Fuller Sears Architects/Ty Swenson photo
At the table, on Sept. 27 the Southwest Design Review Board mulls over the early design plans for a large apartment/retail complex at the southwest corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska St. in West Seattle. The design shown is the developer's preferred alternative for the project.

Behemoth complex planned for 4755 Fauntleroy fails early design review; Back to the drawing board

Sensing the importance of getting this one right due to its mass and significant location as a “welcome” spot coming into West Seattle and the Triangle, the Southwest Design Review Board decided on Sept. 27 not to move forward a proposal for a 370 apartment, 570 stall of underground parking, 66,000 square foot retail building at the southwest corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska.

To make room, three-quarters of a city block will be demolished, including an old Huling Brothers auto dealership, the Howden-Kennedy Funeral Home, and a Shell gas station. The Masonic Lodge and its parking lot will remain.

The board, made up of citizens who review larger private development projects in West Seattle, concluded the presentation from developer Weingarten Realty (based in Arizona)/Lennar Multi Family and architects from Fuller Sears (of Seattle) left enough big questions unanswered to move the project beyond the early design review process towards a master use permit to start construction.

Instead, the group will hold another early design review meeting at a time yet to be determined, once they have addressed the boards concerns in their design.

Those concerns included an alleyway in the preferred design that may have too much going on with trucks offloading on a regular basis to stock a chain drugstore and chain grocery store (both yet to be named) and other retail, in addition to all the traffic of tenants and shoppers trying to get in and out of an alley with an entrance from S.W. Edmunds St. to the south.

The board also wanted to see more on what could be done to minimize the perceived massing of the building that will likely reach 70 feet tall, and what they plan to do with the northeast-facing corner that essentially welcomes people into West Seattle traveling in from the W.S. Bridge.

Architects’ presentation
Steve Johnson with Fuller Sears led the presentation of the project to the board and 40-plus community members in attendance, illustrating their preference for “Alternative 4” of four designs. He started out by mentioning a typo in the original project documents released: instead of 105,000 square feet of retail, they will come in closer to 66,000.

Alternative 4 calls for getting rid of a majority of the alleyway located on the block now and creating two separate buildings: one along Fauntleroy Way S.W. that will house a drugstore and residential units, and another with miscellaneous retail, a grocery store and residential units in a “C” shape. The drugstore would face Fauntleroy and the grocery store would face Alaska, with a mid-block, east-to-west pedestrian walkway between the two structures.

Johnson said the advantages of the design are a wide pedestrian cross block connection, more natural light let into the larger building because of the “C” shape (instead of a donut shape seen in other alternatives), and an overall building height of 70 feet instead of the allowable 85 feet used in the other alternatives (reducing the residential unit count in the process).

While it is still very early in the design process, and early design reviews are focused on the general massing of a building, Johnson also mentioned plans to employ canopies and landscaping on the street-facing sides of the buildings and in the pedestrian walkway.

He talked about putting aside a 20 foot by 40 foot “public space” at the northeast corner that could be used as a “signature announcement” for West Seattle, the Triangle and/or the Junction. The design team did not have a specific plan in mind, just the space set aside for an eventual one, and the S.W. Board made it clear they wanted to see more specifics in the next early design review.

The board agreed that Alternative 4 was the best of the batch (and that an alley vacation ruling from Seattle’s Department of Transportation would be necessary), although Fuller-Sears did receive some criticism from both board members and residents for having three alternatives that differed significantly from the preferred design.

Community comments
Ranging the spectrum from pleased to disappointed, several West Seattleites talked about the project during the public comment phase of the meeting.

Sharonn Meeks with the Fairmount Community Association asked that the developers incorporate setbacks into the upper stories of the project to maintain views and lessen the “canyon” feel of tall buildings. She also asked that they look at the style of the surrounding neighborhood to inform their exterior design for a more “contiguous” look.

Deb Barker, president of the Morgan Community Association, called the number of parking stalls (570) “absurd,” especially since the project is on a RapidRide transit line and asked them to reconsider.

Jeffrey Tosh with the Alki Masonic Temple (and representing the Masonic building that will remain on the block) echoed concerns by the board that the alleyway his organization has used over the last 62 years to access their building will become far too crowded with the traffic major retailers will bring in.

Kevin Reed, living a few blocks south of the project, asked that the developers and, by extension the city, look at ways to improve pedestrians' ability to cross Alaska at Fauntleroy (this sentiment was brought up by others as well), as a way to truly improve walkability in the area.

One commenter said he was worried these types of projects will turn West Seattle “into another Ballard” with tall, bland structures made of aluminum and glass. He asked the architects to ask themselves “Would you want this in your neighborhood?” as they design the exterior West Seattleites will have to live with “24 hours a day.”

Alana Perez, representing the retail worker union UFCW 21, said developer Weingartnen’s history of building generic buildings and pairing with large retailers (like Wal-Mart, although it has been assured Wal-Mart is not coming to this project) is cause for concern.

W.S. Chamber of Commerce President Dave Montoure, resident Josh Sutton and Susan Melrose with the W.S. Junction Association all said they were pleased with the developer’s clear attempts early on to incorporate West Seattle Triangle Urban Design Guidelines into the plan, including walkability, green spaces, and a focus on the intersection at Alaska and Fauntleroy.

Anyone who was unable to attend the meeting but would like to comment can contact Bruce Rips with Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development at (phone) 206-615-1392, (email) Bruce.Rips@seattle.gov, or (mail) at 700 5th Ave Suite 2000, PO Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019

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