By Jack Stubbs
Changes are coming to Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood. On Monday, February 26th, a 7-story 252-unit mixed-use development, which will provide housing for community members with autism, was unanimously approved at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held this evening.
“This project has a particular client in mind. There’s not a lot of housing for adults with autism. This is not just another housing project, but one that will provide housing for an undeserved population. With the rising rates of autism, housing is and continues to be a prime need,” said Chip Kouba of Ecco Design Inc.
At the meeting, the applicant, architect Ecco Design, presented preliminary design plans to the Northeast Design Review Board on behalf of Caspian LLC, the owner and developer of the project. Caspian LLC is an entity affiliated with Herman Mohabazzabfar based in Kirkland. Caspian LLC acquired the property from Lakeside Development LLC in July 2005 for $1 million, according to public documents. Ken Large is the landscape architect for the project.
The development, located at 12729 30th Ave. NE., calls for the construction of a mixed-use project whose primary tenants will be adults with autism in the surrounding community. The proposed project includes roughly 1,200 square feet of commercial space, a 5,700 square foot exterior courtyard amenity area on the second floor and a rooftop garden. Additionally, the development will include street-level retail and 20 parking stalls, according to the project plans.
One of the main goals of the project is to respond appropriately to the city’s objective of creating more affordable housing: as part of the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislation occurring throughout the city, 5 percent of the residential units (approximately 13 units) will be affordable units as required by the Lake City neighborhood zoning requirements.
Kicking off the applicant team’s presentation, Kouba articulated the priority city design guidelines that the project hopes to emphasize. Some of these include creating a building with a height, bulk and scale that is appropriate for the neighborhood context; encouraging pedestrian interaction with the development by incorporating open spaces for public use at street-level; and activating the adjacent streetscape with amenities and landscaping elements. Kouba also emphasized how the planned open spaces and retail in the project would be an integral part of incorporating the development and tenants with the surrounding community.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the proposed development would relate to the surrounding neighborhood context and community. Board member Eric Blank asked the applicant team to elaborate on how the development would relate to the Lake City neighborhood character, specifically concerning the exterior courtyard area, the adjacent streetscape and pedestrian interaction with the development. Board member Brian Bishop echoed this sentiment, inquiring how the development’s particulate clientele had influenced some of of the applicant’s particular design choices. The board also asked the applicant team to elaborate on its plans for the building’s massing and entrances, voicing potential security and accessibility concerns with the project. Finally, the board also asked the applicant team to provide further information about its plans for the building’s exterior facades and materiality and elaborate on how the project would relate to other existing buildings in the neighborhood.
Public comments expressed during the meeting echoed several of the board’s concerns about how the proposed development would conform with the Lake City neighborhood context, specifically considering the building’s clientele. Mark Von Walter, a resident of Lake City and a member of the Lake City Future First (LCFF) Planning and Development Committee, voiced his general approval of the undertaking and also highlighted several design elements for the applicant team to consider moving forward. Specifically, Walter emphasized the importance of the exterior design of the building considering the Lake City neighborhood context. “It’s difficult to determine a design ethic for Lake City…we don’t want the development to mimic the other developments that we already have,” he said.
Ray Robinson, chair of LCFF and a consultant for the neighborhood planning process on the project, echoed Walters’ point, also encouraging the applicant team to further engage and collaborate with the Lake City community throughout the rest of the design process moving forward. “We feel that each neighborhood has its characteristics, both current and aspirational,” he said. “The aspirations of our community are very different from your design packet and this community hungers for engagement with the development process,” he added. Robinson voiced his overall support for the project and also asked the applicant team to pay particular attention to potential issues relating to parking, vehicular circulation and safety and security issues with the development’s entrances.
During its deliberation period, the board expressed its unanimous approval of the project, also articulating several design elements for the applicant team to further refine and incorporate into its project plans before the next stage of the design review process. The board recommended that the applicant team give special consideration to the project’s proximity to adjacent buildings in the neighborhood, also suggesting that the applicant team work further on refining the development’s exterior facades and materiality to fit the Lake City neighborhood context. The board also recommended that the applicant team work on refining the relationship between the building and the proposed open spaces, also emphasizing that the applicant would need to resolve potential accessibility and circulation concerns throughout the development.