By Jack Stubbs
A development in the works in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood was recently given the stamp of approval by the southeast review board.
On Tuesday, January 23rd, a two-building 154-unit development located along Rainier Ave. South was unanimously approved by board at a Design Review Recommendation meeting.
At the meeting, the project team—Johnston Architects and landscape architect Berger Partnership—presented updated plans on behalf of PSW Real Estate, the developer of the project. The development was previously reviewed at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held in January 2017.
The proposed development consists of two buildings located on the same site. The site A project, located at 5256 Rainier Ave. S., calls for the construction of a 6-story mixed-use building containing 72 units and 7,300 square feet of ground-floor retail, with 74 on-site parking stalls proposed in an underground garage. The site B project, sitting adjacent to the first project and located at 5217 42nd Ave. S., calls for the construction of a 5-story multi-family residential building with 82 units, a courtyard and rooftop amenity area and 34 parking spaces.
Beginning the applicant team’s presentation, Ray Johnston, partner at Johnston Architects, discussed the primary design guidelines that had been articulated by the board at the previous EDG meeting in January 2017 and the changes the applicant team had made to the project plans since the last meeting.
At the previous EDG meeting, the southeast review board had expressed concerns with the development’s massing, the design of the building facades, and the overall integration of the project with the neighborhood context.
In response to these guidelines, the applicant team had worked on breaking down the massing of the scale of the two buildings and refined the building’s exterior facade by adding various landscaping and signage elements. The project team further refined its plans for how to program the commercial and retail space along Rainier Ave. South. and also focused on increasing the light and livability of the ground-level units along 42nd Ave. Additionally, the applicant team worked on activating the adjacent streetscape with various landscaping elements and improved pedestrian and vehicular access to the site.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on the relationship between the two buildings and how the project would conform with the neighborhood and adjacent streetscape. Board member Sharon Khosla requested more information about the location of the ground-level units and how the applicant team planned to activate the proposed open space area. Elaborating on this point, board member David Sauvignon asked the applicant team to clarify how it would successfully program the retail and office spaces in relation to proposed outdoor amenity area, expressing concern that the development might not attract pedestrians from Rainier Ave.
Echoing this sentiment, board member Charles Romero asked the applicant team to specify its plans for the ground-level uses and residential amenities throughout the development, also querying whether the two buildings would include shared amenity spaces. Finally, board member Julian Weber asked about public versus resident access to the two buildings, highlighting potential security issues with the development’s layout.
One member from the public made a comment during the meeting, urging the applicant team to focus on enhancing the community context of the development by integrating community-owned businesses along the streetscape and incorporating artwork in the proposed courtyard area.
During its deliberation period, the board expressed its general approval of the project, also discussing how the applicant team had made positive strides with the project plans since the last EDG meeting. However, the board also circled back to the public comment about community activation, emphasizing that the applicant team would need to work on creating a development that more successfully conformed with the Columbia City neighborhood context.
The board also discussed accessibility to the development and the programming of the development’s commercial versus retail space, recommending that the applicant team work on further activating the adjacent streetscape along Rainier Ave. with ground-level uses.
Moving forward, the board had several recommendations for the applicant team. The board suggested that the applicant team further explore the relationship between public versus private access to the site and also improve pedestrian accessibility to the two buildings. Additionally, the board suggested that the applicant team further investigate how to further activate the development—specifically the proposed courtyard area—by collaborating with neighborhood artwork organizations.