By Jack Stubbs
A mixed-use development in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood recently came one step closer to fruition.
On Tuesday, December 5th, a 17-story mixed-use development was given the green light to proceed to the next stage of the design review process at a Design Review Recommendation (DRR) meeting. At the meeting, the applicant Graphite Design Group was presenting updated project plans on behalf of the developer for the project, Seattle-based Acorn Development LLC. Acorn Development is developing the block on behalf of Amazon, according to Todd Leber of The Seneca Group, the development manager for the project. The applicant was responding to preliminary design review guidelines articulated by the downtown Review Board at the previous Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting which was held on April 4th 2017.
The development, named Block 18 and located at 2205 7th Ave., includes the construction of a 17-story office building of almost 397,000 square feet. The proposed development will include approximately a 388,000 gross square feet of office space and approximately 8,800 gross square feet of street-level retail. Additionally, the development includes approximately 407 below-grade parking spaces. The applicant is proposing to demolish two buildings that currently occupy the site: an unoccupied 39,260 square foot motel built in 1958 and a one-story 7,420 square foot commercial building built in 1940. The proposal also involves the creation of an interim community center shelter within the existing hotel structure prior to demolition, according to the project plans.
One of the prominent elements of the development is that the architecture and the site itself have been developed in the spirit of an “urban treehouse,” a design that prioritizes the use of natural materials and visual appeal of the building. Additionally, the design promotes health through intentional indoor and outdoor activities that provide access to biophilic environments, according to the project plans. One of the primary design elements of the development—which was discussed at length by Graphite Design Group as well as the board—is a prominent stairway element that is visual from the street.
As part of the updated project plans updated since the last EDG meeting, the applicant team discussed various design elements including the placement of the 17-story tower and the development’s massing and scale. Additionally, the applicant further discussed the relationship between the adjacent podium and the office tower, the building’s lobby facade on 7th Ave. and the relationship between the open stair design element and the adjacent streetscape.
When given the chance to respond to the project plans, the board asked clarifying questions regarding the development’s visual and practical impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Board member Aaron Argyle asked about the proposed uses for the street-level uses for the retail area, while board member Grace Leoning asked about the materials used for the development’s multi-purpose room and the elevator on the building’s main facade. JP Emery asked about the boundary between the development and the adjacent streetscape, also inquiring about exterior materials and the potential use of landscaping elements.
There was no public comment during the meeting.
As the board deliberated about whether to move the project forward, primary topics of discussion concerned how the development had progressed since the last EDG meeting and the visual impact of the prominent stairway and the materials used for the development. Of the stairway element, board member Bradley Calvert said, “I like the articulation of the stairs…it gives some good visual prominence to the entrance [of the building].” The board unanimously agreed that the visual impact of the development at street-level was excessive, with board member Anjali Grant saying, “there’s too much going on with the materials and a lot of competing elements with the facade…something has got to give.”
Moving forward, the board recommended that the applicant focus more on the building’s architectural scale rather than the visual materials and exterior patterning of the development. The board voted unanimously to advance the project to the next stage of the design process pending certain conditions, including a revision of the building’s entrances. The board also expressed its support of the building’s massing, recommending that the applicant pay special attention to the relationship between the elevator element and the rest of the development moving forward.
The applicant will now await the decision of the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection on its Master Use Permit for the project as it makes design changes.