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Friday, May 2, 2008

Living in a Box

posted by on May 2 at 2:02 PM

Remember that British one-hit wonder Living in a Box that performed the song Living in a Box off the album Living in a Box? I know—you were trying to forget. But Mithun Architects is keeping the memory alive. They wanted to live out every vagabond’s dream of converting an old freight container into swank digs. But there’s one catch to the metal cargo-conversion fantasy.

“It’s hard to beat the cost of wood in the Pacific Northwest,” says Joel Egan of HyBrid, a Seattle-based construction firm commissioned to build prototype residential units. So, rather than steel boxes like some pre-fab projects in Australia and England, an apartment building with ground level retail proposed for Dexter Avenue North will contain about 60 boxes built from wood (a pop-up about how they're built is here).

Two stacked units, at approximately 675 square feet each, look like this:


Together in an apartment building—after being assembled in a warehouse, delivered by truck, and plunked down by a crane—they will look something like this:


The greatest benefits of pre-fab apartment buildings are for the financiers of development. Although the construction costs, according to Tammie Schacher of Mithun, remain the same as on-site construction (the goal is $80-90 per square foot), the construction time decreases by three to six months—reducing the window of investment risk and adding months to collect rental fees. One hopes the savings are passed down to renters.

On the con side is the potential for flat-faced, dinky-looking buildings. The boxes don’t lend themselves to the variety of shapes to create interesting visual relief as on-site construction. However, there are examples, such as one in Manchester (pop-up), which looks quite dashing. In the preferred scheme of the proposal that went up for early design guidance this week, the boxes stood clustered together like several World’s Fair motels connected by pathways through the air. This has roughly the same esthetic effect of giant hamster cages connected by Habit Trails.


We’ll hold out opinion on the appearance until more designs are in, as the city needs more inexpensive apartments and Mithun fucking rocks. As for the dream of converting a cargo container into an upscale slumber tube, “All of us are hoping we can [eventually] get to a metal frame building,” says Schacher.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Prescription for Regional Growth Could Be a Bitter Pill to Swallow

posted by on May 1 at 1:35 PM

In the ballroom of the UW Husky Union Building yesterday, at a daylong “Reality Check” event put on by the Urban Land Institute, about 300 development professionals, public officials, and land-use and neighborhood activists stood around 30 enormous tables, each with a giant map of the Puget Sound region. A box on each table contained LEGOs—each yellow block represented 2,000 new residents, and each red block represented 2,000 new jobs—and pieces of colored yarn, which represented new roads and mass transit lines. Each group was tasked with placing the blocks and string to accommodate the area’s projected population growth.

Although the tools were elementary, the exercise was serious: According to an estimate released last month by the Puget Sound Regional Council, King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish Counties are expected to grow by 1.7 million people—roughly the entire population of greater Portland—by 2040.

“No challenge in our region is greater than the challenge of growth,” says Pat Callahan, senior vice president of Seattle-based Equity Office Properties. “We’re taking this bold step to ensure that the significant work that lies ahead starts now.”

Three trends emerged across the room as the game proceeded: dots sprawling into the green foothills of Snohomish and Pierce Counties; a fairly level swath of density along the I-5 corridor from Everett to Tacoma; and another strip of density hugging I-5, this one peaking sharply in downtown Seattle. Virtually all the plans would have focused growth in urban areas and limited it in rural and suburban areas--however, because none of the plans included rules for making that happen, they were more like guiding principles than specific prescriptions.

Most of those participating in the exercise agreed that there are limited options for growth in the region: Grow up or grow out. "There is a real division of interests [here],” Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin said. “This puts groups together to agree on the facts.” But putting those facts in practice will entail accepting some unwelcome realities.

“It’s hard for elected officials to think beyond their terms,” says Conlin. “But when we are looking at 20-, 30-, 40-year projections, it forces us to start thinking in that way.” He has asked the ULI to make a presentation to the council on the findings from the exercise.

The tallest stack of downtown density was at table 1, where towering LEGO buildings had lost their footing and tumbled into Lake Washington (the group later tied the towers together in a makeshift retrofit). The ringleader of the group, which called itself “Up Not Out,” was Al Clise of Clise Properties, which manages three million square feet of real estate downtown. “Seattle [will be] the preeminent center of commerce in the region for the next 100 years,” he said, explaining why the group elected to focus on central Seattle and avoid rural areas.


Richmond and Clise

“I think the government has been slow to get it,” said Clise. “It’s been so expensive to build in cities, developers go where there are no fees and create sprawl,” he says. “I just hope that the people who do the zoning and planning listen to this.” Clise would like to see more incentives to build dense urban developments, rather than penalties for not doing so.

But that vision of density, while increasingly recognized as the model that will reduce traffic and decrease carbon emissions, raises questions about how focusing the entire region’s development in Seattle will change the city. “The problem is when you get into north and south of the core,” Clise said. “The neighborhoods that will not change dramatically are those representing wealth. Those that don’t represent wealth and power— those neighborhoods will feel the effect of more change.”

Irene Wall, president of the Phinney Ridge Community Council, was a lone voice for neighborhood preservation at her table, where LEGOs were piling up around North Seattle. “If this is about coloring and staying within the lines, we’re wasting our time,” she snapped at the other players, mostly suit-clad developers. Growth shouldn’t have to sacrifice what we love about a city, she told me to the side, “but that’s exactly what’s happening.”

“Along every arterial in the city, you can kiss your ass goodbye to sunlight at every bus stop,” says Wall. “One-point-seven million is too many people. We need to look at directing growth across the entire state… looking at Spokane, Wenatchee, and maybe even Leavenworth.”

Although Wall’s point about scale is valid—planning needs to happen everywhere, not just in urbanized areas like Seattle—it’s not clear neighborhood groups will ever agree to the level of density we need across Seattle. You can’t just wish that people who want to move to Seattle will move to Wenatchee instead, nor can you expect arterials within 10 minutes of downtown to stay single-family forever. Nor should we want to.

It’s part of Seattle’s culture to simultaneously “hate sprawl and despise density,” said Mayor Greg Nickels. But “you can’t have it both ways.”



The underlying problem with regional planning is how to translate the emerging trend on the tables, which leaned toward dense construction centered around Seattle, Everett and Tacoma, to a land use policy the region can actually put into place. For instance, Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman delivered a bitter pill to Clise and other developers at an afternoon forum in the afternoon, when he explained the reasons for the nickel-and-dime taxation of urban development. Without fees and taxes, it would be impossible for cities to provide the services that dense urban areas require.

“As long as we have a regressive tax system in this state, we’ll have a hard time controlling growth,” Bozeman said. And despite the state’s growth management act, which is geared to limit sprawl, there is currently no policy or enforcement body that could enforce the plan set forth at yesterday’s exercise.

Continue reading "Prescription for Regional Growth Could Be a Bitter Pill to Swallow" »

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Design Reviews: A First on First, a Second on Second, and the Great Technicolor North

posted by on April 22 at 3:15 PM

First Things First

The only thing missing from the northeast corner of 1st Avenue and Stewart Street is, well, everything.


It’s been a parking lot as long as I can remember. To see that corner used the way a downtown corner should be used, you’ve got to flip the calendar back 80 years, when it looked like this.


Touchstone Corporation plans to fill out the site's zoning envelope, which limits buildings to 125’. The proposed development would stand 11 stories, contain 75 apartments and 100 hotel units, operating as a sister hotel with the Inn at the Market.

“We’re going to have a tall wall of buildings behind us,” says Paul Schlachter of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen. The zone is a strip between the 65’ height limits around the Pike Place Market and the 400’ allowances on 2nd Avenue, where three buildings are slated for construction.


Images via Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen

“We have an opportunity to celebrate the corner and make a landmark as you ascend 1st,” says Schlachter. He envisions a restaurant on the top floor, satisfying Seattle’s pining for a restaurant with a view of the skyline and Sound, a la Cloud Room. He plans to include a courtyard connecting 1st Avenue to the alley, the location of the hotel’s main entrance.

Tonight’s meeting marks the first step of the design process with the city. Why build now, I asked Schlachter, considering the forecast of a stormy economy? “The timing just seems right. This piece of property is one of the most prime pieces in Seattle. Nothing has been done with it. It’s a mystery to us why this signature location hasn’t been used before.”

Cheer them on at 5:30 pm in the boards & commissions Room L280 at City Hall, 600 4th Avenue. After-hours access info is here.

Second Try

Environmental Works goes back to the design-review board tonight with a revised proposal for Bakhita Gardens on 2nd Avenue. It’s low-income housing for women and it rocks my casbah. You can read more and see the design’s previous iteration here.


Environmental Works

“[The design review board] liked the building for the most part but had a couple design suggestions,” says Brian Lloyd of Beacon Development Group, which is developing the project for the Archdiocesan Housing Authority. He says the board members asked to change the shape of the windows (less narrow), integrate the brick and the rest of the façade (no color-band between), and unify the roofline (remove the jagged lines). “I was a little frustrated… because you go into the meeting and don’t know what the concerns or objections are going to be,” says the affable Lloyd. “Upon further reflection, there are some good ides that are going to make a better looking building.”

The design board’s second recommendation meeting will be tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Seattle City Hall. More info here.

The Great Technicolor North

This looks like a promising development. High density. Underused area. Please, almighty Lord in the heavens, may it not be these colors.


A couple hundred feet from the Seattle-Shoreline border on 15th Avenue NE (here's a map), Jackson Square, LLC proposes what it calls Jackson Square Multifamily. The six stories would contain 65 units and 88 parking spots.

Does "multifamily" in the name mean the units could contain two or three bedrooms for families—a welcome relief from the one-bedroom apartments for singles and couples that dominate the market? Kelly Shyne of the Justen Company, the architect, said it’s too early in the process for her to know how many bedrooms would be in the units. That’s really weird. Last night’s meeting was the second recommendation from the design board – the third meeting in all – a year and a half after the first payment to begin the design process with the city. Calls to Jackson Square’s Jim Abbot haven’t been returned.

Another life-changing experience after the jump.

