By Meghan Hall
Seattle’s University District continues to be a major hub for residential development, with high-density projects becoming the norm in a part of town historically characterized by single-family homes and mid-rise buildings. That character is changing, though, and in February, the Northeast Design Review Board granted design approval at an Early Design Guidance Meeting to Blume Company Real Estate and VIA Architecture after the pair of firms submitted plans to construct a 32-story, 330-unit residential tower at 4525 9th Ave. The project is the first residential tower proposed in the northwest portion of the U-District since Seattle began implementing MHA rezones several years ago.
“In 2017, the community supported rezoning much of the neighborhood to allow for higher intensities including high-rise residential tower development,” Blume and VIA state in design documents submitted to the City of Seattle. “This project aims to create a highly livable, transit-oriented, residential community that is rooted in the University District‘s goals to achieve a high standard of design excellence and to contribute positively to the distinct identity of the neighborhood.”
The project site is located in what the City has described as a “transitional area” in its report, with multifamily residences and commercial uses to the south and east. Nearby structures vary in not just age, but height, massing and detail. Adjacent to the site is another high-rise residential structure, as well as low-rise commercial buildings.
Given this context, the design and function of the tower will be geared entirely toward residential uses and significant green space. The tower’s apartments will be a mix of studio-, one- and two-bedroom residences. Ground level amenities and two-story townhome units, as well as below grade parking, are laid out in the project’s plans. A 7,830 square foot public courtyard with vegetation and seating areas for residents and neighbors situated on the south side of the parcel will anchor the development, as well as its design.
“As a long-term hold firm, it is important to the Blume Company that the University District grow with public amenities that create a human-scale and walkable neighborhood,” explained the company in a January statement.
Currently, the 21,600 square foot site is developed with a surface parking lot.
The overall design of the tower will feature a lower podium in an effort to keep with the scale of the neighborhood and single-family residences located to the north of the project. The project team’s preferred massing showed a tower setback from the street and a narrow tower massing form in the east-west direction. The façade of the tower would feature inflected surfaces to reduce the bulk, as well as a resolved terminus at the top of the building.
The Board supported the third massing option, agreeing with the unique massing expression and stating in its report that it would be a positive contribution to the University District skyline, which is only just beginning to emerge. The Board also commended the residential scale of the townhouses included in the project, as well as the public open space, believing that it was an appropriate response to the neighborhood context.
The Board also made several recommendations, including some refinement of the tower terminus, which the Board stated seemed at odds with the rest of the design concept given its carving form. The Board also added that the proposed plaza should encourage public and general uses, and that it should be designed to be more welcome and open.
Overall, however, the feedback from the Board was positive. At the end of the meeting, the Board recommended the project move forward to a Master Use Permit application.