By Jack Stubbs
There’s never any shortage of developments planned for downtown Seattle, and a new large-scale development was recently given the green light to approve in the design review process.
On Tuesday, January 2nd, a 520-unit mixed-use development planned for downtown Seattle was approved to advance at a second Early Design Guidance meeting. The applicant team— design architect James K.M. Cheng Architects and landscape architect PFS Studio—presented updated design plans for the project on behalf of Burnaby, British Columbia-based Bosa Development, the owner and developer of the proposed project.
The applicant team was responding to design guidelines highlighted by the review board at the previous EDG meeting held for the project on November 7th 2017. While the downtown review board approved the mixed-use development to proceed, the board also highlighted several design elements for the applicant team to consider for the project plans moving forward, including the prominent architectural overhang element; further exploration of pedestrian and vehicular access to the site; the location of the building’s massing; and integration of more landscaping and water elements along the streetscape. Additionally, the board emphasized that the applicant should particularly focus on determining the public versus private uses for the site.
Located at 601 4th Ave., the 61-story, 520-unit development will also include 640 below-ground parking stalls, as well as approximately 9,963 square feet of street-level retail. The project site, which is currently a construction site due to the abandonment of a previous project, has an area of approximately 57,000 square feet.
One of the key elements of the development is how it responds to the surrounding historic neighborhood context. The proposed development is an evolution of Seattle’s 1999 Civic Center Master Plan, which provided the framework to create a new heart for the city’s urban core. The plan aimed to activate public space, maximize sun light, recognize the site’s steep topography and prioritize public views towards the water and the mountains, according to the applicant team’s project plans. One of the applicant’s primary objectives was to respect the 1999 master plan—preserving the green terraces and open spaces along James Street—but also help expand on it by adding new features.
These features include an enhancement of the city skyline, promoting pedestrian interaction on the adjacent streetscape on 3rd and 4th Ave., enhancing the visual impact of the building with landscaping and providing an inviting and usable open space as part of the project. Ultimately, the applicant’s goal is to provide an outdoor gathering space to complement City Hall, which will be open, permeable and accessible, promoting pedestrian interaction.
Kicking off its presentation, the applicant team elaborated upon the various design changes that it had implemented since the last meeting. Specifically, the applicant team discussed how it had moved the location of the residential lobby and revised the building’s entrances to improve pedestrian and vehicular access to the site. Finally, the applicant team added various open space features including an upper and lower plaza, water and garden spaces, as well as terraced green spaces. Concerning the development’s overall massing, the applicant set the building further back from the street to resolve issues associated with the building’s visual impacts from the streetscape and City Hall and down to the waterfront.
When asked to provide clarifying questions about the applicant team’s updated project plans, the board focused on how the proposed development—which occupies a prominent location near City Hall, Pioneer Square and various other historic landmark buildings—would integrate into the surrounding downtown neighborhood context. Board member Belinda Bail asked about potential issues with vehicular access to the site, while board member Grace Leong focused on the transition between the building and the adjacent streetscape, asking the applicant to clarify its choice of landscaping elements for the building’s exterior.
Other comments focused on the development’s visual impact, as well as open spaces for the project, and whether the proposed landscaping elements would successfully conform with City Hall and the nearby Public Waterfront Park.
Public comments during the meeting echoed some of the board’s concerns about the fit of the proposed development with the neighborhood context. Joe Riley, a Seattle resident, voiced his view that the development presented an important opportunity for civic activation within the city. “Seattle is an innovative, global city, but we don’t have a lot of places where people can gather and make impactful statements…the city should support [those spaces],” he said.
Susan Wickwire, a member of the Seattle 2030 District, emphasized her hope that the building’s materiality and design would support sustainable building practices moving forward. The final public comment highlighted accessibility issues with the development, emphasizing that the development should be better integrated with public transportation options.
After the public comment period, the board voted unanimously to advance the project, also asking the applicant team to refine several design elements while it awaits a decision on its Master Use Permit. Specifically, the board asked the applicant team to conduct open space, landscaping and accessibility studies for the development. In particular, the board highlighted how it would like the applicant to further consider how the placement of the plaza and public spaces in the development would allow the project to be more of a private versus public amenity for city residents.