Continue reading "Design Reviews: A First on First, a Second on Second, and the Great Technicolor North" »

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Large assortment of house balls, shoes, bowling pins..."

posted by on April 21 at 2:04 PM

Do you need a dozen swirly-patterned bowling balls, a rotating refrigerated pie display case, or a feeling of profound emptiness that takes you by surprise and doesn't let you go for a long time? The auction of the contents of Sunset Bowl in Ballard is tomorrow morning, and the heartbreak is free.


(This time last year I went to the last night at Leilani Lanes in Greenwood, where the woman who bowled the ceremonial last ball turned and said, "Now I can cry," walked into the arms of the closest human, and started weeping. The last ball was a spare. The closest human was me. The auction, too, was destroying, with big boxes of house shoes sitting on the polished lanes as if all the bowlers had been exterminated in order of foot size. I had every intention of going to the last night at the Sunset a week ago Sunday to pay my respects, but then I just went to bed instead.)

Preserving the Open Spaces and Vintage Character of... Parking Lots?

posted by on April 21 at 1:45 PM

Get a load of this debate around a proposed development in Madrona. Slog reader and urban village sensei David Sucher wrote about the hysteria on Saturday, so did hugeasscity. I wrote about the project back on the 2nd of April, praising the design.


The next day, the Central District News reported neighborhood discontent over the invasive species: “I sure wouldn't want a 3-story wall to suddenly pop up and block all the light into my house.”

Then The Madrona News—a community council newsletter—got its pages in a bunch:

As many of you know, the parking lot at 1126 34 Ave, across from St. Clouds, may soon become a large multi-use commercial building…. Many of us in Madrona fear that this development will negatively impact the open spaces and vintage character of Madrona and set a precedent for future structures on 34th Avenue.

Ah, the open space and character of Madrona, where asphalt is the proverbial loom of the community’s fabric. Ahem. Let us observe the open space and vintage character currently on the site.


Continues the Madrona News' case (this .pdf is via hugeasscity), “The proposed structure would be enormous compared to its neighbors…” Right, there’s nothing of this size anywhere in Madrona. Except, well, perhaps this building—across the street.


This three-story building is larger—running from corner to corner (between 34th and 33rd Aves). It contains Verite coffee, always busy, and an adorable little store at street level, and apartments up top. When I was a kid, that site supported only a few single-story apartments. How many people used that space then. A handful. But how many of them now regularly patronize the businesses there or live in the apartments now? Tons of ‘em. Likewise, how many neighbors use the private parking lot at the site of the proposed building? Few, if any. But I’ll bet they’ll be hanging out in the restaurant that goes into that space.

Jeez, persnickety neighbors, that block is an arterial zoned for mid-rise, mixed-use development--because 34th and Union is the neighborhood center. That parking lot's destiny was to become a multi-story, multi-use development. The proposal could have sucked. But, instead, it’s beautiful, using natural materials and an environmentally sustainable design. Count your blessings.

Speaking of topics I wrote about on Slog that later became big issues, last Monday I wrote about the incentive to build around the light rail station on MLK and Othello. Lo and behold, that was also the topic of a full-page cover story in the Sunday Times/PI.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Re: Church to Become Condos?

posted by on April 18 at 5:17 PM

As I posted earlier this week, the Medhane Alem Church on 13th and Olive has been sold.

I just talked to the real estate agent again, and while he would not give information about the buyer, he did confirm that the site will no longer be a church.

That is all.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Low-Income Housing Is the Neighborhood's Biggest Problem…

posted by on April 17 at 12:36 PM

…according to a poll at the High Point Blog.


But by “problem,” the poll’s author doesn’t mean there’s too little low-income housing in West Seattle's mixed-income development. The problem, obviously, is the very presence of low-income housing.

As the High Point Blog sees it, the greatest stumbling block to the success of the new and improved High Point is its low-income housing….

…the maintenance (or lack thereof) by pov-housing residents to maintain the exteriors and window coverings of their dwellings…that is to say.. crazy furniture in the windows, torn curtains, kitschy statuary and signage in windows etc…. the constant feeling that we live in Tangier and not West Seattle.

Some pollyanna neighbors, as the poll results show, believe there are “no significant problems” with the large tract of land being redeveloped from government and low-income housing. (Erica wrote about the project over here.) But for the level-headed folks at HPB, there’s bad news: More low-income housing is on the way.

Tonight, five duplexes and two single-family houses proposed for High Point are up for an administrative review with the Department of Planning and Development. The 12 units could break ground by this summer and will sell at well below market rate.

“We serve a population at 25 percent to 50 percent of median income [for King County],” says Tom Gaylord of Habitat for Humanity of Seattle/South King County. “We use volunteer labor and home owners to construct the house. We use mortgages with no interest and no fees to get residents in for the cost of the house, which is low because labor cost is low.”

Volunteers and families hammering nails and painting walls. It does sound menacing.

“It’s great, you see little old ladies out there putting up honkin’ beams,” says Gaylord, oblivious to the havoc they will wreak on the manifest destined residents of High Point.

But Gaylord and HFH are determined to press on with their insidious scheme. “In spite of the plan end homelessness in King County in 10 years, so much more is needed,” he says. HFH has constructed about 125 housing units in the Seattle area, and plans 20-30 more per year, according to Gaylord. “We’d like to be doing more.” The gall.

UPDATE: Gaylord just sent me drawings of HFH's proposed street scape, sans statuaries.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tonight's Design Meetings

posted by on April 16 at 2:20 PM

Aging in Interbay

I didn’t even know Seattle had a Bertona Street until yesterday. It sounds Italian. Like the menu at this assisted living facility could be all cannelloni and grappa.


“You know, you could be surprised, I’ll bet there’s some grappa there,” says Marika Rausa, director of Senior Housing for the Stratford Group. The development and property-management company has proposed a four-story, 116 apartment building with 33 parking spaces for elders who need help with dressing, cooking, and drinking.

A few old houses are currently on the site, says, Rausa. “We’re really hoping to start digging in early spring of next year.”


Ankrom Moisan Architects

There’s an early design guidance meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. in room 1 of the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West. Ciao!

Speaking in South Lake Union

Two parcels of land in South Lake Union owned by Weiss/Jenkins, LLC are lily pads compared to Vulcan’s massive algae bloom of development. But unlike Vulcan’s developments, information about this project is no state secret. Brad Hinthorne of Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine says the building is the second half of a campus, joining the adjacent Republican Building. It’s a stand-up design…


The intersection of Yale Avenue North and Republican Street. Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine

The proposed five-story building will don a two-toned brick and masonry façade, fitting neatly with its neighbor. It would contain 70,000 square feet of office space and 3,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor. Parking for 139 vehicles would be above and below grade. The existing structure, an “abandoned” print shop, says Hinthorne, will be expunged.

At an previous meeting with the review board, “One issue was building a sky bridge to connect to the existing building,” says Hinthorne. “They quickly said, ‘No.’” Good for them. Tonight’s meeting, a recommendation, begins at 6:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Miller Community Center, 330 19th Avenue East.

Quality on Queen Anne

The latest proposal for a building on Queen Anne Avenue North makes the case for Seattle’s design-review process. In an earlier iteration, the design was clunky, the components seemed incongruent, and, in front, potentially valuable sidewalk space went underused.


The most recent proposal from DDG architects, while seeming only subtly different at first, is substantially better design.


DDG Architects

The upper portions are lighter and modern, the windows in the brickwork are more traditional and provide variation of scale, the awnings are more natural, the proportions fit better, and the sidewalk court looks downright welcoming. Like, people could just sit down (pop-up).

“Joe [Geivett of Emerald Bay Equity, the developer] is a good listener, and he spent a lot of time with local community groups to hear what they’re looking for,” says Greg MacDonald of DDG Architects. “Without going with a rote regurgitation of what’s on the Hill previously, they were looking to dovetail traditional elements.”

One downside, three converted houses on the site will be demolished—the former Pete’s Pizza and Queen Anne Dentistry. Nonetheless, it’s a net gain. The new building will stand four-stories, containing about 15,000 square feet of retail and 40,000 square feet of administrative and medical offices. Parking for approximately 120 vehicles will be located below grade.

Tonight's meeting will be the fourth. So a round of applause for Seattle’s committed neighbors, all-volunteer design review boards, DDG, and Mr. Geivett. The meeting is at 8:00 p.m. in room 1 of the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West.

"The Man Was Being Strange and Making Explosives"

posted by on April 16 at 12:01 PM

A registered sex offender literally blew the roof off a house on Monday, killing himself and nearly killing a pack of Pierce County cops.

The story, from the P-I:

The couple who own the house called police about 11 p.m. Monday, saying the man was being strange and making explosives, Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer said. The couple told detectives that they met their roommate through a Craiglist ad.

When police entered the house, the man grabbed some bottles and bolted from the kitchen. He blasted heavy metal music from upstairs as deputies realized that a duffle bag he left contained explosive devices.

Deputies evacuated, called for backup and were waiting on a bomb squad and a negotiator when the house exploded.

"Our deputies on the next house plot were covered in beauty bark," Troyer said. "Blinds from the top floor were blown 75 to 100 feet."

The Times identifies the blown-up man as 25-year-old Zane Dittman:

He also reportedly had convictions for possessing stolen property, riot with a deadly weapon and unlawful imprisonment.

Four years ago a man with that name was sentenced in Spokane for abducting his girlfriend's 10-year-old son.

It's a sad, sad world.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What's Driving Development

posted by on April 14 at 1:01 PM

This is the thinking: With the Sound Transit light-rail link opening between downtown and the airport next year, MLK, Jr. Way South is transforming from an urban highway into a desirable neighborhood. One station on the route is at the intersection of MLK and South Othello Street, 15-20 minutes from downtown. People will want to live there.

Enter capitalism. Othello Partners has proposed two major developments, both enormous, on adjacent corners. One of them I outlined last week, and Othello’s Mike Hlastala sent me a rendering of it to share with Slog. The proposal is for a six-story building that would contain 375 units, 365 parking spaces and 25,000 square feet of retail.


Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine

The other proposal, Othello North, is also six stories and will contain 15,000 square feet of retail and 260 parking spaces.

This project indicates the future of the neighborhood, and the design process here sets precedent for what it will take to get the neighborhood right. “Specifically, ensuring a well proportioned scale is a critical factor to successfully integrate the project into the neighborhood fabric that is in flux,” wrote the review board after a previous meeting. So I tip my hat to Othello and the design board for spending a lot of time modifying the building’s mass and shape specifically to make it welcoming to pedestrians. It’s still not amazing, but it’s a nice enough building and a commendable use of space.

