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Seattle’s Design Review Board Approves Lake City Urban Hub’s Amalfi Apartments for MUP Application

Amalfi Apartments, Seattle, Lake City, Tiscareno Associates, EPIC Asset Management, Dick’s Drive-In, The Blueline Group
Courtesy of Tiscareno Associates

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

The Lake City Urban Hub, located in Northeast Seattle, follows in the city’s footsteps as a rapidly transforming neighborhood of modernization. While the area is still developing its identity, what was once dominated by automobile influences is now evolving into a pedestrian-friendly environment with a blend of commercial, civil and residential buildings. With this vision in mind, Seattle-based developer EPIC Asset Management and architecture and urban design firm Tiscareno Associates joined together to propose a revised project for a seven-story apartment building with below-grade parking during a second recommendation meeting to the Northeast Design Review Board late in June. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board unanimously voted to advance the project to master use permit (MUP) application with conditions.

The site for the project, titled Amalfi Apartments, is located at 12337 30th Avenue NE. It consists of two parcels, which are midblock between NE 125th and NE 123rd streets. The site is currently developed with two single-story office buildings, which will be demolished to make way for the proposed development. Dick’s Drive-In, a neighborhood landmark, is located to the south of the site. The area is surrounded by several one-story commercial buildings, as well as low-rise and mid-rise multifamily buildings. EPIC Asset Management is the developer for the project, and Tiscareno Associates is the architect of record. Kirkland-based land development consulting firm The Blueline Group is the landscape architect. 

According to project documents, the 173,000 square foot building will consist of 130 residential units, with one story of below-grade parking and a number of on-grade parking spaces that can be accessed by the alley. There will be 117 bicycle spaces provided, and a rooftop with green space. No commercial space is planned for the project.

The overall massing concept of the building is a C-shape with a south-facing courtyard. During the first recommendation meeting, the applicant presented the design for the main facade, which faces 30th Ave. NE and follows a “cascade” design progression. It features a traditional base, middle and top, as well as established bays. The bays are divided along overlay cascade guides, with articulated upper level massing. The south facade features fragmented bays, with band material wrapped from the east facade. The north facade is similar in nature to the south facade, as well as added balconies and a distinction between property line facades and the setback facade. The west (alley) facade has an integrated band pattern with field color and refined field color at the bays to emulate the east facade, though the bays and balcony projections are restricted due to code clearance minimums. 

During the first meeting, the applicant also introduced a materials palette which included light and dark gray fiber cement siding, metal panels, white cement siding and yellow cement siding as an accent.

The Board initially suggested the applicant study the application of color for the project, particularly with the bays. In response, the applicant reduced the use of the accent color and added wood paneling, as well as an art installation to the south facade.

“This is a lower contrast color tone,” said Bill Barton, project manager at Tiscareno Associates. “It has the added benefits of providing more of a residential feel, a richer texture, and is obviously a higher quality material than the fiber cement panels that are placed. There’s also an added bonus that since it’s not a color, per se, it would be more of a complement to the art installation, rather than a limitation that the art had to match.”

During the first meeting, the Board also suggested the applicant explore ways to make the main entry more distinct, perhaps by disassociating the tops and bottoms of the bays at the east facade. The applicant explored this possibility, but found in their study that this had a negative effect on the design.

“Extending the bays up doesn’t, we believe, have a net benefit to the overall design,” Barton said. “It creates some prominent foreheads that seem to be difficult in proportion to these cascading bays, and so we didn’t think it made a strong contribution to the overall concept.”

Instead, the applicant enlarged the canopy at the entry, noting that the wood paneling and added signage would also achieve a similar goal.

In response to other comments made by the Board during the first meeting, specifically relating to a simplification of the north facade, the applicant changed the balcony panels to the wood paneling to make it more consistent with the rest of the design. With the west facade, the applicant focused on simplifying the scheme.

“We really went with one clean expression, rather than try to weave two or three together like our previous scheme,” Barton said.

Other alterations made in preparation for the second recommendation meeting included adding lighting to the alley, as well as between the bike entry and the sidewalk. The applicant also presented landscaping options, which included bioretention and fiberglass planters, as well a variety of plant species for use.

During the second recommendation meeting, the Board deliberated over the added detailing to each facade, as well as coloring and general material transitions. They appreciated the refinement of the massing concepts, as well as the overall coherence for all sides of the project. They were supportive of the materiality, particularly with the addition of the wood panel, as well as the idea of integrating the bays into potential art canvas locations on the south facade. The Board was concerned that the plane material transitions had too much of a two-dimensional effect, but they recognized the challenges behind resolving the detailing with the dimensional constraints of the project in mind. The Board suggested the applicant further refine how the materials come together and make those transitions. 

The Board supported the signage and lighting plans of the project. They also encouraged the applicant to continue improving right of way landscaping, exploring the option of introducing more landscaping between the existing trees. The Board also suggested the team look into adding seating around the entry to further articulate it, as well as using paving differentiation to articulate the entry at the lobby.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board voted unanimously to move the project forward to MUP application with four conditions to address their concerns. The first condition was to outfit the entire street level with wood soffit, and the second condition was a request to study further simplification of the south and north facades to articulate primary and secondary elements as they related to depth, material and pattern. The third condition was to consider putting additional landscaping at the ground plane street level, either growing the treewells to twice as large or threading additional landscaping as a right of way planting strip. The Board acknowledged, however, that these particular details are under the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)’s purview. The fourth and final condition outlined by the Board at the conclusion of the meeting was to introduce a darker base material at the alley facade, however, the Board was comfortable leaving accent color decisions to the applicant.

With these conditions in mind, the applicant will move one step closer to finalizing the design for Amalfi Apartments.