Color problem puts brakes on Capitol Hill apartment project — UPDATE

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

It may be ticky-tacky stuff but something finally slowed down the pace of development on Capitol Hill, gumming up the opening of a new six-story apartment building along E Madison at 12th.

A Department of Planning and Development representative confirmed to CHS that the developers of Viva Capitol Hill, the six-story, 105-unit mixed-use apartment building finishing construction in the triangle at 12th, E Union and Madison, has been denied a temporary certificate of occupancy over an issue with the a discrepancy between the building’s approved design and its final form.

The rep said DPD and developer Alliance Residential are working to solve the “color siding issue.”

“The building was approved with an accent color, but was built all one color,” the DPD rep said about the dispute.

The 65-foot-tall wedge-shaped building is built on lots formerly home to a paint store, a small parking lot and the legendary Undre Arms Apartments. Like a handful of Capitol Hill projects making their way toward the development finish line, the building’s plan stretch back to before the economic downturn of the late 2000s. Its first public design review was held in 2007. CHS first reported on it in 2009. In the meantime, the project changed hands and has taken years to come to fruition.

A 2009 rendering of the proposal before guidance from the design board

A 2009 rendering of the proposal before guidance from the design board. Many approved changes to the design were made in the interim.

During one of those early reviews, the board discussed the use of color accents in the building’s design:

The Board was supportive of the warmer material palette that includes a bronze colored metal siding for the building body, champagne colored accents and wood finishes at the residential entrance and a dark burgundy color for the spandrel accent color. The Board agreed that the spandrel accent color can be left to the architect for final selection. Two color options were shown for the vertical recessed portions of the building: champagne or bronze. The Board was in agreement with the applicant that the recessed areas should be the same bronze color as the building body.

Before new buildings can be opened for use, Seattle projects must secure a certificate of occupancy. “This certificate indicates that the project complies with the regulations for occupancy and activity required by the Seattle Building Code (Section 109),” this DPD guide to the “C&O” explains. Temporary C&O are sometimes issued “prior to completion of the entire building, provided that all devices and safeguards for fire protection and life safety are maintained.” In this case, the temporary application was denied, DPD says.

The impact of the denial for Alliance is not clear. We are reaching out but haven’t heard back yet from the development company. CHS hasn’t reported on an issue like before in the wave of big new buildings that have risen on Capitol Hill in recent years. 26 similar projects are currently under construction around the Hill — including Viva. The project has begun marketing its apartments and retail tenants are lining up including a new location for Ines Patisserie.

UPDATE 3:25 PM: An Alliance representative told CHS the developer is working with DPD to figure out a solution to the situation. He described replacing any portion of the building’s siding now that is already in place as prohibitively expensive.

“It was no cost savings for us to do it one way or the other at the time,” Dave Knight, development manager at Alliance said.

Knight describes the situation as “unfortunate misunderstanding” that came about as result of the building’s long path from original plans in 2007, to a new architect, then a new owner in Alliance.

“At that time, the city had no requirement for the planner to go back and verify that plans met any conditions of the [Design Review Board],” Knight said. DPD has since instituted a requirement for planners to examine projects and DRB recommendations when a large scale development changes hands.

That never happened with the Viva project, Knight said. Instead, his company paid to construct the plans Knight says were approved by the city. The project, Knight said, is built as permitted.

Knight said he doesn’t have a timeframe for coming to a solution with DPD as the agency deals with a mostly unusual circumstance. The Viva project, though, isn’t the only major Pike/Pine project to swap hands and have its approved designed unthawed. A similar process — including a change of architects — took place when Wolff Co. paid $6.7 million of the Sunset Electric project at 11th and Pine.

“You think you’re doing the right thing,” Knight said. “Then the planner came out and said what was built didn’t match renderings.”

“This is news to us.”

Knight doesn’t believe Alliance should be blamed. “We are not convinced that we did anything wrong,” Knight said.

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63 thoughts on “Color problem puts brakes on Capitol Hill apartment project — UPDATE

  1. For real? They’re going to hold up a building because someone does not like its color? I hate these six over retail buildings as much as anyone, but this reason?

    • A contract is a contract. The builders were given a permit based on certain conditions. If they choose not to abide by this agreement then they need to be penalized. I support the decision. It’s a shot across the bow to all developers that they can’t do whatever they feel like.

      • This penalty needs to happen. There need to be checks and balances, and penalties with teeth, else developers will do whatever they want to turn a quick buck. Not all developers are like this, but enough of them are. Our built environment is too important and too permanent to be left to the honor system.

  2. Hopefully, they will be forced to remove what I also consider to be the tackiest and most poorly installed siding I’ve seen on a commercial building. As it stands, its a blight.

    • Couldn’t agree more. The poor siding only rivals the building that Healeo is in at 15th and Madison for worst ever. And the color is the worst grey/brown I’ve ever seen.

      Walked by a few times and my first thought was who in their right mind would want to live in an apartment that is basically cantilevering over Madison on one side and Union on the other. My second thought was who would want to live in the most drab and depressing colored building on Capitol Hill. Can you imagine coming home to the depressed color and horrible noise?

