Community Post

23rd & Union Design Review Open Thread

We had big plans to attend last night’s design review for the 23rd & Union development, but a last minute scheduling snafu kept us from making it. (it’s been busy week – we’ve got big project launching tomorrow and things have been go-go-go here at the world headquarters)

But for those that did attend, use this as an open thread to tell everyone what you learned and what you thought about the development. And If you’ve got pictures or video of the event, upload them using the post menu above and we’ll attach them to this story.


Getting this project done will require city council action to allow the added height for the project. So if you’re a supporter, be sure to speak up and tell our city council members:
http://www.seattle.gov/council/councilcontact.htm

Sally Clark is the chair of the planning committee that will take up the rezone, so make sure she and the other committee members get your feedback too:
http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/planning_comm.htm

Update: Misty reports that she was told that councilmembers can’t consider your comments in rezoning cases:

Because this is a zoning change request, it is considered to be “quasi-judicial.” Councilmembers are not permitted to read emails or talk to people for or against any measure considered to be quasi-judicial. They are to limit their decision to the facts presented in the formal legislative process, much like judges in a court case. As such, Councilmember McIver cannot read or respond to your email.

0 thoughts on “23rd & Union Design Review Open Thread

  1. The tone of the meeting last night was I thought basically positive and sympathetic to the plans for 23d and Union. Only one person I believe was opposed to the height variance. It does seem that the plan does not address the need for street-level interest and pedestrian support adequately, i.e., only three entrances to the bldg. on Union Street, one the large entrance to the lobby, and on 23d, only a driveway entrance to the parking garage. The architect heard these concerns. One or two community members spoke to the blockiness of the structure as proposed, one suggesting that there be more curved elements in the facade, another suggesting that the push-out decorative elements in the facade were inadequate to minimize the effect of a big box. The architect emphasized the plantings on the streets as evidence of sympathy to the neighborhood’s need for beautification. Lots of windows were presented as creating street-level interest, although I thought throughout of the windows of the Safeway store on 23d.

  2. I’ve never been to a design review, so it was an interesting experience. Seeing the architects wax poetic about “texture”, “cadence”, “rhythm” and “tempos” made me feel like I was in some kind of music dissertation, not a design review.

    Anyways, although I think the design is still rather nice, it is significantly less interesting than the previous sketches. Much less glass, much more square, though it does still have some interesting buttresses coming out.

    There does seem be a healthy set back on all sides and the developer has stepped the building back along 22nd. It is however still a tall building and those who had issues with the rezone will still have issues with this building.

    There will be two retail spaces on the ground floor, with large windows facing onto Union and 23rd. One is rather large and would probably accommodate a restaurant, the other is much smaller, and although I might have misheard I think I heard Jim Mueller say one possible tenant was a dry cleaner? (and he called this exciting? I hope I misheard)

    There were quite a few comments about the entrances to the businesses, which are all on Union, if I understand correctly, the only entrances are actually through the lobby (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here). A lot of people, myself included commented that they thought 23rd deserved at least one entrance (or better yet a corner entrance on 23rd and Union) in order to encourage pedestrian traffic on 23rd where it’s most needed.

    There was a big focus on the landscaping, and they do seem to be really trying to create a positive space through greenery. This involves trees and planters on all sides as well as a green roof which the tenants will be able to use.

    They confirmed that it would be rentals. It looked like most units were 1 bedroom to me, I wish I had asked what the breakout was for each size, though they did mention 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and studios.

    Hopefully someone took better notes, this is all from memory. Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll answer them if they were answered through the meeting.

  3. i couldn’t go last night but was curious if they mentioned anything about increased traffic on 22nd ave?

  4. did they mention a timeline?

    also, did he mention the criteria for the businesses? I think we should ask that he have a rule that permits on businesses with 4 stores or less to get leases. I would hate to see a Papa John’s there.

  5. Per the question above on 22nd ave traffic, there was not a lot of discussion about this (certainly compared to the community meeting at Central Cinema last summer). Assuming this is mostly because the parking garage entrance in the current proposal is now on 23rd ave at the south end of the building (by Casey Family Foundation).

    On the design, it is somewhat different than the earlier proposal. As noted above, there is less glass (though still a fair amount in my view) and perhaps a little more “boxy”. I listened to a few minutes of the “deliberations” at the end, and a lot of the focus (from the Design Review folks) was on trying to find ways to mitigate some of the costs related to the underground parking (at least as one example) in order to free up resources for more aestetically pleasing materials for the structure.

