Home AEC New Residential Project Proposed for Seattle’s Mount Baker Neighborhood Faces Unique Design...

New Residential Project Proposed for Seattle’s Mount Baker Neighborhood Faces Unique Design Challenges at Review Meeting

Paine Property, Caron Architecture, Seattle, 2203 23rd Ave. S.
Courtesy of Caron Architecture

By Meghan Hall

A 288,000 square foot apartment project proposed in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood has worked to overcome a project-altering hurdle during the design process: tree retention. In an Early Design Guidance Meeting last week, Paine Property LLC and Caron Architecture discussed their plans for 2203 23rd Ave. S., and modifications that have been made to the project’s design as a result of several “exceptional” trees.

This was the project’s first formal review meeting, but second early design guidance session. The project team submitted an initial design packet several months prior and was subject to an administrative design review and feedback as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Much of the City’s initial response to the project involved feedback regarding the preservation of mature trees on the site that are part of a larger grove. While several of these trees were deemed “exceptional”—meaning that they are of historical, ecological or aesthetic value and thus should be protected—the City requested the project team maintain one tree in particular, located at the Southwest corner of the project site. The tree, a bigleaf maple, has five trunks originating at its base.

The nine-story mixed-use building will include 259 residential units, 121 parking stalls and 11,451 square feet of ground floor retail. Had the project team been required to maintain the tree grove on site, the building’s footprint would have been cut to just over 188,000 square feet, according to a tree grove retention study conducted by Pain Property and Caron Architecture. However, the unit count would have remained the same, and the commercial square footage would be reduced to 9,837 square feet.

The property spans an entire city block bordered by S. Walker St., S. College St., 23rd Ave. S. and 22nd Ave. S. It is currently developed with a one-story commercial building that is occupied by a non-profit organization. The property sits within a major transition home, tucked between single-family homes to the south and west, and more industrial and commercial buildings to the north and east. Most buildings in the neighborhood are rather low-lying, with the tallest structure rising about three stories in height. However, development is expected to occur throughout the neighborhood in coming years due to increased height limits, and the project team wants 2203 23rd Ave. S. to set a precedent.

“Generally, our concept of the site was to develop a multifamily or mixed-use project which will set a tone for future development of this area,” stated Caron Architecture Principal Radim Blazer.

The preferred massing concept shows that the building will be wrapped around a central courtyard, with space at the southwest corner left open for the remaining exceptional tree. A 30-foot datum line has been introduced to break down the bulk and scale of the massing relative to surrounding development and provide a more “weighty” feel to anchor the project.  A brick base will also be introduced along the south and west facades. An upper level setback on 22nd Ave. S. and S. College St. will further reduce perceived height, while a canopy will be used at the corner to soften the entry and reflect the residential feel of the two streets. Two residential entrances will be provided at the northeast corner and on 22nd Ave. S. The two commercial spaces and their entries will be on 23rd Ave. S.

Vertical recesses and balcony insets will provide additional modulation and rhythm on all four facades. The primary materials proposed for the building include metal paneling, wood-finished paneling and fiber cement paneling in addition to the project’s brick base. The color palette will be composed of dark gray, light gray, white, wood and earthier brick colors. The project team hopes that the finishes will provide a clear distinction between commercial and residential facades while accentuating corners, recesses, entries and massing shifts.

The Board deliberated for some time on the project and acknowledged that the site’s context was difficult to address. The Board deliberated the design and project implications if it were to ask the development team to maintain more of the original trees on the lot, or to better incorporate the other two additional exceptional trees into the design.

“New developments always look like new developments because they’re surrounded by spindly trees that are young and new,” lamented one Board member.

However, the Board did conclude that keeping most of the trees would severely impact the possibility for development, and noted that the lot was already underutilized within the neighborhood. Looking at the updated designs, the Board members were generally pleased with the preferred option and the modulation and massing studies that occurred between the administrative design review and the second early design guidance meeting. They also generally supported but asked Caron Architecture to look into the preservation or replication of the mural that is currently housed on the site. 

With these factors in mind, the Board voted 4-1 to move the project forward to Master Use Permit application, with just one dissenting vote based on a desire to see design schemes that could accommodate more trees. With the approval, Paine Property and Caron can begin finalizing the project’s design and the remaining phases of the entitlements process.