Broadway Whole Foods project design — though ‘too timid,’ ‘too much a solid block’ — approved for next round in review process

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.39.02 PMDespite concerns from the board about the building’s unique combination of both bulk and height and with support but also questions from residents concerned about truck traffic and the building’s multiple visible facades, the design for the 16-story development planned to be home to a Whole Foods at Broadway and Madison was moved forward Wednesday night in its first step in Seattle’s design review process.

The review board felt the design presented Wednesday was “too timid” and “too much of a solid block” for such a large project on an important corner between Capitol Hill and First Hill. “I’m not seeing a gateway statement,” one board member said. But the board also agreed it could provide enough guidance to the architects and developers to move the project through to the final “recommendation” phase of the review process.

In making their decision, the board members said the project’s developers and designers needed to come to the next phase with a proposal that better mitigated the bulk of a 16-story, full-block building and create a larger plaza on the prominent corner.

Developer Columbia Pacific Advisors and architects Tiscareno Associates hope to open the 160-foot-tall, 288-unit apartment project with a two-level 40,000 square-foot street-level “urban grocery” and five stories of underground parking for 374 motor vehicles and 98 bikes by late 2017 or early 2018.

Residents who spoke during the public comments were generally supportive — “What I look at now is extremely ugly,” one First Hill resident said about the current site — but raised concerns echoed later in the night during the design review board’s deliberation on the project. The 1928-built, three-story masonry medical building currently at the site will be demolished to make way for the new development, by the way.

Speakers raised concerns about the building’s bulk and massive wall of metal siding appearing on the First Hill skyline, narrow sidewalks in the area, and truck traffic for the Whole Foods that is planned to exit through an alley onto Madison.

One resident said 16 stories of metal siding needs to either be the highest quality material — or re-thought. “I’ve yet to see it really well finished so it doesn’t look like it’s puckering,” he said.

Mike Archambault, treasurer for the Capitol Hill Community Council and an engineer, also asked the board to consider the amount of traffic that will be created by the customer parking. In a math-focused comment, he shared a rough estimate that the two floors of customer parking and 143 stalls will mean a car entering from Harvard and exiting the garage every 16 seconds at 80% usage.

Jim Erickson of the First Hill Improvement Association spoke up for making sure the project’s design was optimized for public safety and lighting that won’t be shadowed by trees along the future “green” Spring Street. He also said the board needed to consider the future of transit in the area and the changing Madison streetscape as it deliberated elements like the building’s setbacks from the sidewalk and the creation of plaza spaces.

A representative for a local developer said overall he was satisfied with the design. “We own quite a few properties around this site,” Mike Oaksmith of Hunters Capital said. “I’m thrilled that this site is getting a Whole Foods.”

The board also took up “departure requests” from the applicants that would allow the developer to tweak a small set of zoning rules on the project. The request that seemed to garner the most positive response from the board — and, likely, anybody who has ever been inside the Madison Trader Joe’s parking lot — would allow the project to have larger parking spaces than regulations allow “in order to provide easy access in and out.”

The project’s next review meeting will be scheduled in coming weeks. 68% of respondents in a CHS poll, by the way, said they were happy with the project’s initial design review proposal.

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12 thoughts on “Broadway Whole Foods project design — though ‘too timid,’ ‘too much a solid block’ — approved for next round in review process

  1. I hope the recommendations at this hearing mean the DRB is going to be more aggressive with new developments, with the goal of providing higher-quality buildings for our neighborhood. I’m especially glad that they are asking for mitigation to reduce the bulk of the development. The last thing we need are more dull, monolithic structures.

    I wonder how the 2-story Whole Foods will work. I assume elevators and/or ramps will be provided to get between stories for those with carts, but that would be a somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming process (as it is at the Broadway Market QFC).

    • there are many two story Whole Foods out there; used to shop at one in Pasadena, CA and one in Portland. The way that they are laid out places the most purchased items (produce, bulk, etc) on the ground floor, while the more specialty items and prepared foods, as well as the Whole Body sections are on the second floor. Escalators for carts (downtown Target) and elevators provide the vertical circulation

  2. I am pleased to hear that the Board sent them back to the drawing board. The design is Soviet Neuvo. We need to demand better than this as a community. The building should be set back, taller and thinner and made with higher quality exterior finishing. The city should purchase the undeveloped triangle property across the street and close Harvard between Madison and Spring to make a park. The developer should cover some of the cost. We need to add public spaces to balance out the surge in development and population density to keep Seattle livable.

    • I just noticed that the first level of the store is half below grade. That makes for a very uninviting street presence. They shouldn’t be able to get away with that either.

    • We read things much differently. It does not sound like they were sent back to the drawing board as the design was not rejected. Its being moved to the next phase with some DRB input.

      The site is also on a slope so it is impossible for all ground floor levels to be level with the ground. If you view the entire rendering, the primary focal point is fully at ground level. Perhaps the illustration shown is a side entrance to show the elevation of WFM.

      • I agree. The DRB’s tone, at least as reported here, is too timid. This building should act as one gateway into the neighborhood, thus there is a unique opportunity for the city to prescribe something special. Make it so, city council!

  3. Yes exactly – we should precisely be making already too expensive to construct buildings even more expensive by demanding fancier buildings we aren’t paying for! Because we said so!

    And a larger plaza?!??! Jeez that’s EXACTLY what we need more of – big concrete windswept plazas in front of high rises. Because that’s worked SO well in other cities that have done that. Can we also demand they plop a piece of fugly “pubic art” sculpture in the middle of it too?

  4. Nice! While I think anything will look better than the building that’s currently there, I was really underwhelmed with the proposed building. Glad to see the board push back on this and ask for further refinements.

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  6. Ugh – ugly and bland. The look of the era, for cheaply designed full-block buildings, is basically to put some vertical stripes on it, in the form of 2-4 foot bumps in or out. It doesn’t look good, and will look really, really tired in ten years. I hope the DRB develops some spine and pushes harder in the next round.