By Jack Stubbs
Changes are afoot for Seattle’s International District, with one residential project recently given the green light to proceed to the next phase of the design process.
On Tuesday, October 24th, a 5-story 84-unit project at 501 Rainier Ave. South was approved at an Early Design Guidance Meeting for further consideration and development. At the meeting, the applicant team—nonprofit Plymouth Housing Group, landscape architects Fazio Associates Inc., Weinstein A+U, architect and urban designer—submitted preliminary project plans to the Review Board.
The Review Board voted unanimously to advance the mixed-use project to the next phase of the design process, highlighting various design elements for the applicant team to consider moving forward, including uses for the on-site outdoor amenity space for residence, further architectural detailing for the attached maintenance area, and a need to further consider how the proposed project would conform to the local history and culture of the Little Saigon neighborhood.
The specific design guidelines that the applicant team emphasized through their project plans included the architectural context and character of the site, the street-level interaction, project uses and activities, as well as the exterior elements and finishes for the project. The proposed project is a 57,851 square-foot structure, with 39,296 of that volume devoted to the residential space, 4,800 to an adjacent services and maintenance area, and an additional 1,382 square feet of commercial space. The first floor would be for on-site support staff, while the upper four floors would be dedicated to supportive housing. The applicant also raised the possibility that in future architectural design plans an additional story could be added to provide 17 additional housing units.
The representative from Plymouth Housing highlighted creative challenges created by the design proposal, including the organization’s desire to successfully design an environment for a large population coming off the street, as well as potential safety and security concerns.
When asked to provide clarifying questions, the board raised several inquiries about the proposed design, including the specific purpose on-site services and maintenance shop. Board member Charles Romero asked about whether the applicant had yet considered potential tenants for the commercial space, suggesting that the applicant conduct community outreach efforts in the Little Saigon neighborhood so that local business owners could remain in the area. Member Carey Dagliano Holmes asked about the specific amenity needs that the supportive housing tenants would require, suggesting that a designated exterior amenity space should be considered moving forward. Dagliano Holmes further emphasized the importance of community outreach, especially given the vibrant history of the nearby International District.
During the public comment section of the meeting, one resident voiced a concern about the lack of parking in the proposed development. Another neighbor voiced her overall support for the project, stating, “I’m really looking forward to seeing how this project develops over time, and I would support the additional story as it meets zoning requirements.” The neighbor also articulated her desire for the applicant consider integrating a shared amenity space in the project plans. Emailed comments from members of the Little Saigon neighborhood expressed a hope that active retail space along Rainier Ave. would be active to allow local business owners to remain in the area.
During the board’s deliberation period, primary concerns focused on the proposed open space for residents of the supportive housing complex, the proposed amenities and outdoors space, the utilization of the on-site maintenance area and the importance of preserving the local history and culture of Little Saigon and the International District. The board recommended that the applicant consider how to best design the building so that the exterior architectural elements conform to the surrounding cultural context.
With the project plans approved to proceed to the next stage of the Design Review process, the applicant will now submit a Master Use Permit to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection for review.