Home AEC 188-Unit Mixed Use Development in U-District Faces Challenges in Developing a Full-Block...

188-Unit Mixed Use Development in U-District Faces Challenges in Developing a Full-Block Site

University District, Seattle, NK Architects, Safeway, Northeast Design Review Board, University of Washington
Rendering Credit: NK Architects

By Meghan Hall

A small, outdated commercial shopping center at the heart of the University District is preparing to undergo a major transformation, thanks to a new mixed-use project proposed by a Los Angeles-based private developer and Seattle-based NK Architects. The project, located at 4732 Brooklyn Ave. NE., would span an entire block and include up to 188 residential units and a new Safeway grocery store, provided in an effort to better accommodate the neighborhood’s growing population. However, before the development team can proceed, it will need to return for a second Early Design Guidance meeting based on the feedback it received from the Northeast Design Review Board at the beginning of May.

According to project documents, the new Safeway will be between 21,845 square feet and 38,264 square feet in size; the development will also include up to 204 parking stalls. A 6,750 square foot community park with indoor and outdoor seating are also denoted in the plans.

“The project will redevelop a derelict site that is often frequented by drug users and the homeless, bringing light, security and awareness to the site,” project documents state.

4732 Brooklyn Ave. NE. is located just one block from “The Ave.,” one of the neighborhood’s main drags known well to University of Washington students for its abundance of college-oriented retail and restaurants. The development would seek to serve as a transition building; at seven stories in height, the development team hopes that the project will complement the University’s planned high-rise structures while also blending with existing low- and mid-rise development.

The project team presented three massing schemes to the Board, with the preferred massing option featuring a single building massing in an effort to provide enough contiguous retail space for the new grocery store. The preferred massing option also includes several street facing courtyards on Brooklyn Ave. designed to create circulation. Public open space at the south end of the project site will act as a neighborhood park and serve a midblock connection, as well as connect to the 3,000 square foot park on the adjacent lot. In addition, a cantilevered overhang will provide building articulation and architectural interest.

In its deliberations, the Board recognized the challenges of developing an almost full-block site and generally supported the preferred massing option. The Board believed that the repeating c-shaped courtyards successfully provided simple modulation, while also relating well to other buildings in the neighborhood with similar courtyards. However, the Board was concerned that the development’s podium was not well modulated and made several suggestions in order to better integrate the podium into the rest of the building. The Board recommended pulling down the upper level courtyards to street level, as well as integrating the proposed massing forms and building materials between the ground and upper floors. “Notching,” or folding the podium to create smaller spaces at the street level was also suggested.

The Board also asked the development team to consider the programming configuration of the ground level, specifically the residential entry, covered open space and the enclosed public amenity portions of the site. The Board expressed concern that the public amenity’s location away from the street would make it difficult for the public to recognize as an open, useable space. The Board also asked for more clarification behind why the project’s open space is located away from the entrance of the grocery store.

With these remarks, the Board asked the project team to return for an additional early design guidance meeting. At the next meeting, to take place in the coming months, the project team will present a refined project design, providing more details on the site configuration, massing and materiality.