A 3-story, 30 unit, 30 stalls of underground parking project is proposed for 3829 California Ave S.W. in West Seattle (below, an early design idea). Up top, the single story apartments currently at that location.
Common concerns arise with latest California Ave apartment plan
The early design review on June 28 for a three-story, 30 unit apartment plan for 3829 California Ave S.W. was a case study in the issues and frustrations inherent in taller complexes moving into primarily residential neighborhoods.
It is a process that is bound to continue, especially along California.
The meeting was also a testament to the importance of attending an early design review meeting and voicing concerns, well, early. The architects were receptive and seemed willing to deviate from the infant design to help accommodate certain neighborhood worries.
Architects from Caron Architecture presented their “very early design” to the Southwest Design Review Board and eight citizens who live near the proposed project. The final plan, according to Caron, will reach up to around 34 feet and, due to zoning; they have to provide one parking stall for each of the 30 units. Twenty of those will be in an underground parking garage accessed by the alley, with ten parking spots behind the building (in the alley). There will be no retail space.
The final look for the design is far from complete, but in general the architects said they plan to break up the mass by separating the building into blocks of different colors and materials.
Early designs (a packet showing those drawings is linked at the top of the story) include a variety of studio, one and two bedroom units, a communal rooftop for gardening and entertaining
A rough timeline for the project puts groundbreaking (and demolition of the existing one-story apartments) eight to ten months away barring any setbacks in the permitting process, and Caron expects construction to take a year.
As for those common themes that rise with a building’s expected height: privacy, traffic and loss of a pleasing view were discussed.
Where height and privacy clash
For Mike Langley, a homeowner living directly behind the planned apartment’s location, the main concern was privacy. Going from a backyard with solitude to a number of apartment windows peering down upon the property is a reality with these projects.
Caron architects said they tried to minimize the massing along the western, alley-facing side by pulling the building away to include surface parking and “Juliet balconies” with doors opening to a railing, but not enough space to actually sit.
The current design has the first floor 5.5 feet above the sidewalk to make room for underground parking, and Caron said they will try to “squeeze” the building down, “to bring it closer to the sidewalk level.”
More units lead to more traffic
“I’m just concerned about all the traffic that is going to be coming through that alley (between Andover and Charlestown, north and south, and California and 44th, east to west),” Langley said. “Those are all single family homes … and now you have 30-plus cars driving through that alley. You know I have a seven month year old and a four year old that play in our backyard and it’s concerning …”
Visibility and speed of traffic coming in and out of the alley is another concern, and one neighbor to the project suggested speed bumps (according to Michael Dorcy with DPD, that would be a first and require a petition through Seattle’s Dept. of Transportation).
There was no room for concession on the potential of 30 new vehicles using the alley, Caron architects said, due to zoning that requires one parking spot for each unit.
Saying goodbye to the current view
Sharon Best, who lives just south of the project, said, ““Over here is my little white house (pointing to an architects rendering). It used to be the big white house; now it’s the little white house.”
Best expressed worry that her current view, including a slice of sky, would be replaced with a blank retaining wall.
Caron reps said they would work to move the retaining wall back from her property line as much as possible, and work landscaping into that design to break up the monotony of concrete.
Ultimately, Best said, the architects should also realize the south-facing view they are designing for will also disappear one day.
“The highest invest worth of my property is to do what you are doing with your property … (those in your building looking south) are going to be looking into some future development on my property.
“I put a lot of money into my building and I don’t plan on demolishing it anytime soon, but I can tell you it’s not going to be that way forever and then you are going to have a very strange construction …”
After the early design review process and suggestions from the design board, Caron will continue fine-tuning their design and submit it for a master use permit (the go-ahead to start construction). A two week comment period will start at that time, but Project Manager Michael Dorcy with Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development said he accepts comments at anytime.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-615-1393.
For more information, please check out the designer's early design review packet link at the top of the story (and please note these are not final plans, but general ideas on massing). Seattle DPD's project page is here.