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Proposal for 600-Unit Apartment Complex in Seattle to Return for Second Early Design Guidance Meeting

Bitter Lake Apartments, Bode, Seattle, Bitter Lake, Northwest Design Review Board
Courtesy of Bode

By Kate Snyder 

A proposal for a seven-story, 600-unit apartment building in Seattle’s Bitter Lake neighborhood will come back for another early design guidance meeting after an initial presentation to the Northwest Design Review Board Monday night.

Seattle-based real estate company Bode, is the project developer and designer, and the firm “creates desirable and attainably priced housing,” according to its website. The project, called Bitter Lake Apartments and located at 12220 Aurora Ave N in Seattle, would be a redevelopment of the half-block bound by Aurora Ave N., according to the project plans. The complex would be 450,000 square feet of mixed-use with 600 residential units and nine live/work units, approximately 357 parking spaces, 483 bike racks, and an occupied roof deck.

“The design will bring new character to the area by allowing for taller buildings in a greater density,” said Karen Biran, project manager for Bode. “This project would be contributing to the activity along the street.”

Option A, Bode’s preferred option, is an eight-shaped structure, Biran said, with two courtyards and a main lobby and residential entrance at the north end. Biran noted that the design employs simplicity to maximize affordability and pedestrian-oriented spaces.

“Basically the design is centered around simplicity,” she said. “We are setting the ground for definitely taller and more dense buildings.”

Option B is a doughnut-shaped structure with a connector and the residential entrance on the south end, and Option C is an E-shaped structure around two courtyards that would open to the east.

Biran also noted that the project’s location is an area without “pedestrian-oriented streetscape on the ground level,” and that the surrounding neighbors include car dealerships, tire shops and other local businesses. Project plans also show that to the west of the site, along Linden Ave N there is a larger presence of residential developments including four- to seven-story mid-rise apartment buildings and condominiums.

Only one public comment was submitted to the early design guidance meeting, which supported the proposal for high-density housing at that location and encouraged the board to consider development of the east facade where the building meets the fire lane and garage access.

In the project proposal documents, Bode representatives state that an online survey was filled out by eleven neighbors from the community to help the firm better understand any concerns and priorities for this property and neighborhood.

“Our project received both support and concerns regarding its potential impact on the neighborhood,” the plan states. “The survey feedback was useful and there was general neighborhood support for the proposed project. Comments indicate that the development could improve the Aurora corridor, strengthen the community, and provide a safer environment.”

The proposed project in Bitter Lake is not the company’s first in the neighborhood – earlier this year, it also proposed an affordable housing complex at 13711 Aurora Avenue N., which is just a mile away from this most recent proposal.

That project, also seven stories, would be approximately 426 residential units with 3,800 square feet of ground floor retail space and 126 parking stalls, according to The Registry’s previous reporting.

Generally, board members were in favor of the preferred design, though questions included asking for more details about positives and negatives for each of the design option’s entry points on the building, whether the firm took possible future development into consideration, and how the design would set a precedent for positive growth in the area. 

Members were concerned, however, about the lighting within the middle courtyards and pointed out that the spaces could possibly be underutilized because of how often the courtyards would be cast in shadow. There was also concern expressed about the setback along the northwest corner as well as how any potential design changes could affect the massing.

Another concern was that the proposed live/work spaces would not activate the streetscape as planned, so Lauren Rock, board member, recommended that those spaces be designed in a way that would allow them to be converted to more traditional commercial spaces in the future. At the end of the meeting, even though the board found many positives to the design, members felt a need for the applicant to return for another early design guidance meeting in the future.