By Jack Stubbs
On Monday September 18th, a Design Review Recommendation board gave the green light for the continued development of a new six-story, 70-unit apartment building in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood.
The DRR meeting, held at the Ballard Community Center, was overseen by a volunteer panel including Mark Angello, Emily McNichols, Keith Walzac and Chris Bell. The board was tasked with assigning city guidelines in the appraisal of a development that had been reviewed at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting in early January of this year.
The development was approved to proceed to the planning stage of the design process, provided that the applicant team resolve certain concerns that the panel had regarding the materials used for construction, issues with the building’s signage, and the development’s height, bulk, and scale.
The applicant team—Slattery Properties, architect Clark Design Group Pllc and landscape architect Weisman Design Group—was tasked with presenting their new project plans to the board.
The project, located at 8403 Greenwood Avenue North, also contains retail at street level. In addition, the development will include parking for 70 vehicles below grade. Antika, a thrift store current occupying space on the north end of the site, will remain on-site.
Beginning the meeting, the applicant’s representative from Clark Design Group addressed central elements that the board had brought up at the January EDG meeting, such as the residential development’s architectural concept, the massing and transition, and the ground level response to the retail space and pedestrian experience.
The board expressed particular concern about the pedestrian experience, especially since Greenwood Avenue North, the street that bounds the eastern side of the development, is a prominent pedestrian thoroughfare. Responding to this topic of interest, the applicant responded by articulating how the retail space captures the “vibrancy of what we’re looking to have [here] in a neighborhood known for its retail character.”
At the prior EDG meeting, the applicant team did not ask for any departures from the board’s recommendations. As the representative from Clark Design Group finished reviewing the project’s priority design guidelines—namely the development’s streetscape compatibility, the height bulk and scale and the exterior finish materials—he reiterated the applicant team’s belief that the residential development showcased a “bold scheme that is elegant and appropriate building for the site.”
One of the primary topics of concern at the EDG—that was also a recurring theme at the DRR—was the applicant’s chosen materials, with the external materials used for construction including a combination of darker wood siding, concrete tile and obsidian brick masonry.
McNichols addressed one of the panel’s other concerns, the visual impact of the building’s blade sign and its location on Greenwood Avenue north.
During the public comment section of the meeting, several residents of the neighborhood made their voices heard. One neighbor voiced her opinion that the dark materials used for construction were visually problematic, saying, “I’m troubled by the color scheme. You worked so hard to preserve and enhance that corner.” The neighbor also commented that the relatively darkly-colored development contrasted too sharply with the lighter Antika building currently on site.
Another long-time resident of the area expressed hopes that she had for the proposed street-level retail space. “I’ve lived here for seventeen years a few blocks down. I really like [the project]. [But] I’d like to see more restaurants and bars in the neighborhood…I would prefer something that would enable really vibrant retail.”
The final public comment concerned circled back to the issue of signage that the panel had earlier addressed, with one person expressing concerns about the sign’s visual impact. “With this neighborhood being 100 years old, I’m wondering if you could look at a font that mores reflected that period,” she said. Panel member McNichols later returned to the issue of incompatibility that the prominent signage presents. “I want to echo the comment made about the historical [compatibility] of the sign with the surrounding architecture. The signage has to refer back in some way to the Antika-era style.”
The development was approved, with certain required conditions articulated by the panel. The primary issues were the building’s height and bulk and the materials used and the signage. With concerns surrounding such a precise topic as materials, particular care would have to be given to the details moving forward, according to the panel. Walzac said, “With such subtleties in the materials…the devil is in the details.”
Panel member Bell expressed his thoughts on the overall scale of the building. As a condition concerning the project’s height, Bell imposed a requirement that the height of the building on the West side needed to be lowered to reduce its perceived scale.
In their final vote, all of the panel members except for Bell voted to move the project forward. The development will now proceed to the planning phase, and no further Design Review meetings are scheduled.