By Jack Stubbs
Seattle-based Vulcan Real Estate, one of the largest developers in the Emerald City, recently received positive news at a Design Review recommendation hearing held on Feb. 15, with the West Design Review Board opting to advance a proposed six-story, roughly 302,700 square foot commercial development to the next stage of the design review process, pursuant to certain design-related conditions.
After returning to Seattle’s West Design Review Board for its second Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting in June 2022, as The Registry reported, Vulcan Real Estate received full support to move forward with its commercial project.
The proposed development, the design team for which also includes Seattle-based Graphite Design Group and landscape architecture firm HEWITT, is located at 630 Westlake Ave N. in South Lake Union.
In addition to the office space, the project proposal includes 8,890 square feet of retail space on the first floor, 18,880 square feet of open area 42 bike stalls and 315 below-grade parking stalls.
Kicking off its presentation, the applicant discussed the surrounding neighborhood context, the different proposed massing options, and how the overall design strategy would aim to incorporate the project into South Lake Union. According to the submitted project proposal, some of the top-of-mind site design priorities include providing an extension of Lake Union Park across Valley Street to incorporate the project into the neighborhood and developing a massing scheme that evokes the Lake Union shoreline that once traversed the project site.
Most of the board’s clarifying questions focused on the different massing options proposed by the applicant, with the board requesting more detailed information and requesting more information about the applicant team’s choices for the windows, facade and exterior materials, as well as the landscaping choices. The board also asked for more information about how the location of the building entrance and lobby area would impact pedestrian accessibility and vehicle access around the project site.
There were several public comments expressed at the meeting, which conveyed mixed impressions of Vulcan’s proposed development. A member of the South Lake Union Community Council expressed his approval of the design team’s attention to detail with the project, particularly with regards to its integration into the evolving neighborhood.
“Thanks to the project team regarding their continued outreach, we support the design evolution from EDG to DRG of the design concept,” he said. “We see the care taken integrating the project with the surrounding streetscape, we appreciate that the project extends Lake Union Park through the development.”
Conversely, a resident of the nearby First Hill neighborhood expressed an opposite sentiment – noting that the project, which “looks like an Amazon fulfillment center,” should return for another DRG meeting, due to specific concerns around the building’s facade and massing.
During its deliberation period, the board presented differing viewpoints as to the design potential of the project, with one board member saying of the building’s exterior that “at the upper level…the design will look very flat and won’t be visible enough from a pedestrian perspective.”
Tiffany Rattray, chair and development representative for Seattle’s West Design Review Board, meanwhile praised the strides that the applicant team had made since the previous EDG meeting.
“I think the design follows the EDG massing quite well…there are a lot of things that the project is doing well…we just need to create a condition to help them address the building’s elevation,” she said.
Ultimately, the board reached a consensus to advance the project to the next stage of the design review process — which entails a Final Review and decision — also highlighting certain design-related conditions that the applicant would need to consider moving forward. These conditions included refining the exterior material choices, breaking up the exterior massing – especially at the upper level – and working to enhance the pedestrian experience at street level.