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Design Review Board Requests Second EDG Meeting for 8-Story Apartment Building in Seattle’s Belltown Neighborhood

Seattle, Belltown, Ankrom Moisan Architects, Karen Kiest Landscape Architects, LIV 2nd and Bell LLC, Mama’s Mexican Kitchen, Buckley’s
Rendering Courtesy of Ankrom Moisan Architects

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Seattle’s Belltown area has long been a vibrant, exciting hub of music, history and colorful character. It housed the Grunge music scene in the early 1990s and even now is sprinkled with landmarked sites, such as Mama’s Mexican Kitchen and Buckley’s, along its streets and avenues. In July, Ankrom Moisan Architects and Karen Kiest Landscape Architects proposed a project to the East Design Review Board to develop an eight-story apartment building at 2224 2nd Avenue. The Board ultimately decided the project, currently coined as 2nd & Bell, should undergo a series of revisions based on suggestions made during the meeting, and that it must return for a second EDG meeting and round of decision-making.

The site, which is owned by LIV 2nd and Bell LLC, is currently developed with three buildings: the three-story landmarked Wayne Apartments which has ground floor retail, a two-story office and retail building and a one-story building that houses Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club. All three buildings will be demolished to make way for the new development. The site is settled in the heart of the live music and bar scene in Belltown. The new building will be flanked by the existing landmarked one-story building Mama’s Mexican Kitchen at the corner of Bell Street and 2nd Avenue and an eight-story senior apartment housing building with ground floor senior care on the other side of Tula’s. The one-story Crocodile music club resides at the corner of Blanchard Street and 2nd Avenue. The site is also located along multiple bus routes and the downtown district’s designated bike lane, making it easily accessible to pedestrians.

According to project documents, the 19,440 square foot site will include eight stories of apartments with 170 residential units, along with 9,000 square feet of ground floor commercial retail and two levels of below grade parking containing 114 residential parking stalls. The project proposal also mentions featuring coffee shops, lounges, bars, restaurants and other public spaces to promote pedestrian interaction. Specific amenities include customizable signage and graphics for the individual tenants that occupy the ground level storefronts to blend with the eclectic atmosphere of the heart of Belltown, in addition to art murals and a trash storage area to keep trash off the alley.

One of the goals of the project is to preserve the “funkiness” for which Belltown is famous on 2nd Avenue. As illustrated by photographs in the project documents, there are newer storefronts with a modern style which do not contribute to the character of the neighborhood.. 2nd & Bell will incorporate more of the eclectic elements for which some of the historic buildings are known — vibrant colors and a similar architectural language. One way Ankrom Moisan Architects is hoping to achieve this seamless assimilation is by imitating the architectural design of bars and music clubs in the area within the ground floor level. Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club, Rabbit Hole and Shorty’s, to name a few examples, are all narrow but deep, with some individual tenants extending more than 100 feet from 2nd Avenue to the alley. By incorporating these design elements, 2nd & Bell can further contribute to the Belltown community lifestyle.

The massing of the building will include a “funky base,” or a ground level facade which will emulate the design and character of existing Belltown tenants. The preferred scheme articulates the one-story facade to align with Mama’s Mexican Kitchen to the north, with bay windows to mimic the characteristics of the neighborhood. The upper residential levels are separated into two general massings to follow the patterns of Belltown. The project documents directly state the the 2nd and 8th floor setbacks will undulate to give contrast and relief from the flatter facades. The project will also features an outdoor deck on the northwest corner to allow for step transition down to the intersection at 2nd & Bell & to Regrade Park, and a view of Elliott Bay, according to the project documents. In addition, the overall massing divided by 1/3 and 2/3 is more similar to the block massing of the general Belltown community. One challenge the project faces are the large cedar trees on the street which constrain visibility for bay windows and other projections.

The Board generally supported the goal of the project to preserve the eclectic character of Belltown with the development at 2nd & Bell and agreed the “funky base” massing concept would help to achieve that. They also supported the decision to incorporate ground level retail store fronts.

The Board had concerns regarding the massing of the upper levels and the development of the alley frontage, however, which led the six Board members to recommend the project return for another meeting. Guidance for the next meeting included more information regarding the design to activate the alley and exploring more solutions for how to reconcile the bulk and massing of the upper levels with the “funky base” massing concept. They also requested examples of possible material and detailing choices and fenestration patterns, including privacy studies, according to the meeting report.

Ankrom Moisan Architects and Karen Kiest Landscape Architects will review the guidance suggestions and additional feedback gathered from public outreach and return for a second early design review meeting to resolve the concerns proposed by the Board in order to move closer toward fulfilling the goal of preserving the funkiness of Belltown’s 2nd Avenue.