However, I’m also a bit disappointed. Considering that the impetus for this project is the site’s proximity to the Sound Transit station, with 600 parking spaces between the two new buildings – nearly one space per unit – it still promotes reliance on driving. For this intersection to succeed as a neighborhood, mass transit must be a necessity, not just an amenity. Residents must be required to get out and walk and talk and shop to make this a functional neighborhood, not just a highway with big buildings by the side of the road.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Go West, Seattle

posted by on April 10 at 3:05 PM

Three proposed developments are up for reviews today, and they’re all in West Seattle.

The first is up for an administrative design review – so there’s no public meeting – because the developer requested departures from zoning standards requiring a front yard setback. Here’s the plan for Beach Drive SW.


The proposal is for one single-family residence and one duplex townhouse with surface-level parking. More info is over here.

California Giants

Next on the docket is an early design guidance meeting for two mixed-use buildings that would contain 200 condos and retail on the ground floor. It's smack dab in the Junction.


Preserving independent businesses historically has been an issue of concern for West Seattle neighbors. Currently on the site are one-story buildings that contain 24,000 square feet of small shops. James Miller of Conner Homes says the new buildings--one six stories and the other seven--will contain 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

“We have designed it so we can keep them small. We will have one larger anchor [retail space] in each building, and the others would be smaller. They could 1200-3000 square feet,” Miller says. He also noted some neighborhood concern about the larger size and scale of the new buildings.

West Seattle Blog has had its ear to the ground for a while.

The western building (with California and Alaska frontage) will be one story shorter than the eastern building (with 42nd and Alaska frontage); the western building will be wood frame, the eastern building concrete and steel. Neither is proposed at the maximum height allowed in the area by code — Miller said that’s a direct result of community concern expressed when their first development proposal for these sites came out several years ago. “We hope the shorter building will be more acceptable on California,” he said.

You can check out the designs from Weber Thomson Architects at tonight’s meeting, 6:30 p.m. at the library of Chief Sealth High School, 2600 S. W. Thistle Street.

Ease on Down the Road

A few blocks east, Harbor Properties will be burning a proverbial sage smudge to clear out the bad vibes at the former site of Huling Brothers used cars dealership—where employees were arrested for attempting to bilk a mentally disabled guy out his life savings. Alleged fuckers. Both that car lot and the neighboring space, used as a Montessori school, will be replaced with a six-story, mixed-use building contain 190 units. The school will move back into the building when it's complete.


How does the shitty economy factor in for this ambitious proposal? “With gas prices the way they are, people are looking for alternative means of transit and living choices,” says Harbor Properties Marketing Director Emmi Baldwin. “The bus takes 15 minutes to get from the Junction to downtown.” She notes that the many parking lots in West Seattle can make the neighborhood seem unwelcoming. I couldn’t agree more; West Seattle seems to have a lot of asphalt. “We’re planning for the future,” she says.

You can check out the design proposals from Baylis Architects at a tonight's early design guidance meeting. It’s at 8:00 p.m. at the library of Chief Sealth High School, 2600 S. W. Thistle Street.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tonight's Design Reviews

posted by on April 8 at 3:15 PM

This morning, Boom suffered a technological tragedy when a sickly laptop buckled under the demands of another post. With fond memories it was sent out to pasture. But after a harried trip to the Apple store, we are back in the saddle riding a new young stallion, albeit behind schedule.

Small Time

Rarely a week passes on Slog that I’m not ranting about the need for inner-city apartments with smaller floor plans. We need affordable homes—near jobs—for working and low-income folks. Plymouth Housing Group is on the case.


The nonprofit has proposed a 7-story building smack in the middle of Belltown with 84 affordable apartments (with full bathrooms and kitchens)—averaging 250 square feet. Plymouth describes it as "studio apartments for currently homeless individuals." I describe it as "awesome."


SMR Architects

“It’s a more holistic approach to ending homelessness,” says Christona Bollo of SMR Architects. Caseworkers, a nurse, and other facilities will share the 1st floor with a 2000 square foot retail space, she says. At this design meeting, the second, SMR will show detailed plans for perspectives, elevations and building materials.

Another interesting aspect of the project: No parking is required and none is proposed.

The meeting is tonight at 5:30 p.m. in room L280 of Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave / 601 5th Ave. After-hours access info is here.

MLK, Jr. Way South and South Othello Street

Othello Partners wants to build a six-story structure containing 365 residential units and 25,500 square feet of retail space. Parking for 278 vehicles will be contained in the building. The existing building—a mini mall, I believe—would be demolished.


But before they get the thumbs up, the design review board wants to see some changes.

Overall, the Board felt that the proposed buildings mass along Othello was of particular concern with proximity of exterior wall at street level and on the upper level. Othello will become a prominent pedestrian street leading to and from the light rail station. Opportunities exists provide a vibrant space that is welcoming. The building’s scale is not that bad, however there appears to be a lack of graciousness to what is occurring in public spaces.

No designs to post, sorry. But you can see how the developer and architects Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine will address these and other concerns at a meeting 6:30 p.m. in the lower level of the Rainier Cultural Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska Street.

Rainier Avenue South and South Dearborn Street

The proposal is to build 15 units in two duplexes, a triplex and two fourplexes in the Rainier Valley. Sorry, no rendering for this project, either.


Here’s what the Web site says: "Market rate unit prices are projected to range from $165,000 for studio units to $287,000 for large 2 bedroom units.” Tonight the review board will give early design guidance at 8:00 p.m. in the lower level of the Rainier Cultural Arts Center, 3515 S Alaska Street.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lucky in Lake City; Massive in Maple Leaf

posted by on April 7 at 1:15 PM

It’s a big week for design reviews. I’ll try to post them all on Slog with pictures and meeting information. Info about tonight's reviews are below.

Also in Boom news, there’s now a way to reach us. Got a tip about a development that you love, hate, or think needs a little light? Send an email to

Lusty Lake City

The adult entertainment boutiques on Seattle’s northern stretch of Lake City Way can look forward to a tide of new singles in the neighborhood. Granted, they’ll be seniors living in affordable housing—sexy, sexy affordable senior housing.


Firstly, here’s to hoping this isn‘t the final color palate—it looks like Easter threw up on an accordion. Second, here’s to hoping everything goes well at tonight’s early design guidance meeting. Steve Smith Development, LLC has proposed an eight-story building containing 3500 square feet of ground level commercial space, 160 residential units above, and parking for 69 vehicles underground. What an improvement on this tundra of dispair...


Morgan Design Group

When I spoke to Morgan Design Group’s John Parsaie in February, he said this project was being built in conjunction with two other properties to be managed by Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG). Yay SHAG! One's under construction on NE 130th Street and another on the corner of Lake City and 137th; I wrote about the latter over here.

Concerned citizens and senior lovers can head to tonight’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. in room 209 of the University Heights Community Center, 5031 University Way N.E.

An "A" for Effort

I understand the argument that townhouses of today are analogous to the lovely row houses of yesteryear. And I know density will save the world. But when I look at the cream-colored, vinyl-sided constituents of the housing Borg going up everywhere, it makes me want to pop out my eyes with a melon baller. So, I enthusiastically applaud the thoughtful design proposals for a housing complex in Maple Leaf.


Prescott Homes Inc plans to construct 24 townhouses and 15 single-family residences for a total of 39 units. 47 parking spaces would be included inside the buildings.


Runberg Architects

Some of the residences—packed in at 25 units per acre compared to the neighborhood average of 9 units per acre—fit the attempted goal of “Northwest Modern.”


Runberg Architects

Whereas some of the duplex designs fall flat, looking like earth-toned California splits (pop-up).

The project has already undergone numerous design reviews, costing nearly $27,000 in pre-building fees, but in its last review (.pdf), the design-review board requested further modifications. The developer and architect will use this meeting and the current proposal (.pdf) to address the board’s outstanding issues, including: fitting in periphery buildings with the surrounding single-family houses, breaking up monotonous roof lines, and screening trash.

Tonight’s meeting is at 8:00 p.m. in room 209 of the University Heights Community Center, 5031 University Way N.E.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Convenient Truth

posted by on April 3 at 1:05 PM

The wood-paneled conference room in the Grand Hyatt was already filled with 170 developers, design professionals, and land-use officials eating eggs and asparagus when I arrived this morning. In their pantsuits and ties, they had come to save the planet.

At center stage was a book just published by the international development-industry nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI), titled Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. The gist: Compact urban development is good for the environment.

Suburban sprawl, explained ULI’s Uwe Brandes, is the enemy. Longer commutes, errands, and business trips in vehicles there produce more carbon emissions. Dense urban centers, as we know, promote residents and employees to use public transit and walk, averaging fewer and shorter car trips. Brandes noted that even within cities, residents of dense, mixed-use neighborhoods produce, on average, 25 percent less carbon emissions than those who live in more sprawling neighborhoods. Secondarily, energy use in larger developments is 20 percent less than in single-family houses because units share walls, heating, etc.

“We’d like to raise awareness about climate change and the role development has in mitigating climate change," says Kelly Mann, Executive Director of ULI’s Seattle District Council. The goal, she says, “is changing the approach to development as a whole.”

The message was falling on the right ears. Sitting among the developers was Diane Sigamura, Director of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development. “We’ve got some big steps to take,” she tells me. “The public needs to examine how to travel and how to live. We can’t expect others to take care of global warming.”

The book projects that within 40 years, 90 million new homes will be built in the U.S., including replacing existing homes. If 60 percent of those are compact developments (townhouse density or tighter), vehicle miles traveled could drop by 30 percent, resulting in a 10-14 percent overall reduction of carbon emissions nationwide.

The benefits are more than environmental. The sort of urban design that reduces car trips also requires creating more walkable, more vibrant cities. But to do this, developers must commit to more than density--they must make a point to construct small retail spaces afforded by independent clothing shops, bars, and tiny restaurants (rather than large spaces afforded primarily by corporate franchise stores). Those are the local amenities that keep people from getting in their cars.

