By Jack Stubbs
Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood has been experiencing its fair share of commercial development projects coming through the pipeline, but one project will not yet proceed to the next stage of the Design Review Process. “The applicant will have to return for second EDG meeting because the Landmark Preservation Board will need to provide their input on the project,” said downtown board member Anjali Grant at an Early Design Guidance meeting held on Tuesday, December 5th.
At the meeting, the applicant team—architectural design firm GWest and landscape architect MIG SvR—presented its preliminary project plans on behalf of Fremont-based Chainqui Development, the owner of the project, and DSA Development Services LLC, the project developer.
Ultimately, the board decided that the applicant would need to return for a second EDG meeting at a to-be-determined date, citing several design issues with the applicant team’s conceptual project plans, including the development’s overall massing and scale, issues of accessibility and pedestrian circulation throughout the development, as well as its proximity to existing Landmark sites in Belltown.
Located at 2005 5th Ave. at the corner of 5th and Virginia St., the proposal is for a mixed-use development that will comprise a total of 594,100 square feet of retail, commercial and residential uses. Set on a 19,440 square foot site, the proposed development will include 8,500 square feet of retail; 342,360 square feet of residential; and 125,343 square feet of commercial space. Additionally, the project will include a 114,696 square foot below-grade parking garage.
The project plans do not yet specify how many stories or residential units the development will include.
According to the project plans, one of the primary design objectives is to preserve and integrate the two designated Landmark buildings on the site, the Griffin Building and Sheraton Apartments. Along with ensuring that the development’s scale and massing conforms to the neighborhood context, another central design element is the integration of a 3,200 square foot Belltown Historic Arcade into the existing Landmark buildings’ facades. The arcade is an architectural element that will enhance the pedestrian experience on 5th Ave. and preserve the unique architectural history of Belltown.
The hope is that the development will conform to Belltown neighborhood over time as well. The applicant reviewed several existing buildings downtown that its development will take design cues from, including the Maritime Building, the Federal Reserve Bank Building, the Westin Hotel and the Escala condominium complex. Additionally, the applicant referred to several developments that will ultimately be located in the project’s vicinity, including Vulcan Inc.’s 44-story 5th and Lenora development.
The applicant team highlighted several downtown design guidelines that it aims to incorporate into the development, including its integration with the physical environment and neighborhood context, and an appropriate bulk and scale that fits the downtown skyline. Additionally, the applicant hopes that the development will promote pedestrian interaction at street level and provide inviting and usable open spaces by integrating public amenities and landscaping elements.
When it asked clarifying questions about the development, the board’s central issues included whether the development would meet the needs of both residents and members of the surrounding neighborhood. Additionally, the board inquired about the building’s adjacent alleyway and exterior facades, as well as what the development’s proposed retail and commercial uses would be.
Two members from the Belltown neighborhood were in attendance at the meeting, and both highlighted practical issues with the project, including matters of vehicle congestion, loading, parking and traffic, also citing concern with the placement of the development’s entrances and exits. One of the residents said, “We would welcome a well-designed building in Belltown, but the applicant needs to address certain design issues. The applicant hasn’t shown that the design is functional.”
The board ultimately stated that the applicant team would need to incorporate and further refine certain design elements—including the development’s massing, accessibility to and throughout the site, and the relationship of the building to the nearby Landmark buildings—before returning for a second EDG meeting. Additionally, the board recommended that the applicant team look to similar developments in Belltown for design cues and pay particular attention to issues of safety, visibility and lighting for pedestrians at street level. The board also stated how it would like to see the applicant further incorporate the character of the nearby historic landmark buildings into its project design.
The applicant team will need to present its updated project plans to the board before submitting a Master Use Permit to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection for Review.