By Jack Stubbs
On Tuesday, June 26th, a three-building, 193-unit development slated for Seattle’s Central District was approved at a Design Review Recommendation meeting. At the meeting, project applicant Studio19 Architects presented updated plans to the Southeast review board on behalf of the developer, Rainiers Consulting Inc. Landscape architect Weisman Design Group and civil engineer AHBL are also on the team for the project, which was last reviewed at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held in September 2016.
Located at 622 Rainier Ave., the development, called the ‘Rainier Apartments,’ will consist of three separate 7-story buildings connected by pedestrian walkways. The plans also include approximately 8,600 square feet of street-level commercial/retail space, 161 below-grade parking stalls and a central resident courtyard area.
Beginning the applicant team’s presentation, Studio19 Architects discussed the neighborhood context around the site, the Central Area neighborhood design guidelines relevant to the updated plans, and the primary design changes that the applicant team had made to the plans since the last EDG meeting. At the prior meeting, the board had expressed concerns around the building’s massing, the programming of ground-level commercial uses and the design and location of the building entrances.
In response to the board’s feedback, the applicant set the buildings back from Rainier Ave.; reduced the massing and scale of the three buildings; further detailed the exterior facades; incorporated the ground-level commercial uses into the project; and worked on encouraging street-level pedestrian interaction along Rainier Ave. Additionally, the applicant worked on integrating local cultural influences and history into the building’s exterior design and improved the connection between the interior courtyard and the residential units.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the team planned to program various elements of the three-building project. Board member David Bader asked for more information about the proposed uses for the walkways connecting the three buildings, while board member Jhomar Small asked how the applicant planned to successfully activate the central courtyard area in relation to Rainier Ave.
The board requested more detailed information about how the project plans would encourage community and pedestrian engagement with the three buildings. The board also asked the applicant to elaborate on how it had undertaken community outreach in the Central District to incorporate cultural elements into the development’s materiality and exterior, and expressed concern that not enough community outreach had yet been conducted to solicit feedback about the project.
There were two public comments expressed during the meeting by community members. The first comment expressed approval of the overall design of the project and also articulated concerns about security and pedestrian safety around the development. The second comment asked for more information about how the building’s exterior facades would successfully respond to the cultural and historical context of the Central District.
Much of the board’s deliberation period centered around whether the development would successfully integrate into the surrounding neighborhood and community context. The board agreed that more work would need to be done to improve accessibility and circulation around the project site and recommended that the applicant change the location of the building entrances. The board also suggested that the applicant work further on detailing the exterior of the building to reflect the surrounding cultural context of the neighborhood.