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R.C. Hedreen’s 824 Howell 475-Room Hotel Project Hits Snag with Seattle’s Design Review Board

Design Review Board, R.C. Hedreen Co., MZA Architects, Denny Triangle Urban Village, R.C. Hedreen, LMN Architects, Washington State Convention Center
Renderings courtesy of MZA Architects

By Vladimir Bosanac

Maybe it was the anticipation of the upcoming long Thanksgiving weekend or simply a developer testing the market, but the first design review meeting held for the 824 Howell Street project in Seattle kicked off to a slow start, and the nearly 90 minute meeting resulted in the Design Review Board’s decision to ask the developer and his architect to reconsider a number of the project’s elements and return with an updated proposal.

The project that Seattle-based developer R.C. Hedreen Co. and architect Bellevue’s MZA Architects put in front of Seattle’s planners and designers was for a 40-story hotel (33 stories rising above a 7-story podium) that would feature up to 475 rooms, two stories of private penthouses, three ballrooms with adjacent meeting rooms, a restaurant and retail on the ground floor. The property would rise on a 1/4 block bound by Stewart and Howell Streets to the north and south, and Eighth and Ninth Avenues (Ninth Avenue is a Green Street) to the west and east. The neighborhood in which the proposal is located is the Denny Triangle Urban Village.

The hotel actually represents phase two of a larger hotel development on the same block, which is under construction and is also developed by R.C. Hedreen, the LMN Architects-designed Hyatt Regency Seattle. This project, which is expected to be completed in 2018 is 1.4 million square feet with 1,264 rooms, according to the architect’s web site. When completed, it will be Seattle’s largest hotel and occupy the other three quarters of the block on which the relatively smaller 824 Howell project is proposed.

“This is a combined block development and phase one was a 1,260-room hotel, phase two, which is separated by an L-shaped alley from phase one, is proposed to be 400-475 rooms,” said Craig Davenport, vice president of MZA, who led the presentation on behalf of the applicant team.

Both projects are looking to capitalize on the city’s expansive renewal of the Washington State Convention Center, the $1.6 billion renovation that the city elders hope will usher more economic activity and increased revenues to Seattle and the region as a whole.

The developer and architect presented three options to the city, of which the third one pushes the tower of the hotel structure to the north of the podium, away from the street, making the project somewhat more slender and taller, and in the eyes of the architect better suited next to the massive block of the Hyatt Regency next to it.

Renderings courtesy of MZA Architects

However, R.C. Hedreen’s work is not done, and it will have to do more to convince the planning department that this project is ready for prime time.

One of the first issues with the proposal was highlighted by the fact that the material did not include some key elements of the proposal in the packet submitted to the Design Review Board. Without the ability to review the full proposal ahead of the meeting, the board’s options on next steps were immediately limited.

But another, larger issue came to light during the public comment period when Abby Lawlor, UniteHere! Local 8, hospitality union of the Northwest representative spoke on behalf of her organization and Alliance for a Livable Denny Triangle. She brought up the fact that the developer some years ago agreed to provide a considerable public benefit as a condition of the approval of the 8th and Howell (Hyatt Regency Seattle) project, which is supposed to come in the form of reduced massing of the development on Parcel B, the 824 Howell Street project.

“In order to qualify for combined lot development under the code, 8th and Howell project was required to provide significant public benefit, and the project claimed to provide two benefits: 1) improve massing of development that achieves a better relationships with surrounding conditions, and 2) a through-block pedestrian connection to promote pedestrian circulation,” Lawlor said.

The city allowed the developer to transfer the floor area ratio (FAR) within the block, effectively allowing Parcel A to go bigger, and in return reduce available FAR on Parcel B in the future. The 824 Howell Street project was supposed to be an effective mediator of scale between the two parcels. “Reduced development capacity on Lot B was a significant element of the public benefit,” she added.

Lawler also provided schematics that the developer submitted to the city in December of 2014 as evidence of this, and the drawing show a potential Parcel B massing option that is less than half the height of the Parcel A structure. The new proposal, the preferred version is projected to be only 64 feet, or about six stories shorter than the 8th and Howell project.

The architects stated this was a “stepping down” to scale to make the new building more in line with the other towers in the neighborhood, yet the visuals provided by Lawler and her group were more convincing.

At this point, the Design Review Board can only notate the public benefit concern and make sure the that issue is taken up with appropriate bodies once the developer applies for the master use permit (MUP) later on in the process. The pedestrian connection of the alley, however, was something that the board was able to deliberate and provide specific recommendations.

Overall, the board had quite a few recommendations for the applicants, some of which reflected their frustration with the incomplete submitted materials. Specifically, the members of the board wanted to see updated drawings of views from a ground level of every pedestrian way, including renderings and descriptions of facades from all sides of the project, including the alley inside the block. At the same time, the board noted that the applicant did not provide a code-compliant option of their project, so it was not possible for the board members to be more specifics about those determinations.

While the board overall supported the third option, which pulls the massing of the building away from the corner of the block, it did want see more details of pedestrian experience, a plan to retain retail on Howell Street and make sure that the alley remains a public, pedestrian way. Finally, the board wanted the applicant to study the green street setback departure and noted that the adjacent property created a 15-foot setback on Ninth Ave. as part of its Green Street mission for that street.