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Design Review Board Recommends Othello Square’s Opportunity Center Move Forward to MUP Application

Othello Square, Othello Square Opportunity Center, Rainier Valley, barrientosRYAN, HomeSight, Weber Thompson, Seattle
Rendering Courtesy of Weber Thompson

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Seattle’s historic Rainier Valley has provided a welcoming community for a diverse group of people for more than 100 years, with immigrants, refugees, people of color and small businesses calling the neighborhood home. While rising rents and unaffordable property have begun to usher out family-owned businesses and tenured residents in recent years, new construction proposals aim to provide the community again with affordable housing and amenities, with the goal of supplying new opportunity for entrepreneurship and prosperity. In November, HomeSight and Weber Thompson in partnership with barrientosRYAN and Othello Square presented a proposal to the Southeast Design Review Board during its first early design guidance meeting to develop a 7-story residential building with retail, institution, office and parking at 7315 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way South. At the end of the meeting, the Board recommended the project move forward to MUP application. 

The site, located on the southwest corner of South Othello Street and Martin Luther King Junior Way South, is the biggest undeveloped parcel of land in Rainier Valley and currently vacant. The design proposal aims to develop the site into the Opportunity Center (Building A) as part of the Othello Square campus, a project with the vision to engage the community through education and early learning, small business opportunity, affordable residential and commercial space and multicultural coalition and government services. Three additional buildings are expected to also be built around the site: Building B, a charter school, to the west; Building C, a clinic with residential units, also to the west and Building D, the HomeSight Homeownership Co-operative, to the south. Surrounding buildings in the Othello neighborhood include single-story structures of mixed use, low-rise older residential structures and mid-rise newer residential structures. Othello Playground, New Holly Rockery Community Garden, John C. Little Sr. Park and the Chief Sealth Trail provide community green spaces to break up blocks of structures.

According to the preferred massing option listed in the project documents, the approximate 212,529 square foot project will house a 7-story building of up to 166,007 square feet of residential, 6,483 square feet of retail and  25,295 square feet of institutional spaces, with up to 195 residential units and approximately 100 parking stalls spanning 40,546 square feet of space. Residences will include two to three bedroom apartments, after school programs in the institutional space and pop-up shops in the retail space. The goal of the project, according to the proposal, is to create a campus that reflects the diversity and welcoming atmosphere of the community that has historically found a space in the Othello neighborhood. Suggested materials used for the project will further enforce this connection to the community. Traditional Othello cladding material includes wood shingles, horizontal or vertical, and masonry materials like stone are encouraged to be used as accent material. The design also aims to connect the campus with surrounding communities through entrepreneurship opportunities and its proximity to the Othello light rail station. 

The Board unanimously supported the third massing option of the project, which has a strong corner expression which helps to solidify the structure as a gateway to the campus. The entrance of the building also has a two-story expression which further identifies the Opportunity Center as the focus and activity node of the campus. The mass is broken up along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South to help avoid creating a monolithic facade.

The Board supported the retail plan along the south facade of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and suggested a design that would activate the street level while keeping the space safe for pedestrians. They requested more details be provided at the Recommendation meeting for the central plaza between Buildings A, B and C, emphasizing the importance of open access to the plaza from the public sidewalk, as well as a signage plan.

Other comments made by the Board during the meeting included concerns about the driveway slope of 18 percent, which exceeds the 15 percent code. The Board emphasized the importance of pedestrian safety and recommended the team do more study on this design feature, noting they would support an exceeding percentage if pedestrian safety was simultaneously increased as a result of the decision. 

Finally, the team requested two development standard departures regarding a reduction to the average setback and to the transparency of the South Holly Park Drive facade. The Board gave preliminary support for these departure requests but will make their recommendation during the final Board meeting.

At the conclusion of the early design guidance meeting, the Board recommended the project move forward to MUP application. The development team will consider and address the recommendations given by the Board during the meeting through project revisions. With this Board approval, Othello Square continues along on its path toward the end goal of providing the diverse community of the Othello neighborhood with residential, economic and educational opportunities through the development of the Opportunity Center as the gateway and activity hub of the campus.