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Seattle looks to ‘improve community dialogue on design review’ — Meanwhile, MLK/Union 4-story faces the board

(Image: The Madrona Company)

(Images: The Madrona Company)

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 3.11.53 PMCHS has covered quite a few design reviews. Which means we’ve seen quite a lot of frustrated citizenry. The relationship between the design review board volunteers and the community members who come out to speak up on a neighborhood project was, perhaps, summed up best by this quote from a 2010 review of the Broadway building that is today known as The Lyric.

“You’re complaining in the wrong format.”

The City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development is seeking to change that relationship with an effort to change the review program.

The overhaul has three stated goals:

  • Identify options to make the design review process more efficient and accessible
  • Improve community dialogue on design review
  • Identify new and emerging technologies for more effective community engagement

We imagine any of you who have attended a review might have a bit to say about those. Unsurprisingly, there’s a survey. More on the design review improvements, below.

First, you can check out the design review process as it stands today with a session Wednesday night that could be the final step for a project to change the empty lot used as a community garden at MLK and Union into a “a 4-story structure containing 41 apartment units above 6,091 sq. ft. of commercial space.”

The developers seek to “provide an attractive apartment building with attractive street level retail that is compatible with the existing commercial and residential building context” and “infill a prominent undeveloped corner lot” to “bring urban vitality to a neglected major intersection,” according to the updated review packet for the project.

The Madrona Company also built the Central District’s Yesler Mews and Madrona’s Bowling Green building.

CHS wrote about the initial early guidance review of the Madrona Company-developed project back in February 2014.

1141 M L King Jr Way

Land Use Application to allow a 4-story structure containing 41 apartment units above 6,091 sq. ft. of commercial space. Parking for 27 vehicles to be provided. Existing structure to be demolished.

View Design Proposal  (31 MB)    

Review Meeting
April 8, 2015 6:30 pm

Seattle University

824 12th Ave
Admissions & Alumni Community Building
Review Phase
REC–Recommendation  See All Reviews
Project Number

Bruce Rips

The full announcement on the DPD’s design review improvement process is below.

Design Review Program Improvements
The City of Seattle began the Design Review Program in 1994. The program has improved the design of over a thousand development projects in the two decades since. The program has evolved to some degree over time. However, the basic structure and organization has not significantly changed. Given changed conditions and strong interest from numerous stakeholders, DPD will explore improvements and updates to the program.

DPD is leading a process to identify, evaluate, and implement organizational, structural, and procedural changes to revamp and refresh the Design Review Program. The process will build off previous reviews and feedback about the Design Review Program.

Project Goals

  • Identify options to make the design review process more efficient and accessible
  • Improve community dialogue on design review
  • Identify new and emerging technologies for more effective community engagement

DPD’s planning process will include, at minimum, working with an advisory group, interviews with community stakeholders, a focus group, online surveys, and community-wide events to gather feedback from a variety of people.

We Want to Hear From You!

Take our Design Review Program Survey. This survey focuses on what people like about the Design Review Program, where there are opportunities for improvement, and how people are currently, and would prefer, to provide feedback and receive information about the Design Review Program.  A second survey later this year will have additional questions about the program and potential opportunities for improvement.

Visit the Design Review Program Improvements webpage for additional information and to sign up for email updates.

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21 thoughts on “Seattle looks to ‘improve community dialogue on design review’ — Meanwhile, MLK/Union 4-story faces the board

  1. The Bowling Green building in Madrona is nice and fits into the existing neighborhood in a way that most new construction does not. Sadly, the proposal for this building is a real miss. The red and yellow colors make it look cheap and a little like a McDonalds franchise.

    • Wow, I have seen the concepts for this proposal many times and I can say that these sketches are way different than anything I have seen before. It makes me question where these pics came from. I have been to maybe 5 presentations about this project. The presentations that I have seen where of much higher quality. I really would be interested to know where these hideous drawings came from…I highly doubt they came from the developer.

