Home AEC Review Board Approves Mixed-Use Building in Seattle after “Lengthy” Design Process

Review Board Approves Mixed-Use Building in Seattle after “Lengthy” Design Process

Safeway, Hewitt, Runberg Architecture Group, Queen Anne, Seattle, Cahill Equities, barrientosRYAN
Courtesy of Runberg Architecture Group

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood represents one of the city’s many beacons of commercial activity, with an emphasis for small business and quick connections to public amenities through transit and established pedestrian zones. Developers Cahill Equities and barrientosRYAN targeted grocery giant Safeway’s retail store as an opportunity for a complete store redesign believed to more adequately serve the public, as well as provide additional residential housing to the neighborhood itself. In partnership with lead architect Runberg Architecture Group and landscape architect Hewitt, the team presented the revised project for a 7-story mixed-use building at 2100 Queen Anne Ave. N on Wednesday night during a second recommendation meeting to the West Seattle Review Board. After a two-year design process, which has elicited significant response and engagement from the community, the Board issued unanimous approval for the project to move forward to MUP application.

“This team, Queen Anne residents, we’ve worked hard and appreciate all those from the community who’ve worked hard alongside us for the past two years,” said Brian Runberg, principal and founding partner at Runberg Architecture Group. “There have been thousands and thousands of hours going into this. We feel this project will serve the Queen Anne community for generations. It’s been intentional, thoughtful, and the design accommodates so many technical functions and will be a great, vibrant shopping experience.”

The site, which is owned by Safeway and currently houses a Safeway retail store built in 1962 coupled with a surface parking lot, is 79,836 square feet and bounded by Queen Anne Ave N., Boston St., 1st Ave. North and Crockett St. The 474,000 square foot building will feature approximately 324 residential units, along with 323 accessory parking stalls and a 50,000 square foot Safeway store at ground level. Amenities include a 2,000 square foot plaza, public seating, public art and a play area.

A significant challenge the design team faced, which has served as the primary topic of discussion since its early design guidance meeting, traces back to land use code and design guidelines of the neighborhood. These guidelines require the presence of eight individual, primarily small, business retailers, and the team will need a Type 1 director’s decision from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to approve Safeway’s singular presence on the block, given the sheer size and reach of the project. During the first recommendation meeting held in early December, the team requested the Board provide its support for this issue as a departure request, in the event the team is not granted the Type 1 director’s decision. The Board did not grant its support at the time, stating the team had not evolved the project enough to break up the massing of the facades, especially along the Queen Anne frontage, nor did the Board feel the team had thoroughly emphasized the material differentiality of the residential and retail portions of the building. If the team was going to continue with the single-use retail design, the Board wanted to see additional studies and further clarification as to how they were going to appropriately meet the land use code and guidelines.

In response, the team returned for the second recommendation meeting with a more refined and articulated design that featured the additional studies and clarifications for which the Board had asked, along with the rationale behind the alternatives they proposed and a host of community support and feedback.

“We’ve extensively met with the community, both individuals and organizations, over many, many months, collaborating with many aspects of the final design here,” Runberg said. “Their collective input was not only constructive, but also highly valuable. Throughout that whole process, we followed their priorities and the neighborhood guidelines.” 

In their revised approach to diversifying the Queen Anne frontage, the team provided studies for the eight different “openings” along the facade: The pharmacy, the florist, the grocery entry, Starbucks seating, Starbucks kioski, stair circulation and the third-party deli. The studies detailed the mullion patterns of each opening, as well as the awnings or canopies used for each and the base material. The team also clarified the red brick expressions of the project, as requested by the Board during the first recommendation meeting when discussing the preferred massing option of a first-floor baseline, or plinth, that would separate the grocery store from the residential space above.

“Our thought process was a contrasting warm and cool, with cooler brick being on top with the residential,” Runberg said. “It’s a lighter feeling above there. Contextually, the red brick is abundant in the neighborhood and appropriate for the commercial frontage.”

The team provided a deeper look into the landscaping of the facade, as well, in response to requests made by the Board to provide more usable public space and landscape elements. With guidance from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the team added a 3-5 foot setback from the property line and proposed infilling flexi-pave in the tree pits to maximize usable sidewalk.

The team also provided a retail study in the event they would need to separate the retail space into different subdivisions to support individual tenants, however, they re-emphasized the owner’s preference for the single-use retailer design.

The preferred massing of the building breaks the size of the project down to “Buildings A, B and C,” with distinct expressions and material differentiality for each. The Board was initially supportive of this option during the first recommendation meeting, though they expressed concern over secondary modulation and requested the team research ways to incorporate elements like depth of fenestration or various reveals.

In response, the team took a closer look at the materials and finishings of each “building” during the second recommendation meeting, emphasizing cladding details and adding individual unit exhaust vents to Building C. The team also presented a balcony study along Crockett St., as the Board didn’t find the relationship of the balconies compelling to the overall design of the project during the first recommendation meeting. During the study, the team found balconies to be a popular amenity among residents and studied the addition of decks to help bridge the design gap.

“We took a lot of studies and input, differing scale, modulation, materials, textures, but yet having a clear vocabulary and strong articulation of those massings to give that diversity of the view from the northwest looking south and the intersection of Boston and Queen Anne,” Runberg said in summary at the end of the applicant presentation.

Throughout the design process, the public has taken particular interest in the project given the ramifications it has on the community and the collaborative efforts taken by the team for outreach. During the public comment portion of the second recommendation meeting, several community members expressed their support for the revised project. Many members also expressed their misgivings about the pace at which the project has moved, citing the design review process as an unnecessary challenge for the team. One community member even read a poem emphasizing the length of the process.

The Board acknowledged these comments and expressed its appreciation for the applicant’s efforts for the quick turnaround from the first to the second recommendation meeting. The Board appreciated that the team had responded to all the concerns and questions that were raised during the first recommendation meeting, with the added rationale to support their decisions. The Board appreciated the community’s passion for the project and pointed out that initially there hadn’t been disagreement to necessarily change the design, but to clarify the design in response to the land use code and specific design guidelines. The Board recognized the revised project as “exemplary” in providing that clarification.

The Board appreciated the studies presented by the team during the second recommendation meeting and particularly liked the evolution along the Queen Anne store frontage and landscape, commenting that it accomplished the differentiation of the various openings and provided the balance for which the Board was initially looking. The Board also appreciated the addition of the secondary elements to the upper massing.

As with the first recommendation meeting, the Board supported all six departure requests. 

Finally, the Board reiterated its appreciation for the team’s efforts in revising the facade along Queen Anne Ave. N in a way that articulated the multiple uses of the single tenant. The Board unanimously stated that if the team doesn’t receive the Type 1 director’s decision from SDCI, they would be inclined to grant the departure request from the eight individual commercial entities required by the land use code and design guidelines to a single-use retailer.

At the end of the meeting, commending the joint efforts of the team and the community in revolutionizing the building’s design in response to the suggestions made, the Board voted unanimously to move the project forward to MUP application.