By Jack Stubbs
A new mixed-use development is officially on the way in South Lake Union.
On Wednesday, April 18th, Martin Selig Real Estate’s 220,000 square foot office development slated for the ever-active South Lake Union neighborhood in Seattle was discussed at a Design Review Recommendation meeting. At the meeting, applicant Perkins+Will presented updated project plans to the west review board on behalf of Martin Selig, the developer of the mixed-use project, which was previously seen by the board at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held in December 2016.
The project, located at 400 Westlake Ave. N., calls for the construction of a 13-story building that will include 7,500 square feet of retail, 67 parking stalls, 195 bike stalls and a rooftop garden.
The site for the proposed 13-story development is currently occupied by a building with landmark status: the new building will be placed on top of the historic Firestone Auto Supply & Service Store, a two-story structure built in 1929. The main goals of the project are to preserve and enhance various architectural elements of the existing landmarked building and successfully activate the streetscape along Westlake Ave.
Beginning the applicant team’s presentation, Erik Mott of Perkins+Will discussed the primary changes that had been made to the project plans since the last EDG meeting. The applicant refined the massing, height and scale of the structure to better conform with the Firestone Auto building, and also refined the design of the four facades by changing the exterior materiality. Additionally, the applicant enhanced the relationship between the development and the adjacent streetscape by adding amenities, landscaping and way-finding elements that better fit the South Lake Union neighborhood context. Finally, the applicant also set the building back from the streetscape and added lighting and signage elements to increase safety along the street and emphasize the historic features of the Firestone building.
Since the previous EDG meeting, the applicant met with the Landmark Preservation Board regarding the relationship between the project and the Firestone building and also conducted outreach with South Lake Union community members about the project. The height and exterior design of the building are also influenced by the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) up-zoning requirements, which were approved by the City Council in August 2017. Martin Selig Real Estate has opted into the Housing Affordability and Livability Act (HALA), meaning that the developer will pay the MHA fee per square foot in order to get the extra FAR associated with HALA.
The project is also impacted by the Living Building Pilot (LBP), an initiative that helps the project meet the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and emphasizes the environmental/sustainable features of the building. The LBP, established in 2013, was an initiative that many developers did not take full advantage of in its early years, according to Jordan Selig, managing director at Martin Selig Real Estate. “In the first years of its existence, not many developers attempted the LBP, and hardly any succeeded.There are two projects that took advantage of the LBP, and neither of them was a commercial office project,” she said.
400 Westlake will be the first project to make use of the LBP, and an amendment to the initiative is going in front of the City Council in June, having recently underwent the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review. One of the amendments to the initiative will give developers a larger bonus—more height and square footage—which will help the projects pencil out in the longer term, according to Selig.
In addition to participating in the LBP, 400 Westlake will aim to create sustainable energy through the use of photovoltaic panels, both on the rooftop and off-site, according to Selig. “We are in the process of setting up 100,000 square feet of solar panels in Eastern Washington that will generate energy to feed into the grid, because we simply aren’t able to put enough panels on the building itself to generate that amount of energy,” she said.
In another move towards implementing sustainable design features into the project, the team for 400 Westlake has created a P-Patch community garden next to the Cascade Playground in South Lake Union to fulfill the Urban Agriculture requirement in collaboration with the International Living Future Institute
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the applicant planned to program various elements of the building. Board member Patreese Martin asked the applicant to elaborate on the street-level landscaping. Martin also asked the applicant whether it had yet identified tenants for the retail space and also asked for more information about the sustainable elements of the building. Board member John Morefield echoed these inquiries, requesting that the applicant provide more specific plans about how the on-site building performance would contribute to the sustainability goals of the LBC. Board member Stephen Porter asked whether the current massing and scale of the building had been approved by the Landmark Preservation Board. The board’s other comments requested more information about how the design and programing of the building would relate to the historic Firestone building.
There were two public comments expressed during the meeting. The first audience member expressed her concern that the proposed office building did not adequately honor the historic Firestone building, adding that the current project plans did not do enough to encourage communal place-making for neighborhood residents. The second comment was voiced by a representative of the South Lake Union Community Council, who highlighted his approval of the community outreach that the project developer had conducted throughout the planning process. However, he also encouraged the applicant to emphasize the lighting elements and further promote community interaction and engagement along Westlake Avenue.
Much of the board’s deliberation period focused on the current massing and height of the building in relation to the neighborhood context. The board encouraged the applicant to work on refining the design of the building’s exterior facade and glazing and emphasized how the applicant team should further activate the adjacent streetscape along Westlake Ave. with appropriate retail uses. Additionally, the board recommended that the applicant collaborate with South Lake Union community groups and work on creating a building design that honored the history of the landmarked Firestone building on the site.