Despite 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.