By Jack Stubbs
Seattle’s University District has been a hotbed of development activity in recent months, but one mixed-use project will not yet proceed to the next stage of the city’s design review process.
On Monday, July 23rd, a 211-unit student housing development slated for the University District was denied approval at an initial Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting, with the board highlighting concerns around the current architectural concept of the building and its fit for the neighborhood context. At the meeting, applicant Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture presented preliminary plans on behalf of owner and developer Core Spaces. Landscape architect GGLO Design is also on the team for the project.
The development, called “Hub U-District,” includes two parcels located at 4515 and 4525 Brooklyn Ave. NE which will comprise a student housing building and a public park, respectively. The project—which consists of 211 residential units, 2,400 square feet of street-level retail, 76 below-ground parking stalls and a pocket park—is also within a block of the future light rail station located at Brooklyn Ave. NE, which will be operational in 2021.
Beginning the applicant’s presentation, Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture discussed the neighborhood context around the site and the main objectives of the project, which are to bring additional density to the U-District and further connect the neighborhood with the nearby University of Washington by successfully activating Brooklyn Ave.
Hartshorne Plunkard discussed how the massing and exterior facades of the building would look to reflect the surrounding context of the U-District and how a pocket park and open spaces along Brooklyn Ave. NE would serve to enhance the pedestrian experience along the adjacent streetscape. The applicant also presented the pros and cons of the applicant team’s three massing options and explained how the preferred option, called “The Shift,” would best allow the tower’s base to conform to the surrounding neighborhood context and the adjacent green street.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the proposed building and park would relate to the surrounding character of the U-District. The board asked for more information about how pedestrian safety would be ensured with the “pass-through” corridor between the tower and the park, and also asked how the applicant would successfully program the ground-floor lobby, leasing and retail space along Brooklyn Ave. N. Board member Dan Rusler asked for more detailed plans about the articulation and facade of the applicant’s preferred massing scheme, while board member Katy Haima asked whether the applicant had considered alternative options for the design of the base and podium of the student housing building.
There were several public comments expressed during the meeting offering constructive feedback to the project team. A student from the University of Washington expressed his general support of the project and also requested that the applicant work on integrating appropriate materials into the building’s exterior and incorporate more dedicated street-level retail space into the project plans. Another audience member asked the applicant to further consider the programming of the pocket park to mitigate issues around pedestrian safety and security in the U-District.
Three other neighborhood residents emphasized concerns around the fact that the current project plans would only provide student housing—rather than a mix of other affordable housing options for neighborhood residents—especially in light of the new Mandatory Housing Affordability Up-zones occurring in the U-District.
During its deliberation period, the board once again focused on how the proposed development would conform with the context of the U-District and agreed that the applicant would need to return for a second EDG meeting with more detailed project plans. The board encouraged the applicant to work on creating a project that would set a positive development precedent in the neighborhood, particularly by making the building frontage more permeable and pedestrian friendly along Brooklyn Ave. N. and successfully programming the proposed retail space.
Specifically, the board recommended that the applicant work with the surrounding community in the U-District to make the pocket park more accessible and further refine the exterior materiality of the building. The board ultimately agreed that it would need more detailed information about the overall architectural concept of the project—especially in relation to existing developments such as UW Tower in the U-District—and also recommended that the applicant further integrate the building’s base into the rest of the development.