300-foot First Hill apartment tower, 4-story Hilltop project come before design board

Two projects that provide insights into the state of development in their respective neighborhoods take steps in the Seattle Design Review process this week — one a 300-foot-tower at the base of First Hill, the other a 4-story multifamily project just off 15th Ave E.

802 Seneca
The project surrounding the new 300-foot apartment tower planned to rise above lower First Hill and Freeway Park might be the rare example of a developer responding to the community and taking a voluntary step back to square one in the city’s design process. With plans approved five years ago before the development was mothballed during the economic downturn of the late 2000s, developer Laconia revived its 802 Seneca project last year. In the meantime, height limits had risen and the development economy had irrevocably shifted. Instead of moving forward with the design framework approved years ago, Laconia’s Paul Menzies came back to Seattle with a significantly different project that still fit within the approved use of the First Hill land acquired for $4 million in 2005. Other similar projects in the area have barreled forward. But this First Hill tower project worked out differently.

Project: 802 Seneca St  map
Review Meeting:February 1, 8:00 pm
 Seattle Vocational Institute
 2120 S Jackson St  map
 Room 102/103
Review Phase:Recommendation past reviews
Project Number:3012797 permit status | notice
Planner:Shelley Bolser

“As a developer, you really want to get it approved. And you want to build it. And sometimes you get contrary ideas. The fact of the matter is you always get a better project,” Menzies told CHS of the decision to start back with an Early Design Guidance session for the rejiggered Seneca project.

That first meeting was held in early January and, by account of the notes from the session posted by DPD, the community dialogue was productive in shaping what will be a significant new structure on the First Hill skyline. The plan presented in January did away with the two-structure concept — instead there is one chunky 300-foot tower. The plan for condos is long gone. The name of the project is the Seneca Apartment Community.

The plan calls for more than 300 residential units and 3,700 square feet of retail. 285 parking spots are planned – and some of you will be glad to note that feedback from the January 4 EDG included comment that the project had too much parking for First Hill. The project could also help to increase connections to Freeway Park with a planned sculpture garden connecting the private and the public land. Kwan Henmi is the project’s architect.

For Menzies, who has been developing up and down the West Coast for decades, he’s looking forward to hearing more feedback on the effort to make the tower look more residential and less like an office building.

“It’s a good process,” Menzies said of the Seattle way of design. “It’s a process very much based on consensus. But not everybody can be satisfied, of course.”

At the current rate of progress, construction could begin this summer.

DRProposal3012797AgendaID3457 New


1406 E Republican
A mile and change away and some 250 feet shorter, a new project at 14th and Republican takes its first steps with the Capitol Hill Design Review Board this week. It, too, could face some sharp community pushback as new projects creep off of Capitol Hill's main arteries and into some of the area's quieter streets. Developer John Schack says the time has come to put the land currently home to a 1943 triplex to more appropriate use:

Actually, if you look at the intersection of 14th and Republican, our site is currently the only corner that doesn't have an apartment building on it.  That being said, we understand the concern of the community.  Our goal is to capture the intent of the newly revised Lowrise code by organizing our building around a series of ground floor courtyard spaces that will emphasize community, promote ad-hoc interactions/activity, and provide units with maximum access to light and air.  This is one of the backbones of our concept: to cultivate a symbiotic relationship between interior and exterior spaces by drawing out the benefits of each to provide a design that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Each living room and unit entry will be oriented toward the central courtyard to promote both a sense of community and security; "eyes on the street" if you will (thanks Jane Jacobs).  The added benefit of eliminating the double loaded corridor is that each unit will have the opportunity for cross ventilation; a rare feature for new apartment product.  Also, by organizing the building around these open spaces, the building has a natural modulation that is reactive to usable outdoor space rather than implemented for the sake of forced variety.

The development is the first project of Schack and partner Dugan Earl's new firm Revolve. Schack's architecture firm schack A+D is handling the design.

Project: 1406 E Republican St  map
Review Meeting:February 1, 6:30 pm
 Seattle Vocational Institute
 2120 S Jackson St  map
 Room 102/103
Review Phase:EDG--Early Design Guidance
Project Number:3012837 permit status | notice
Planner:Bruce Rips

Plans call for demolition of the triplex and construction of a four-story, 36-unit residential building with parking for 22 vehicles in a partially below grade lot. The land was acquired in November 2011 for $1.4 million.

