By Meghan Hall
Developing towers is an engineering feat in its own right and can be a difficult process. Add to that challenge an urban setting of one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and the difficulty can be amplified immensely. One such proposal, a 484 foot tall condominium building that will have between 475 and 540 units, brought to the city by Bellevue-based Pinnacle Plus Development and Plus Capital Partners received a green light from the Design Review Board this week to advance the project to the next phase of review and development. It was no small challenge, since many members of the public who attended the meeting pushed to delay the decision and called on the board to re-evaluate the proposal.
The applicant, who in partnership with architecture firm Hewitt developed a vision to construct one high rise and one low rise tower at 1516-1526 2nd Ave., shared the level of effort it accomplished before this meeting. The Early Design Guidance meeting, a public outreach campaign that occurred over the summer and a site walkthrough with a member of the city’s council, were some of the efforts attempted at bringing forward a sensible project for which the city would be proud.
Along with the condominium units, the towers would also add 6,500 square feet of street level retail space to heart of Seattle, just blocks away from Pike Place Market and Waterfront Park. The neighborhood is one of Seattle’s most iconic and well-visited locations; the nine blocks in between Pike St. and Virginia St. attracts roughly 10 million visitors per year, according to a report released by the Pike Place website fact sheet.
“This area can be characterized as a mixed-use engine around livable urban features,” said Julia Nagele, principal and director of design of Hewitt who presented the vision of the project to the board. She outlined the considerations that her firm along with the developer took in creating three viable development scenarios.
The revised design focused on a number of issued identified during the first meeting, which included things like responding to the physical environment of the neighborhood, enhancing the skyline by respecting existing landmarks and designing a well-proportioned and unified building, among others.
The applicants’ expression of those concepts included three massing solutions that explored a variety of design directions. In the end, they settled on an option focused on two distinct structures with base massing that attempted to mimic the neighboring buildings on the blocks in the vicinity but with a height that was in line with the neighborhood and its various uses. “Responding to the physical environment, the urban pattern and form is important to us, as well as enhancing the skyline,” added Nagele.
The two towers would be 160 feet and 484 feet in height; the design team hopes that the smaller tower will help in the transition between the lower heights and smaller scale structures surrounding the proposed building. In its preferred third option, named “Mama Tower,” the design team emphasized that the differences in sizing of the two buildings references both the historic buildings and newer high-rises in the neighborhood. The larger tower would be situated on the northern portion of the site to follow a more consistent pattern of the urban form, while a gap between the two towers between levels one and 22 would continue through the podium to the street to reduce the massing of the project. The third iteration of the plans also calls for six levels of below-grade parking that would fit 310 parking slots.
In addition to the physical considerations, Nagele also explained that the developer would be contributing $4.7 million to the affordable housing initiatives for the city. No requests for departures were made in the proposal.
The public voiced a number of concerns about the project. Access into the alley was one of the major concerns, since they felt it would create congestion in the neighborhood that would severely disrupt the flow of cars, trucks and people. The feedback on the height, bulk and scale of the project was also negative, stating that it would impact the views in the neighboring buildings.
Yet, the board unanimously supported the preferred option and generally supported the podium level expression but wanted to see extra views of the proposed development. Additional feedback included a request for ways to activate the alley and enhance its entrance. Overall, the project received unanimous support to advance the project to the next phase of evaluation and application for a Master Use Permit.