    The design review committee seemed pretty good, genuinely interested in the community input, and committed to working in a productive way with the architects/developer to get the best design possible. But note they announced at the outset that they were one person shy of a quorum, meaning that there has to be another meeting like this (w/ a quorum) to actually move forward. Needless to say that’s pretty frustrating. I didn’t hear any suggestion of when that might be scheduled (did others?) but one would hope that it would be done in an expedited manner.

    I think the most common concern voiced was about the lack of entrances (other than the parking garage, and a service entrance) on 23rd street – as noted in the first comment above. I would have been interested in hearing from the architect on the rationale behind this. I would assume that at least part of it is related to the fact that any outside seating (for what would presumably be a restaurant in the main commercial space – NE corner) would have to be on Union. But that’s just a guess. They did note that an entrance could be added on 23rd, and would potentially be explored when their is an actual tenant lined up. Final note on that, while I think this is a reasonable concern – I don’t think the Safeway building “windows” on 23rd are quite an apt example, since in this case it would presumably be clear glass running the full length of the establishment on 23rd — with activity inside that’s visible from the street (and vice versa). So something like the Starbucks windows on Madison in the Safeway building are perhaps a better analogy (for what that’s worth).

    So overall, I’d say there were (mostly) some interesting and worthwhile comments that can potentially enhance the design. But I also think that in the end it’s vital to not let the perfect become the enemy of the good (or better than good in my view). The bottom line is that this project is being done by a seemingly thoughtful developer who has a pretty genuine stake in the neighborhood (i.e. also doing the 22nd and Madison development, interested in others I think, and apparently lives nearby – Madrona I think he said)and is designed by architects with a very good track record (including in the CD). It’s not JUST that this is currently an empty lot and has been for a while – it’s also a question of whether it’s realistic to expect someone else to come along and do something better (and in any kind of near-term timeframe), especially given some of the limitations with this lot?

    At the end of the day, this project should bring dramatically new commercial, residential, pedestrian vitality to the corner and has a chance to be a beacon of a neighborhood core where people (other than those selling drugs or themselves) actually want to hang out.

  6. The comments so far have been accurate and helpful. I did stay to the very end of the design review committee deliberations. It sounded as if they would try to expedite the rerun, and someone said something about still needing another hearing for the contract code variance or whatever the exact words for that are.

    Re additional entrances, the committee really pushed that. According to the design team, the problem with this is that it would take away table space in the restaurant. There was discussion of putting in an entrance, because it would be difficult to add later, but allowing the restaurant to not use it and just treat it as part of the wall, with any future lessees having the option to revert to use as a door.

    There was some talk of the traffic on 22nd, but no one mentioned something that was suggested at one of the previous meetings: make 22nd one way north bound between Marion and Union, with “right turn only” at Union.

    Re traffic on 23rd, I had the opportunity to talk with Jay Mithun at the end and tell him about the proposed changes in the traffic configuration (see current articles on this web site, which I referred him to as a starting point). It’ll be a year before we know what that will bring, so Jim probably needs to prepare for several different scenarios for his parking entrance.

    There was also discussion of their desire to move the bus stop on the 23rd Avenue side, and their lack of success so far in getting it moved to in front of Casey. I suggested considering moving it to in front of the 76 station (“Richlen’s”), and he said he’d look into that.

    I’m totally in favor of going ahead with this building, hopefully with some little tweaks as previously discussed. I doubt we can do better, and starting over would waste many extra months or even years. I don’t think we want a vacant lot there any longer than necessary.

    For the smaller space(s), I’d like to see a small hardware store instead of a dry cleaner. I could always find what I needed at the East Hill Hardware in the old Colman (Coleman?) building. Obviously no room for building materials, but a place where you could get small tools, mouse traps (!), that sort of thing. There’s so much home improvement activity going on around here, and who wants to drive a couple of miles for a drill bit?!

    I’m going to email Jim with some of these suggestions.

  7. Only two design board members were present. Three is a quorum. Therefore, there will be another public Design Review Meeting. While I think most of us are exited at the prospect of developing the corner, it is not wise to characterize persons looking to ensure that this project is something really nice for the neighborhood as obstructionists. Although the corner has had many problems, this neighborhood in basically a nice eclectic mix of people and homes and deserves to be respected.

    There were two people in the audience who questioned the height requirements of the project. I was one who only addressed the zoning on 22nd and still feel that the slight set back is not quite adequate. The other person stated that she was opposed to increasing the height from the current zoning. There were no direct rresponses to the public comments. Hopefully they were at least dutifully noted.

    A number of persons who questioned or commented on the facade while others in the audience seemed to compliment all aspects of the project with no questions. The depiction of the facade varies from time to time. In pictures the townhouse side seemed include a bit of red in the palate but red is not included in the palate presented. Galvanized steel is the trim material but is not represented in the small model.

