By Jack Stubbs
“A lot of the conversations and discussions you’ve had with the community have helped the project to come a long way since the last Early Design Guidance meeting,” said board chair Charles Romero.
On Tuesday, November 14th, a 141-unit W39 Apartments development was given the green light to proceed at a Design Review Recommendation meeting, with the board voting unanimously to advance the project forward. The applicant team—Studio 19 Architects and landscape architect Weisman Design Group—presented updated project plans to the board on behalf of Dynasty Group, the owner and developer of the project.
Located at 6901 MLK Jr. Way South in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood, the 141-unit 70-foot mixed-use development will also include 81 parking stalls below ground and 41 bike stalls, as well as 5,000 square feet of commercial retail space at street level.
In their presentation of updated project plans, the applicant team responded to various comments put forth by the Review Board at the last EDG meeting that was held for the project in September 2015. At the prior meeting, the board had recommended that the applicant further refine the building’s massing and neighborhood context response and further develop the development’s architectural concept in relation to the streetscape. Regarding the proposed courtyard and landscaping, the board recommended that the applicant use the landscaping to enhance the pedestrian environment.
With its new project plans, the applicant emphasized the new materials and artwork that would be implemented on the corner of building’s exterior, ways in which the attached courtyard would encourage pedestrian interaction at street-level as well as how the revised placement of the residential patios would encourage a “gateway element” to the development. The applicant wanted to convey a strong emphasis in the design focused on landscaping, signage and exterior lighting options that would help the development solve for accessibility and circulation throughout the site.
The board seemed to appreciate the improvements of the proposed development and centered its comments on the location of the residential units in the project plans, and how the project would impact the surrounding Othello neighborhood. The feedback focused on the part of the structure most visible from the ground floor. Board member Sharon Khosla asked about the size and proposed uses for the street-level residential units, while board member David Sauvignon asked about the applicant’s plans for the southern facade of the development and suggested that patios or landscaping should be added to the design plans.
However, the board also wanted to ensure that enough visibility to the project was given to the people already living in the neighborhood. Board member Khosla specifically focused on this asking about community outreach that the developer conducted the feedback provided by its neighbors.
The public attending the meeting had a mixed reaction, and the comments to the development were mixed. Patrick Taylor, a neighborhood resident who lives five blocks from the project, voiced his support for the project moving forward. “It’s a great project, I’d like to see how it moves forward. I think they took a harder route doing a more subtle building with higher-quality materials. I like that they listened to community feedback about the retail space.” Another resident, a member of the Othello Station Committee action team, highlighted potential aesthetic and visual concerns about the development, adding that the development’s exterior needed more color and variety to conform with the Othello neighborhood palette. The third neighborhood resident asked the applicant team to consider including more amenities and facilities—such as the proposed public plaza—for families living in the neighborhood. Additionally, he highlighted potential safety concerns on the adjacent street.
During their deliberation period, the board emphasized how, moving forward, they would like to see the applicant team further explore and define the ground-level and retail uses for the development. Board members Sauvignon and Khosla both highlighted how more color, character and landscaping opportunities could be integrated into the ground-level units. Board chair Charles Romero highlighted potential wayfinding issues, asking that the applicant integrate the proposed retail storefront uses with the adjacent streetscape. Additionally, Romero discussed the overall visual impact of the building, noting how the ground-level units could be better integrated with the balconies and upper units in the development with more landscaping. Finally, board member Khosla emphasized how the applicant team should continue conducting outreach to the residents of the Othello neighborhood—the local artist community in particular—as it further refines the project plans.
With the board granting the applicant team’s project approval to proceed to the next stage of the design review process, the applicant will now await the decision of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection on their submitted Master Use Permit.