By Jack Stubbs
“Some serious discussion needs to happen about whether a building of this size is appropriate for the neighborhood,” said one neighborhood resident at a recent Early Design Guidance meeting, voicing a sentiment that summed up much of the reaction to a 250-unit mixed-use development proposed for Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. The development will not yet proceed to the next stage of the city’s Design Review process, after the West review board asked the applicant team to return for a second EDG meeting.
On Wednesday, November 8th, the applicant team—architect Ankrom Moisan Architects and landscape architect The Berger Partnership—submitted preliminary project plans for its 250-unit project to the West Design Review Board. The developer and owner of the proposed project is Holland Partner Group.
Ultimately, the board highlighted several design guidelines that the applicant team would need to more successfully refine before the next EDG meeting, including the building’s overall massing and scale, its architectural context and character, the street level experience and uses for pedestrians, the proposed open space and the need for more landscaping.
The project site, located at 2100 Queen Anne Ave. N., is currently occupied by a Safeway grocery store and associated parking, which will be integrated into the proposed development. The proposal is for a mixed-use development consisting of 4-stories of residential occupancy above a street-level commercial space, a Safeway, which will total 50,000 square feet. Additionally, the development will include residential open space comprised of two courtyard areas on the rooftop. There will also be two levels of underground parking below the Safeway store, 154 of which will be devoted to the Safeway and 175 of which will be devoted to residential use.
The applicant team articulated several overarching design objectives for the development in relation to the city’s design guidelines. The applicant team hopes to enhance the urban village in Queen Anne and complement the local character and history of Queen Anne. Additionally, the applicant emphasized how the height, bulk and scale of the building would conform with the neighborhood context. Finally, the applicant team envisions a development that will expand upon the urban experiences (such as the Queen Anne Farmers Market) and activate the neighborhood streetscape and existing open space networks.
In response to this overview, the board asked several clarifying questions about the project. Board member Stephen Porter asked about the pedestrian experience on Queen Anne Ave., and how Safeway would facilitate street-level interaction. Another member, Homero Nishiwaki, commented on the buildings massing, recommending that the applicant consider breaking up the building’s scale to promote more pedestrian interaction. Board chair Christine Harrington asked about the proposed location and functionality of the residential entrances to the building. Concerning the overall massing and open space concept for the development, board member Patreese Martin suggested that the applicant look to other commercial spaces, such as the nearby Trader Joe’s, to get a better sense of perspective about how the size of the building.
The meeting was well-attended by members of Queen Anne, with roughly 40 members from the neighborhood crowding the Community Center. The public comment period was robust, and about 20 members of the community voiced their opposition to the development. Several residents expressed particularly strong concerns with the height, mass and scale of the development, with one neighbor stating that “It’s alarming that no one talked about the building’s size…nothing about [it] reflects a friendly human scale.” He also noted that the development did not take advantage of creating a prominent open space in the neighborhood, since the proposed Safeway entrance was too one-dimensional. Another neighbor said, “I think Safeway has to rethink and reimagine what the store will be at street level…the development has to fit our community…and there should be more individualism in the retail frontages.” Several community members in the audience strongly agreed with these concerns.
Other community members voiced comments about the aesthetic and visual impact of the development and how well it would conform to the Queen Anne neighborhood. One person, a resident of the neighborhood for 15 years, said of the development that “[it] looks like it belongs in Ballard, but not in Queen Anne. It’s claustrophobic and overwhelming; there’s no aesthetic design in the building.” Of the proposed commercial uses, one community member stated, “I’m glad that Safeway has decided to remodel. However, this design lacks aesthetic. I think it needs a more organic shape with more nature and public space.”
During its deliberation period, the board agreed with the concerns of the community, highlighting particular design issues with the building’s overall size, massing and scale and the street-level experience for pedestrians. The board unanimously agreed that the building’s massing was too large and imposing and would need to be broken up along the adjacent street. Additionally, the board noted that the applicant would need to further incorporate the development’s commercial uses, with member Harrington stating “we need to understand the architect’s clear conceptual design and idea; but [it] can’t just be Safeway.” Other design concerns included the applicant team’s design of the residential and commercial entrances and the need for more landscaping. The board recommended that the applicant work on breaking down the massing and scale of the building, paying special attention to the surrounding neighborhood and pedestrian experience. Additionally, the board recommended that the applicant increase the size of the open space area of the development.
With the extensive feedback from the community and the West review board, the applicant will need to incorporate the comments and recommendations into the development design before the second EDG meeting, after which point they will submit a Master Use Permit to the city for review.