Projected growth represents an economic boon for the housing industry, too--Mann expects 1.7 million additional residents in the Seattle region by 2040.

Often, I think, developers are branded at strict profiteers. While some, no doubt, live up to that reputation, ULI, Seattle’s builders and local officials are taking commendable initiative toward better cities and ecologically responsibility. And ULI is already walking its talk: I wanted to keep my nifty press badge, but Mann asked me turn to it in—it will be reused at the next event.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The New Proposed Building to Take the Place of the Rainier Cold Storage Building in Georgetown

posted by on April 2 at 5:20 PM

Sabey--the corporation that's tearing down the Rainier Cold Storage Building and replacing it with something new--had a meeting with the neighborhood in October to show plans for the new building they proposed to build, and the neighborhood freaked out. Hated it. Couldn't believe what they were seeing. Talked about Georgetown turning into Belltown. Or into Fremont. One horrified guy said that he could very easily see a Tully's or a Kinko's in the ground floor of the proposed building; of course, a Tully's or a Kinko's in Georgetown is anathema to what Georgetown--according to Georgetown residents--is.

Last week, Sabey unveiled plans for a new proposed building that is, it must be said, a helluva lot better than their previous proposal. Here is the old Rainier Cold Storage Building:


And here is the new proposed building (with, apparently, its attendant new name and marketing scheme):


Much more info on Sabey's website.

Tonight’s Design Reviews: The Good, the Bland, and the Mystery

posted by on April 2 at 2:45 PM

Back to the Drawing Board, Amazon

The proposed design for Amazon’s fifth office building in South Lake Union is fine—for a market-rate apartment building. But for part of a massive complex on five blocks that will define a neighborhood, the preliminary designs look boring, lifeless, typical, and cheap.


Callison Architecture, Inc.

For the record, I’ve also defended certain uses of unattractive and inexpensive buildings. And to the credit of Amazon and Vulcan (which is developing the property for Amazon), these buildings are at the cutting edge of environmentally responsible devlopment. That's commendable. But as one of the city’s most influential institutions and a beneficiary of Seattle’s goodwill, Amazon should create a landmark that will be a gold standard to which other great buildings in Seattle are compared. Amazon should define the neighborhood with something inspirational. The limitation to 12 stories – as permitted by a generous zoning package recently passed by the city council – is no excuse not to think big. The VA building on Beacon Hill, where some of Amazon’s operations are currently run, is an example of a non-skyscraper with phenomenal design. The UW School of Law and the old Sears building, home of Starbucks, also prove that impressive design needn’t be part of the skyline.


Callison Architecture, Inc.

Now, mind you, these are only preliminary designs for the brick-colored building. “So don’t give more weight to what’s in the package than you’ve seen right now. We’ve got a long way to go,” says a staff member of Callison Architects who asked not to be named. However, the white and tan buildings are further along in the design process, he said, yet those, too, induce the same chasm-like yawning as the red building. It’s not too late to turn this run-of-the-mill pablum into a legacy. Godspeed, Amazon.

The design review meeting is tonight at 6:30 p.m. in room 1 of the Queen Anne Community Center, 1901 1st Avenue West.

Green Screen

I used to cut through the parking lot on 34th Avenue between E Union Street and E Spring Street on my bike as a kid, and go tearing up the alley. Happy as those memories are, I’m happier to see the lot get developed into a three-story, mixed-use building, containing office space, ground-level retail, and a 3000-square-foot “artist/studio dwelling” that consumes the entire top floor.


Johnson Architects

Madrona's hub has blossomed in the past decade, and this vine-veiled building will fill in an empty bed in the garden. Tonight’s meeting, for the design-review board to provide a recommendation based on previous designs, is open to the public at 8:00 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Yesler Community Center, 917 E Yesler Way.

Dept. of Flying Pigs

Anyone willing to develop either of the lots that have sat vacant for years on 23rd Avenue E and E Madison Street with something – anything – is good in my book. That part of town desperately cries out for eyes on the street and pedestrian activity that involves more than slinking down the street to buy crack.

Sven Larsen of Larsen Architects is designing the building for Le Madison, LLC, and he was kind enough to send me this massing of the proposed design.


Good on ya, Larsen. He says the building will contain retail on the ground floor and 29-31 apartments above. An early design guidance meeting is tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Yesler Community Center, 917 E Yesler Way.

One more after the jump.

Continue reading "Tonight’s Design Reviews: The Good, the Bland, and the Mystery" »

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How a Crusade to Save the Pike-Pine Neighborhood Is Turning an Active Block Into a Gravel Lot—For at Least a Year

posted by on April 1 at 2:15 PM

What seems worse than losing a strip of independent businesses in one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods and replacing it with a blasé apartment building? Losing a strip of independent businesses in one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods and replacing it with nothing.

Last week my friend Kim directed me to a thread on Flickr where a rumor was flying that developers had withdrawn plans for the much-discussed building on E Pine Street between Belmont and Summit Avenues. Instead of a six-story, mixed-use building, gossipers say the property owners would replace the erstwhile Cha Cha and Bus Stop block with a parking lot.

That rumor, it turns out, isn’t quite true. But it’s not quite false, either. Here’s what’s happening.

After several meetings (the first in late 2006) among Capitol Hill’s design-review board, the developer, architects, and neighbors, the Department of Planning and Development issued a master use permit last fall to build the 108-unit apartment building with retail on the ground floor. It was to look like this.


Weber & Thomson Architects. (This picture sucks because it’s a phone-camera photo of the hardcopy design proposal. The city doesn’t have digital renderings.)

Enter Dennis Saxman, a 58-year-old who lives a few blocks away. He balked at the permitted design, saying it conflicts with neighborhood design guidelines intended to preserve the warehouse architectural themes of the Pike-Pine corridor. He appealed the permit to the city’s hearing examiner, Anne Watanabe, in mid-November, but she upheld the permit on January 16, stating, “The record does not show that the proposal’s design would be inconsistent with the design review guidelines.” So Saxman, who went to law school in California, pressed on.

On February 5, he filed a petition with the King County Superior Court, naming the City of Seattle and developer Pine & Belmont, LLC, and requesting that “the Court reverse the land use decision.” A hearing of the case is now scheduled for July 7.

What will happen to this block in the meantime?


“At the moment, it’s just going to be graveled over and left as a vacant lot,” says Wade Metz, development manager of Murray Franklyn. He met with Saxman last Wednesday in an attempt to reach an out-of-court agreement, unsuccessfully.

It could be a year or more,” says Metz.

“The city was screaming at me to get the buildings torn down; there were vagrants in it,” Metz says. “All the tenants had left. I had no choice.”

In fact, one year is a soonest-case scenario—if Saxman loses. “It will get built,” says Metz, “it’s just a matter of when.”

If the court finds the design violates city law and Saxman wins--while an unlikely scenario because it would require overturning the Seattle hearing examiner’s decision--the proposal could literally get sent back to the drawing boards. “They would have to go back, and update their design … and most likely we would take it back to the [design review] board,” says Vince Lyons, head of the design review program for the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Chugging through the design review process could take a year or more, meaning the gravel lot would sit untouched for two or three years before construction crews break ground.

But such a ruling would be a victory for Saxman and those fed up with Seattle's cookie-cutter development: The design review board for Capitol Hill (and perhaps other neighborhoods) could be required to make developers strictly adhere to a classical interpretation of the neighborhood design guidelines.

Nightlife and cornices after the jump.

Continue reading "How a Crusade to Save the Pike-Pine Neighborhood Is Turning an Active Block Into a Gravel Lot—For at Least a Year" »

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Jesus Growing on Us?

posted by on March 26 at 2:55 PM

One of the most bloated churches in our famously under-churched city may be near the bursting point. The City Church – which simulcasts sermons to its four campuses in greater Seattle – has filed an application to expand its building in Belltown. A new wing would cover the parking lot with a two-story expansion, adding 12,210 more square feet.


I left several messages with City Church asking how it plans to use the space. But, alas, nobody returned my calls. (Not even after Erica’s excellent review?) Anyway, an acquaintance of mine and member of the congregation told me last night that they need the space for additional seating. He said the place is becoming more popular and would I like to join him on Sunday for a service? God, help me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Death of a Tales, Man!

posted by on March 25 at 7:55 PM

I walked into Twice Sold Tales on John St., off Broadway, just now, for the very last time. The building it inhabits will be a pile of dust, very, very soon. Right now, it looks like this…

(photo by Miss Barbara Pomer)

...and soon it will be gone entirely.

Let us pause for a moment to remember Twice Sold Tales the way it was, and by “the way it was” I do not mean “they way it has been lately”, which is retarded.

And by retarded I mean that they did not quite ever recover from the square footage they sacrificed when The Bush Years crashed down on the economy’s head like a lead boot and they were forced to dry-wall the poor old bookstore in half. All the aisles were smooshed together and it was impossible, by God, to browse comfortably.

Someone’s ass was always in your face, or rubbing up against your ass, and as delightful as this sounds on paper, it was never (oh, never!) the ass you wanted in your face. It was always that other guy’s ass. The guy whose ass you wouldn’t even want to rub with somebody else’s ass. And to expand upon this assy theme, the place began to smell like ass, too—cat ass. Big cat ass. The biggest. Lots of them. You know what I’m talking about.

Now, please to not misunderstand: I adore them damn cats; they’re what made the place so darling. So quaint. The cats always kept out those “allergy” types completely, and aren’t they always just so fucking annoying? Of course they are. So. But when the place shrank, the cats’ butts did not, and apparently they all exist upon a diet of road kill, and, well…disaster.

What I’m trying to say is that it got all too cat-assy and small. Thank you.

ANY-hoozits, there once was a day when Twice Sold Tales was big and roomy and only moderately assy and it was the most wonderful place to browse books and scratch cats in the universe. It was enchanting when mixed with a latte and a Sunday afternoon, and it was a respectable place to meet cute boys. (Twice Sold Tales had an enormous Gay Interests section when gay was still interesting, and a huge Theater Section when theater still mattered, and all this was when Capitol Hill was still gayer than the Easter egg that Charles Nelson Riley laid, so, the place was cruisier than an MX missile. That goes without saying of course.)

And that is the day I beg you to remember. That big, roomy, only moderately assy, gay, cruisy Sunday day.