And, no, sadly, those aren't slides on the roof in the massing diagrams. Schack says they're stairways. You can lobby him for the slide idea at Wednesday night's meeting.


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29 thoughts on “300-foot First Hill apartment tower, 4-story Hilltop project come before design board

  1. Wasn’t Jane Jacobs’ eyes on the street idea meant to put eyes on the street itself? I am pretty sure she wrote extensively about how closed private courtyards with living spaces oriented inward (i.e. toward the courtyard) have taken eyes off of the street, since the living space orientation isn’t actually toward the street.

    A good example of the eyes on the street deseign plus open courtyard concept would be almost all of the Anhalt buildings (not the ones with fences). They have a central community space AND the main living areas are oriented toward the street. May want to take a look at them. I feel that Anhalt really got Seattle and got the Northwest and got Jane Jacobs’ vision way before she was around.

  2. I don’t know if jseattle is a real person, but he/she is certainly no journalist. That little pat on the back for the developer at 802 Seneca shows no hint of interviews with anyone in the community affected by this 300 foot behemoth. Had “jseattle” done so, he/she might have learned that Lanconia had actually wanted to skip the Early Design Review guidance, arguing that it had already done so for the previous design, ignoring the fact that the new project is NINE stories higher with a significantly more intense impact on its surrounding neighbors. The developer comes off saintly in the blog, when it’s apparent to me that only strong objections from the community, not Lanconia’s benevolence, moved this project back, sensibly, to another Early Design Review hearing.
    I doubt there’s much to be done about the scale of this project, given the city’s decision that such huge apartment towers are just what’s needed on 1st Hill, but there’s a chance to at least mitigate the impact of this structure on the neighborhood.
    Next time – how about talking to someone other than the developer? Journalism 101.

  3. Mike, I talked with Menzies and DPD about the project and would be happy to talk with you or others if you have more to say — chs@capitolhillseattle.com/206-399-5959

    The developer had the option to push this project through without re-entering the design review process. We’ve written about other projects in the area where this is exactly what happened and the community had no opportunity to weigh in on the revived project. Do I 100% buy Laconia’s hope for more public feedback about their project? That’s not my job. If you know more about the process and have more to add, I’m easy to reach.

  4. The developer’s decision to make the last Design Review Board hearing an Early Design Guidance review followed a packed Town Hall meeting with the community, where many residents and representatives of institutions (Benaroya Research, Exeter House, Freeway Park Association, First Hill Neighborhood Association, etc.) raised a number of concerns about the building, the impact on traffic, shadowing over Freeway Park, the sheer scale of the structure, etc., and insisted that the significantly changed project required a new guidance review. Many of these some folks had written to the developer and to DPD with these concerns, most of it a rather surprised reaction to the developer’s position that the fundamentals of the building had not really changed.
    All of this, I felt, should be part of the story, including at least a comment those who pulled together the community concern, Bob Anderson of Horizon House and Jim Erickson of FHNA.
    Just saying – it’s not just the developer talking here.

  5. Would have been nice if it used the podium model shown in the design review doc with Townhomes facing some of the street as well as retail & the lobby, but in general I think this will be a good addition to my neighbourhood.

    Personally, I’d be hard pressed to call anything a ‘behemoth’ that’s just a few blocks from one and two union square… Always amazes me that folks push back on individual developers about heigh limits, when it’s the city council that sets em.


  6. Give me a break. The insinuation that highrise is out of scale on First Hill is idiotic — the area is surrounded by mid- to high-rise and the block-y conrete convention center (which is infinitely uglier than anything else that a private developer would build around it). While we’re on the subject, it’s not like Freeway Park is a pristine meadow whose idyllic sense of space and will be destroyed by a nearby tower.

  7. Why, oh why can’t these developers come up with something that looks like it even remotely belongs in the neighborhood? Dear John Schack: If I wanted to live in Kirkland, I would have moved there in the first place.

    Take a look at the residences at the southeast corner of Mercer and Malden. Here the developer managed to replace a single-family home with a set of multi-family buildings that still blend with the surroundings. More density, without the “space-age” look which will look super dated anyway in about 10 years. Sadly, the exception to the rule.

