't be supported? - So, how will these thousand of people get the goods they need every day? Ugh, the stupidity of this assumption is painfully obvious.

Re: Design Review - I've attended several of these meetings (they're all open to the public), and you know what they need? All of us there. Believe me, I'm a total expert on what the City should be doing and all (kidding), but I'm busy like most people and it's exhausting and depressing to go to Design Review and state your opinion and be one of three community members there. Meanwhile, the developers are there with their architects, and their associates, etc. And there are so many!

Someone said in an earlier post that ____ should sue the Design Review Board (and, thus, the City), and to that I say, "Back atcha!" Seriously, we all want someone to do something, but I tell you, if we had a unified group of folks who could agree on several common tenets for development and could descend en masse on these meetings, we'd have a lot more influence on the DR board.

And, finally, I walk Denny. I walk Denny a lot. I live in SLU and I walk up to the Hill all the time. It takes me 15 minutes, about the same amount of time it takes in my car and I don't have to compete for parking. Oh, and I walk downtown. I walk down Stewart. Not the most attractive street but it gets me where I need to go. While I love the idea of green streets and all, I consider it a perk. That's not why I walk, and it won't change my walking habits. I walk because it's an efficient way for me to get around. Is this uncommon? I don't think so, but how sad if it is.

I really appreciate the code information, I Am Your Mother and Diana, and the links. Thank you!

(and I'll be watching for that lawsuit, IAYM!)

Posted by Pinksoda | May 16, 2008 1:17 PM

Great. Just when I thought there was nothing worse than the lame ass bistros and corporate coffee that always fills the retail requirement for condos....

Posted by keep seattle seedy | May 16, 2008 2:43 PM

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