By Jack Stubbs
On Tuesday, June 19th, a 307-unit apartment tower developed by Skanska and slated for Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood was denied approval to proceed at a second Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting. At the meeting, applicant VIA Architecture presented updated project plans to the downtown review board on behalf of Skanska for the development, which was previously reviewed at an EDG meeting in mid-May, 2018. Grzywinski+Pons and GGLO are also on the team for the project.
Skanska began planning for the proposed development last fall: on October 25th, 2017, the company purchased the three-parcel, 19,440 square foot property in Belltown—located at 2208, 2212 and 2218 4th Ave.—for $21.6 million, or approximately $1,111 per square foot, according to public records filed with King County.
The 30-story tower, located at 2208 4th Ave., will include 7,000 square feet of ground-level retail space, resident amenity areas and 154 below-grade parking stalls. Beginning the applicant team’s presentation, Brian O’Reilly of VIA Architecture discussed the neighborhood context around the site: the proposal is within a few blocks of several other in-the-works developments, some of which include Team Rise International’s 285-unit mixed-use tower (which was approved at a DRR meeting in April 17th); Security Properties’ 325-unit tower located at 314 Bell St. (which was denied approval at an EDG meeting on May 15th); and Molasky Group of Companies’ 330-unit project located at 2121 5th Ave.
O’Reilly also explained the changes that the applicant team had made to the plans since the last EDG meeting, where the board had expressed concerns about the massing of the structure and how the building would fit into the Belltown neighborhood context. In response to the board’s feedback, the team conducted various studies about how the three different massing options and building podium would relate to 4th Avenue and the neighborhood context.
Specifically, the applicant team improved the relationship between the proposed building and Bell Street Park, worked on improving the transition between the building’s podium and 4th Avenue and simplified the massing of the tower to reduce the building’s overall height, bulk and scale in relation to the pedestrian realm along the streetscape. The team also looked to further activate an alleyway adjacent to the structure and refined building’s street-facing facade by incorporating different materials. Finally, the applicant altered the orientation and proportions of the building to improve the pedestrian experience along 4th Avenue and further incorporated the street-level amenity spaces into the rest of the project plans.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on how the applicant team planned to program various elements of the project and how the building would fit into the surrounding neighborhood context. Board member Bradley Calvert requested more detailed information about the facades for the different massing options, while board member Ed Palushock asked for more information about the rooftop space. The board inquired whether the street-level retail space and podium would transition successfully to 4th Avenue, and also asked the applicant to elaborate on how the current project plans reflected the input from members of the Belltown community.
There were several public comments voiced during the meeting. Tom Graff, a member of the Belltown Business Association, expressed his overall approval of the project, especially in terms of how the building’s podium and exterior facades successfully related to the adjacent streetscape. A representative from the Belltown Community Council voiced her approval of the building’s design, and two neighborhood residents articulated their concerns about how the applicant’s requested departures would create a building of inappropriate scale and massing for the neighborhood.
During its deliberation period, the board at length discussed whether the applicant had successfully incorporated the feedback from the previous EDG meeting. The board expressed its overall approval of the building’s podium and also recommended that the applicant team work further on increasing transparency between 4th Avenue and the street-level retail space. The board also agreed that it did not yet have enough information to support the applicant’s requested departures and that the applicant would need to revise the programming of the retail space.