Neighbors question Seattle design review as very brown Capitol Hill apartment building moves forward

(Images: CHS)

(Images: CHS)

The City of Seattle will — at least temporarily — let work get back on track at a nearly completed, six-story Capitol Hill apartment development brought to a halt by a dispute over the color of the building’s siding. Meanwhile, we have the letter from the project’s neighbors that helped spur the Department of Planning and Development to act — and might prove a type of manifesto for those in the neighborhood that would like to see greater efforts to create higher quality, better looking developments on the Hill.

In late March, CHS reported that Alliance Residential, the developers who acquired and are now constructing the Viva project at 12th and Madison, had 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 building was approved with an accent color, but was built all one color,” a DPD representative said about the dispute.

According to DPD, Alliance will now be issued the temporary permit which will allow work to continue as the project transitions from construction to finishing and preparation for new apartment and commercial tenants. DPD says “the applicant will address the accent color siding issue” before a final “Certificate of Occupancy” is issued for the 105-unit mixed-use apartment building.

Alliance development manager Dave Knight called the situation as “unfortunate misunderstanding” resulting from the building’s long path from original plans in 2007, to a new architect, then a new owner in Alliance. “You think you’re doing the right thing,” Knight said. “Then the planner came out and said what was built didn’t match renderings.”

But, according to a lengthy letter sent to DPD by residents of the Union Art Coop across the street from the Viva, the issue with the discrepancy over the approved siding color is only one of a list of problems with the new building.

“It appears that the builder has violated several conditions of their Master Use Permit,” the letter reads.

It continues:

When the siding of the building was being installed, we noticed only a single color of corrugated metal in use, even though the design (which was approved by the DRB) depicted a more vibrant facade. Emails sent to Alliance while the work was still in progress remained acknowledged but unanswered and now we are facing a solid wall of brown metal.

When Synergy began construction on the rooftop deck, once again we noticed a discrepancy between the approved plan and the delivered result. After their review by DRB, the developer initially agreed to keep a buffer area between the edges of the building and the edges of the deck to give us, their neighbors, a much needed sense of privacy. However, the finished product has the deck tightly hugging the building’s edge.

More issues are raised — some nit-picky. But the Coop seems to have won DPD’s attention with an impassioned plea for help:

In the case of the Viva Project, we would like to know what the consequences are for their lack of adherence to the Master Use Permit. We look across street right now, and none of the above seems to be being addressed. We as a community demand a better solution, one that keeps design changes in the public view and actively seeks the immediate neighborhood’s feedback.

More projects are coming in, including a couple more by Alliance itself, and we appeal to you to help us ensure that developers are held accountable to deliver on their promises. We would like to ask you to step in and take action on Alliance as well as other developers that might decide to follow this precedent.

We love our little corner of the city and we want to see it grow into an even more energetic and quirky version of itself. Neighborhood density shouldn’t translate into disposable structures with little long-term potential and low aesthetic value. Please help.

Union Art Coop

The development-focused Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council also sent a letter on the Coop’s behalf:

Members of PPUNC have met with members of the Union Art Co-op on several occasions and are supportive of their efforts to hold the developer accountable for either following through with their approved design or reaching an amiable adjustment to the VIVA building that is acceptable to DPD and the community. To that end, we are very supportive of the actions DPD took in denying the developer a Certificate of Occupancy until they are in compliance with neighborhood requests. As I know you are aware, the entitlement and permitting process is only as effective as its enforcement; given our community’s past friction with this developer on another project (which was ultimately resolved to the community’s satisfaction), and their initial reluctance to engage Union Arts — not  to mention the apparent high turn-over of the developer’s staff — require extra vigilance on the part of the city and neighborhood to ensure what is approved is what is built.

These are of course difficult actions for the city to take, and are obviously a last resort when previous dialogue has not succeeded. As leaders in the Capitol Hill community, PPUNC will continue to track this project — as well as the one under construction by the same developer and caddy-corner to VIVA — and support Union Arts, the neighborhood, and the city as called upon.

Alliance's 250-unit preservation and development project across the street

Alliance’s 250-unit preservation and development project across the street

CHS earlier this week reported on what many say is a bland sameness in Capitol Hill developments and the challenges developers bidding for property in the coveted neighborhood face when they win at a premium.

Company officials at Alliance thus far have made it clear that they don’t believe they are at fault for the design review issues with their project. At this point in the construction, removing and replacing sections of the building’s siding would likely be prohibitively expensive for the developer who also has millions of dollars at play across Union in the massive Davis and Hoffman project.

An email to Alliance’s Knight about any updates in the situation has not been replied to.