      • Hi Dan, I agree with you that these renderings aren’t some of our best work. In order to show the texture and shadow lines of the building we had to lighten the color of the top 3 floors. I also haven’t seen you around much lately, I would enjoy it if you wanted to check out addition renderings we have to get additional feed back, I know you’ve been around the neighborhood for some time and it would good to hear what you think. Thanks for the comment

      • LOL, sorry Marty…I was just so surprised at how different and bold this was from the other color schemes I saw. I am certainly not ‘fashion forward’ and I do think you should have it whatever color you want.

    • Hi Citycat,
      The colors of awnings and entryway of the commercial spaces at grade will be chosen by the tenants So this yellow that you are seeing is just an idea of what could possibly be. Currently at Bowling Green we have this same concept and it seems to work in getting each commercial space a unique personality without taking away from the overall design. Let me know if you have any other questions

  2. I’ve been to a meeting for a Capitol Hill project and basically the panel is 6 hipster architects ignoring the citizens and gushing over the modern project taking the place of perfectly fine existing buildings.

  3. Well, that was a joke.

    I’m not sure what I expected, but after each board member being introduced as representing different groups like “architects” or “the community”, this was by and large The Committee to Argue About Tiny Cosmetic Changes. What a disgrace. How embarrassing for them.

    This building is an eyesore and it’s doesn’t fit our lovely ‘hood, and I said as much, as did several others. The limp-wrists on the committee pretended to care until the bully developer, ignoring all protocols and rules, essentially strong-armed them ’till he got his way. All the while, his snot-nosed son huffed and puffed and loudly rolled his eyes like the consummate professional he hopes to one day be.

    If this really is the way ‘community input’ is registered in Seattle for land-use, it’s easy to see why the planning is so haphazard and community-unfriendly. A cynic is just an idealist that’s been around the block, right? Yeesh.

    I plan on lobbying further through more official channels. Protip: design reviews are worthless, unless, like me, you enjoy watching developers stomp about and act all hurt by public feedback.

    • Hi Joe, thanks for the feed back, I’ll wipe my nose next time. I’m sorry that you don’t like this project and I hope that in the future I can hear more constructive criticism from you. As for this project, I’ve lived in this neighborhood for my entire life and I really do care about this project. The plan from the beginning was to add life to his corner without displacing the people that call the central district home. The reason I got frustrated was we have been designing this building for 10 years now and this design review board is one of the last hurdles that we have to jump. The building that we are proposing has thousands of hours of thought into it and I don’t believe you or some of the people on the design review board saw this. Please feel free to stop by our office any time and we can show you anything you have questions about. Finally, again I’m sorry for showing my frustration during design review, but I fear they will force this project to be another modern luxury apartment that we see so often now on Capitol Hill.

    • Hi Joe, sorry that you do not see our building as an improvement. I felt I had to speak up at several points of the discussion even when proper protocol prescribed otherwise. I’ve never before been called a bully developer either- food for thought. I guess you never heard things that you strongly disagreed with and spoke up. Well, that’s you and this is me. As Max has said come by anytime to discuss the project and give us some constructive feedback. Marty

      • Thanks for the response, fellas.

        I came home angry last night, because that hearing was a joke, but my ad hominum attacks were uncalled for. Apologies.

        However, both your behaviors were rude, and I’m won’t back down from that assessment – especially after being told strictly by the moderator several times to keep your comments in place (and that our public comment period was strictly enforced) it feels a little like the cat calling the mouse bite he receives unfair.

        FWIW, I Like Bowling Greens, and I look forward to the development on the corner. I just think this building is wrong.

        Yes, I have some constructive criticism: make it 3 stories. Make the setback aligned with the rest of our the buildings on the block. Anything else is unacceptable.

        Stop by any time. We can sit on the porch and chat.

    • Did you seriously just use the phrase “limp-wrists”? So, you refer to people who disagree with you using an old-fashioned, derogatory slang term for gay men, and then you’re surprised when people don’t take your opinions seriously?