It's all over now.

Sure, Twice Sold Tales isn’t vanishing completely, only skittering down Denny a few blocks, and the move really can’t result in anything but an improvement....but still. I can’t help but feel just a little bit sad…


Towering Building; Empowering Building

posted by on March 25 at 3:00 PM

Two proposed developments are up for design recommendations tonight. The meetings are open to the public.

Filling in Fifth Avenue

For the first time in decades, the College Club didn’t hold its Easter brunch in the brown 1960s building on 5th and Madison. Both the club building (at the end of the block) and the adjacent offices are slated for demolition.


This is Schnitzer Northwest's vision for the site.


NBBJ Architects; here's a different view, from the other side (pop-up).

This rendering – the result of design guidance from the city and revisions by the architects – is neither awesome nor offensive. At 40-stories, the tower would almost disappear into the downtown skyline of taller buildings (zoning there allows buildings to reach from 450’ to unlimited height). The slight variations in the roofline, gentle curves, and palate of gray crosshatching are typical of the current development wave.

No question, however, this proposal makes a better use of the space than the squat buildings there now. The rooftop deck (pop-up) begs for a Manhattan and a cigar, and the ground floor relates well to the street.


But why not something bolder, unique? According to a Department of Planning and Development report on a presentation last year, the developer and architect said the design would, “Not over manipulate the façade design and tower shape but have a ‘simplicity and Clarity’ that will confuse the surrounding architectural context.” What does that mean?

The architects, developers, and their PR firm have declined to comment. So, if you want to find out more, head to the second design-recommendation meeting tonight and ask questions. It’s at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall—600 4th Ave, room L280. More about the proposal and after-hours access to City Hall here.

Bakhita Gardens

A proposed development at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Bell Street could bring the watchful eyes of up to 90 full-time residents to a historically sketchy intersection. The Archdiocesan Housing Authority – with city, county, state, and federal assistance – is backing a proposed development to provide low-income housing for women.


But since the Archdiocesan Housing Authority funds it, I wondered, would residents be required to partake in mass or consume the body of Christ to qualify? What if they’re allergic to wafers?

“There’s absolutely no requirement related to faith, worship, or anything like that,” says Brian Lloyd of Beacon Development Group, the contracted devlopment firm. “Part of the church’s mission is to create affordable housing and services.” According to its Web site, the AHA currently provides 1880 housing units at 42 properties. Sweet Jesus.


Environmental Works; also, here's the perspective from Bell Street (pop-up)

The lower floors would provide “congregate housing” (like a shelter, except the residents can stay all day) for up to 40 women, and the upper floors would provide 50 single-occupancy housing units (like studios with half-kitchens). “The idea is to transition women from the streets to permanent housing,” says Lloyd. “There will be case management on site to help women take the next step, which is the upper level of the project.” The ground-floor facing 2nd Avenue would contain 2500 square feet of retail.

The site is currently home to the Recovery Café, which provides shelter at night. “One big difference is this entire building will be a 24/7 facility,” says Lloyd.

At tonight’s meeting, architects and developers will respond to previous design guidance. It’s at 7:00 p.m. in City Hall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Building for a Better Taco

posted by on March 24 at 1:29 PM

Salvador Sahagun may be the most endearing developer ever. Happy to hear from a stranger who found his number on the city's Web site, it turns out he is the primary owner of Tacos Guaymas, the taqueria and cantina chain serving delicious authentic-ish Mexican food around Seattle. Tonight he meets with a design-review board to discuss the redevelopment of his Fremont property at 100 N 36th Street.


Sahagun wants to demolish the existing (cantina-less) Tacos Guaymas and its one-story building, which was previously used as a church. It was later covered in stucco “to give it the look of Mexican restaurant,” he says. He has proposed a three-story building on the site, with about 5000 square feet of retail for a new restaurant (and possibly a cantina) on the ground floor and residential units above. The outdoor seating would remain.

“We’re intending to put in six condos,” says Sahagun. “One of those I intend to use for myself, one for my in-laws, and maybe rent the other ones.” He's building condos for his in-laws from a taco empire. I love him.

Tonight a design-review board will review his current proposal—which responds to design guidance (.pdf) provided last fall, such as maximizing the height of the retail level—at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Ballard High School, 1418 NW 65th Street. Go. Vote cantina!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Brown Outs, Yellow Jackets, and Growth Spurts

posted by on March 19 at 2:40 PM

Here are the design proposals going before the city’s review boards tonight for guidance and evaluations.

Brown Out

It would be difficult to intentionally design something as ugly or unhealthy for sidewalk activity as "The Marion" apartments on Bellevue Avenue and East Pine Street. The shit-colored building is, in essence, a homage to the carport. The units turn their back on an interesting intersection, stacked three stories above a windy, foreboding parking lot. So, it is without remorse or nostalgia that we bid the fair maiden Marion farewell.

The Stratford Company, developers and owner of the site, wants to build a six-story residential building. “The plan is to ‘condominiumize’ the development,” says Stratford’s director of asset management Mark Isner. The proposed building would contain 103 condos and use the ground floor for retail and office space. Parking for 123 cars would, thankfully, be underground.


Ankrom Moisan Architects

The firm recently hung a banner from the Marion’s façade asking would-be tenants and neighbors to complete an online survey about what sorts of qualities they seek in the new building. “We’re trying to make them affordable as we can possible make them,” Isner says. Stratford hopes to break ground this summer.

At tonight’s meeting, open to the public, architects and developers will respond to design guidance provided by the city’s volunteer design-review board in October. If you want to go, it’s at 8 p.m. in room of 3211 of Seattle Central Community College, 1701 Broadway.

Meaning Well

Good intentions can get in the way of good design. For example, an impressive proposal for condos at E Thomas Street and Melrose Avenue E may not mesh the city’s milquetoast plans for the site. Developer Masto Properties has proposed replacing a squat apartment building with a six-story building, containing 30 condominiums and parking for 32 vehicles below grade. One point of friction: It’s bright yellow.


Copyright 2008, Group Architect Inc.

“They said it might be too bold,” Steve Gawronski of Group Architect Inc. says about the design-review board’s take on the design at a previous meeting. But the color works with the building and is spectacularly refreshing. Thousands of cans of taupe paint already threw up all over pre-fab boxes around the city—we don’t need another one.

In addition to maintaining a 15-foot clearance from the building to the north, the building’s other spatial challenge is related to I-5. Melrose abuts the freeway, parallel. Seattle’s Department of Transportation maintains a right-of-way 20 feet back from the street on Melrose and asks developers to keep that space level with the sidewalk. The problem: complying at this site, on a steep grade, would require transitioning from the sidewalk-level to the bottom floor of the building with this hideous concrete wall.

Copyright 2008, Group Architect Inc.

Group Architect’s proposal to terrace the sidewalk (as shown in the first rendering) is a vast improvement and should be permitted. If SDoT needs the space in 50 years, which it may, then it can ask the building's owners to tear out the terrace. At tonight’s meeting, architects address will those issues and respond to previous design guidance. It’s at 6:30 p.m.
in room 3211 of Seattle Central Community College, 1701 Broadway.

More about this gargantuan devlopment on Westlake...


MulvannyG2 Architecture

...after the jump.

Continue reading "Brown Outs, Yellow Jackets, and Growth Spurts" »

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mass Market Food and Architecture

posted by on March 17 at 2:25 PM

Tonight brings us design meetings for two north Seattle developments.

New Pinehurst Safeway

Dykeman Architects, designers of the Capitol Hill Safeway and the Redmond PCC, has submitted plans to demolish an old Safeway and replace it with a shiny new Safeway. Jonah has a great piece on the controversy around it over here. The proposal is for a 50,000 square feet, one-story commercial building with a parking lot for 200 vehicles. The developer is also asking the city to rezone a portion of the site. Here’s the old guy.


Here’s how the new babe would sit on the lot.


In the “pro” column of the preferred design, says the proposal: “The building is located adjacent to the sidewalk at 15th Ave NE at the SW corner of the site and provides the strongest opportunity to develop a pedestrian link to the apartments/condos to the south.” In the “con” column: “Building location does not reinforce the urban character of the ‘gateway’ corner at 15th Ave NE and NE 125th Street.” Hmm, more useful sidewalk or more charming gateway? If you've got an opinion, pour your Jameson into a flask and head to the design-guidance meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. in room 209 of the University Height Community Center, 5031 University Way NE.

Mixed Use Development on Lake City Way

Driscoll Architects pumps out mixed-use developments faster than just about any other developer in Seattle. As a result, those developments, while providing urban density we appreciate, are usually very ordinary. Driscoll hasn’t provided digital renderings of the proposed building on NE 85th St and Lake City Way NE, but they will undoubtedly build on the themes of Driscoll's other buildings.



The building would contain 145 apartments up top, 167 underground parking spots underground, and a coffee shop and other retail spaces on the ground floor, says Driscoll’s Brian Kim. Driscoll went before the design review board for an early guidance meeting in November 2005, and their reps will return to the board with a fleshed out proposal tonight at 8:00 p.m.—also in room 209 of the University Height Community Center, 5031 University Way NE.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tonight's Design Guidance Meetings

posted by on March 11 at 1:20 PM

Props to the developers and architects who submitted proposals for three brand new projects before their first design-guidance meetings tonight, and much love to the Department of Planning and Development that made them do it. Folks can now see, in detail, plans before they attend. Heck, this may even inspire more residents to show up.

If you envision a bustling and visually appealing metropolis—one that doesn’t spill with ranch homes to the town of Index, you should go. Your voice may be necessary to counter meeting-goers who are there to carry out grandpapa’s final wish to limit Seattle’s future construction to single-story brick houses, preserve the precious, precious parking lots, and to tear down that new-fangled space thingie. The bravest among you might even challenge a design-review board’s well-meaning advice to build something that was perfectly suited for Seattle in 1942.

So here, dear Sloggers, are the design reviews de jour.

Eighth Avenue and Stewart Street

Remember those cold mornings in line at the Greyhound Bus Station, standing in a pool of transients’ urine? Sweet yesteryear. Those memories are all you’ll have after R. C. Hedreen Co. builds a 51-story hotel and Convention Center expansion.