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25 thoughts on “Neighbors question Seattle design review as very brown Capitol Hill apartment building moves forward

  1. Yep, vigilance is essential, even on small projects. Years ago a 5-plex of town homes went through Design Review in my neighborhood: it needed Design Review for the variances to shoehorn in a 5th unit. Really very attractive building, except for the large carport which appeared on one end, and which had not been present at Design Review. Said carport went away after we pointed it out to DPD.

  2. So are they changing it or not?

    And what’s the official name of the color of the paint on the corrugated metal? I volunteer “Fecal Stain Brown”.

  3. The community should come together to pick a nickname that sticks for this building. For example, we all know that the South Lake Union Streetcar is really the SLUT. I heard one fitting reference to the building (probably from this site) as the “sandcrawler,” due to its resemblance to the vehicle from Star Wars. However, I think we can do better especially since this building is replacing the historic “Undre Arms” apartments.

    Any suggestions?

  4. What’s up with the new bike lane in front of it, that literally spits you out on the sidewalk in the middle of the intersection of 12th/Union/Madison? This seems like a disaster waiting to happen for cyclists and pedestrians. As a cyclist, I ended up on it yesterday and found myself in the middle of the intersection, needing to continue up Union, but not having the option as I didn’t have a signal. Poor planning and design right there.

    • That and they have closed that little side street off from time to time and cars or bikes barreling down Madison on that turn off do not have a lot of time to see the road was sealed off every other day.

    • I think the idea behind the east-bound bike lane is that you would use the sidewalk and crosswalk to cross madison at that point, and then continue on across 12th. Agree that it’s confusing.

      The other issue there is the westbound bike lane. They repainted it to go right up against the sidewalk — but they didn’t remove the parking signs!! People are still parking next to the sidewalk on top of the new bike lane, and the new center divider is keeping traffic farther to the right than before. No room for bikes. It’s a real hazard.

  5. It’s not particularly attractive to me but why should I care?

    I mean personally speaking that we live in a region with 200+ days of overcast/dark skies I would think an architect would rather have more bright designs but to each their own…if they want a blank building on their land, go for it.

  6. This seems like another black eye to the Alliance Group who is clearly not a hands on developer. They give false promises and go for the profit. Clearly not a long term onwer in this neighborhood, which sucks for Capitol Hill.

  7. The new Sunset Electric addition is *beautiful*. And it’s square, all one color, not “broken up”, etc.

    It’s just a nice building in a singular architectural style and color. We could use more of that in Seattle.

    Painting an orange wall on this building will not help. IMO that will make it look worse, as now it’s an ugly building with a kitschy orange wall.

    The solution is to not use cheap materials or the “seattle-ugly” architectural style that is so prevalent today. Take some pride in your work. As Seattleites, refuse to rent/buy in ugly, cheap buildings.

    The High 5 Pie building kitty corner to this abomination looks great, too. Classic style that would fit in London or NYC. The new building slightly farther up Madison from that one had the opportunity to match that beautiful building, and almost did, but at the last minute installed orange plastic siding details. It looks terrible. Orange siding never helps.

    • I was really impressed when I saw the almost-finished product for the Sunset Electric addition. It’s so simple and classy.

  8. I would be embarrassed to live there, especially with people knowing I spent up to 3k a month for a crappy 1 bedroom apartment filled with the glare of oncoming traffic and noise of cars accelerating up the street.

    Such doom and gloom in this property. Really depressing if this is what awaits us in the future.

  9. Sandcrawler is perfect! Seriously though, color is more than just an aesthetic choice and the “orange walls” really don’t address the real issue. It’s true that Seattle is a pretty grey place. I’m not say that’s a bad thing, but google Stockholm and take a look at the images. You’ll see that the building are predominately various shades of yellow, orange and red. Half the year there is bleak as shit, and they’ve made a concerted effort to “brighten” up an city that would otherwise be very dreary in the dark and rain and snow. Given that the older brick building on the Hill are the ones begin repurposed, applying some sort of color rules to better integrate the new building with the historical ones would have been smart.

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  11. I think the building is pretty cool. I mean, the siding material itself is nothing I would ever choose, but the form is an interesting contrast to the same ol’ around town. I don’t think color makes architecture. Some of my favorite buildings are single colors. Form, scale, and relationship to the surrounding neighborhood is most important. This property was a mess of blight before so kudos to the developer for investing in a challenging triangle property that sat on the shelf for so many years. The retail and generous sidewalk plantings looks like it will be a huge improvement as well.

  12. The build is unattractive but the real problem is that it’s massive. A narrow, tall building made of this poopy corrugated metal would have been acceptable, but an entire block is hideous.

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