      I haven’t followed anything about this building until now, but just from the comments on here, to me the developers come across as professional and open-minded, while you most certainly do not.

      • Yes, you are right, I only realize in the light of day how that may have come off. I meant “weak in their power”, but I realize the implication was something was definitely not intended. I didn’t even make the connection. I was mad and fired off the cuff. Massive apologies if taken that way.

        But still! Have you gone to these things? It’s so sad how little power the public in this stuff! I guess in my naivete, I assumed that public commentary was something more than…. well, basically, nothing.

        I don’t think Marty and Max are bad people. They seem alright, if a bit hot-headed. I just think this is the wrong building for the area. It’s clear I don’t have much recourse, so I guess I’ll just live with it. It’s a real shame, though.

      • Agreed that this is the kind of language that will typically earn your comment the boot on CHS. It survives only because of the subsequent dialogue. Not on this site, Joe.

      • You guys are so so right, and I am sorry. I deserve the chastisement. It was a foolish, ill-picked and ultimately hurtful phrase that hurts people I am close to and love.

        Please, believe me when I say one thousand apologies, the association didn’t even occur to me. I am ashamed. I consider myself an ally and an advocate, and this burns me deeply.

  4. I think it’s a mistake to weigh in so negatively on drawings, a great drawing can make a bad building look great, and the reverse.

    The building on 34th is well managed and from many people, tenants and businesses both current and past, I’ve heard nothing but good things about dealing with these people. I think someone who’s been in the neighborhood for a long time and has worked to bring us local businesses and treated those businesses well deserves a little benefit of the doubt here.

  5. (reposting what I said on Facebook)
    Hey Marty and Max, just want to say I appreciate the clear, uncluttered shape of the project. I like this a lot better than what you showed the community a year ago. The red looks good to me, assuming it will be pretty similar to the one up in Madrona and the Mt Baker Lofts, referenced in your DRB packet. Keeping the visual clutter to a minimum is a good move in my opinion, and one I’d like to see other developers follow. It makes the building forms speak for themselves and avoids lame trendy facade treatments that will look incredibly dated in just ten years.

    • Hey Jonathan, thanks for understanding what we were trying to do. Our buildings aren’t typical, aren’t cliche. Dealing with an urban context involving Grocery Outlet, a poorly maintained Dept. of Transportation right-of-way, and falling down neighborhood houses across the alley was difficult. Originally long ago, I thought the only building that would fit would be either clad in billboards or clad in reflective glass to reflect back the crazy context of this intersection. We chose to give the neighborhood a new park- we hope in the future with benches, if the City decides not to charge us a yearly fee if we add benches- unbelievable. This whole process has been difficult for my health. One person who complained has actually taken over the public right-of-way with their private fence. This right of way belongs to the people and should be a neighborhood amenity, not a place for one person to store their barbecue.
      Anyway thanks for your encouragement. I strongly believe in our neighborhood that people have the right to paint their buildings any color they choose ad this adds to the complexity of our built environment. If you have the chance- google Leavettown in N.Y. long island. Originally build as hundreds of identical small homes at the end of WW2. Over time each was personalized by their owners with add-ons, siding, and color (even one clad in honduran mahogany plywood) that today, with its visual complexity is is deemed a historic neighborhood. Also, imagine how Max and I felt when the architect on the board said he didn’t understand how retractable awnings controlled sunlight- we knew we were lost. I felt I was presenting to the enemy. A sad day for me and Max when we thought we were doing something good for our neighborhood. Personally, I agree its a good solution- thanks for your support. Marty

  6. I agree with Jonathan above. It looks great. Congrats on a terrific project and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

  7. I for one like the bold colors. I am so tired of gray, brown, beige and olive green. The recent trend to introduce black and white into Seattle’s color palate helps a little but not much. Given our climate – what Seattle needs is more bold colors, not less!

  8. Pingback: Change Seattle’s design review process? Fill out this survey by Sunday | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle