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Plans for 144-Unit Apartment Building in Capitol Hill Prove Divisive for Design Review Board

Runberg Architecture Group, Mack Real Estate Development, Seattle, Capitol Hill, 1710 12th
Courtesy of Runberg Architecture Group

By Meghan Hall

A seven-story apartment building in the works within Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood underwent its second Early Design Guidance meeting at the end of last year. Proposed by Mack Real Estate Development and designed by Runberg Architecture Group, the designs of 1710 12th Ave. intended to blend better with the eclectic neighborhood context. However, the Review Board was split in its decision, divided on whether to request the project back for a rare, third Early Design Guidance meeting or move it forward to a Master User Permit application.

The proposed schematic would include 101,000 gross square feet of residential space, or about 144 units. 4,000 gross square feet of commercial space is planned for the ground floor.

The development site currently includes five existing parcels, developed with three commercial structures built in 1900 and 1979. Residential developments are prominent in the surrounding neighborhood and are a combination of mixed-use, multifamily and single-family structures.

“Recent development trends have seen multifamily housing styled by monolithic patterns, metal panel facades with accent colors, and natural material detailing,” explains design documents.

Buildings within the nearby conservation district are often clad with brick storefronts with a more industrial feel, which newly-developed mixed-use projects have embraced and reflected in their own proportions and designs.

The massing of the building will attempt to respond to this context and is slated to include a squared base with sub-angles to provide interest. The upper floors of the building will be paired and tripled in an overlapping and interlocking pattern that will emphasize bay widths and minimize the perceived scale of the building. The upper levels will pull back from the edge of the property to form a small patio and relieve its skyline. Setbacks to the northland west on the top floor were also included in the overall massing design.

Narrowed brick piers, parapets and other materials will act as secondary modulation. Windows will also be selected to fit with the ground floor commercial within the property. Additional materials will be selected as designs for the project are solidified and as the development makes its way through the remainder of the design review process.

However, the design scheme raised questions among both the design review board and members of the wider community. Both before and during the meeting, community members expressed dissatisfaction with the height, bulk and scale of the project relative to the existing neighborhood context. The Board agreed that these issues were a top priority in further developing the design of the project.

The Board noted that the articulation of the main facade on 12th Ave. resulted in a long, uniform expression that was not entirely successful, and suggested adding more depth and texture not just to 12th Ave., but to all of the building’s facades.

The Board’s debate produced a split opinion in which members questioned how well the designs ultimately responded to the transitional nature of the neighborhood. The Board noted that while the project did respond to the 12th Ave. Arts Building about a block away to the  south, it noted the Arts Building as one that is “atypical” for the neighborhood.

“The Board was divided on the question of how well this proposal had responded to previous guidance,” states a City report detailing the meeting. “While none of the board members expressed strong support for any of the schemes, some felt that the further development of each of the schemes and the adjustments made to the preferred option could be seen as responsive, while other board members felt that the materials seemed to be making a case for the original analysis of site conditions and context in support of a preferred option that had not changed significantly since the previous review.”

At the end of the meeting, the Review Board remained divided on its recommendations, with two members voting to move the project forward to the Master User Permit application phase in conjunction with the guidance provided, and three members voting for the project to return for an additional early design guidance meeting. However, per current design review regulations, developments are capped at two early design guidance meetings. Only the Director of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections may require a third round of early design guidance from an applicant.

Whether the project returns for an additional early design guidance meeting or a formal design review meeting, the Board hopes to consider additional massing alternatives that respond better to the surrounding neighborhood context.