  8. Mike is right (kind of). Laconia originally entitled the site pre-crash as condos. They could have built that same design (or one with only “minor” changes) without going through the entitlement process again. However, the design was horrible and Laconia wanted to take advantage of some changes to the zoning code and so they designed a completely new building.

    For Menzies to say that they could have built this NEW design without restarting the entire process is flat out wrong. But it’s also incorrect to say that it was community pressure that is forcing the current design review process.

    Menzies is from Sacramento and doesn’t have a clue as to how our entitlement process works in Seattle. He would like everyone to believe that he’s a good guy and bending over backwards for the neighborhood, but in truth he had no choice.

    You shouldn’t feel too bad J, Menzies sold the same line of BS to the DJC (who should know better).

  9. I like how it’s twisted as you go up. Neat. And people, if you don’t want to live amongst high rise buildings, then don’t live in First Hill. End of story.

  10. It DOES look like it belongs in the neighborhood. Go walk by the site.

    Here’s some of the surrounding buildings (the first two are its western neighbors across freeway park)

    There’s nothing out of place about this building. It adds density RIGHT where we need it: downtown where people work, and will take the strain OFF our roads by allowing people to walk to work instead of driving or commuting on public transit. We should be applauding the reduction in parking spaces and the forward leaning design.

    If anything this building stands apart from its neighbors in that it’s not quite as pig ugly as the 60s and 70s boxes that surround it – but then NIMBY’s don’t like to be reminded that the buildings they inhabit now blocked someone else’s view once, replaced a turn of the century brick buildings, and also over shadow parks and streets. Some people just don’t like ANY change.

    This is a difficult site, on a difficult gradient, next to a freeway and a sketchy park. I’m very excited to see this get built. It’s what Seattle should be building in exactly the right spot.

  11. I’m fed up with new buildings that try to look like old ones. They look fake and un-genuine. Most cities are an eclectic mix of old and new, and while buildings need to fit in with the scale of the neighborhood (IMHO this does), I think it would be a mistake to try to make it anything other than what it is, a new inner-city contemporary building. There’s a nice modern town home project just south of this on the west side of 14th that blends awesomely into the surrounding mix of 20s, 60s and 80s structures.

    Whenever developers are forced to try and make buildings fit in, monsters are born (See: the building at the end of broadway housing roy st coffee). Yet some of our most cherished buildings would have been odd-men-out or flights of fancy when they were first born – imagine the shock to Seattle box home dwellers to see 1930s versions of little German castles pop up all over the hill courtesy of Fred Anhalt… Don’t tell me THOSE blended in. Fact is, Anhalt would never be able to build his castles today – neighborhood NIMBYs would never let it get past design review.

    If anything, I think our crazy design review & consultation process and city limitations (like the length of a unbroken wall, insistence on at least 3 colors etc) creates schizophrenic designs – NOT better designs.


  12. That’s rather the point. The high-rises, for the most part, have been west of I-5 downtown; now the city wants that kind of density to the east. That’s why, as out of scale as this really is, adjacent to Town Hall, Freeway Park, etc. there’s nothing to be done about the height. We’re simply now trying, through these design hearings, to make the impact as minimal as possible. Not easy, as, within the rules, all the neighbood can do is tinker with the design. Still, if the sense of bulk can be minimizd, if there’s an attractive link to Freeway Park, if there’s some active street life with the retail spaces, we’ll have achieved something – not out of the developer’s benevolence (though give him credit for responding – so far), but because the 1st Hill community made some noise.

  13. @A Different Developer — you might want to check your facts. I’ve been involved with an entitled project that was completely revamped, (wholesale, a completely brand new design started from a blank sheet) without starting the entitlement/review process over. The project did need to go back for a DRB recommendation based on the new design, but one meeting and drawings depicting the design “revisions” were the extent of the DPD requirements to update the project entitlements. I will note that the project team did make a point of reaching out to the community and garnering support to aid the redesign effort.

