Home AEC Review Board Returns Mixed-Use Building at Safeway-Owned Site to Design Review, Citing...

Review Board Returns Mixed-Use Building at Safeway-Owned Site to Design Review, Citing Code, Design Violations

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

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Queen Anne Ave. represents one of Seattle’s many commercial corridors, encouraging small business with easy access to pedestrian zones and public transit. With close proximity to the farmer’s market, public parks and Queen Anne Community Center, developers Cahill Equities and barrientosRYAN have seized the opportunity to stimulate pedestrian activity at 2100 Queen Anne Ave. N with a revised proposal for a 7-story mixed-use building, presented during a recommendation meeting to the West Seattle Review Board on Wednesday night. In response to concerns regarding the project’s lack of adherence to specific code and design guidelines, the Board recommended the project return for a second early design guidance meeting.

The site, which is owned by Safeway, is currently occupied by a Safeway store built in 1962 with a surface parking lot. The project team, which includes Hewitt and Runberg Architecture Group, hopes to provide the public with more connectivity and walkability through a design that features improved pedestrian and landscaping features on all four sides of the block, as well as a public plaza with outdoor seating and public art.

The public has been increasingly interested in the proposal for the 474,000 square foot space, which will include 324 residential units and a 50,000 square foot Safeway at ground level, with 323 below-level parking stalls. 

“Everybody’s engaged in the neighborhood,” said Brian Runberg, principal and founding partner at Runberg Architecture Group. “With that many people, we’re bound to have conflicting opinions, and we feel we’ve worked through most if not all of those and got some consensus from the community organizations.”

The size of the project was initially one of the biggest concerns presented during the EDG meeting held in November 2017. The site is 79,836 square feet and bounded by Queen Anne Ave N., Boston St., 1st Ave. North and Crockett St. The Board agreed the team’s preferred massing option helped scale the project by separating the building into “A, B and C” spaces and creating upper-level setbacks to mitigate the height and bulk. Initially, the Board recommended the team further develop the first-floor plinth to differentiate the grocery store from the residential space above, as well as create a design that would help break up the street-front facade.

In response, the team used a ground-level red brick expression to differentiate the grocery level from the residential levels, terminating at a landscaped stair connection to grade. The plinth will be a mural between Buildings A and B, evolving as a brick base with residential bays at Building C. Residential stoops along 1st Ave. allow for an eight-foot wide landscaped yard in front of each stoop at Building B. The corner of Building A at 1st and Boston features a glass lobby as a focal point to contrast with the residential space above. Building C responds to the character of Queen Anne Ave. through a residential setback to help define the commercial brick of the retail base, along with a corner element on the upper floors with punched openings to contrast the brick bays with metal infills. The southwest corner plaza will feature landscaping and seating options to further pedestrian activity, as well as Safeway’s third-party owned deli, a flower shop and a coffee shop. 

“That inherently creates this hierarchy beneath the commercial activity and residential, the more active side and the more passive side,” Runberg said.

Perhaps the most notable conversation, however, addressed by the public and the Board during the EDG with heavy emphasis by the Board during the recommendation meeting, concerned the porosity and singularity of use along Queen Anne Ave. N. Land use code and design guidelines require the presence of retail, with small business encouraged. The Board was not initially supportive of the proposed architectural expression during EDG, acknowledging the public’s argument that the limited single-use entries of the new Safeway store spanning the entire block did not agree with the character of the neighborhood and that the appearance of smaller scale retail should be emphasized. The Board suggested the team consider expressing the coffee shop, deli, flower shop and other internal divisions to give the appearance of smaller retail.

In response, the project team revised the design to include additional entries to the grocery store, as well as operable windows for pedestrian and shopper interaction, to help individualize the storefronts and further activate the facade.

“We heard you,” Runberg said. “We brought this to Safeway. We’ve had extensive collaborations with Safeway for months and months about this. This is not a standard approach.”

During the recommendation meeting, the Board deliberated at length over whether the team’s efforts to break up the facade met the land use code and design guidelines. According to the Board, the intent of the code and design guidelines is to encourage small business or provide the appearance of local, family-owned retailers. While they acknowledged it’s ultimately not within their purview to make such calls, they recognized the land use team will need a Type 1 director’s decision from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to overcome this design challenge, and if that decision is not granted, it will be up to the Board to grant a departure request.

After much deliberation, the Board decided that while the team is moving in the right direction to break up the storefront with their massing changes, additional entries and differences in window systems and patterning, the evolution of the design has not gone far enough. Whether future iterations include additional massing changes, different materials used, or changes to programs being established, the Board requested the team study more alternatives and present not only those alternatives, but also the rationale behind why they are or aren’t being used. 

Given the public’s desire for different storefront spaces, the precedent established by other small retail already existing along Queen Anne Ave. and Safeway being only one retailer, the Board did not feel the current project is designed in such a way that would meet land use code and design guidelines by lending itself to function with multiple retailers, or the appearance of multiple retailers. While the Board continued to encourage individual retailers to the extent possible, they acknowledged they can’t dictate that as a requirement of the evolution of the storefront. They encouraged the team to find a middle ground and continue looking at ways to create a more consistent, well-integrated facade through the suggestions given. 

The Board did appreciate the differentiation of material palette between the buildings and continued to support the overall massing concept proposed during EDG. They appreciated how the red brick drove a contrast between the residential units and grocery store, but suggested the team provide more details on secondary elements like depth of fenestration and various reveals.

Finally, the project team requested six design departures, all of which were preliminarily supported by the Board.

At the end of the meeting, because of the concerns presented by both the Board and the public, the Board recommended the project return for a second EDG meeting.