      Also agreed about windows and retail spots. These are nowhere near the schematics of the original design. What was open, light and lofty is not closed off and uninviting. Concrete, grey, imposing and closed off. Another dud.

  3. This building is a great example of a pretty rendering becoming a trashy building. The whole point of that silver/champagne color is to give the appearance of a more glassy building, to break up the huge bulk of drab brown.

    The biggest letdown here is at street level. In the rendering, it’s a ‘fish bowl’ all glass corner, a great spot for a coffee shop or tea house or something. The final result? Nothing special at all, just an awkwardly shaped retail unit.

    • How about conditional occupancy? But no, this little power trip on the part of the Land Use Planner probably costs the developer $30k per week in lost revenue. That seems like excessive punishment to me. Besides, do you think these costs won’t be passed on to future tenants. Think again! This kind of Gestapo behavior is one reasons that rents are going stratospheric on the Hill. Between the uncertainty that the DRB brings to the development process and the glacial speed of DPD, you can look forward to ever higher rents in the future.

  4. The design review board needs to be disbanded. They are a perfect example of overbearing, over-involved, too conservative, NIMBY people who are not realistic in what they are trying to achieve. The blandness populating the hill now is directly attributable to their myopic governance; it’s all going to look like those ticky-tacky 60s era motel style apartments left over from the World’s Fair that are now being torn down to make way for these things. I think developers would be more audacious and creative if they had the leeway and lacked the constrictions of the design review board.

    • Really? You think *developers* would drive better and more “creative” design on the Hill if given the chance?


      The Design Review Board is by no means perfect or without flawed process but the majority of out-of-neighborhood developers would be happy to sell off something cheaply built than invest in good design. There are wonderful exceptions like our local Liz Dunn but otherwise the burden of proof is on past performance. Just look at how much moaning happened over the Conservation Overlay and tell me that the developers in this region are intrinsically motivated to provide better or more community-focused design…

      • Money that would be used to develop design is instead placed on these EDG and DRB packets. I’ve spent a month+ going to DPD and back only to redraw everything because of city and board expectations. Schematic design is drawn out, money is taken out of design development where honestly, that’s where the most work should be done. It’s a mess. I’m all for the public, but as an architect (I don’t know very well the world of developers), it feels like it does more harm than good.

    • I find the idea of a design board chiming in on a buildings warm palettes laughable but the builders/developers signed it, so they should have to stick to it or ask for an amendment.

    • I fully agree with the OP.
      The design review board is just an aberration and it should be abolished. I believe design must not be regimented and controlled.
      The only compliance should be with zoning and building codes.

      • then even more people would be complaining that Bldg & Zoning approves fugly buildings that all look alike (even more so than now)

    • Seriously. Design review is so overblown here. With all my neighbors salivating for more sameness in every building on the Hill I think it’s great to have one that looks different. Why do so many here do nothing but complain if developers don’t tear down an old building and replace it with a photocopy?

      So it’s a big brown block? Grow up and embrace a little diversity in your architecture people.

  5. Good for the DPD. You can’t and shouldn’t say you’re going to do one thing then go and do another once construction is underway. Many on this blog may not agree with DPDs decisions at times but at least they are holding developers accountable to build what they say they are going to build.

    I was disappointed once the curtains came off to see this depressing charcoal shipping container. Seattle can be dreary as is, something to brighten the place up and use of quality materials would be nice.

  6. Thank god. It’s shaping up to be the ugliest building in the area by far, so I really hope they can do something to salvage it. The rendering was boring, but the actual construction is worse… much less window area, and who thought one big, dark brown building would be attractive? Unfortunately, they’ll probably just tack on some rust-colored accent panels like the others and cal it good. What do we have to do to get some real color around here??

      • The little florist that previously inhabited the space now occupied by Pony was hardly an architectural masterpiece either. It doesn’t look any worse than it always has.

      • Fuck you! The Pony building is great, and I’ve used the metal reversed street name panels to photograph bands on all the time.

    • I’ll THIRD the ugliest building comment. This could have been such an opportunity for the developer to create a lasting, iconic building that would become a landmark for the area. Instead they’ve built a 65 feel tall corrugated garage door. But, hey, what do they care? They are a Phoenix company with little reason to worry about anything other than their bottom line. They don’t actually have to live around it.

    • Where did all the windows go? How is it possible to remove that much window area between concept and finished product and get away with it?

  7. I saw this going up and thought, “Great, another ugly brown building with cheap siding.” Like the building above Healeo and that newish brown building at SCC. But you know it will be full because it is close to Seattle University.

  8. A design review board shouldn’t even exist. The only thing government need concern itself with is if the building is safe. Other than that the property owner should be able to build whatever they want and paint it whatever color they want. Who cares? Seriously? Who cares? If you find the color that offensive don’t live there. Nobody would tell a homeowner what color he could paint his house (Unless there was an HOA, but you know that before you buy the house). So seriously people, get over yourselves. The hill is changing. If you don’t like it, move to Kent.

    • I understand your points but be careful what you wish for. If it were left to developers, they would mow down every existing building and replace with 5 floor beige boxes built sidewalk to sidewalk. Streets of Capitol Hill would resemble hallways in an infinite series of cubicles. Kind of like Kent ;)

      At least the board is trying to add some distinction so we don’t resemble places like Kent!

