By Meghan Hall
The city of Seattle has embarked on an array of ambitious improvements to its Western Waterfront, beginning with the Pike Place Marketfront and Coleman Dock projects in 2017 and ending with a new waterfront park in 2023. The initiative has also resulted in the demolition of a concrete viaduct that has defined the city’s waterline for decades, which has almost immediately increased values to all properties that will soon have unobstructed views of the water and points to the west. In the middle of this slew of public redevelopment is a parking lot that is looking to transform into a 17-story, residential project designed by GGLO Design on behalf of AMLI Residential. Located at 1101 Western Ave., the lot, which is owned by Gonzaga University, will be one of several along the waterfront that will redefine the city’s connection to the water. However, its realization will require further refinement, since the city’s Design Review Board rejected the initial plans and asked the development team to return for a second early design guidance session.
Signs of a difficult discussion emerged at the very start of the meeting, which opened with the developer’s lawyer, Jack McCollough, partner at McCullough Hill Leary, addressing the board and outlining three issues particular to the site. These were pertaining to a feedback memo sent by the Seattle Department of Transportation about the access to Western Ave., which needs to be resolved as the project progresses, and issues surrounding parking for retailers on the waterfront and private users adjacent to the site. The third item, which is more a feature of the development, is a small part of the lot fronting Alaskan Way that Gonzaga University plans to retain and develop.
“Gonzaga wants to do something really special there,” said McCullough. “They haven’t finally decided what that is. We will come back to you, that is not part of our project, but we’ll come in the next meeting and be able to depict to you what we get from them.”
AMLI’s Scott Koppelman, senior vice president of development, added, “Range of possibilities are anything from open space to a combination of retail kiosks with open space, so it’s possible there will be some vertical construction, but that will be separated from our building.”
The site is adjacent to many of the planned improvements part of the Waterfront Seattle redevelopment project, which will include a protected bike lane, landscaped promenade and pedestrian street along Seneca St. The grand vision will also create eight acres of public parks and improve connections to Seattle’s retail core, Pioneer Square and Belltown.
The building that AMLI is proposing would include 256 residential units and 5,724 square feet of commercial or retail space along with 161 mostly above-grade parking spaces.
GGLO’s Principal Jon Hall, who outlined the features of the building in detail, presented the design of the 1101 Western development to reflect many of the improvements anticipated along the waterfront while at the same time taking strong cues from other properties in its vicinity.
“We’re filling in a gap in the Waterfront and want to do that responsibly, want to do that sustainably. [AMLI] has high goals for LEED certification for this project, as well as the pedestrian connections,” said Hall. “With the Waterfront improvements that are happening there, we’re dead center in the middle of what’s happening along here, there’s this whole new promenade, parks, open space.”
Three massing options were presented, with design team’s preferred massing planned to make use of a longer, elegant tower with upper level setbacks to reflect more light and maintain a prominent urban corner. Modulation at the south and east corners would continue to reflect the urban density of adjacent sites, while the façade facing the waterfront is planned to be simpler in its design. Rooftop massing would also be utilized in an effort to minimize the visual impact of the new building on an adjacent residential tower.
The project will be divided into three levels; the ground plane would be open, reflecting historical tidal lands in its design and orientation, while the podium level is designed as an overlook for residential gatherings. In the design documents, GGLO describes the podium as “The Bluff,” a place to dwell and breathe. The upper levels of the building, along with the roof, will provide additional space for residential activities and act as a destination.
GGLO and AMLI requested three departures for the development. First, the project team asked to allow for parking along Western Ave. without an intervening use, stating that there are already parking restrictions along Spring and Seneca streets. The development team also proposed creating a common outdoor amenity on the sixth floor of the building, including pet areas, landscaping and pathways, which projects into view corridors required by city code. Finally, the team introduced a modulation depth of eight feet as compared to the required 15 feet to work better with view corridors required for Spring and Seneca streets and maintain the presence of an urban corner at Western and Spring.
The board seemed unimpressed initially with the proposal. The consensus was that the three massing options felt more like three façade treatments with little distinction between them. The preference from the board was to focus on the first two massing iterations, since one of them was code-compliant, and the second one more aligned with the city’s design guidelines. The preferred option was rejected.
The public had similar sentiments. Most of the feedback focused on how large the building was, and how it would limit and restrict views of other buildings. The development team is proposing the height of the structure according to zoning regulations, so there is little the board could do about the proposed development’s size. Other feedback centered on the negative impact on Western Ave., which would be utilized for building services, a similar issue raised at the start of the meeting, and pedestrian experience along the ground floor. The project called for a number of residential units to be located along the first floor of the building, which both the board and the members of the public disliked.
GGLO and AMLI will have to return with a revised proposal that should include one code-compliant and one evolved proposal. The board’s direction was for the design team to take a different approach to the development, as well as provide additional feedback on Gonzaga’s plans, as the developer works toward reshaping one of the most important parts of the city of Seattle.