Photo by Ty Swenson
A Delridge resident addresses the Southwest Design Review Board (foreground) as an architect in the background takes notes on her concerns at the early design review for DESC's Delridge Supportive Housing project.

DESC Delridge homeless housing project passes early review

Architects working for DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center), several Delridge area residents and the Southwest Early Design Review all-volunteer board gathered at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center on Dec. 8 for a first look at the form and mass of the supportive housing project in its quest for a permit from the city to build.

At the end of the night the board gave the project the go-ahead to move forward towards a master use permit application – taking into account a number of design changes grounded in Delridge resident concerns.

The mixed-use apartment complex will house chronically homeless people who are often battling mental illness or addiction. There will be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week staff on hand and rehabilitation and counseling is made available to the tenants as they work towards stability in their lives.

Early design reviews are a rough draft in the Seattle Department of Planning and Development process, so the three design possibilities presented by SMR Architects were rough estimates of where they are headed.

A few highlights surrounding the design include:

-The large cedar tree at the southwest corner of the lot at 5444 Delridge Way S.W. is considered “exceptional” by the city and has to stay put. Protecting the trees root base and designing the building around it will force the architects to build up four stories (40 feet) to house their 75 residential units in addition to community, staff and commercial space on the ground floor. Protection of the tree will create a landscaped courtyard at the southwest corner.

-The preferred parking design, both for the architects, review board and residents, is to have parking below grade, or underground.

-Architects plan to give the building a “Lanterns in the Park” motif with “lantern-like building forms (that) anchor a proposed courtyard” along with lantern lighting for aesthetics and security.

-Plans to incorporate natural design elements into the ground story of the building to echo the natural environment in the Delridge valley.

-Regarding zoning, the DESC site is in an NC2-40 zone which allows for 40 feet of height and up to 100 apartment units (DESC only plans for 75). An issue brought up by several residents resides is the zoning border. Houses neighboring the site are in a single-family housing zone. More on that later.

For a visual representation of SMR Architects early designs, please click here.

Community design suggestions
A handful of Delridge residents addressed the board directly. Their concerns/suggestions for the project included:

-Cameras in the alleyway and underground parking to deter drug use/dealing and property crime that occurs in the area currently.

-Requests to keep the building at three stories (30 feet) so nearby neighbors can maintain their view of the Delridge valley

-If neighbors are forced to exchange their view for a wall, the wall should at least be landscaped with vines or interesting design

-Requests that DESC pave the entire alley behind the building (they are only required by the city to pave the half nearest their lot).

-In landscaping choices for the courtyard, be weary of providing cover for criminal activity

-Personal privacy. Since the site shares a boundary with low-lying single family houses, several neighbors are concerned Supportive Housing tenants will have a bird’s eye view of their backyards and homes. Requests were made for the architects to take that issue into consideration and lessen the exposure if possible.

-In designing the building, try to mitigate the loss of views as much as possible.

-The alleyway is in terrible condition and if DESC plans to use it frequently for loading/unloading truck traffic and emergency vehicles, they need to improve it. It was also suggested that DESC look at having their delivery and emergency vehicle access somewhere other than the alley.

-Several residents asked that saving the “exceptional” cedar tree be scrapped for the sake of a lower building height, but it was countered that the tree has to stay based on city code.

-Request to mitigate the sun shadow created by the building as much as possible.

-Make the overall design match the library and nearby townhouses (pitched roofs and several notches in the façade to break it up). One resident countered this suggestion, stating a new and unique design would be more welcome.

-Add a green roof and rain garden into the plans, creating a learning opportunity for the many area children.

The review board’s take
After deliberation amongst the board members, Development Representative Brandon Nicholson provided a summary of the design suggestions they will make to DESC as the architects head back to the drawing board for a more fine-tuned schematic.

“I think in general we understand they are at a constrained site … and the biggest challenge will be how to address the zoning transition to the east of the property,” he said. “With that we would encourage them to explore options that would push the building towards the south property line in favor of a greater buffer on the east side and some use of trees or other types of screening issues would be encouraged in that area to deal with privacy concerns of single family houses to the east.”

Additionally, the board encouraged the following:

-The architects should “fully embrace” the Lanterns in the Park theme for the building.

-With commercial space, they encourage the developer to bring in retail businesses that will be an asset to the community and maintain around 80 percent of the Delridge Way (west) side committed to those spaces. While mixed-use developments are generally required to provide 100 percent commercial space facing thoroughfares like Delridge Way, due to keeping the cedar tree intact they board was willing to grant a departure.

-Parking wise, they “absolutely do not want to see covered, exposed stalls facing the alley. Parking needs to be contained and controlled” for the sake of safety (by not creating cover for illegal activity).

-“We encourage DPD to work with SDOT to fully improve the alley … Considering what the neighbors are being asked to take on,” Nicholson said, adding that it is only a suggestion as the board doesn’t have authority over the decision on roads.

-Regarding safety, they encourage the designers to not have residential units on the ground floor and position full-time staff so they have 24-hour visibility of Delridge Way.

-Look at moving emergency vehicle access to Delridge Way to reduce congestion in the alleys.

In response to neighborhood concern that the DESC building will provide more cover for illegal activity in the area, Nicholson said in his experience the “activation” of a space generally deters criminals from spending time there.

For now it is a waiting game with an undetermined timeline for DESC developers to present an updated design to the board and ultimately apply for a master use permit from DPD. If accepted, the poster board will go up at the project site which kicks off a 14-day comment period for the public.

Anyone interested in receiving updates from DPD on the project or expressing their concerns over the design can contact Michael Dorcy, the DPD project manager, at Michael.dorcy@seattle.gov , (206) 615-1393, or 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, Wa, 98124-4019.

A link to the early designs and DPD's guidelines are provided as links at the top of the story.

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