    • The DRB exists precisely so Capitol Hill won’t look like Kent. There is such a thing as the character of a community. I’ve lived here for over 20 years. The character of Capitol Hill is why people want to live here in the first place.

  9. So glad to see that when a developer has not followed their agreements, that they are paying the price of not receiving rent until they honor the contract.

  10. Looks a little like a star destroyer…or a sandcrawler. I’m hoping one of the developers in our neighborhood proposes a sarlacc pit. Cherry on top.

  11. Well, this is certainly good news! Of course, despite the current siding color problem, I wonder what might have come of that site if handled by a competent architect and enlightened developer. This site, as it stands, really is the flagship for everything to do wrong. And while DPD has many, many faults (including a leader that should be put out to pasture), I applaud them for sticking to their guns on this one.

  12. I looked at the rendering vs reality again and noticed that aside from color and glass, the production version has no horizontal setbacks and pop outs between the floors, as proposed.

    They should tear it down and start from scratch.

    • As usual, based on board guidance and other factors, many changes were discussed and approved or agreed on through the years. At this point, DPD only has acknowledged the color issue

      • Thanks, Justin. We’ll see how things pan out. You’re always on top of things and keeping us updated – and we appreciate it.

  13. Ah yes, the color is the problem. Not the fact that the building has shut down one street for nearly a year, and has shut off the left turn lane on to Madison so that that construction workers can have their own little parking space. Yeah, focus on the color…

  14. Can someone please tell me how it got this far through the process before they acknowledged the color problem? I also see a ton of windows are missing from the original design, as others have mentioned. Is it that difficult to communicate with the DPD throughout the whole process? I’m genuinely asking because I don’t know much about building plans and processes.

  15. Michael is right. Plus that intersection on 11th and Madison is a god damned deathtrap with the sidewalks shut down and literally no provision for pedestrians. Of course that’s happening all over the Hill. The so-called “most walkable” neighborhood in Seattle.

  16. Meh, every other new building on the hill has a bright orange or teal accent wall. I’m fine leaving it mostly one color. The corrugated metal already checks the box making it look like every other ugly new building in Seattle.

    The new building across the street from Value Village looks *great* in monotone, for example. I was very afraid it would suddenly be painted orange on every other surface. Glad to see sanity and classic style prevailed.

    • agreed, the sunset electric building looks shockingly good. Mainly it’s because they basically made the whole thing black, so your eyes focus on the beautiful facade they preserved and not the boring black thing above it. Also on the corner near the SPD east precinct, they chose really nice windows that look period correct. Good details. It’ll be lovely at street level compared to what it used to look like, that’s for sure.

  17. Take a look at the drawing, and then go take a look at the (almost) finished building. Lovely drawing, hideous in reality. The window spacing is nothing even close to the drawing. Bait (with attractive design) and switch (by going cheap).

  18. I agree with Dave Knight. Alliance didn’t do anything wrong. They just built a building that most people dub as the most hideous project on the hill, one with zero inspiration, forethought, or regard for the nature of the neighborhood in which it resides. But that’s not his problem, why should it be? On second thought, maybe he should consider moving into a different line of business.

  19. The building is really terrible; it rivals the ugly Safeway building at 23rd and Madison. The really sad thing about the appearance of the finished product is that, given the location and lot shape, something very cool could have been built.

    By the way, why do all of the new buildings have such stupid names?

  20. Wow! I just checked out the pricing sheet on their website. The pie shaped 1 bedroom is $3,250/mo. Is that insane or am I out of touch?

  21. “He described replacing any portion of the building’s siding now that is already in place as prohibitively expensive.” I bet it is cheaper than delaying occupancy of the building for even 1 month.

  22. Sadly I suspect that the developer will have to pay a fine, but will not be required to change the building to match the approved design. This will set a president where the developer will submit a pretty picture to make it through design review and then build a cheap ugly building and just pay a fine. It is obvious that most of the developers only care about how much profit they can squeeze out of a project.

  23. Aw, let’s just spray paint the Hill charcoal gray and get it over with. The graffiti “artists” will add splashes of color, so why pay for it? Really, it’s just another ugly box, except this one has a place to keep your 30-60-90 triangle collection.

  24. I have the perfect solution for the color problem. Paint a five story tall tombstone on front with an epitaph that reads “Architectural Integrity Rest In Peace”.
    Then change name from Viva to Oy Vay. Or from Viva to Muerta.

  25. Of course the developer did something wrong — they violated the conditions of their building permit, which is why they are being denied occupancy. Regardless of who originally designed the project, or who the client was, the one who builds it needs to comply with the building permit — which includes land use approval (design review).

  26. It’s not just the exterior that’s a problem. Look up some of the floor plans. Units 226-626 are large 1 bedrooms, at 751 square feet, but have just one window for the entire apartment. The 205, 206, 207, and 208 series apartments are small, at just 530 square feet, but they’ll feel even smaller, because each unit’s real estate is eaten up by a long corridor hallway. This has bad student housing written all over it.

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