This is a superior use for the block, no doubt, but can Seattle’s market support another skyscraper? “It might be somewhat of a slowing down for high-rise condos, although that market is still chugging along,” says Shauna Decker, principal architect of Spencer Decker Architects. But the hospitality market, she says, is strong as ever. “We have the smallest amount of convention space [of major cities] on the West Coast, so people are interested in increasing the capacity of the Washington Convention Center."

Based on this initial massing proposal, it’s impossible to determine if the tower will make a statement in Seattle’s skyline. But the base will be certain improvement for the sidewalk.


The proposal shows that the two buildings will be joined by a promising atrium, which is unfortunately also referred to as a “hall of light.” Ugh. But the worst term in their otherwise excellent proposal is the always-trite use of “water feature.” Which brings us to a pressing question: Isn’t the term “water feature” just a super-pretentious way of saying “fountain” or “pond”? Or are there legitimate uses? (UPDATE: Decker emails to let me know the "water feature" will collect rainwater and circulate it to the building, so it's neither a fountain nor a pond. Duly noted, but I will forever find "water features" to be ambiguous and loathsome.) In linguistic redemption, an open-air aperture to the sky is referred to as an oculus. I love octopus…

The meeting is tonight at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall, room L280. Here’s the groovy proposal. Here’s the groovy notice.

Rainier Avenue South and South Walden Street

It’s flat Albert... razing Chubby and Tubby. Owner of the Rainier Valley site, South East Effective Development is proposing 58 affordable “workforce” apartments on the arterial corner and 10 more units across the alley on Claremont Avenue. The project is funded through one of four grants for low-income housing recently awarded by the city. Nice work.


A funny thing, though. The design proposal proclaims it the "Chubby and Tubby Workforce Housing" and prominently displays the logo, but project manager Diana Keys reveals that Chubby and Tubby isn’t actually involved with the development. Not at all? “No, no at all,” she says. “We call it Chubby and Tubby because it’s a landmark,” says Keys. "It's just a placeholder name." Chubby and Tubby, the namesakes, died years ago, and their respective sons sold the site for use as a warehouse, she says.

Here’s more chub on the tub. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the Rainier Cultural Arts Center banquet hall, 3515 S Alaska St.

15th Avenue South and South Oregon Street


This exquisite parking lot is located next to the former Christian Restoration Center, which is now vacant. In its place, a four-story mixed-use building with up to three retail units at the ground level and 30 residential units above has been proposed by Rudeen Development. No decision yet on condos or apartments, according to Carlos De La Torre of architecture firm H+DLT Collaborative.


The location is a crossroads between Beacon Hill and Columbia City, so like an evangelical density zealot, I’m pro-life—for this intersection. However, this design is stillborn. “It is purposefully boring,” explains De La Torre. “This is the early design, and there are very specific rules to early design guidance. [The design-review board members] don’t want to see a lot of design,” he says. “As architects, we have something in our heads and we’re very excited, and we’d like to get people geared toward that goal.” Attend the meeting and goad them on.

Here’s the proposal. The meeting is tonight in the banquet hall of the Rainier Cultural Arts Center, 3515 S Alaska St.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The I.D. Building

posted by on March 10 at 3:13 PM

There is a void on Fourth Avenue, between the southern edge of downtown’s business district and the northern border of Chinatown. Despite the proximity to two thriving urban centers, nearby blocks are mostly parking lots, single-level businesses, and the erstwhile club Aristocrats.



Fourth Avenue and Washington Street (above), and Fourth Avenue and Main Street (below)

In this bridge between the two neighborhoods, the challenge for architects is designing buildings that meet standards for the historic International District, yet mesh with the glass and steel of downtown. In one example, an almost-completed fire station at 4th and Washington combines angular shapes and industrial materials with panels painted the color of red associated with luck, gold, and dragons. Across the street, however, developers are proposing a fresher approach to Asian design--the I.D. Building.



Pb Elemental

“The design is taking cues from current trends in modern Asian architecture,” says Chris Pardo, principal of Pb Elemental, a local development and architecture firm behind this proposal and the proposed Trophy Building. Pardo says that the designs, still preliminary, are geared to attract “a premier modern boutique hotel for Seattle.” The 24-story building would contain 110 hotel and 120 condo units, and would be crowned with a rooftop bar. (Don’t worry, dear Cloud Room, we’ll always remember you.)

If the Fourth and Blanchard Building (or some say the Columbia Center) can be dubbed the Darth Vader Building, then the I.D. Building could become Vader’s mini me. Far more square, though, the design is unlike anything else downtown or in the International District—like a cut block of black quartz. But this is not wayward, this is forward. It is the sort of statement the I.D. needs. As a modern Pacific Rim city, Seattle's new I.D. construction must occasionally deviate from the predictable Asiana gestures of jades, reds, and yellows.

But it’s uncertain if the board tasked with reviewing construction proposals will approve this stark design. “There is some preference to earthen materials and muted colors within the district,” says Rebecca Frestedt, Board Coordinator of the International Special Review District. The timing could also play a role in the design; the review board is currently revising guidelines for new construction in the area. “We are hoping to adopt that set of guidelines this summer,” she says. Either way, Frestedt continues, “It will likely undergo many revisions before the design is approved.”

On building over the bus tunnel and a temporary new lounge after the jump.

Continue reading "The I.D. Building" »

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Perky Headline for a “Perking” Housing Market

posted by on March 6 at 2:40 PM

The PI is most certainly not plugging the real estate industry’s rhetoric on the front page. Nope. The pendulum is swingin’ and now is the time for buyin'. And those naysayers? They’re “doubters.”


A statement accompanying the data highlighted increases in pending sales from January to February, with jumps of nearly 30 percent in Seattle, and slightly less in King County and the 19 counties in Western Washington that the service covers.

"In March, the real estate market is set to get its mojo back," J. Lennox Scott, chairman and chief executive of John L. Scott Real Estate, said in the statement. "We're already seeing the momentum build."

So… the housing market “perked up” after January, one of the slowest months for home sales. Okay. But the meat of Aubrey Cohen’s solid article seems to conflict with the headline. The big picture ain't very perky. Since last year, sales are down and inventory is way up.

But compared with the same month a year ago, February's pending sales were down 22 percent in Seattle, 36 percent in King County and 31 percent in Western Washington.

The number of homes on the market in February increased 64 percent in Seattle, nearly 69 percent in King County and 39 percent in Western Washington from February 2007.

"Apparently the market is so bad that the only way they can make it seem good is to compare month-to-month stats from what is traditionally the second-slowest month of the year. Awesome," said [SeattleBubble] blog editor Timothy Ellis, mocking the listing service's news release.

Private to SeattleBubble: Mwah!

The market will eventually pick up again, of course, but it may continue to decline before that happens. The implication that people need to buy now before it's too late is industry propaganda. And here, the PI is pushing that hype and reporting the dip in the housing market as a local tragedy. But slow sales and added inventory was overdue. It’s a dynamic that could reduce (over-inflated) prices, making homes more affordable to the people who want to live in greater Seattle but can’t afford a half-million dollar bungalow. That said, I feel bad for the struggling real estate agents and folks who bought a home that’s temporarily depreciated in value. But as bad as I feel for them, I feel better for the people who might be able to buy a house and won't be stuck in the same mess as these suckers buyers.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported Thursday that the number of loans past due or in foreclosure jumped to 7.9 percent, from 7.3 percent at the end of September and 6.1 percent in December 2006. Before the third quarter, the rate had never risen past 7 percent since the survey began in 1979.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Future of 23rd and Union

posted by on March 5 at 2:00 PM

This could be a pivotal evening for the intersection of 23rd Ave and E Union St. At Seattle Central Community College, a design-review board will consider the merits of a six-story development proposed at the site of the long-gone Coleman Building.


A few years ago, the brick retail front and neighborhood anchor was demolished due to irreparable damage from the Niqually earthquake. The lot has stood vacant since, fenced and overgrown. In recent months, the pharmacy closed on the adjacent corner, and a fatal shooting on the kitty corner has left Philly Cheese Steak with shut doors and a pointed memorial.


It is urban decay in an otherwise-vibrant neighborhood. A former historic-preservation architect named Jim Mueller bought the Coleman Building parcel in 2006, and he plans to redevelop the site (no word on the future of Philly's). JC Mueller, LLC has proposed a 65’, 91-unit apartment building with two retail spaces at the ground floor.


Mithun Architects

It looks like a good design—unlike the reprehensible housing slab at 23rd and Madison--the varying shapes of the building and approachable ground floor promote the sort of pedestrian activity that the corner desperately needs. And the upper floors provide the rental units that the housing market demands. "I believe when we're done, the intersection won't be sketchy," says Mueller. "My job is to make change with as much sensitivity as possible to people already in the community." If it comes to be, and the units are rented at reasonable rates, the development would bring hundreds of eyes to the street from the types of community members who love the Central District, help direct money to nearby businesses, and give the neighborhood hub another chance.

But there’s one catch.

Zoning on this corner only allows construction up to 40’, and some neighbors at the design-guidance meeting last summer voiced opposition to building any taller. One commenter is reported saying, “A six story building on this site is disproportionate to the neighborhood, especially the single family development.”

Mueller says, “I don’t know how I would do this at 40 feet.” In order to make back the costs of development, he says, the building requires two additional stories. That calls for the city council to rezone the land. “It’s pretty much a deal breaker.”

Mueller says members of the neighborhood, ultimately, are the ones who can convince the design-review board to recommend an upzone to the council. If that doesn’t happen, Mueller thinks he will sell the land. “In the city you will find many areas, blocks, and commercial intersections that never look healthy. There are many reasons,” he says, “one is that it’s not economical to put another use on the property the way it’s zoned.”

The design-review meeting is at 8 p.m. tonight at Seattle Central Community College, room 3211.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hope You Like that Hole at Second Ave and Pine St

posted by on March 1 at 3:37 PM

Construction of the luxury 1 Hotel & Residences is on hold until at least late summer while the $200 million downtown Seattle project undergoes a redesign to become more appealing to lenders, its developer says.

The project — first in Seattle to offer "condo-hotel" units — has been stung by slow sales and the national credit crisis, Paul Brenneke said Thursday. "It's obviously a difficult credit environment out there," he said, "and we're trying to position this project in the best possible light."

