Bitter Lake Urban Village is a rapidly developing area in Seattle, featuring numerous outdoor activities like golf courses, Bitter Lake Playfield, Haller Lake and the 24-mile long Interurban Trail. Given its proximity to Aurora Avenue N, the village features a number of big box stores and strip mall development along the corridor, as well as Northgate Mall. It’s also home to University of Washington Medicine’s Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, along with Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park, Seattle’s largest cemetery. Against this backdrop, Seattle-based architecture firm Board & Vellum and global architecture firm Dahlin Group, on behalf of Pulte Homes of Washington, presented a joint proposal for Pulte 2 Degrees, a mixed-use housing complex between Aurora Ave N. and Stone Ave N., earlier this week in an early design guidance (EDG) meeting to the Northwest Design Review Board. In a 4-1 vote, the Board recommended the project return for a second EDG meeting.
The site, which is located at 11762 Aurora Ave N, currently features a golf driving range and store, which will be demolished. The site is to the east of Halcyon Mobile Home Park, and a future mixed-use residential building is in the process of being developed to the north of the site. The lead architect for the townhouse buildings and landscape is Board & Vellum, and the architect for the multifamily apartment buildings is Dahlin Group. The team hopes to achieve a handful of goals with their design, including providing a handful of new housing options, improving security for residents, providing quality outdoor spaces and creating a sense of community by turning the underdeveloped lot into a neighborhood and landscaped public amenity space for residents.
“Our overall design intent is clean transitions, durable materials, pedestrian-friendly, and genuinely usable open spaces,” said Zack Thomas, landscape architect and director of the Site Design Studio at Board & Vellum. “Our intention is to use the design tools to guide our overarching design direction and to build upon them to create a unique and attractive design and community.”
According to project documents, the site will feature approximately 118 townhouse units and 120 multifamily apartment units, with 236 enclosed garage and 26 surface spaces for the townhomes. An additional 100 basement garage and 51 surface parking spaces for the multifamily units will also be provided. The multifamily units will feature both one- and two-bedroom spaces. The units will be developed into two five-story multifamily apartment buildings and 24 three-story townhouse buildings. Overall site area is between 433,700 and 460,400 square feet, with a maximum 228,000 square feet dedicated to townhouse development and 224,900 square feet for multifamily. A non-motorized “nature” trail will be established to connect both developed ends of Stone Ave N.
The size of the site gave the project team flexibility with the design, and they presented three concepts for the Board’s review during the EDG meeting. Option 1 bisects the site with groupings of townhouses to the east and west, minimizing vehicular circulation and providing open space for each townhome building. Option 2 places the townhomes north to south to form two linear parks, creating a woonerf road designed to reduce vehicular traffic. This option restricts the use of Aurora Ave N to a “right turn only,” which will reduce unsafe traffic crossing while providing a connection to the highway. Option 3 is the design team’s preferred option and places townhouse blocks around common courtyards with multifamily buildings arranged in an east to west fashion at the north end of the site. This option provides the most common amenity spaces out of the three, with vehicular circulation relegated to the edge of the townhomes to increase pedestrian activity. A small park is also designed adjacent to the multifamily homes. Similar to Option 2, this design restricts the use of Aurora Ave N to a “right turn only.” A path connecting Aurora Ave N and Stone Ave N at the northeast edge creates an access point for non-residents to get through the site.
“We strongly believe that our preferred option will create and encourage a liveable community with generous open spaces and a robust pedestrian network, while also being thoughtful to zone transitions and the surrounding environment,” Thomas said.
During the meeting, the Board commended the design team for their attempts to develop the large site and make use of the open spaces. They were generally supportive of the design concepts presented in the preferred Option 3, in terms of giving the best quality and quantity of open spaces. The Board also appreciated how the team balanced the pedestrian pathways with the open spaces, as well as the decision to keep the vehicular path separated from the townhouse zone.
The Board felt the location and orientation of the multifamily buildings to the north of the site were less successful and not as well-incorporated to the site as they could be. The Board suggested the team conduct further studies to define the relationship among the multifamily homes, townhouse units and open spaces, to avoid the appearance of the multifamily homes as an afterthought to the remainder of the site. The Board also suggested the team consider either going deeper into the articulation between the multifamily homes and the townhouse units to emphasize their differentiation, or study ways to make them more similar. Some of the Board members felt too much was going on, and that additional studies on the placement of the multifamily homes would help.
While the Board was supportive of the concept of a park on the site, they didn’t feel the location at the north entry was the best or most well-used location. The Board suggested the team consider moving the surface parking lot below grade with the other suggested below grade parking to allow for more open space and less vehicular space. The Board appreciated the connectivity of the pedestrian paths to the courtyards and the path to the northeast of the site, but recommended the design team adjust the hierarchy of the open spaces to reduce some of the rigidity of the design, prioritizing the courtyards and experimenting with some of the widths.
Resident safety and concern remains top priority for the design team and the Board, and the Board said they would be supportive of an Aurora connection to get more eyes on the space. In the next meeting, they said they would like to see studies presented both with and without the vehicular access. The Board reminded the team to keep security top of mind when designing lighting and other details around the site’s trail. As a general note, the Board also suggested the team take caution they don’t do too much when finalizing details on the materials, massing and articulation.
The team proposed three departure requests during the meeting, of which the Board was generally supportive. The first departure increases the percentage of street-facing residential use from 60 feet to 213.3 feet to provide a better gradient of use, height, bulk and scale in relation to the open space of the site. The second and third departures reduce the number of curb cuts permitted, allowing the Aurora connection to function as the principal arterial. This will in part require a Type 1 Director’s Decision from the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), but the Board said they would be supportive of the connection to Aurora Ave N if the Type 1 decision is granted.
At the end of the meeting, four out of five Board members recommended the project return for a second EDG meeting, due to the sheer size of the project and the additional studies needed. One Board member voted in favor to move forward to master use permit (MUP) application. With the majority vote, the project team will revisit the design and take the suggestions made by the Board during the meeting to return for a second EDG, thus moving one step closer to achieving their project goals and provide a palette of new housing opportunities for the Bitter Lake Urban Village area.