By Kate Snyder
Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood could soon see more multifamily housing. A proposal for a 169-unit apartment building with retail space was approved by the Northwest Design Review Board during an early design guidance meeting on Monday. The project will now move on to the recommendation phase in the design review process.
The developer is an entity affiliated with Prometheus Real Estate Group, based in San Mateo, Calif., according to project plans. The applicant is Permit Consultants NW, a Normandy Park-based consulting firm that specializes in construction permitting and project support, according to the company’s website. The architects are Jones Architecture in Portland and MG2 in Seattle.
The project site is at 508 N 36th St., centrally located in the Fremont neighborhood and positioned where the grid shift creates an irregular-shaped site on a primary commercial corridor, project plans show. North 36th Street to the south intersects with Fremont Pl North at an angle, creating a corner that is oriented toward the Fremont Bridge. Along with the residential and retail space, parking stalls for 73 vehicles is also part of the proposal.
In response to the site’s central location, the proposed design is inspired by several objectives that include contributing to Fremont’s pedestrian realm by infilling an existing gap in North 36th Street’s commercial and mixed-use space and creating opportunities for people to interact and nature to thrive at both the building and pedestrian levels. Another project goal is to draw upon the scale and detailing of historic Seattle retail storefronts to construct a “well-proportioned and high-quality addition to the neighborhood,” plans show.
Three massing concepts were presented to the board during Monday’s meeting. Scheme A featured a distinct podium with a private courtyard as well as the preservation of two viable exceptional trees, but it also eliminated about 10 residential units and 30 stalls in the lower level parking garage, which project leaders have determined would be non-viable for the project. Scheme B included a distinct podium with corner plazas and a massing design that wraps the property and creates a private courtyard. However, that plan also meant that north-facing courtyard units would have minimal views and lack of access to natural light. In addition, it would necessitate the removal of the property’s exceptional trees. The third concept, Scheme C, was the applicant’s preferred option and showcased a distinct podium with two plazas and a massing that is modulated into vertical bays that pull back from the property lines. That option also called for the removal of the exceptional trees.
The two exceptional trees related to the project are a southern magnolia and a vine maple. An “exceptional tree” under Seattle’s code means a tree or group of trees that because of its unique historical, ecological or aesthetic value constitutes an important community resource. Despite the board’s reticence on the removal of the trees, members agreed that the applicant’s preferred massing concept is the design that should move forward.
“Scheme A we talked briefly about,” said Board Chair Brian Johnson. “We talked about the exceptional trees and the option to save those, and while we appreciate the effort, we think we could have seen more to save those, but we understand the viability of the project may have been killed by doing that and I think that what they presented was good to understand what was possible but ultimately it really just wasn’t feasible to save these two trees by making big notches out of the building.”
The board also discussed switching the project’s north-facing courtyard to south-facing, further work on breaking down the project’s Evanston Avenue facade and a possible study on how the residential entry on the southeast corner could be relocated so that area could be used as commercial space. Johnson and other board members were generally positive about the project.
“You’ve provided a really kind of simple palette,” Johnson told the project representatives during the meeting. “I think there’s beauty to that… Fremont doesn’t need to have big steel sculptures hanging off of every single building.”
Founded in 1965, Prometheus is, according to the company’s website, the largest privately held owner of apartments in the Bay Area, with a portfolio of more than 13,000 apartments in the Silicon Valley, Portland and Seattle regions and another 2,600 apartments in the company’s development pipeline. The firm is headquartered in San Mateo and has satellite offices in Portland and the Bay Area. The firm owns several multifamily complexes in the Seattle area, including the Cliffside Apartments in Gig Harbor and The Lakes Apartments in Bellevue.