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East Design Review Board Moves Forward Westbank’s Proposal for 380-Unit Residential Tower in Seattle

East Design Review Board, Westbank Projects Corp, Seattle, First Hill, MG2, James K.M. Cheng Architects, Vancouver, Berger Partnership, Chancery Apartments, Living Building Challenge, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections, Living Building Pilot Program, St. James Cathedral, Frye Art Museum, Puget Sound

By Kate Snyder

A proposal for a multifamily development in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood was met with approval during a recent Early Design Guidance meeting. The East Design Review Board voted in favor of moving the 38-story tower project forward after meeting to discuss the proposal on Wednesday. 

The owner and developer is Westbank Projects Corp.’s Seattle office, according to project plans. The architect of record is MG2, also in Seattle, and the design architect is James K.M. Cheng Architects, which is based in Vancouver, B.C. The landscape architect is Seattle-based Berger Partnership.

Located at 907 Terry Ave., the project consists of a 380-unit tower standing 38 stories and totaling 332,494 square feet, according to project plans. Additionally, there would be a parking structure for 131 vehicle stalls totaling 61,250 square feet. The site is made up of two parcels and comprises two access easements. To the east is Terry Avenue and to the south is Marion Street, both of which are public right-of-ways. To the west is a dedicated private access easement, which borders the 13-story Chancery Apartments building. To the north is a shared access easement with the six-story Bloodworks building.

James Cheng, founder of James KM Cheng Architects, presented details about the project to the board during Wednesday’s meeting. He highlighted the development team’s plan to participate in Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program, which is an initiative meant to foster environmentally-friendly projects within the city in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses and fossil fuels.

The program allows construction projects to have additional height and increased floor area ratio, according to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections website. The program also allows developers to request additional departures from the Seattle Land Use Code in exchange for meeting the Living Building Challenge. LBC’s goal is to create buildings that generate more energy than they use, capture and treat all water on site and are made using healthy materials.

Cheng told the board that there is a chance the 907 Terry project wouldn’t be able to meet the necessary requirements to qualify for the program. As a result, the presented design did not include any bonuses allowed by the program.

“The project represents a rare opportunity to participate in the Living Building Pilot Program,” Cheng said. “We would have to earn the bonuses from this program, which is an additional 25 percent density and height beyond what is currently allowed under the zoning. As a pilot program, there are many issues that would need to be ironed out and investigated. Therefore, there may be a chance we would not be able to satisfy all the requirements. That is why we’re showing you the design without the density and height bonus. However, it is our intention to pursue the LBPP until it’s proven untenable.”

Three similar massing concepts were presented during the meeting. 

The first massing concept has a gridded facade that takes inspiration from the curves and arches of the site’s adjacent St. James Cathedral, plans show. The curves in the facade are designed to both tie back to the cathedral and enhance the residential language. The second massing concept took inspiration from the classical language and scale of both the St. James Cathedral and the Frye Art Museum to engage with the existing urban fabric and pedestrian realm, plans show. The grid frame that envelopes the tower extends from the building’s base and extends all the way up towards the rooftop amenity space, evoking the appearance of a punched window facade. 

The applicant’s preferred concept was the third, which is meant to enhance the First Hill neighborhood’s historic character through drawing inspiration from the district’s landmarks, such as the cathedral and art museum as well as other medical, educational and cultural institutions in the area. The architecture of the tower is defined by the same traditional tripartite principles as other notable buildings in the neighborhood, and the verticality of the proposed project references the pair of steeples from the cathedral. At the street level, the project focuses on the pedestrian experience to align with the goals of the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan and Terry Avenue Visioning Plan.

Overall the board was satisfied with the design. Discussion points included the different frontages of the building, particularly the frontage on Marion Street, which is a sloped road. Some concerns the board had were about safety and making the public feel welcome on the staircase planned for that side of the building. On Terry Avenue, the board appreciated the benches planned there as well as the street trees on both that side and the Marion Street frontage. Regarding the design, the board was pleased by the team’s dedication to following the context of the neighboring structures.

Gina Gage, board member, noted that while the board appreciated some aspects of the first two massing options, as a whole the board preferred option three.

“We really appreciated the three options and debated at length the merits of each of them,” Gage said. “We preferred option three. Option three provided four different facades, which responded each to their individual context… We appreciated that option three was open at the ground level and the symmetry that it provided.”