A key Central District project to create a set of seven-story mixed buildings at 23rd and Union is ready to finish off 2018 Wednesday night with what many hope is the final step in a multi-year design review process spanning two different developers.
An important group will be on hand to see the process through.
The City of Seattle’s Department of Construction & Inspections tells CHS that the members of the newly created Central Area Design Review Board will be part of the December 19th review joining the East Review Board that has been overseeing the process since the first look at a project from a previous developer in early 2017.
“Based on community interest, the East Board has agreed to incorporate members of the newly created Central Area Board into the recommendation process for this proposal,” a city rep tells CHS. “While the permit application was vested to the previous design review board district boundaries, the property owner has voluntarily agreed to incorporate members of the Central Area Board into the discussion and recommendation process.”
“The attending members of the Central Area Board are well versed in the proposal and prepared to offer their feedback on December 19,” the representative said.
The decision follows the project’s unsuccessful review this summer as developer Lake Union Partners faced significant community complaints that the design for the Midtown: Public Square project looked too “South Lake Union” and speakers at the July session made calls for a more Central District-centered process.
The East review board had covered the Central District, Capitol Hill, First Hill, and nearby neighborhoods prior to the creation of the new Central Area board this year. “The creation of a Central Area Design Review District and Board will support equitable and inclusive community engagement and process specific for those most impacted by displacement, maximize the effectiveness of the Central Area Design Guidelines, and help guide future development to respond to the unique Central Area historical character and identity,” city officials said at the time.
Wednesday, the combined boards will tackle they key issues remaining in the design process: Does adding huge displays of art expressing “the history and cultural significance of the Central Area” to a mix of “onyx” and “cool regal white” panels, glazed granite, and summit brick make up for a lack of “major elements of Afrocentric texture” in the designs for the Midtown: Public Square development?
Responding to community complaints from summer, the architects at Weinstein A+U say they are unable to “incorporate rounder, more Afrocentric shapes into the building form” — “Neither the zoning or the structure of a multifamily mixed-use building will allow for rounded shapes,” they write.
Instead, the hope is the “rectilinear nature of the building form can be offset with the organic, artistic elements and art opportunities on the façades.”
That translates into a proposed program of major art and mural elements that would be incorporated on nearly every side of the project’s buildings and around the planned square.
The architects are also proposing the elimination of overhangs to open up some of the key “portal” passageways into the square in response to concerns that previous plans would create tight, unfriendly passageways that would kill off the small, local retail inside that the project is intended to foster.
Planned to link several structures around a public square in one cohesive design, the proposed development will create what is essentially a set of seven-story apartment buildings with 429 apartment units and underground parking for 258 vehicles. Regional pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs is planned to occupy the large retail space on the corner of 23rd and Union. The development will include around 125 affordable housing units allocated for households earning between $40,000 and $65,000 per year or 60% to 85% of area-median income (AMI) built as part of both the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program (MFTE).
The Lake Union Partners project will take place on 80% of the Midtown block, while the other 20% of the property was sold by Lake Union Partners to Africatown Community Land Trust and Capitol Hill Housing. The two projects have separate design review processes.
Once complete, the Midtown developments will create about 250 affordable housing apartments and 280 market rate units. The project will also include 25,000 square feet of retail, “10,000 of which is planned for small scale, locally owned businesses,” the developers say.
Smaller, more neighborhood focused retail and restaurant spaces made possible, the developers say, by the Bartell’s deal, are planned to be part of the project. Developers say there is strong community interested in ensuring as many businesses housed in the development as possible are owned by local, Black-owned businesses.
Lake Union is already the developer on three buildings around the intersection with a combined 275 apartment units and some 25,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space. Included in that is the 18,000-square-foot New Seasons grocery store planned to anchor the East Union building on the intersection’s northwest corner.
The Central Area Review Board’s inaugural members were approved by the Seattle City Council in July including Sharon Khosla, an architect and Central Area resident, Aaron Argyle of LMN Architects, Dennis Comer, a small business owner and member of the Central Area Land Use Committee, Kenny Pleasant, owner of a real estate investment business and resident of Madrona, Jeffrey Floor, an architect and Leschi resident, and Azzura Cox, a landscape architect who has helped run Africatown design ciphers for the Midtown project.
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