  14. @ Mike, not entirely true, as one or two buildings of comparable height sprang to mind right off and a quick perusal of google earth confirmed that this building east of I-5 would not be unprecedented. I do think that you are on the right track though. Arguing against the building height with the developer when they are operating within their rights (as determined by DPD’s zoning) is futile. Fighting for thoughtful, well designed spaces within the building and along its street edges is what most affects everyone. Vancouver BC has managed to incorporate highrises of comparable height (though less bulk?) within an immensely walkable and enjoyable urban residential environment.

  15. @ dang – you might want to get your story straight. You claim to be involved with a project that wasn’t required to go through the public design review process, however, it was required to go through the public design review process. Huh? Which was it? Was the DRB meeting for the new design optional? Of course not. Just as it wasn’t optional for Laconia – although Menzies would have you believe otherwise.

    Perhaps you’re confusing the process you’ve observed with the minor MUP revision process, in which you ARE allowed to make changes to the design of an entitled project without going through the public review process for a second time. It doesn’t sound like your project would have qualified for this process. And it’s a pretty indisputable fact (which I’ll let you check for yourself) that Laconia’s project would not qualify for this process – although Menzies would have you believe otherwise.

  16. The examples you give on the 1st Hill side of the freeway are nowhere near the 300+ feet of this apartment tower. The other examples are from downtown and not relevant because the whole concern of the neighborhood is that high-rise towers NOT march up 1st Hill and beyond. They don’t want a downtown on 1st Hill. At all.
    The larger point, though, is that the city, in its “wisdom,” has decided that much higher residential towers will be the future of 1st Hill, so the task – the only one left to us, really, is to mitigate the impact. That, in reality, is all we can try to do now, and that is our purpose at these Design Review meetings. As I said before, “if the sense of bulk can be minimizd, if there’s an attractive link to Freeway Park, if there’s some active street life with the retail spaces, we’ll have achieved something.”

  17. Mike, Mike, Mike: The photos clearly illustrate that BOTH SIDES of the noisey, polluting EXPRESSWAY are hugged by towers. Some are 100+ feet tall while others are multiples of that. This is NOT a quaint residential neighborhood and it’s exactly where density should be built (hopefully with triple-pain windows and great “green” HVAC that filters out all of I-5s toxic fumes).

    I get the objections to crap like that piece of junk proposed for 14th and Republican. I share the frustration of our neighbors when old perfectly-good and historic-for-a-young-city-like-Seattle houses are demolished on truly quiet streets far east of downtown to make way for denser, newer, shabby junk.

    However, Mike, THAT, this is not.

    Density is good and that density has to be achieved somewhere. Why not just of downtown’s employment and retain core???!!!!

    Puh-lease. Pick your battles ;-)

  18. @Paul: Well I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree because personally I think the townhomes on the west side of 14th look pretty out of place, and a bit silly. That said, unfortunately aesthetics are the least of the issues when comes to this project. I’m not sure people have yet grasped that the mass and scale of this proposed structure are unprecidented in the neighborhood (with the exception of the high-rise, which was never supposed to happen again?) This building would cast a very long shadow on its neighbors.

    The designer’s description of the project stands in polar opposition to the design itself. They talk about “eyes on the street” but the “open space” they keep mentioning isn’t common space for everyone. It’s an inner courtyard, much of which will be underneath the third and fourth floor of the building, in a strange “cave” effect. Did they mean to say “eyes on the courtyard?” And who would want to hang out in this dark, un-sunny courtyard?

    And if by “community” they’re talking about the design of the building exterior, exactly how does it emphasize community to be walking along a pleasant residential street only to encounter this huge monolith, right up to the sidewalk? The fact that the ground floor is already starting a few feet off the ground from street level does not help. Not to mention the fact that it would add a couple dozen more cars to the already critical parking situation.

    I’m not opposed to developing this parcel, but whatever goes in there needs to make a bit more sense in the context of the neighborhood. It must be maddening for the developers, but this neighborhood already has one of the highest densities in town. Personally I’m glad the process is in place so there is at least a tiny chance to impact something that could have such a dramatic impact on quality of life for so many people.

  19. And so we can see in this debate between “Paul” and “Neighbor” the downside of the Seattle Process (and in a larger context, Democracy itself). Our system makes all voices equal. The thoughtful, educated voice can be cancelled out by the single fool.

