By Jack Stubbs
A 325-unit mixed-use development is finally on the way to downtown Seattle. On Tuesday, July 24th, at the third time of asking, a development slated for Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood was given the green light at the third Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held for the project.
At the meeting, Bumgardner Architects presented updated plans to the downtown review board on behalf of Seattle-based developer Security Properties. Landscape architect Mithun is also on the team for the project, which was last reviewed at an EDG meeting held on May 15th.
The proposal, named Belltown 36 Tower and located at 314 Bell St., calls for the construction of a 30-story tower. Along with the 325 residential units, the development will also include approximately 7,000 square feet of street-level retail space and 250 parking stalls.
Beginning the applicant team’s presentation, principal of Bumgardner Mark Simpson discussed the primary changes the applicant team had made to the project plans since the last EDG meeting, at which the board had expressed concerns with the massing of the tower in relation to the surrounding neighborhood. Specifically, the board and various members of the public had asked the applicant to further consider the relationship between the proposed development and the nearby Bell St. Park and the adjacent streetscape, and refine the design of the street-level podium along 4th Ave.
In response to the feedback received at the last meeting, the applicant improved the relationship between the building podium and the adjacent streetscape; set the tower back from Bell Street; changed the location of the children’s amenity area; and added various landscaping and artwork elements to the Bell Street Alleyway.
The proposed project sits in close proximity to several other residential properties including the 3.5-story Fleming Apartments and the Adams Apartments (affordable and low-income housing complexes both built in the 1920s) and the 7-story Moda Apartments.
Simpson also discussed the pros and cons of the team’s three submitted massing concepts and explained how, with extensive input from community stakeholders like Belltown Community Council, the applicant had opted for a “community-preferred” option that would allow a green street setback at the upper levels of the building and provide more light and air to residents of the adjacent Fleming, Moda and Adams apartment properties. The preferred option feature a mid-block landscaped “green connector” between the proposed development and the adjacent Fleming Apartments that will serve to enhance the pedestrian experience along Bell St.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the applicant planned to program the tower in relation to the surrounding neighborhood character. Board member Aaron Argyle asked the applicant to elaborate on the community outreach efforts that the team had conducted with community members and stakeholders, and also requested more information about the location of parking in relation to the street-level units. Board member Aaron Luoma requested that the applicant provide more insight about the design and location of the podium in relation to the Fleming Apartments, while board member Belinda Bail requested more information about the design inspiration for the top of the tower.
There were several public comments expressed during the meeting in support of the current project plans and the applicant’s community-preferred option. Jane Savard, a board member of the Belltown Community Council and Belltown Business Association, voiced her overall approval of the project and the applicant’s preferred massing option—which would allow a “green connector” between the proposed development and the Fleming Apartments—and also emphasized the importance of preserving open space along Bell Street near Bell Street Park.
Another board member from Belltown Community Council voiced his approval of the applicant’s community outreach efforts throughout the planning and design process, while Paul Kuniholm, a local Belltown artist, also expressed his overall support of the current project plans and community-preferred massing option.
In a letter submitted to the project planner prior to the meeting, David Graves with the Seattle Parks & Recreation’s planning and development division encouraged the applicant team to work on activating the adjacent streetscape through appropriate ground-floor uses, especially in relation to the nearby Bell Street Park. “Bell Street Park was developed with the aim of creating a vibrant and welcoming heart to the Belltown neighborhood,” Graves wrote. “Seattle Parks and Recreation is supportive of the 4th and Bell Street site and hopes the building designers consider the positive impact the building could have on the street if there are pedestrian-oriented uses at street-level and eyes on the street.”
In spite of the extensive community input voicing support for the applicant team’s community-preferred option, during its deliberation period the board ultimately opted to approve a code-compliant option with a project podium at six stories and built lot line to lot line, which will shadow the apartments in the Fleming and Adams that have windows facing the new tower.
Although the board did not approve the applicant team’s third, community-preferred massing option—instead opting for the code-compliant option—it decided to advance the project to the next stage of the design review process.
Moving forward, the board recommended that the applicant work on further refining the design of the podium in relation to Bell Street and emphasized the importance of the green street setback in terms of preserving open spaces in the neighborhood. The board also expressed its approval of the applicant’s activation of the Bell Street Alleyway and recommended that the team work further on successfully activating the streetscape through appropriate retail uses.