By Jack Stubbs
On Monday, March 19th, a 125-unit project slated for Bitter Lake, north of Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood, was denied approval to proceed in the city’s design review process at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting. Architect KTGY Group, Inc. presented preliminary project plans on behalf of Quadrant Homes, the developer of the project. Landscape architect Weisman Design Group Inc. is also on the project team.
The project will not yet proceed to the next stage of the design review process as the Northwest design review board highlighted issues with the development’s massing and scale, programming of the interior uses and fit with the surrounding neighborhood context.
The development, sitting on a roughly 4-acre site and located at 12301 Stone Ave. N., will include 14 3-story townhomes (comprising 125 residential units),165 resident parking stalls, an 8,000 square foot central community space/courtyard area and a 2,200 square foot dog park. The objective with the development is to transform an underutilized tow yard parcel by replacing it with for-sale townhomes, successfully activate the streetscape, and provide residents with access to public transit, according to the submitted project plans. The development is roughly half a mile from Haller Lake, less than a mile from Bitter Lake, and roughly 1.5 miles from Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood.
Kicking off the applicant team’s presentation, Keith McCloskey of KTGY Group articulated the priority city design guidelines for the project, some of which include creating an architectural character that is consistent with the neighborhood context; encouraging pedestrian walkability and access to the development; activating the adjacent streetscape through landscaping elements; and emphasizing the open space elements in the project.
McCloskey also discussed the applicant team’s three different massing options. The first two options are comprised of a mix of live/work and residential units, while the preferred massing option calls for 125 new residential townhomes that will front the recently-constructed right-of- way along 125th Ave. The applicant team also envisions that the sidewalk on N. 125th St. will turn into a new landscaped parkway along Stone Avenue North to enhance the pedestrian experience.
The majority of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the applicant team planned to program the proposed development. Board member Keith Walzac inquired whether the project team had addressed potential code-compliant issues regarding the residential units with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. Walzac also asked whether the three massing options would provide sufficiently different unit types. Board member Marc Angelillo elaborated on this, asking how the applicant team would successfully program the open spaces in the development, also inquiring how accessible the development would be to the surrounding community. Board member Emily McNichols asked about the relationship between the development and the other retail-oriented mixed-use portion of the site, which is being submitted by the applicant team as part of a separate EDG application.
There were several public comments expressed during the meeting, most of which related to the way that the development would fit into the surrounding neighborhood context. One of the public comments expressed a preference for the applicant team’s first Massing Option, articulating that the scale of the townhomes might set a problematic precedent in the neighborhood—especially with the citywide MHA up-zoning changes occurring throughout the city. Other public comments expressed concern about a prominent lack of new and unique commercial space in the neighborhood and also highlighted potential safety concerns with traffic and circulation along Stone Ave., 125th St., and Aurora Avenue. Two other audience members also articulated potential safety and security concerns around the development.
Ultimately, the board decided that the project would have to return for a second EDG meeting, with the applicant needing to further address various design elements relating to the massing of the building and how the project would impact the surrounding neighborhood.
During its deliberation period, the board predominantly focused on how the applicant team planned to program the commercial versus residential uses in the development. The board also asked the applicant team to give further consideration to how many of the units would be designated as live/work units versus residential units. Specifically, the board recommended that the applicant team work on implementing more diversity of commercial uses into the proposed massing options, also suggesting that the applicant further refine the project plans to more fully consider the surrounding neighborhood context. Additionally, the board suggested that the applicant team work on improving vehicular access and circulation throughout the site, especially along Stone Ave.