    Why do we let half-wits like Neighbor (who would probably guess that Mies Van der Rohe is the name of the German version of Ammerican Idol) have as much say as the local architect who studied and worked in the field for decades (and has actually traveled further east than Spokane)? We don’t let the general public tell our doctors how to do their jobs. We don’t let the general public review and approve the menus at our local restaurants. Why do we let these imbeciles have such a say in the design of our built environment?

    Giving these morons on voice is why we suffered through 8 years of Bush II. Applied to the Seattle Planning Process, it’s why we end up with buildings like the Broadway/Roy Street embarrassment.

    I once had high hopes that Diane had the baseline common sense to fix the broken DRB system. Hope faded a long time ago. Maybe once we get a new director we can institute a system in which thoughtful urban design is persued. Until then, we’re saddled with having buildings that satisfy the very lowest common demoninator of our community.

  20. That “mass drawing” (or whatever it’s called) makes it look like the new building will be a fortress-like structure, but I’m sure there will be windows and perhaps balconies facing the street, so there indeed will be “eyes on the street” even though the unit entrances are off the interior courtyard. I would like to see the design modified so there is at least some setback from the sidewalks, to allow room for some nice landscaping. Does the City’s code actually allow such buildings to come up so close to the sidewalk?

    I would prefer to see some nice, low-rise townhomes go in there…but the proposed building is really not that out of scale for the immediate neighborhood. There are a number of 3-4 story apartment buildings along 14th, including one to the immediate east of this site.

    Regarding the townhomes further south, on 14th between Harrison and Thomas, I agree that those are really hideous. I believe the market has spoken about them, in that most remain unsold.

  21. @DD — Before you begin with the condescension, I suggest you to re-read what I previously stated. You may notice that I did not state the project I was involved in did not need to go through the public review process. I did state it did not need to RE-START the process. There is a BIG difference between re-starting the process at EDG versus going back for a new Recommendation meeting. And no, no confusion here with a minor MUP revision.

    To be clear, you do understand the public meeting process has two distinct phases with substantial differences with regard to design time and scheduling? And that opting to go in again for EDG also necessitates at least one more Recommendation meeting and the associated public notice periods and the additional schedule time associated with that? In a field (development) where success depends so much on market timing, Menzies opting to re-start the process is a pretty big deal and they should get credit for opting to go back to the beginning, whether or not people agree with what they are proposing.

  22. @ dang — Just because you write it does not make it true. Let me guess, you’re a member of the Laconia project team, right? Perhaps an employee of their marketing firm?

    I actually hope that’s the case, otherwise your comments prove you to be hopelessly ignorant. Either way, I’m not going to waste any more time with you.

  23. Wow Belmont Girl, guess you showed me! I’ve never been east of the Cascades, I voted for Bush and I loves me some American Idol. Yup, that’s me in a nutshell!

    I guess some people feel that developers (and others) should be able to do whatever they want, wherever they want, regardless of impact. Might makes right. Well there are plenty of places in the world like that, and if this sounds like heaven to you, I invite you to pick one of them and move there.

    Before you go tho, I encourage you to visit the street corner in question. I think you will find that the current design needs some major overhaul in terms of mass, parking, shadow studies and the like, or it will be a monstrous blight on this street corner for generations. And for good or for ill, the good people at yesterday’s early design review agree as it turns out. Score one for process!

  24. The mere fact that you feel that you are in any way qualified to offer an opinion shows how utterly clueless you are.

    And for the record, I never wrote that “developers (and others)should be able to do whatever they want.” [It comes as no surprise that reading comprehension isn’t a strength] In fact, it is my observation that most developers are no more qualified to offer an opinion than you. And few are able to disregard their own selfish interests any better than you and your NIMBY bretheren.

    I’ll try to make this as simple for you as possible: The people who should be entrusted to opine on the merits of a particular design are the people who have studied and understand the principles and history of design. Not the developer, who may be more concerned about saving a few bucks on the facade. And not the guy down the street (oops, I mean “community stakeholder”), who deep down wants to kill the project because he fears the increased competition for onstreet parking. Someone who does not have the most basic understanding of the concepts of design is the LAST person that we should allow to have input into the built environment in which we are all forced to live. Especially if that same person is in any way motivated to see that building remain unbuilt.

