By Jack Stubbs
On Tuesday, March 6th, a 325-unit project in Belltown was denied approval to proceed at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting, with the board highlighting issues relating to the massing and scale of the building and the way that the project would relate to the surrounding neighborhood context. The project will now return for a second EDG meeting held sometime over the coming months.
At the meeting, architect Bumgardner presented preliminary project plans on behalf of Seattle-based Security Properties, the developer of the project. Landscape architect Mithun is also on the project team.
The proposed development, located at 314 Bell St., calls for the construction of a 30-story structure. Along with the 325 residential units, the project will also include approximately 6,900 square feet of street-level retail space, 252 parking stalls.
The applicant hopes to create a development that successfully activates the adjacent streetscape and maximize the amount of HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Act) funding for affordable housing in the development, according to the project plans. Additionally, the applicant hopes to incorporate residential amenity spaces that complement downtown living and create housing suitable for families with children.
Kicking off the applicant team’s presentation, Nicholas Simpson of Bumgardner articulated the main development objectives for the project. Specifically, Simpson discussed the development in relation to the Belltown neighborhood, in particular how several existing developments in close proximity to the proposed development might influence the project plans. Some of these include the 3.5-story Fleming Apartments, the one-story Two Bells Bar and Grill, the 1-story Mary’s Place, and the 7-story Moda Apartments.
Simpson also emphasized how the applicant team had also held over 14 meetings with Belltown community groups and organizations. The priority neighborhood design guidelines for the project include enhancing the skyline, successfully responding to the Belltown neighborhood character, promoting pedestrian interaction with the development along the streetscape, incorporating open spaces into the development, and creating a buildings that successfully responds to the existing residential properties near the project site, particularly the Adams Apartments, Fleming Apartments and Moda Apartments.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the proposed development would be programmed and how it would relate to the Belltown neighborhood. Board member JP Emery asked the applicant to clarify its plans for the overall size and number of units in the project, while board member Grace Leong inquired about vehicular access to the building and how the development would impact the nearby residential projects. Board member elaborated on this feedback, requesting that the applicant provide more information about how the development’s design would encourage pedestrian interaction and whether the massing would conform with the neighborhood context.
There were several public comments expressed by members of the community, most of which expressed concern with how the project would fit into the surrounding neighborhood character.
Brad Lange, senior director of asset management and acquisitions for Capitol Hill Housing, voiced his general approval of the development, stating how he believed the project would positively enhance the Belltown neighborhood. Three residents of the Insignia Towers, a residential complex that sits two blocks from the proposed development, expressed their concern that the new project would adversely affect the neighborhood character. One Insignia resident asked the applicant team to provide more information about how many family-friendly and affordable units would be included in the development, also asking whether any arrangements had been made with Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter located on the project site. The two other Insignia residents expressed concern with that the development’ would block the views from Insignia Tower, also asking for more detailed information about the proposed alleyway.
The final comment was made by a resident of the Fleming Apartments, who asked the applicant team and the board to further consider various problematic design elements of the project. He expressed concern that the new development would blocks views and natural light in the surrounding area, also highlighting a lack of open space in the neighborhood. “Everyone is asking you to be more mindful of the design moving forward and be mindful of the current and future residents,” he said.
During its deliberation period, the downtown Review Board ultimately decided that they could not advance the project to the next stage of the design review process due to several prominent design issues with the current proposal. The board asked the applicant team to provide more information about how the proposed alleyway would impact access and circulation throughout the building, also requesting more information about the building massing and scale and how views from other residential towers would be affected. Additionally, the board requested more information about how the building’s exterior materials would conform with the Belltown neighborhood character, and recommended that the applicant work on refining the overall design of the project before the next EDG meeting.