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Proposed 186-Unit Apartment Building Heads to EDG as City Adjusts Design Review Protocol Post-COVID-19

GLLO, Saratoga Capital, Belltown, Seattle, 2616 Western
Rendering Courtesy of GGLO

By Meghan Hall

Seattle’s design review meetings are often one of the most pivotal aspects of the entire entitlements process, giving local commercial real estate experts and the wider community an opportunity to express their opinions on development in their neighborhood. Over the past several months, these meetings have largely been cancelled out of caution for the health and safety of both project teams and residents. Now, however, the City of Seattle Planning Department is moving forward once again, but in a modified fashion. One of the first projects to go through this new procedure is a 186-unit development known as 2616 Western. Proposed by Los Gatos, Calif.-based Saratoga Capital, Inc., and global design firm GGLO, the project returned for its second early design guidance meeting at the beginning of June.

The project underwent its first EDG meeting in early March. At the time, the Downtown Design Review Board voted unanimously to bring the project back for an additional EDG review, noting that while it supported the preliminary schemes presented by the project team, it would like additional detail before moving the project forward. 

The property is located at 2616 Western Ave., in what project documents characterize as one of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods—Belltown. Currently, the property is developed with two mid-rise structures, originally constructed in 1910 and 1947. The buildings will be demolished to make way for the new tower. Adjacent to the project site is the Banner Building, a 1993 condominium development, and numerous other residential developments, such as the Joseph Arnold Lofts, Site 17 Apartments, the Parc Apartments and the Cedar Apartments at Belltown.

The units in the building will be a mix of studio, one-, two and three-bedroom units. Each unit will have access to a 1,300 square foot outdoor amenity area located on the same floor. Upon completion, its height will make the project one of the tallest in the Belltown neighborhood, meaning that massing strategies to reduce the perceived bulk and scale of the development are key.

Upon returning for further review, Saratoga and GGLO made several revisions to the project’s design. The tower, which was initially comprised of three primary massing components and canted geometry, is now made up of two interlocking forms: an outer, glassier “wrapper” that is canted away from the adjacent Banner building, and an inner core, which breaks free from the main tower body at the rooftop amenity space. Angled geometry in the tower will be repeated on the Cedar Street façade and provide a more pedestrian scale, as well. An additional bridge piece will span the gap between the Banner building and tower to form a gasket between the two buildings. The bridge will align with the Banner building’s parapet.

“The unique massing of the building will be a refreshing deviation from the block-like characteristics of more recent development,” project documents state. “The taut geometry of the upper tower will respectfully step back from the Banner Building at its upper terrace while the lower floors will reinforce the lower courtyard established by the Banner Building with a shared green connection between the two buildings.”

The project team has also revised the site plan, as active commercial uses have replaced residential units on the ground floor. Additionally, the lobby will now step-up in section as the site’s grade rises to increase visual connection and sidewalk activity.

The project team is also pursuing Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program, which encourages applicants to work towards carbon neutral development in exchange for 25 extra feet in building height and 25 percent more gross floor area. To meet these requirements, project designs will include on-site roof solar panels (as well as offsite solar panels) as a renewable energy source, operable windows to provide fresh air to each unit, bioretention planters and green street landscaped planters. The project will also include an interpretive and educational exhibit explaining the living building challenge program, as well as handcrafted building materials, to enhance the design.

Upon design approval, both Saratoga and GGLO hope that the development will add a new dimension to Belltown. “Situated within one of Seattle’s most dense neighborhoods, 2616 Western seeks to design a multifamily tower that celebrates both the new and the old of Belltown,” explains the team in design documents. “2616 will create natural transitions, enhance views, and celebrate the green street.”