By Jack Stubbs
“I want to commend the applicant; the project plans are hands-down superior to what we received before,” said East design review board chair Curtis Bigelow, speaking in support of a new development in the works at Yesler Terrace.
Seattle’s Yesler Terrace neighborhood, a 30-acre site that is now recognized as the city’s first publicly-subsidized housing community developed by the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) in the early 1940s, is set for changes in the coming months.
On Wednesday, December 20th, a second Early Design Guidance meeting was held for a 510-unit project in Seattle’s Yesler Terrace neighborhood, Blocks 5.3 and 5.4 of the Yesler Terrace project. At the meeting, the applicant team—architect Ankrom Moisan and landscape architect Site Workshop—presented updated project plans on behalf to the project owner and developer, Lowe Enterprises. The development was previously reviewed at an EDG meeting held on September 27th, 2017.
The proposal is for the development of two projects: a 318-unit complex located at 209 12th Avenue South and a 192-unit project located at 1020 South Main Street. The total project, a 510-unit multi-story mixed-use 605,000 square foot development, also includes a 16,700 square foot park directly adjacent to the west of the Phase 2 building. Phase 1 is a nine-story building that contains more than 6,000 square feet of ground-level retail space, while phase 2 is an 8-story building that features an additional 108 parking spots provided below ground. The units for both phases are comprised of a mix of 2-bedroom, 1-bedroom and studio apartments.
The project site is currently occupied by 35 units of two-story rowhouses originally built in 1941 for the SHA. The property site will be cleared and redeveloped by SHA prior to the sale of the property to the developer, according to the applicant’s submitted plans.
Kicking off its presentation, the applicant team articulated its overarching project goals, which include providing market rate and affordable housing for the Yesler Terrace Neighborhood, creating an appropriate scale for the residential neighborhood, and creating a building design that honors the unique history of the Yesler Terrace community.
Following up on the project goals, the applicant team reviewed primary design elements that had been highlighted by the East Design Review Board at the previous EDG meeting. These primary city design guidelines included concerns about the development’s massing, height, bulk and scale; the orientation of the streetscape and entrances in relation to the development; and matters relating to safety and security.
The applicant team discussed how it had further refined the project plans since the last EDG meeting to better respect the history of the Yesler Terrace neighborhood, and also emphasized how it had selected varying high-quality materials for the building’s exterior that would better conform with the neighborhood context. Concerning its updated project plans, the applicant team highlighted its proposed exterior courtyard area and community room, which will contain a mural element. The applicant team also explained how it had redesigned the development entrances to better activate the streetscape along S. Main St.
Highlighting the ‘pocket park’ aspect of the project—and potential privacy issues—the applicant emphasized how it had mitigated security issues between the ground-level units and the adjacent park by adding various landscaping elements. With regards to more fully respecting the history of Yesler Terrace with the development, the applicant team plans to conduct extensive community outreach efforts about the development’s impact and work with a local artist to incorporate a mural on the building’s exterior facade that reflects the neighborhood’s historic fabric.
SHA first developed Yesler Terrace in the early 1940s to address a distinct shortage of housing in the neighborhood. Roughly a decade ago, in 2006, when it became evident that large-scale infrastructure changes were needed on the property, SHA began the redevelopment process by conducting extensive public outreach with local neighborhood residents and neighbors, and Seattle’s city officials—this process was the beginning of SHA’s vision to transform Yesler Terrace into a model community, according to the organization’s web site.
In 2013, SHA officially began implementing its revitalization plan to replace the 561 aging housing units on the property for families who earned no more than 30 percent of the area’s median income. In addition to replacing the outdated housing units, SHA also plans to create up to 1,100 low-income housing units at Yesler Terrace.
When asked to provide clarifying questions about the updated project plans, the board’s comments were brief and focused on the applicant team’s choice of materials for the development. Board member Barbara Busetti asked the applicant to further specify which high-quality materials it planned to use, while board member Curtis Bigelow asked about the specific color of the materials. Additionally, Busetti asked what security measures the applicant planned to implement into the development and also requested that the applicant further clarify the relationship between the development’s street-level units and the adjacent streetscape. Busetti also inquired about the applicant team’s proposed mural element and whether it had yet identified a specific artist.
There were no public comments expressed during the meeting.
During its deliberation period, the board expressed its overall support of the applicant team’s revised project plans, in particular emphasizing how the applicant team had presented plans for a development that better conformed to the neighborhood and community context of Yesler Terrace. Specifically, the board conveyed its approval of the new development’s new massing concept, particularly how the applicant had created a development that better fit the adjacent streetscape and integrated the building’s entrances. The board also noted how the applicant had addressed previous potential concerns about safety and security with the courtyard area.
Additionally, the board emphasized its approval of various other updated design elements, including the location of the new lobby and the relationship between the development and the adjacent park. The board also expressed its support of the applicant team’s idea to integrate a historic mural into the development plans.
However, the board did highlight two conditions for the applicant to consider moving forward, including providing more detailed information and examples of proposed high-quality materials, as well as more specific plans for the design of the garage entrance.
Since the development was approved to proceed to the next phase of the design process, the applicant team will now await a decision on its submitted Master Use Permit from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection.