By Jack Stubbs
The 300-unit Tower Steps project in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood was approved on October 10th to proceed to the next stage of the design process at an initial Early Design Guidance meeting overseen by the Southeast Design Review Board.
The applicant for the project is developer Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority. Weber Thompson is providing full architectural services, including acting as the design lead, on the project. Northwest Studio is engaged as the Urban Designer for the project and Hewitt is the landscape architect for the project.
Having been granted approval at the EDG meeting, the applicant will return for a Design Review Recommendation Meeting: the project was allowed to proceed to the next phase, provided that the applicant implements various conditions and design guidelines articulated by the board.
Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority is proposing to develop a vacant property located north of the historic Pacific Tower at 1200 12th Avenue South in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The development is a mixed-use project consisting of two 7-story buildings that will include multifamily housing and additional community-oriented services. The development calls for approximately 300 residential units and an additional 10,000 square foot child day care center, a 22,000 square foot senior care center, and between 200 and 240 on-site parking stalls. The proposed program also includes a large landscaped courtyard and additional amenity space.
Per the developer’s mission, annual income generated by the development will be used to provide healthcare grants to underserved Seattle communities, according the project proposal. The applicant is working with various non-profits such as ICHS/Kin ON, El Centro and SCIDpda, which are all providers of elderly care and affordable housing located in the Chinatown International District. The applicant is striving to create a “mixed, multi-generational project” with apartment units that will serve “a diverse community of individuals of all ages,” according to their submitted project plans.
The entire development site is recognized as an official Landmark, and the developer aims to preserve the historic nature of the property, as well as the Iconic 14-story Pacific Tower adjacent to the project site. The applicants also highlighted that they would strive to emphasize the “park-like setting” of the development, “reinforcing the idea of the building as part of the landscape.” Additionally, the proposed project aims to create a “subtle and complimentary base” for the Pacific Tower, according to the project plans. Some of the applicant’s key design guidelines included a recognition the existing site features, the architectural character of the project, and the project uses, activities and amenities.
The board members’ clarifying questions about the proposed development revealed several primary concerns. Member Charles Romero expressed concerns about how the applicant planned to preserve the view of the existing Pacific Tower, while David Sauvignon delineated an important distinction between equity and equality—how the project amenities and spaces would be shared between residents of the development and members of the surrounding community. Other points centered on how the applicant would treat the project, given the site’s status as a designated landmark, and how the new development would be perceived, visually, in relation to the existing Pacific Tower on-site.
Members of the public echoed some of the board’s concerns, with one neighbor expressing how the proposed massing and size of the project would not conform to the existing buildings within and around the site. One neighborhood expressed a concern about the lack of public and community access to the development amenities. Other written comments submitted by community members, and members from SDOT and the Beacon Hill Council conveyed general approval for the proposed project.
During the board’s deliberation, the primary topics of discussion included the project’s size, scale and massing; exterior materials used for construction; the general “permeability” of the site, in terms of how accessible the features of the development would be to members of the surrounding community; the importance of preserving the historical context of the Pacific Tower and the property site; and how to increase permeability, accessibility and connectivity to the proposed development.
Ultimately, the board gave the applicant the green light to advance in the planning process, provided that they consider and integrate various conditions into the project plans before the next Design Review Recommendation meeting: the board articulated how they would like the applicant to increase the general permeability and openness of the site to residents of the surrounding neighborhood and should further consider how to reconcile the architectural character of the development with the existing Pacific Tower.
The applicant will now return for a Design Review Recommendation meeting where the board will consider how well the project plans have integrated the various conditions set forth at the EDG.