This could be a bellwether of a slowdown in downtown’s development. Or it could just be that 1 Hotel & Residences was a poorly marketed, crappy idea all along. I’ve disliked the project since I saw a 17-page ad in an in-flight magazine billing it as the “New Urbanism.” Seriously? A building that contains all the amenities a millionaire wants in one exclusive fortification isn't New Urbanism. It's a gated country club that happens to be downtown. Cosmopolitan centers don’t need imposed mechanisms for getting people lunch and massages; that’s what downtowns naturally do.

So the main problem here is a bad model, not the national credit mess. Plenty of other Seattle developments, from luxury towers to squat apartment buildings, are moving right along. However, the luxury condo market is small, and to compete, developers must build residences that are distinctive and exquisite. 1 Hotel & Residences was neither. The developers are smart to pause and rethink the business model. If they can’t create something truly magnificent—and the designs thus far haven't been—the developers of this project and other luxury high-rise condos downtown should revamp their plans and build smaller units and sell them for less.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Trophy Building

posted by on February 29 at 2:15 PM

Most of the block bordered by Denny Way, Yale Street, and Howell Street has been redeveloped in the past decade—save for a patch of land owned by Northwest Trophy Inc.


The family-owned award manufacturer holds the one-story building sandwiched between the Marriott SpringHill Suites and the Downtown Emergency Services Center on Howell Street. In 2006, the land was rezoned along with the rest of the Denny Triangle to allow for skyscrapers, so the Anderson family, which has owned the property for 25 years and resented the drunk new neighbors, put the land up for sale. Seattle design firm and developer Pb Elemental submitted a bid to buy it. “This is urban infill basically,” says Elemental principal Chris Pardo. On less than a 3,000 square foot parcel, the firm plans to build a 440’ tower.


The incredibly small footprint poses a structural challenge that Pardo says required guns from Magnusson Klemencic Associates, engineers behind the downtown Seattle Library. “It ends up being a flagpole,” he explains. The tower is supported by a 30’ hollow concrete spine, rooted 90’ deep in the ground. Each floor is only about 2,100 square feet.

“The name has nothing to do with ego or anything,” Pardo says of calling it the Trophy Building, a description normally ascribed to prestigious civic architecture. Nevertheless, the distinctively slender and flaring design makes for the sort of landmark that will define Seattle. But such monuments rarely contain residences afforded by ordinary folks. The Trophy will be no exception. Lower units will begin at $2 million; upper penthouses, which consume two levels, will top out at $18 million.

The building will contain only 19 units.

But because there are fewer than 20 units, the building is exempt from the city’s design-review process, according to Pardo. He says that falling through the loophole was inadvertent. (My calls to the Department of Planning and Development to verify this loophole haven’t been returned.) It’s interesting, perhaps even alarming, that a skyscraper can be built without some sort of design guidance from the city. And in the case of the Trophy Building, it’s particularly surprising because it will be 40' taller than surrounding proposed skyscrapers, such as 1200 Stewart and the Stewart Minor Tower, which are subject to extensive design guidance.

Continue reading "The Trophy Building" »

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Demolition on Boren

posted by on February 24 at 4:30 PM

The Northcliffe Apartments have stood vacant for the last four years, according to a neighbor standing at Boren Ave and Seneca St yesterday afternoon. "I've been waiting for this for a long time," she said, holding her camera phone. But it was news to me. I'd just ran off the bus because the driver announced we had to take "a detour to avoid a building demolition."

Virginia Mason Hospital is expanding. The existing wings have some seismic instability problems, the hospital says, so its razing the Northcliffe to make room for a new wing. Fair enough. But, still, the Northcliffe is a stately brick gentleman of a building and he was being torn down, so I was like, “Aww.”


But then out came The Claw—a gigantic articulated arm with a massive steel pincher that can crush brick. And I was like, “Hells, yes, tear that sucker down!”


More demolition porn and a rendering of the new building after the jump.

Continue reading "Demolition on Boren" »

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Grim Ripper

posted by on February 23 at 7:29 PM

Next on the chopping block--B&O Espresso:

Some of you may not know this yet, but a developer has proposed razing the landmark B&O Espresso on Capitol Hill.

The proposed project would result in a 65' tall, 75-unit apartment complex with retail below. This would eliminate the existing businesses, including the B&O Espresso, as well as the two-fourplex apartments to the north of the B&O. To what degree is redevelopment appropriate and best for the community if it eliminates historical, architectural or cultural connections to our past? How much is enough when it directly jeopardizes and impacts the very core a neighborhood identifies with? Worthy of note is the B & O Espresso and Café, which was one of the first establishments offering espresso in Seattle, and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary at this location. This in itself establishes deep cultural ties to the neighborhood. Eliminating this building would destroy the unique character and cultural identity of this retail core.

And if we keep destroying what makes Seattle unique, we might as well replace the Space Needle with huge golden arches, and a sign reading, "Over 1,000,000 displaced." Some of us do not want this to happen!

Here's a link to a web page devoted to saving the B&O. There's a petition you can sign, and the info where to write DPD Land Use Planner Bruce Rips. (I'm not kidding -- that's really his name.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Denny's Landmark Designation

posted by on February 21 at 2:12 PM

The Denny's in Ballard, AKA the Drinkin' Denny's, was officially designated a historic landmark yesterday after a three-hour meeting of the city's Landmarks Preservation Board. Now, before you get all "But it's so ugly!" over the board's decision, remember: A building does not have to be "pretty" to be designated a landmark. It merely has to meet one of the six criteria for landmarking--and the Ballard Denny's arguably qualifies under two.


The applicants who came to yesterday's meeting to argue against landmark status, representing Benaroya and developer Rhapsody Partners, had planned to tear down the Denny's and develop the site as condos. (Prospective developers often use the landmarking process to argue against landmark status, because applying wards off any future applications.) They spent the better part of their time arguing that the former Manning's Cafe wasn't actually representative of "Googie" design--a type of midcentury roadside architecture that employed bold angles, colorful signs, large planes of glass, and cantilevered roof lines. Judith Sobol, an art and architecture historian from Los Angeles, said the Denny's was "just not Googie.... there's nothing about the exterior that makes the exterior work as a whole." The Space Needle is perhaps the most famous example of Googie architecture. Here are others:



Whether the board bought its Googie argument or not, the applicants continued, the architect, Clarence Mayhew, was a nobody. "None of Mayhew’s buildings anywhere have been called out as historical or as an architectural resource," said Timothy Rood, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "Mayhew was not a particularly noted architect and this building is not an outstanding example, or even a good one, of his work."

The developer turned next to the question of "integrity," arguing that because the building has been so heavily altered (a drop ceiling was added in the 1970s to conceal a new air-conditioning system; more than 70 percent of the original windows have been boarded up or removed), there wasn't enough of the original building left to make it worth saving. Next, the applicants argued that the building had been "dwarfed" by the condos around it, making it difficult to see from several blocks away. Finally, they turned to outright condescension. "If you designate this building you can satisfy the not unimportant sentimental yearnings for the coffee shops you visited in the past," architect Larry Johnson told the board. "But this is the landmark preservation board. It is not the landmark restoration board. Your credibility as a board will ultimately be undermined if you designate this building."

The board, clearly, did not agree. Five of eight board members present voted to save the Denny's, agreeing that the building is a landmark in the traditional sense -- a significant building that is recognizable to anyone in the neighborhood. "Being able to apply a label to it [Googie] is not as important as looking at the building and being able to say it’s important to the city," board member Tom Veith said. "It sticks in your mind and you use it to navigate, remind you where you are."


The designation thwarts the condos and throws the future of the building into question, but it does not force future owners to restore the building to its former glory, above; the decision only landmarked the outside of the building, leaving the fate of the interior in the hands of its future owners.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Last Call for Sprawl?

posted by on February 20 at 12:15 PM

Consider these two developments. First, this Texan exurb.

Big Dallas seemed to be knocking on little Lavon’s door. Thousands of lots were laid out and hundreds of houses built, as developers tried to meet what seemed to be an insatiable appetite for inexpensive single-family homes. Land values soared, the population hit 2,500, and by November, the city was finally flush enough to afford a full-time police department.

But that was when the knocking stopped. Banks were no longer giving mortgages to anyone who could fog a mirror. “For sale” signs went up and stayed up. Weeds, not houses, sprouted on the scraped-earth plots.

Unlike many other states with housing troubles, Texas as a whole is booming, continuing to attract new residents and create jobs. But across the state’s outermost exurbs, formed by waves of new housing, building has ground almost to a halt.

Second, this mega-development proposed between Redmond and Duvall.

Redmond Ridge East -- 337 acres east of Redmond, on Novelty Hill -- is part of a development plan that goes back to the 1980s and was caught up in litigation over traffic for much of this decade…. Quadrant Homes… announced Friday that it started selling the first of what will eventually be up to 800 homes.

The project was planned in a much different market than today's. In January, the inventory of houses for sale in the Redmond area was up almost 60 percent from a year earlier, while sales were down nearly 40 percent, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Countywide, inventory increased about 56 percent and sales dropped almost 31 percent.

The slowing market has affected the project, however, most notably in its range of homes. Two or three years ago, such a project probably would have focused just on houses from $700,000 to $900,000, Reece said. Now, it includes smaller houses with prices as low as $550,000, he said.

This development and others like it present a litmus test for the future of Seattle’s housing market. Thousands of new condos are opening in and around downtown, and thousands more are on the way. But suburban developments like this one, lowering prices, will compete with the downtown high rises. (Of course, downtown buyers are less likely to have kids like the suburban buyers, and Seattle’s market differs from Dallas's—there’s a semi-autonomous Eastside economy.) However, we’ve been told again and again that Seattle's housing remains in demand--like Texas--and that even if prices drop, demand will stay high. But is there enough demand to fill the sprawl and the tall? Will one of them stand vacant for a decade while the market catches up?

If the tract developments go vacant while condos fill up, that's a promising sign for density advocates.

Weird Hyphen, Vol. II

posted by on February 20 at 8:36 AM

From flickr's irons:


Previously in this series: "Walk-Right In."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Condo Owners Vs. Condo Builders on Capitol Hill

posted by on February 19 at 10:40 AM

You know that house on the corner of Belmont Ave and Republican St with all the televisions and weird crap in the yard?


