NK Architects
This is the current design for the Intracorp Admiral project intended for 3210 California Ave. S.W. Three buildings, extending over six lots, 430 feet, 100 feet wide and up to 60 feet high. The Southwest Design Review Board has asked for yet another design review meeting after getting minimal changes made to the massive project in previous meetings.

How big is too big for West Seattle? Intracorp Admiral project remains stubbornly large in Design Review

Is a set of buildings proposed for 3210 California Ave. S.W. simply too big and out of character for West Seattle?

The three primary buildings would fill 430 feet of a 477 foot long and 100 foot wide space south of the Admiral Junction and stand nearly 60 feet high. It's already been through a set of four design review meetings and is headed for one more with the Southwest Design Review Board. It would contain 143 apartments, 6 live/work units, have parking for 168 cars, have 4220 square feet of commercial space. The project would require 15,000 cubic yards of grading. The existing structures would be demolished.

In the latest review of the design developed by NK Architects for Intracorp held Thurs. Feb. 6, the planning team heard from both the public and from the Review Board. The public comment essentially boiled down to the objection that such a large project is out of character and scale with the neighborhood. The board was a little more modulated asking the designers to come back again and address specific issues that they apparently had failed to address previously.

This was the third design review meeting, and fourth in total.

The board had asked the architects to deal with a range of issues from "streetscape compatibility" to "height, bulk, and scale" issues to the use of materials.

Boyd Pickerell of NK Architects and Andy Rasmussen of Weisman Design group spoke for the design team and reviewed the updates made since the last meeting. But the changes, while substantial, didn't satisfy the people in attendance or the complete board.

They described changes in "parapets and brow structures" in which the overall height of the building was changed but only by less than 2 feet. They spoke about attempting to create changes in the building massing to provide a stronger appearance of three different buildings and through the use of different materials and structures create a different pedestrian experience.
Their efforts were not widely appreciated since most of the changes made to the building from its first design review appeared to be largely cosmetic.

Deb Barker may have expressed the opinion of many. As a previous board member she described voting on a project after hearing from the community and getting the developer to "change the footprint" and "they moved the building away from the residential, they addressed things, they changed their product."

Moving on to the current project Barker said, "3210 is your fourth opportunity to see the height, bulk and scale. You've asked for three different buildings. You've got about a '24ish' foot wide building separation. You've asked for a sky bridge between the buildings, which I said at the first meeting that I hated and I still hate the sky bridge. I think it is the most elitist definition of building separation that I've ever heard of and you can make it invisible, there's lots of ways to do it but it should, to be invisible, go away. Actually it creates the appearance of two buildings from the east side... You've got a building that's 15 feet over the 40 foot height that was approved in the re-zone plus the elevator blocks that are even taller. You asked each time for them to address height, bulk and scale of this project and what have they come up with? Some departures and some rooftop penthouses. They've tweaked the garages and the retail entrances, so no wonder you are tired of seeing the same thing over and over and over and over. The developer probably isn't going to give an inch. They've got time, they're going to wait you out, wait till the board changes, get some new folks in here. They have time, they have money and they have the site, probably the whole block across the street tied up. They will wait you out. So what are you going to do? I think you're going to have to do it for them. Tell them to quit wasting your time and come back only when they have adequately addressed B-1 (Height, bulk and scale in a single family zone). Or you can maybe tonight get it over with and approve this project with three floors of residential and one floor of commercial. That meets B-1. B-1 is really helpful when you have extenuating circumstances... It was up zoned. There's no alley separation. This site backs up to the residential uses that are RS-5 zoned (single family dwellings). Six parcels are assembled. To me, those seem like extenuating circumstances. B-1 was made to address things like that. You haven't seen any changes to the height bulk and scale since this project came before you and I'm really disappointed for you because I have had that experience of seeing the developer actually change the product, in front of our eyes to address concerns and it felt great. I hope you get that experience sometime but in the meantime I say go ahead and approve this project three residential floors and one commercial floor, no departures. Please lose the skybridge and you'll have done the right thing."

