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426-Unit Affordable Housing Project Proposed in Seattle to Return for Second EDG Meeting 

Bode, Seattle, Bitter Lake, Northwest Design Review Board

By Catherine Sweeney 

An affordable housing complex being proposed by Bode in Seattle’s Bitter Lake neighborhood met some challenges at an early design guidance meeting held Monday night. During the meeting, Bode shared its plan to provide affordable options in the rapidly growing neighborhood. However, the Northwest Design Review Board asked the development team to return for a second meeting as more clarifications were needed on the design. 

The project, which would be both designed and developed by Bode, is being proposed at 13711 Aurora Avenue N. Should it be approved, the seven-story development would replace a one-story existing structure and a surface parking lot. According to Bode, the project is intended to provide a range of affordable living options that respond to the city’s needs, while simultaneously reactivating Aurora Street with commercial frontage and amenity spaces. 

“As you can see, we are experiencing rapid growth and the housing market is in need of apartments for everyone. Our project responds to citywide housing needs and offers affordable, quality, efficient and sustainable homes,” Karen Biran, project manager for Bode, said.  

During the meeting, Bode proposed three options. The option preferred by the board includes 426 residential units with 3,800 square feet of ground floor retail space and 126 parking stalls. The preferred option is designed in the shape of the letter “E” and was chosen for its simple massing that optimizes open spaces for outdoor amenities. A strong design dialogue in the preferred option also would create a smooth transition from the residential portion of the building to the lower retail space. 

“We are proposing an E-shaped structure around three courtyards with different levels of privacy,” Biran said. “This option breaks down this south side, and in case we proceed with this concept, you can see that this design provides a relief over the length of this wall frontage.  Visually and physically, it creates two separate elements of the overall massing.”

Other options included a 456-unit box-like building with small center courtyards and an L-shaped building with 414 units. All three options included the retail space and parking stalls, but included slight variations in building orientation and massing.   

The preferred design breaks the building up into two masses from the Aurora streetscape, with recessed and stepped facades at the upper levels. The design also proposed retail spaces along the east side of the building. The lower level of the building would be highlighted through the use of cedar wood paneling and metal elements. Fiber cement and concrete would be used throughout the residential portion of the building. 

According to Bode, the streetscape will be further activated through the proposed retail along Aurora Street. Designed primarily with glass, the facade promotes transparency and also draws the public into the buildings. Overhead weather protection will also be provided through the use of vibrant canopies along main street fronts and entrances. A continuous landscape buffer is also being proposed along the street to act as a buffer from the road. 

“We reviewed the architectural character surrounding Aurora, the strip is evolving, and as appropriate to areas in transition, the proposed design will bring new and improved character by allowing for taller buildings and greater density. This project will be contributing to the activity, along the street, and will bring new character to establish a positive influence to the neighborhood,” Biran said. 

While the board generally preferred the second design option, several suggestions were given to the project team about the overall design. 

The board noted its overall appreciation for the simplicity of the massing in the preferred design option and also expressed approval of the openness of the outdoor amenity spaces. Further, the board noted the design’s strong level of detail along the streetscape, particularly showing approval of the vibrant canopies and weather protection along commercial entryways. 

However, the board also suggested that the design team remember to highlight residential entryways. In general, as a building that has the potential to be the tallest in the neighborhood, the board recommended each facade be highlighted in some capacity as it likely will stand out from surrounding developments. Finally, the board suggested that Bode develop stronger and more durable material designs at the next early design guidance meeting.