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Design Review Board Recommends 8-Story Apartment Building in Seattle Advance to Recommendation Phase

Public47 Architects, Kamiak, Seattle, North Beacon Hill, 1906 20th Ave. S., HEWITT
Courtesy of Public47 Architects

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

North Beacon Hill, a Seattle neighborhood located close to Interstate 90, has experienced a number of transitions over the years. Zoning changes have urged the redevelopment of single-family residences into modern townhouses and apartment buildings, and the future Judkins Park Link Station promises an era of expanded connectivity to the broader Seattle community. Within that context, Seattle-based architecture firm PUBLIC47 Architects and real estate investment firm Kamiak presented a joint proposal for an eight-story apartment building with retail and parking during an early design guidance (EDG) meeting to the Southeast Design Review Board at the end of August. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board unanimously voted to move the project forward to the recommendation phase.

The site, which is owned by Kamiak and located at 1906 20th Avenue South, has a broad variety of zoning in the immediate vicinity. Single-family residential homes of different ages partly characterize the neighborhood, and newer three-story townhouse projects are planned to replace some of the older homes. The site is directly adjacent to a blend of residential, commercial and institutional buildings on all four sides. Two exceptional trees are located on the site, which the team hopes to preserve through the preferred scheme of their proposal. Though the site is closely located to major arterial route Rainier Avenue South, 20th Avenue South is relatively quiet and remains well-connected through the construction of the future Judkins Park Link Station, which will be located a few blocks to the north and ready for use by 2023. PUBLIC47 Architects is the architect of record for the project, and Seattle-based firm HEWITT is the landscape architect.

According to project documents, the 30,022 square foot site will house an eight-story apartment building with approximately 203 apartment units, 2,600 square feet of street-level commercial space and below-grade parking for approximately 85 vehicles. Proposed amenities include a residential courtyard, unit terraces, deck space on the northeast corner, a fitness room, a bike storage room and a dog walk area.

“The project also intends to accomplish a number of broader city and neighborhood goals, including tree preservation, [as well as] commitment to sustainability and providing livable urban density that takes advantage of new public transit in the neighborhood,” said Scot Carr, partner at PUBLIC47 Architects. 

During the EDG meeting, the team proposed three massing schemes and potential departures to the Board for their consideration. All schemes emphasize the team’s priority guidelines: To preserve natural systems and site features; to provide urban pattern, form, connectivity and walkability; to increase street-level interaction; to unify an architectural concept; and to preserve exterior elements and finishes.

The first scheme proposes a 156,447 square foot, seven-story mixed-use building with street-level commercial and residential units. A below-grade garage can be accessed from the site’s alley. This concept doesn’t require departures and provides a raised courtyard for units off the alley. It also requires the removal of the exceptional Douglas fir and hop trees on the site. Other challenges include bulk massing along 20th Avenue South and an upper level setback with inadequate zone transition to the west of the site.

The second scheme proposes a 182,935 square foot, eight-story mixed-use building with street-level commercial and residential units, as well as a below-grade garage with alley access. Both exceptional trees are preserved in this option, the Douglas fir staying in place and the hop tree to be moved to an approximate location pending landscaping. This allows for an extra level of units. This scheme provides for raised terraces for the units off the alley, as well as a courtyard for zone transition to the west and a deck space on the southwest corner to reduce bulk. This scheme places a multitude of units along the alley and requires departures for retaining the exceptional trees on site.

The third and preferred scheme proposes a 188,741 square foot, eight-story mixed-use building with street-level commercial and residential units, as well as a below-grade garage with alley access. With similar features to the second scheme, the exceptional trees in this concept are preserved, which allows for an extra level of units, and raised terraces are provided for the units off the alley. Angled elevation along 20th Avenue South creates a large courtyard for the Douglas fir tree and provides relief to adjacent single-family homes. Units off the alley are pulled back to face the alley, and the deck space is located on the northeast corner to reduce bulk. Departures are required for this scheme to retain the exceptional trees on site, and other challenges include increased construction costs with the unique shape of the building.

The second and third schemes require two potential design departures to preserve the exceptional trees on the site, and the team is working with an arborist for the purpose of preservation. The design will need a departure of up to 10 feet of additional height and up to 0.5 in floor area ratio (FAR) to account for the loss of development capacity in the tree protection area, as well as to provide more relief to the west of the site.

During deliberation, the Board expressed their appreciation of the packet and commended the team for the clarity provided in the details. They appreciated the deference the team showed toward the exceptional trees, and commented that the preferred scheme responded generally well to the overall site for the EDG phase of the project. The Board appreciated that the third scheme gave relief to the east and west of the site adjacent to the existing family homes. As such, the Board was unanimously supportive of the preferred scheme. The Board was unanimously supportive of the departures as described in the packet. The Board looks forward to seeing more details of the project in the next phase, including exterior lighting diagrams, more ground-level perspectives and the development of the retail space. The Board also looks forward to seeing how the exterior materials of the building will evolve and acclimate to the neighborhood in future iterations of the project. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board unanimously voted to move the project forward to the recommendation phase.