By Jack Stubbs
“I appreciate the effort you’ve made to engage the surrounding community [with the development process],” said west board member Patreese Martin, echoing the board’s unanimous approval of a project in the works in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.
On Wednesday, January 3rd, a Design Review Recommendation (DRR) meeting was held for Center Steps, a two-building development that will include approximately 269 units. The development was unanimously approved to proceed to the next stage of the design review process.
At the meeting, the applicant team—Seattle-based firms GGLO Design and landscape architect HEWITT—presented project plans on behalf of barrientos RYAN, the owner and developer of the project. Barrientos RYAN purchased the site in March of 2017 for $16.2 million from Seattle Opera.
Located at 225 Roy St. in Lower Queen Anne, the project plans call for the construction of one eight-story and one seven-story building. The mixed-use development will also include approximately 11,239 gross square feet of retail space on the ground floor, a 19,245 square foot exterior plaza and amenity area, and 182 on-site parking stalls.
The applicant team was responding to design guidelines articulated by the west review board at a previous EDG meeting held for the project earlier this year on April 5th, 2017.
Beginning its presentation, the applicant team highlighted the main design changes it had made to the project’s design since the last meeting, which included shortening the parapets of both buildings; reducing the overall height and massing of one of the buildings; simplifying the buildings’ facades by using different materials; and further activating the adjacent streetscape. Additionally, Maria Barrientos of barrientos RYAN explained that the updated project plans include a neighborhood-scale public plaza on Mercer St., additional landscaping and signage elements, specially-designed art installations and lighting along the street.
According to Barrientos, the development is heavily influenced by community input and neighborhood-specific guidelines. The updated project plans are part of the Uptown Urban Design Framework, a multi-year effort by the Uptown community and the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development to define a vision for the active uptown neighborhood.
The applicant team discussed its plans to strengthen the streetscape around the development and incorporate architecture that conforms with the history and fabric of the Queen Anne neighborhood. Specifically, the applicant team discussed how it had examined existing buildings in the neighborhood for exterior design cues and had also conducted extensive community outreach efforts concerning the potential impacts of the development.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions about the development focused on the specific design choices made by the applicant team and how the development would conform to the surrounding neighborhood context. Board member Stephen Porter asked about the different materials used for the two buildings. Porter also asked the applicant to clarify the location and functionality of the development entrances and weather protection element, expressing a concern that the development might be too private from the adjacent streetscape and neighborhood residents.
Board member Brian Walters echoed these design issues, asking the applicant to further explain the relationship between the street-level residential units, the proposed retail space and the streetscape. Continuing this train of thought, board member Patreese Martin asked about the community outreach that the applicant had previously undertaken for the project, also querying how the proposed retail element might influence the pedestrian experience at street-level. Finally, board member Homero Nishiwaki asked about the development’s transition from private to public use, wondering whether the applicant might consider to further integrate the street-level residential lobby area into the development.
During the public comment section of the meeting, various community members in attendance voiced their enthusiastic support for the proposed development. One audience member, a member of various Queen Anne neighborhood groups, voiced his approval of the project and the applicant team’s various design choices, specifically the reduction of the development’s massing and the way that it successfully conforms with the nearby Seattle Center. Rick Hooper, co-president of Uptown Alliance, emphasized how the development was a promising landmark for future developments in the neighborhood. “This project has been a great model for how the community can engage with developers on new projects,” he said. Julia Levitt, strategic advisor with the Seattle Center redevelopment department, also emphasized her approval for the proposed public plaza feature, adding that the developer had done a good job of proactively obtaining community input about the project. The final public comment expressed potential public safety and livability issues, asking the applicant team to consider these factors moving forward.
As it deliberated on the development, the board discussed how the project’s design had progressed since the previous EDG meeting, discussing the building’s massing, materiality and composition, ground-level experience and the proposed plaza area. The board expressed its general support of the applicant team’s updated massing options, also asking the applicant to further study the relationship between the two proposed buildings. Additionally, the board members discussed the development’s exterior facade and materiality, echoing the support shown by community members and the Seattle Center about the building’s exterior.
Concerning the proposed plaza element, the board agreed that the plaza was well-integrated into the development, also encouraging the applicant to consider integrating more landscaping elements at street level. Finally, the board emphasized how the applicant had created a successful ground-level experience with the development but agreed that the applicant team would also need to work on improving and refining the design of the development entrances and emphasize the street-level retail presence.
Having seen its development approved by the west review board, the applicant team will now await a decision on its submitted Master Use Permit from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection as it continues to refine its project plans.