    Fiber cement panels were proposed by the developer for the facade with galvanized steel trim which, for me, was quite a departure from the ambiance of the original drawings. During the committee deliberations one of the two persons on the design board challenged the durability and appearance of the cement panels and asked the developer if the number of layers of underground parking could be reduced if that would allow funding for a better facade material. The developer did not believe that in this neighborhood the project would be viable without the parking. These are the types of questions we all should be asking, not in an effort to stop a project there, but to ensure that it serves us well.

    Since there are four corners at 23rd and Union, I’m sure many developers are interested in many possibilities. This one may well set the tone for all.
    Other notes:
    The developers spent the first part of the meeting on landscape design which appeared to be nice enough. Some audience members expressed concern for the plan for upkeep.
    As noted in other blogs the location and number of entrances garnered a number of comments.
    A dry cleaners was mentioned. Is this a good idea in a residential building? Yes, I also wished I had misheard.

    Some of the departures that were discussed that must be approved by the city included: (My exact understanding was a bit hazy on a few.)
    Reducing the driveway width from 22 to 20 feet on 23rd Avenue.

    Square bay windows rather than the Queen Anne style.

    Using the perimeter of the green roof to count toward some the required green space amenity?

    There were a few others that I apologize for not carefully noting.

  8. I was extremely disappointed that there was not a quorum for last night’s design review.
    I want to see this project move forward and another delay is, well, another delay in what is and has been a long process.
    I was also disappointed that the design was tweaked to reduce the amount of transparency and articulation in the facade. The original rendering was of a great, forward thinking design with plenty of north facing glass to let the cool northern light into the spaces of the building, hopefully helping to reduce the amount of energy needed to light those units. I imagine going down that extra level (now there are 3 levels of parking) was a tough pill to swallow for the team.
    Overall, I am still very excited about this project and I REALLY hope it moves forward and the height variance is given to them.

    As for amount and location of entrances, depending on the businesses that move into those 2 spaces, they will tweak the location of the entrances to serve their particular model. The only thing that will limit them will be the difference in heights from one end to the other (ie. the slope along the facade).
    I am much more concerned with keeping the transparency at the street level than I am about dictating the location and amount of entrances. People populating tables along the windows, gazing out onto Union and 23rd would be FANTASTIC!

    Given the site constraints, and the budget I’m sure, I would say Mithun has done a nice job with this building. Yes, it’s not perfect. But this should be the start of the change that is needed at the intersection, not the final, ultimate solution.

  9. The King 5 segment is a good one to watch. I don’t think anybody has been called an “obstructionist”, but we risk death by a 1000 cuts if we don’t recognize the inherent merits in a development such as this. The reality is not everybody is going to get everything they want–I think folks have to pick 1-2 things they really want as part of the project and push hard.

    It might be useful to have the CDNA agree on a set of principles that we could take to the next meeting, rather than have everybody throw their 2 cents out and bog down the process.

  10. Those who wish to have their opinion on this project officially recorded should send email to the DPD planner Lisa Rudzick: Lisa.Rutzick@seattle.gov

    I’ve lived two blocks from the site for 10 years and I strongly support the project. If you agree, then it would be a good idea to include in your email that you support the departures they have requested, and list each one. The height limit increase is of course the most important to support.

    The second most significant departure is the allowance for the garage entrance on 23rd Ave. This one is a tradeoff between creating a residential ambiance on 22nd and better activating 23rd. I think the designers have made the best choice.

    Third would be the allowance for less than the code-mandated amount of non-residential use (i.e. retail) at the street level. They asked for this so that they can put residential entrances on 22nd, which I think is a good idea. And the retail space they have is enough for that building (many urban villages in Seattle suffer from retail overkill).

    The other departures are relatively minor issues: allowance of rectangular bays, a 20 foot wide driveway instead of 22, and to count a small portion of the green roof toward the required residential amenity space. All fine ideas, and justified, in my opinion.

  11. I hear the concerns about a dry cleaner with people living above. But, I would be thrilled to have a dry cleaner within walking distance. A small hardware store would be excellent, too.

    For the development we are seeing along Union, we won’t have an active walking community unless we have a string of stores that people need for their daily and weekly errands.

    I’ll say frankly that the only reason I walk up to Madison at MLK is to eat once in a great while. There is nothing useful there, just alot of chi chi frau frau. I DRIVE to Madison Park as there is a Post Office (in one of the little stores), a dry cleaner, a bank, a grovery store, a hardware store, an insurance agent, etc. And, because I am there for necessities, I will patronize thier schmantzy shops once in a while.

    I’d love to walk 4 blocks to Union on a Saturday and find all of these somewhere in the vicinity between 23rd and MLK.