Others rose to echo concerns about the building being out of character for the neighborhood due to its size. Neighbor Chris Castor said, "This whole process was brought about to bring about responsible and appropriate growth and this, it's not just the height, it's the extremely long length. It's the mass of this that I think is so horribly out of proportion with this neighborhood. The largest development we've had is the Safeway development. That mixed use property. That's in the center of the Admiral hub there. This thing is worse than that and it's over in the single family part of town. There are three story residential buildings but thing is ludicrous. I think if you live anywhere in the Admiral District you would fight this vehemently, it's ridiculous."

Concern about garage exits on Hanford, with such close proximity to both West Seattle High School and Lafayette Elementary was expressed and board members said those issues had previously been addressed but that the traffic pattern was something SDOT would have jurisdiction over.

A commenter noted that if this building is approved, it will, "set a precedent for the other core areas of West Seattle. I don't want to see this building in the Admiral District, I don't want to see it go into the junction, it's just too big for West Seattle."

Greg Janssen, co-owner of West Seattle Natural Medicine to the south of the proposed building said, "I've gone through the Admiral Urban Village design guidelines and I don't see how this building fits within the design guidelines. There's a stretch to connect it to the core of the Admiral business district. The high school is separating it from it. If it's going to exist it needs to have stronger retail not quiet retail. It needs to almost anchor itself as a commercial area. The other issue is that it seems strange to me to have a future development used to legitimize this development when we know the same company has plans for developing across the street. This does set a precedent for the neighborhood. I don't live on the east side and I know a lot of people have issues but I'm more concerned, as someone who lives in West Seattle, going down California and having 75 foot building coming up from the sidewalk. The other practical issue I have is there's no alleyway and which garage entrance is going to contain the garbage, recycle and solid waste utilities. One's at a grade going down and one's at a slope coming down... So how is solid waste going to be moved out of that building?"

Paul Davis, a neighbor to the east of the project also said the project is "incompatible with the neighborhood" due to it's currently designed size. "This project is a huge scale." Davis read part of the Admiral Neighborhood plan, "The height bulk and scale is to be addressed during the design review process that goes on a site after rezone. The height bulk and scale impact of one additional story are not expected to block air and light or adversely impact the community. Now we have two extra stories. There's nothing in the rezone that talks about two extra stories." Davis went on to cite numerous omissions in the proposal at this stage including no mention of actual heights or dimensions, no mention of being "15 foot above average grade," no analysis of blocking views for homes on 41st Ave. S.W. and Walnut Street with the building rising to a 20 foot higher grade than those homes. He noted that the example used as a comparable structure was "The Prescott Apartments in Wallingford." He noted that the top floor setback is 50% and the average building setback is 75 feet. "In their mission statement they say they are to be ever responsive to the diversity of the neighborhood, let's make them prove it."

Bill Gohde said, "This is the first time I've seen this project and quite frankly I'm stunned...I'm thinking is this something that I would be proud of. Is this something I would bring people to see and say 'You want to see a great building? Take a look at this' and I can't....Is this the best we can expect here in West Seattle? Would this be in Wallingford? Would this be in Madison Park? No.
Would this be in Queen Anne? No. But we have it here in West Seattle. Why is that? Are we easy?...I'm really, really sad."

For their part the board said changes needed to be made to the plan.

They noted that the building was in fact "out of scale with the rest of the community" but that getting a bigger building separation was "a big ask". "When we saw this our main concern was that it was 430 feet long. Right now when I look it, it's still one gigantic 430 foot long building. I don't think putting a 50 or 60 foot gap between the buildings is going to do it. I really think it's overkill."

It was suggested that eliminating one floor of the building would help.

They summed it up by noting that were still not in agreement as to what to suggest regarding building massing, with some suggesting elimination of a whole floor on the northern most building, though setting back the upper floor might get more agreement... They asked for some greater differentiation on the middle building, with less "hardy plank" and more brick and the possible elimination of the "skybridge" between the middle and southern building.

Another meeting will follow but was not announced and has not yet been scheduled.

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