It’s being demolished. That house and the two houses to the north will be replaced by a six-story brick building, containing 40 condominiums—five street-level townhouses and 35 residential units.


The ghastly mauve sandstone color represents brick. The big trees will stay. Illustration by Arca Architecture.

But the project was almost much larger. Developer Belmont Properties had proposed adding 22 more units by using an adjacent parking lot to the north, owned by the Lamplighter building across the street. The deal would have provided the Lamplighter 10 additional parking spaces underground and a private lobby. However, despite majority support from the Lamplighter’s residents, the offer was rejected for failing the consensus required among owners of the 80 units.

According to Arca Architecture’s Alan Clark, “more than 90 percent” of the residents approved his company’s proposal, which, he says, was also supported by the city’s design review board. “There aren’t any arguments against it. It’s a 60’ wide lot; it cannot be developed,” he says. “It made sense to work with us.”

“I’m glad that we blocked it,” spat a dashing resident, who asked not to be named. The deal, it turns out, would have required selling the condo owners’ land, thereby giving up any appreciation value. “I’m tired of these five-story buildings going up all over Capitol Hill,” he told me before entering the 10-story Lamplighter.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Excitement, Trepidation in Columbia City

posted by on February 18 at 6:53 PM

Last Friday, the city's landmarks preservation board met to discuss a new mixed-used development in Columbia City, currently the site of the Columbia Plaza shopping center and its sea of parking spaces. As it turns out, Columbia Plaza sits smack in the middle of the Columbia City Historic District... although you'd never guess it from looking at the site:

photo.jpg" />

Because of the landmark designation (of the site, not the building), the redevelopment is subject to landmark review; as such, it has to follow the landmark preservation board's criteria. Among them: Maintaining the "self-contained, small-town quality" of downtown Columbia City; encouraging a mix of uses; and being a size "consistent with the massing of existing historic buildings."

That last one is where the project could run into problems. The massing plans presented by Dana Behar of HAL Real Estate Investments and Ed Weinstein of architecture firm Weinstein EU showed one or more six-story residential buildings with retail on the ground level facing Rainier and Edmonds--a smaller street that runs perpendicular to Rainier down to the planned light rail station at MLK. The buildings would probably cluster around a central courtyard.

Residents of the neighborhood have expressed alarm at the scale of the developments planned for the area, several of them similar in size and scale to the Columbia Plaza proposal. "The neighborhood does hope and pray that you'll build to a 40-foot height limit," resident Chris Osborne said. Residents have been similarly perturbed over plans by developer Harbor Properties (which did the Harbor Steps project downtown) to redevelop an old plastics warehouse at the corner of Rainier and Hudson, on the south end of the historic district, into a 375-unit condo complex six stories high.

While I'm sympathetic to concerns about preserving the historic district (as my coworkers know, I even think they should preserve the Ballard Denny's), that isn't what's at stake here. What is at stake is an ugly plastics warehouse and an uglier parking lot that fronts on a small mall selling hip-hop clothes and cigarettes—both of which are available at many other places in the neighborhood. Both sites are underutilized (Columbia Plaza turns its back on a park that's a crime hot spot for the area) and would benefit tremendously from new housing. What's more, the teams associated with both the projects have a history of making developments fit in with the neighborhoods where they're located. For example, Weinstein AU designed the Agnes Lofts at 12th and Pike...


... the award-winning downtown Banner Building:


... and a bunch of proposed developments around the city, images of which you can find at their insanely over-Flash-enhanced web site.

As Weinstein told the landmarks board, "We’re looking to do authentic buildings that are appropriate only for their sites and their circumstances." That ought to be exciting news for Columbia City residents--not cause for chagrin.

And speaking of exciting news... Weinstein mentioned something I was not aware of: The city has preliminary plans to put Rainier Ave. South between Rainier Beach and Alaska Street on a "road diet," reducing traffic to one lane in each direction. Given that the city's action on accident-prone Rainier (1,743 collisions between 2002 and 2004 alone) has so far consisted of billboards (because what better way to improve driver safety than encouraging drivers to take their eyes off the road?), that's a promising rumor indeed.

Ballard's Grand Slam

posted by on February 18 at 1:12 PM

It looks like Jonah can have his Mother Butler Pies and eat them, too. The erstwhile Ballard Denny’s and the encroaching condos have apparently reached a compromise.


Ah, but looks can be deceiving.

Via tipper Damon and the incredible, wonderful, lovable hugeasscity.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Designs So Nice, They’re Building Them Twice

posted by on February 14 at 3:22 PM

You know what would look perfect across the street from the two matching Westin towers on 5th and Virginia? Two more matching towers. And up on 2nd and Virginia? More twin towers. And over on 6th and Bell… twin towers, and just down the block on Sixth and Lenora, still more. And over on Denny and Stewart, yup, you guessed it. Twin towers are the new black monoliths. They are all nice, tall buildings--we need the density--but considering that new zoning regulations are conducive to parallel high rises, they could get monotonous.

The Heron and Pagoda Towers


At 550 feet, these boys are the tallest twins expected in the maternity ward. Hummingbird Advisors is proposing 45 stories of condos, hotel rooms, and retail on 5th and Virginia. But, similar as the buildings by Ismael Leyva Architects may appear, they’re not exactly identical.

“They are not twins—we call them brothers,” says Steven Gestetner of Hummingbird Advisors. “When you look at them from any point you will not see them as being the same. They are from the same parents, so to speak. But you’ll never see them as being twins. They are the opposite of being twins.”

Uh… twins or not, they’re replacing an icon: the Icon Grill. Located on 5th and Virginia and conspicuously surrounded by fluorescent green land-use-action signs, when I went in last week, none of the employees knew the building is fated for demolition. Today when I called, the receptionist said she hadn’t heard anything about a development. (Yes, but haven’t you seen all the signs?) A manger got on the horn. “We have lease that expands for quite while,” said Icon manger Nick Musser, who noted that the city takes a long time to approve development proposals. “Until we have a timeline, it’s business as usual for us.” Which, for the Icon, is the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it continues an unbroken track record of serving up its underwhelming menu.

Why so many twin towers proposed recently?

Recent zoning changes promote them. “In our case,” says Gestetner, “the twinness is sort of encouraged in a certain way by the combination of zoning and economics.” A couple years ago the city changed zoning regulations, allowing developers to construct taller buildings downtown, but also limiting the floor area in high-rises to 12,700 square feet. “The city wants to preserve view corridors,” he says.

70 percent of the base floors must be designated for retail and other commercial uses, according to zoning rules, but Gestetner says buildings must accommodate parking ramps and other logistical needs, too. “If you’re going to have lobby, it will eat up the entire ground level,” he says. “You end up having to purchase additional property to build a lobby… and when you’re done, you have room for two towers.”

The Insignia Towers

The block that used to home to Teatro ZinZanni, on 6th Avenue between Battery and Bell, is currently fenced and bleak. Any day now, Vancouver B.C. based Embassy Development expects to receive a permit to break ground for a project designed by Perkins and Company Architects. Embassy will construct two 40-story buildings—with an eight-story podium for mixed use, topped by 32 floors, containing 640 condos. “They are going to be relative mirror image of one another,” says Embassy’s Mark Oord, who seemed genuinely bubbly about the residential transformation of Seattle’s downtown. “From what I’ve always heard, the unofficial mandate from city hall is that it is trying to emulate [Vancouver].”


Second and Virginia Towers


Located across the street from one another on the west side of 2nd, these 400-foot twins will have their umbilical cord cut by Virginia. To the north will be a 40-story, 240 unit residential tower with 7,500 sq. ft. of retail at ground level and parking for 360 vehicles below grade. The building on the south will be 39 stories and contain 186 residential units, 139 hotel rooms, and 294 underground parking spaces.

More after the jump.

Continue reading "Designs So Nice, They’re Building Them Twice" »

Monday, February 11, 2008

Downtown’s Hope Diamond

posted by on February 11 at 9:19 AM

Today’s Seattle Times has a story on the crystalline Fifth and Columbia Tower, being shoehorned into the same block as the Rainier Club and the First United Methodist Church. In December, Daniel Development revised its plans from a 33-story office building to a 660-foot, 41-story tower, reflecting the surrounding metropolis in its 18 facets. This rendering by Zimmer, Gunsul, Frasca Architects puts it in context with the skyline.


Can the city expect more awesome proposals like this one?

The Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects is sponsoring a public conversation on the future of downtown today at noon at the downtown public library, 1000 Fourth Ave., in the Microsoft Auditorium on Level 1. Speakers include City Librarian Deborah Jacobs, Seattle Art Museum Director Mimi Gates, architect John Nesholm and developer Greg Smith. The event is free.

UPDATE: I just posted a rendering of the comparatively drab ground-floor after the jump.

Continue reading "Downtown’s Hope Diamond" »

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Biotech and Retail on Dexter Ave N

posted by on February 7 at 1:44 PM

A few months back I wrote about 1101 Dexter, a proposed biotech facility on Dexter Avenue North. Considering the vacant retail spaces nearby, I wondered whether the city’s mandate to include 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, as per the “Seattle Mixed” zone on Dexter, was an unrealistic requirement. At the time there were no renderings of the design, so I looked forward to seeing how LMN Architects would try to attract shoppers, diners, and retailers.

The problem with Dexter is that the steep topography and parallel arterials (Aurora and Westlake) limit the number of pedestrians who can access it for day-to-day commercial purposes. Compounding the problem, the roar of traffic prevents it from feeling like the sort of place you'd stop the car, pop in somewhere for lunch, and then go for a stroll.


An initial design of 1101 Dexter.

I applaud LMN for departing from the green glass that chills many modern science institutions. However, the design fails to promote sidewalk activity. It comes down to personal taste, of course. But it makes me want to cross the street to get away. The setbacks look cavernous and foreboding; the concrete columns are menacing.


Translucent people aren't convincing.

If the ground-floor of buildings on Dexter are ever to support shops and restaurants, developers like Capstone Partners must do a better job designing for them--using an approachable, human scale. And if they do that but retail still cannot be supported, the city should just change Dexter’s zoning. Empty storefronts are depressing.