Home AEC Seattle Design Review Board Recommends Eight-Story Affordable Housing Building in Georgetown Neighborhood...

Seattle Design Review Board Recommends Eight-Story Affordable Housing Building in Georgetown Neighborhood Advance to MUP Application

Seattle, Georgetown, Georgetown Community Development Authority, Southeast Design Review Board, Equinox Studios, Jackson Main Architecture, KLLA Landscape Architects

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood is a rapidly evolving community previously characterized by mostly low-rise commercial and industrial structures. New and proposed developments have introduced a variety of mid-rise residential and commercial mixed-use buildings to the area, as well as industrial logistics and support infrastructure. 

Against this backdrop, nonprofit organization Georgetown Community Development Authority (GCDA) is partnering with owner TWG Development and Seattle-based design firm Jackson Main Architecture to develop an eight-story, 152-unit affordable housing apartment building with live-work units and retail. The applicant team presented their project proposal on April 24 to the Southeast Design Review Board during an early design guidance (EDG) meeting, and at the conclusion of the meeting, the Board voted in a split two-one decision to move the project forward to master use permit (MUP) application.

“The architectural character is evolving and we want to explore ways for new development to establish a positive context that respects the area’s character for our future projects and others to build upon,” said Sam Farrazaino, founder of Georgetown-based art workspace Equinox Studios.

The nearly half-acre site, which is owned by affordable housing developer TWG Development and located at 402 S. Lucile Street, is in a zone that mandates a housing affordability requirement. GCDA also owns several parcels in the region that can be developed for such purposes. Its mission is to build creative spaces that can be used by communities with need.

“We are dedicated to workforce housing, community services and the needs of our neighborhood stakeholders,” Farrazaino said. “Access to housing is a central part of our mission. Our master plan assumes that 100 percent of our planned apartments will be affordable to people earning no more than 60 percent of area median income. We expect that these will provide homes for artists and artisans, others working for moderate wages in the Duwamish Valley and members of the communities who have been displaced or are at risk of displacement from this neighborhood.”

The site constitutes four parcels north of S. Lucile Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues S. to the east and west and bounded by an alley to the north. Existing structures on the property include four residences with detached garages and a mid-century office building, all of which will be demolished to make way for the new project. Surrounding neighborhood points of interest include Georgetown Playfield & Spraypark, Ruby Chow Park and Seattle Design Center. Jackson Main Architecture is the architect of record for the project, and Sammamish-based firm KLLA Landscape Architects is the landscape architect.

“As far as design guides go, we anticipate working with the natural buffers in the area,” said Steve Schmitz, architect at Jackson Main Architecture. “This is an area that has historically been over-utilized by industry and we plan to respond with natural buffer zones and additional calming effects for the pedestrian environment, as well as respecting urban pattern and form, but renewing it. Since this is a neighborhood in transition, we expect that this is going to be a new vision for this neighborhood.”

According to project documents, the site will feature an eight-story apartment building, comprising 152 one-, two- and three-bedroom units with eight live/work units and space for retail. Parking for 11 vehicles is proposed. 

Widened streetscapes around the building will allow for art installation, native landscaping and engaging storefronts for pedestrians, and retail bays will increase connectivity with other public open spaces in the area. The team is considering using natural features like planters, tree groves, seasonal displays and green roofs and decks to create appealing outdoor spaces. 

“There is a unique character to the Georgetown neighborhood and its durability is meant to be represented in this new design,” Schmitz said. “Because of the gateway that this project site becomes on two primary arterials, we expect that signage as well as public art will be a huge, important role making this site as critically acclaimed to the neighborhood as anything else.”

During the meeting, the applicant proposed three massing schemes to the Board for their consideration. Two of the three schemes require design departure requests.

The first scheme, “Reverse C,” is a 108,794 square-foot structure with a rear courtyard and parking that can be accessed from the north alley. Bottom floor commercial space totalling 3,283 square feet helps activate the street, along with live/work frontage, though the team acknowledged that placing most frontage along busier arterials could be a disadvantage of the scheme. Upper setbacks limit the number of family-sized units on the building’s top level, and the rear courtyard isn’t easily accessible to live/work units.

The second scheme, “F-Shaped,” is a 112,183 square-foot structure with two half-sized courtyards that can be accessed through S. Lucile Street. This option allows for numerous exterior walls for windows into units, along with modulation along Rainier Avenue S. It is also the largest out of all three schemes, with 4,151 square feet of commercial space on the bottom floor and the smallest live/work floor plans. With this scheme, the team requested three design departures: Reduce non-residential street level requirements to allow for additional units; reduce setback requirements to allow for larger family-sized units; and reduce loading berth standards to allow for a shorter loading bay. 

The third and preferred scheme is a 115,250 square-foot structure with modulation on all four sides of the building and an open plaza. Courtyards face southwest, and fins extruding from the building maximize light and views. The building mass steps down adjacent to a manufacturing building, and varied facade depths on the new building’s southern side will allow for openings. The team acknowledged that this scheme does require more complex construction to attain massing form, and requested the same design departures as the “F-Shaped” option.

During deliberation, the Board expressed their appreciation for the three distinct options, and the applicant’s determination to show how the massing of each option shapes the relationship of the courtyard(s) to the south, as well as the relationship to the street corners. The Board was inclined to support the “Preferred” scheme, agreeing that it seemed to be the most successful out of the three in relating to street-level amenities and maximizing on windows to the south. The Board appreciated that the project sets a massing precedent for the neighborhood.

The Board also encouraged the team to focus on how the ground floor retail spaces can be pushed to the street corners, and requested the team ensure the design continues to respond to the surrounding, transitioning neighborhoods. The Board expressed concern over the 200-foot long facade along the north side of the project and suggested the team use modulation or materiality to break up the perceived length. The Board emphasized the need for materials that highlight human scale, durability and texture. It also encouraged the applicant to explore partnerships with local artists to help establish a link to the neighborhood. The Board also urged the applicant to explore more landscaping opportunities, whether that be greenwall or plantings in the courtyard or on the alley side.

In response to the departures, the Board requested the team tie the departures to design guidelines to show how they would benefit the project in relation to the community. With more data and analysis, the Board said they could be inclined to support the departure requests.