Courtesy of Weber Thompson Architects
An artists rendering of what the northwest corner of the 4724 California Ave project could look like in the West Seattle Junction, with a mid-block walkway connecting California to 42nd Ave.

Citizens speak up on 7-story Junction project, but not too loudly

West Seattle Junction-area residents and business owners filled the seats at the May 24 early design review for a seven-story, mixed use project planned for the old Petco space at 4724 California Ave S.W.

The project passed the early design stage, and the Southwest Design Team gave Weber Thompson Architects, and developers Urban Evolution and the Wolff Group, the go-ahead to continue towards their application for a master use permit to build (as a side note, the project is likely at least a year away from breaking ground).

It was clear the proactive approach by developers paid dividends (they have already met with several Junction-related neighborhood and business groups) as the drama was minimal and only a few people stood up to speak. It was a sign of general acceptance that seven stories are inevitably going up based on the 85-foot code of downtown West Seattle, and the suggestions were based on making those seven stories as small in scale as possible, and in line with the look of the Junction today.

“It’s a big deal … these 85-foot buildings (this project will be closer to 75) going into the Junction because it is changing the character of California,” Southwest Design Board Representative Robin Murphy said at the meeting, “… but it is going to change, and eventually it is going to be a lot more like Ballard and the reality is the developer has the right to build up to the development envelope, so our job is to - we can’t prevent that from happening and I don’t think we want to, that’s progress - but we have to try to mitigate those impacts through materials, massing, (etc.).

“We are aware that the building is very large in relationship to the existing buildings, but the reality is in ten years probably most of those buildings will be gone,” Murphy added.

At the early design stage details on the project are pretty slim, but Weber Thompson, the same firm that designed the once-Conner/now-Equity Residential seven-story project planned for California and Alaska, presented their preferred Scheme C (of three options they were required to exhibit) as extensively as possible at this point.

They discussed plans to include a mid-block open-air walkway on the northern side (connecting California to 42nd), have only retail frontage on California and the residential entry in the walkway, three stories of the same mass at street level with plans to step back from there with the last four (in an attempt to mitigate the “canyon effect” and keep the skies open), widen sidewalks to activate the space on California, and create a seven-story northwest corner, slightly twisted in angle from the rest of the building, to provide a bit of character. Plans on landscaping and artwork will be more fully-fleshed out at future design meetings.

Rich Koehler, a member of the Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), asked that designers try to conceal the upper mass of the building and, as for the twisting seven story tower: “For me that is not really consistent with the historic ties that the West Seattle Junction has to our area.” He would like to see modern, “brave” designs in the Triangle and more traditional designs in the Junction.

Rene Commons, also from JuNO, echoed Koehler's concern with concealing the building’s mass and asked that designers consider widening the walkway from 10 to 15 feet to make it more bicycle friendly and ensure the building is built with quality materials so it will look good and last well into the future.

Mural apartment (just to the east on 42nd) tenants and a manager expressed disappointment in the inevitable loss of their west facing view, and asked that designers at least make the east facing wall pleasing to look at and consider the traffic congestion the project will add to the alley with retail deliveries, tenant traffic, and the coming and going of moving trucks with the ebb and flow of tenants.

During Southwest Board deliberations, where the board makes suggestions to designers on changes they would like to see next time around, there was a split feeling on the seven-story, skewed tower at the northwest corner. They asked to see more in terms of landscaping, artwork and signage designs the next time around, what can be done to make the eastern façade easier on the eyes for Mural tenants, and that more details are presented on how Weber Thompson intends to reduce the massing of the building (the QFC building at the corner of 42nd and Alaska was used as an example of what not to do).

For more information on the 4724 California project, please check out the Herald's coverage here and here, or the project website at www.4724california.com.

To voice any concerns or comments you may have with the project, send those to Shelley Bolster with Seattle Department of Planning and Development at shelly.bolster@seattle.gov or 206-733-9067.

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