By Meghan Hall
In a close 3-2 vote, Seattle’s Northwest Design Review Board voted to approve the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based mixed-use developer Shea Properties, Runberg Architecture Group and Brumbaugh & Associates proposed six-story, 203-unit apartment building located at 320 N. 85th St. in the city’s Greenwood neighborhood. In its decision, the board cited concerns over the design the of the project and the façade of the three sections of the building, but the board found that the team adequately articulated the urban design analysis and that any challenges will be resolved through further work with the city’s planners.
Shea is not a stranger to Seattle. The developer recently opened its 296-unit development called Leeward in South Lake Union, which is an 11-story, luxury apartment complex with two rooftop decks, a sky deck and fitness center. Most of its activities, however, have been in the office, retail and industrial developments on the west coast, primarily in Southern and Northern California.
The development sits in the Greenwood neighborhood of north Seattle, which is approximately one block east of the intersection of Greenwood Ave. N and N. 85th St. The proposed apartment complex is just six blocks west of Highway 99 and 1.5 miles west of I-5.
The project is located in what is considered one of Seattle’s outermost neighborhoods, which has traditionally been developed with two-story buildings. At the project’s prior design review meeting, the board deliberated extensively on the massing of the development, which is expected to stand out given its size compared to other structures in the neighborhood. In response, the project team has reorganized the massing into three separate “buildings” along Phinney Ave. N., which are referred to as “north,” “center” and “south.” The north and south segments are similar in size and are L-shaped. The center building, the jewel box, is shifted to differentiate it from the north and south segments that flank it and is clad in a wood-like material rather than brick to help it stand out.
“Materiality was largely influenced by conversations with the neighborhood. We were requested not to do anything dark; they did not want a heavy building. They really liked the idea of using bricks, something that would relate to the neighborhood context,” said Melissa Wechsler, principal with Runberg Architecture Group, who provided an overview of the project for the board.
The proposed development would also include 4,691 square feet of commercial area and 124 below-grade parking stalls. A green roof, rooftop deck with a grill station, pet area, fire pit and seating are also included in the project plans.
The center building will also house the main entry lobby and leasing office at grade and the developments common amenity club room on the top floor.
Additionally, the development team worked to respond to the board’s interest in developing a base, middle and top façade along 85th St. for the building in order to break down the project’s scale. Ultimately the design focused on a façade that visually separates the three portions of the building in an effort to break down the structure and not make it appear as a single large mass.
However, the execution of this strategy was not agreeable with some of the board members. While a portion of the discussion focused on the western wall of the development, which is long and large, most of the time spent deliberating was centered around the façade, its colors and materiality. The board felt that the three designs were not cohesive and provided too much of a visual distinction with one side featuring a blue vertical expression, while the other featured a brown horizontal one. On top of that the north, blue vertical offered two stories over a three-story podium, which one board member found difficult to “pull off.”
Two departures were requested by the development team. The first would allow for dwelling units located along the street-level façade to be set back less than four feet, while the second would allow for encroachment at the southwest corner of the building. The development team justified these departures by including stepped planters which provide physical barrier for safety and create visual interest. Both were approved unanimously.
In conclusion, the board felt that with so much time spent on the façade and the expressions of the three portions, they did not have sufficient time to review other aspects of the development. There was at a certain point a decision looming to ask the design team to return for a second review, however the board ultimately felt that the design team and the developer responded strongly to the early design guidance and were confident that with further guidance from the planner that their concerns would be alleviated. The final decision was to approve the project to proceed to the next phase of development.