Design Review Marathon

This is what Alaska Junction in West Seattle looks like today, looking southeast.  The building in the background is a nearly completed seven-story residential building known as Mural, developed by Harbor Properties, and designed by Hewitt Architects.

Shown below is a rendering of the proposed building for that money corner site.   The project just had its fourth Design Review Board meeting, at which it was decided that the developer, Connor Homes, would have to come back for yet another round.  Read all the gory details here, if you can stand it (I couldn’t).

While I have to admire the tenacity of the DRB and West Seattle residents, should there be a limit to how long this process can be dragged out?  The cost to the developer must be in the hundreds of thousands by now.  Is this an example of the DRB working as intended to enforce appropriate design, or is it Seattle process run amok?  Discuss.


[ Rendering:  Weber Thompson, via West Seattle Blog ]

9 Responses to “Design Review Marathon”

  1. ktstine

    I haven’t brought myself to read the gory details yet. Having participated in a lot of design review meetings, I feel that 4 is a bit excessive. But, then again, I haven’t read the details.

    I live in WS and adore the junction. I also work in development and business district revitalization, so I think a lot about what makes successful business districts. While I was walking by this site the other day I was thinking about how much the size of the buildings here contribute to the feel and success of the business district in the junction. Really, the entire strip is pretty much bordered by one and two story buildings. It has a very 40s drive up feel to it. And, I don’t think I have ever seen a vacant storefront here.

    I actually do think that these are the kinds of locations that warrant density, for sure. But what pains me is that I know (as a developer) that the new commercial space will cost twice what the old space rented for (economics of new construction, pure and simple). And then, maybe we will see more vacancies, or more chain tanning salons, or more high end establishments. And then, will it feel like the junction business district that I know and love? How do we preserve commercial USES and not just buildings? Currently, there is no public subsidy or incentive to private developers to do this. Capitalism, pure and simple.

  2. Kathryn

    Ah (off topic here) Use versus Land Value. Now that is huge, and probably the most schizo aspect of Land Use and zoning. Especially when one considers the species homeowner.

    But — some sort of small business subsidy or tax breaks to prevent displacement of small businesses?

    Neighborhood ‘main streets’ are something to treasure and something worth getting back. Not like we can order certain businesses to set up shop, but we can sure make it worth their while.

    Many of these endless design review meetings seem to focu on questions of what uses will be there. Or, they are happening because there is a contract up zone pending and we want public benefit. There are also traffic and safety considerations. It’s not always about the appearance from the point of view of the people who LIVE in a neighborhood, even though the Design Review board seems to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing materials and window sizes.

    If I hear another developer talk about how there will be a BIG restaurant, like we want a restaurant row that people from outside will be DRIVING to, when we want a mercantile, a hardware store, and other useful things, I will just scream. Which is why I stopped bothering with these meetings.

  3. reality based commute

    The project is actually two buildings, not one, with another facing Jefferson Square on 42nd. I like most of this project. There are midblock pedestrian passageways, some with retail on them. The Junction has several of them. One of the big issues is where parking exits the building. Mural exits to the alley, Connor wants to exit onto 42nd across from the Safeway. The alley may not be able to handle both buildings. This is a departure from the norm.

    I agree it is a lot of process, but this is a money corner.

  4. John

    The reality, I think, is that what people want Design Review to be able to do and what it’s capable of doing are two different things.

    People who are not architects or designers rarely care nearly as much about window types and external materials nearly as much – yet so much of the impact the current process can have falls in those categories, so a lot of time is spent there. Yet people who live in a neighborhood and have concerns about a lot of other issues connected with new development don’t have a good entry point into the process, so they come to design review…and then are frustrated when they can’t get what they want.

    So yes I agree with Kathryn, but I don’t see a good path for resolution, without significantly changing the current scope of the design review process.

    I will say that with a 50+ year lifespan on most of these projects, trying to get it right seems worthwhile.

  5. Will

    No strong feelings about the project either way — I think it’s fine. I just find it interesting that this project will have to go through (at least) 5 meetings with the Design Review Board, whereas the monstrosity that’s supposed to go up at the old Mannings site in Ballard only had to go through two, and still looks like a piece of crap. How does that make any kind of sense?

  6. Kathryn

    Might be helpful to increase the scope and variety of skills on the board, i.e., Planning and Transportation along with Design. Or have the benefit of traffic study info earlier on, since the ingress and egress of cars seems to be big issue.

    Ultimately, I find most architecture in Seattle to be uninspiring mainly because it’s not being designed by great architects. It’s being designed by builders, constrained by costs, fiddled with by committees.

    It’s still better than much of the Soviet style boxes from the 50s and 60s that I see looking up toward Capital Hill from South Lake Union.

  7. dave

    The alley can handle both buildings because:
    a. the residents will drive less because they can walk to most things.
    b. I live in a 42 unit building and there are at least 4 buildings of similar size all sharing alley accessed parking. I almost never pass another living soul in the parking lot/exit to street.

  8. Sue T.

    @7 -

    Have you passed some dead souls? : )

  9. Alaska Junction Resident

    The alley cannot handle both buildings. I live in the junction and use that alley, I usually have to circle the whole block several times because someone is exiting the alley and I can’t get in. A lot of people in my building use cars to commute to work, I think they designed it with an ideal of small, more earth-friendly cars and residents who walk and use public transportation, but it is just not the case. Also, the pedestrians that are in the area like to dart across the alley entrances, no matter how slow I creep out, I’ve almost hit someone several times. The Petco and other businesses that back up to the alley have their delivery trucks park there for extended periods of time, and customers who couldn’t find free street parking will just leave their car in the alley. Then there’s the residents moving in and out who don’t know how to park their U-Haul truck. I can’t handle the congestion and will be moving as soon as possible.

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