By Meghan Hall
As the region’s hot real estate market continues to drive the creation of higher-density projects, architects are challenged with a monumental task: design a sleek, modern building that also blends with the pre-existing neighborhood in terms of both materials and massing. The task is increasingly daunting when a new project rises several stories its surroundings, as GGLO Design discovered when presenting its plans for 87th & Greenwood, a new development in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, on behalf of local developer Washington Holdings in February 2019. While the Northwest Design Review Board was generally receptive to the development team’s plans, concerns about the building’s massing prompted the Board to ask for additional review.
Located at 8704 Greenwood Ave. N., Washington Holdings and GGLO have proposed constructing a 270-unit residential complex — including 25 small efficiency dwelling units — and 12,500 square feet of pedestrian-oriented retail. Approximately 240 parking spaces are also included in the plans. According to design documents, Washington Holdings and GGLO are striving to continue the “miracle mile” of retail along Greenwood Ave. N., with the retail portion of the development oriented at the southwest corner of the site.
Washington Holdings purchased the site in May of 2018 from Safeway, according to King County public records. The acquisition was part of a two-property trade that included an Albertsons in Bitter Lake and totaled $16.52 million.
The site is currently developed with a single-story, partially below-grade Safeway, originally built in 2003. Surrounding development on Greenwood Ave. N. is commercial, with some multifamily development on N. 87th St. Development to the east and west of the site is primarily single-family residences, meaning that at six stories in height, 87th & Greenwood will be a sizeable addition to the neighborhood.
The development team presented three separate massing options to the community at its Early Design Guidance Meeting (EDG). GGLO’s preferred option made use of three separate buildings with varied massing to respond to the site’s sloping topography. The middle building, or “bar,” would be shifted to create a wedge to the south, providing for better daylighting and privacy for units along the east courtyard. The three buildings will have stepped massing and facades along 87th St. to provide relief along the street edge.
The community and the Board’s feedback were mixed; while public commentary expressed concern about the size of the project and its impact on surrounding buildings, the Board supported the development team’s preferred option. In City documents, the Board said the stepping of the project upward with the site’s grade could provide some of the scale-mitigation needed for the project to blend in with the existing neighborhood. However, the Board did note that the concentration of massing at Phinney and 87th required some revision, as it seemed out of scale for its location.
Washington Holdings and GGLO requested three departures, all of which the Board were open to but would make a final decision once further information was provided. The development team requested a departure that would allow them to build dwelling unit floors of a variety of heights relative to the sidewalk, as opposed to the four feet above or four feet below required by code. Washington Holdings and GGLO also proposed moving vehicular access to the site to Greenwood Ave. N., a main pedestrian street. Finally, the team also asked for permission to exceed the maximum width and depth of the structure allowed. The Board considered these requests and stated it was inclined to grant them if GGLO and Washington Holdings provided additional information that proved the departures were the best ways to create a vibrant, dynamic and safe pedestrian realm.
The Board also asked for increased clarification as to how the development team’s proposed mix of traditional and modern materials will create a unified project design. The Board suggested providing finer-grain details along the upper levels of the project as the development moved through various design phases in order to unify the different architectural expressions suggested by GGLO. At the end of the meeting, the Board recommended the project return for another EDG meeting, giving the development team additional opportunity to respond to the community and Board feedback provided.