    I imagine you’ll disagree because deep down inside you don’t understand. What I’m trying to tell you is that there are people who have devoted the majority of their lives to learning about and understanding these issues. They get it, you don’t. I trust them to make the decisions. I’ve seen time and again that when we trust people like you (or allow for a process that must accomodate the potential objections of people like you) the results are consistantly substandard.

  25. Wow it seems I touched a nerve here, Belmont Girl. Sorry, but buildings aren’t just to look at in books. Might not a building look beautiful on paper, and even in person, and still create a living hell for those who live nearby if it’s in the wrong place? You’re asking everyone to just sit back and trust that the designer and developer have the community’s best interests at heart? Excuse me, but they’re not trying to win a design award here. The developer’s primary interest is to make the maximum amount of money in the shortest time possible, and the designer reports to the developer. That is where their priorities lie. Ultimately what do they care if the neighbors are miserable, as long as they are making maximum $$$$? Neither the designer nor the developer will likely have to live near this building.

    Belmont Girl, you’ve made a lot of comments here calling me an idiot and so forth but I have yet to see any specific arguments from you (or anyone) as to the specific merits of this project. This suggests that you haven’t seen it, or visited the site. Doesn’t that mean that you are doing exactly what you accuse me of: forming an opinion on something you know nothing about? Before you leap to its defense, maybe you should take a look. Until proven otherwise I will maintain anyone who 1) does not have a financial stake in this project 2) has seen this design and 3) has been to this street corner to see the context will agree, it needs help. And I’m not the only one, some of the most elequant critisism of this project has come from a retired architect and designer with years of experience who lives nearby.

    Again, as I previously stated, I am not opposed to developing this lot. And even if I was, who cares? That ship has sailed: a multi-family building of some sort will go in there. It’s allowed under the zoning, and nothing can change that now. I just hope it winds up contributing something positive to our little corner of the Earth, instead of detracting from it. Time will tell. OK, gotta get back to watching American Idol.

  26. You’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t know the first thing about what an architect or engineer does or how the design process works on the most basic level. Design isn’t about “making pretty buildings”. The design team doesn’t just “do what they’re told” by the developer. Your simple-minded mischaracterizations are an insult to the professionals who spent years of their lives studying and practicing a SCIENCE that you can’t even comprehend. You’re too stuborn and ignorant to even have an inkling of the depth of your lack of knowledge.

    You’re not an idiot for not understanding design and urban planning. Just as you’re not an idiot for not understanding medicine if you haven’t spent years in medical school. But you are an idiot if you think that you understand either of these professions without the proper training and practice. And since you clearly don’t understand the most simplistic tenants of design, I don’t want you to have any influence on the built environment in which I live any more than I’d want you to perform open heart surgery on me.

  27. Belmont girl, don’t you know that name-calling is not a great way to get your point across?

    Since your main criticism is that “Neighbor” is not a design professional, please tell us what vast training and experience you have. And, by the way, I don’t think it’s necessary to have that kind of background to have a valid opinion on a project.

  28. Calhoun –

    Where did I claim that I had “vast training and experience”? Where did I claim that my opinion mattered more than “Neighbors”?

    What I have written repeatedly is that it is clear that “Neighbor” and the majority of other self-interested people who show up at DRB meetings have no training and experience at all.

    In order to be licensed in our state most architects go through graduate programs that are longer than a law degree. It seems that you were unaware of this fact.

    I agree with you that it requires no training in order to form an opinion. How does that saying go – opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one. Just because someone has opinion it dosen’t necessarily follow that we need to listen to it.

    My original comment was in response to “Paul” above who made the point that it is because we have a system that attempts to incorporate the opinions of the uneducated (at least in terms of design and urban planning) and the self interested we often end up with abominations like the building at Broadway and Roy. For all we know, the design of the building at 14th & Republican might have been very different at this stage if the design team hadn’t been pre-emptively trying to conform to the backwards process in which we force them to work.

    I believe Paul is 100% correct when he writes that some of our most cherished historic buildings (including the Anhalts on Capitol Hill) would never have been approved, or even attempted, under our current system. It’s a shame that we as a community are willing to sacrifice good design in order to satisfy the whims of the lowest common demoninator.