After more than a year since meeting for early design guidance, a 284-unit mixed-use project at the site of the Alki Lumber Yard returned to the West Seattle Design Review Board for recommendations. The project, which is a partnership between HB Management and the Sweeney family, received support during the meeting while also receiving several recommendations.
The project site is located at 4406 36th Avenue SW., and bounded by Avalon Way SW, 35th Avenue SW and Fauntleroy Way. With designs from Portland-based architecture firm Ankrom Moisan and Seattle-based Northwest Studio, the building would reach seven stories and provide 10,000 square feet of commercial space with 162 below grade parking spaces. In addition, the building would serve as the anchor retail presence for Alki Lumber. The lumber store is owned by the Sweeney family and has been serving the West Seattle neighborhood since 1921.
“I’m here to represent the third, fourth and fifth generation family members from the Sweeney family who are the current property owners and operators at Alki Lumber, and we have been serving the West Seattle community for over 100 years now,” said Lynn Sweeney, one of the property owners. “It’s extremely important and a big deal for us to be making a change to this property, that the vision remains to provide a legacy project that’s going to create a liveable, walkable community center in the heart of the West Seattle triangle that pays homage to the history of our property and to the lumber business itself.”
During the first early design guidance meeting in August of 2020, the design team discussed plans for the project, which are intended to provide the area with housing and retail while also engaging the streetscape through a stacked-wood exterior intended to represent the history of the lumber store. At that time, the board was generally supportive while also providing further guidance on the building’s massing, the overall street level design and how the alleyway could be further integrated into the project to provide a safe, walkable pathway for residents.
“The board encouraged a stronger relationship between the stacked lumber concept shown at early design guidance and the massing of the building. In response, our revised design strengthens the base concept by exaggerating the long horizontal expression along 36th and the alley while accentuating the smaller masing moves and secondary architectural features along the alley and Oregon,” Jenny Chapman, design director with Ankrom Moisan, said.
In the revised design scheme, the massing is brought down to street level through a more cohesive composition of materials as well as added landscaping and artwork. The design team also made the decision to break the facade into two sections with color changes as a way to break up the length of the building along 36th Street and add dimension and visual interest to the overall design through varying bay and parapet heights.
The design team also noted its intent to make public engagement at the street level a focus. Should the project team receive approval from the Seattle Department of Transportation, the design scheme would include a seven-foot landscaped boardwalk feature that extends into the public right-of-way. The boardwalk would engage pedestrians at the street level and would accommodate multi-modal forms of access.
“This is a unique neighborhood street with an unusually wide 80-foot right-of-way, and we think this presents a really wonderful opportunity to rethink how the public street space could work better for pedestrians of all ages and abilities, and active transportation modes of all types, and given the world we’ve all been living in for almost two years now, for general urban health and safety,” said David Cutler, urban designer with Northwest Studio.
An alleyway will also provide additional pedestrian space, with landscaping and lighting to create a safe environment. In addition, it will provide an alternative access point for the residents, where they can access bicycle parking.
“Our design priorities for the thru-block are comfort, safety and a sense of discovery. Low landscaped retained walls of stacked lumber running in the North-South direction help to reinforce the building concept. The planting in this area expresses a forest floor character with lush ferns,” Chapman said.
Overall, the design review board showed support in moving the project forward. However, several concerns were expressed, including the lack of attention to detail with landscaping. While in support of the overall landscaping direction, the board asked the design team to review the vegetation to be sure it could exist in low-light areas, such as the alleyway or in areas shaded by the building. Also, the board recommended additional lighting be used in the alleyway in order to enhance the safety of the environment.
The massing and use of real wood to mimic stacked lumber at the ground floor level also received approval. However, the Board was concerned that too many variations of wooden elements could take away from the overall design. The wooden boardwalk also received support, should it be approved by SDOT.
While receiving overall approval from the design board, work on the project is not complete. The team will once again meet with the design review board on November 18 for an additional project across the street. The building is part of the larger Sweeney Block development that will create upwards of 500 residences. At that time, the board will also make recommendations to signage on the 4406 36th Avenue site. Wanting to use an original sign from the historic Alki Lumber building, the board further supported the use of signage as artwork, giving the developers flexibility to use the sign on either building.