Early Design Guidance Summary

Summary

The July 13th Early Design Guidance (Design Review) meeting at Seattle University was attended by all six of the East District Design Review board members, along with the City Planner, Magda Hogness.  Charles Strazzara, the architect hired by Geza De Gall, the local representative of Michigan based, Velmeir Corporation and designer of the project, presented to the board and public for the first 20 minutes.

The large crowd of over 100 people listened as Mr. Strazzara highlighted aspects of the project that he said would bring a “vibrant retail experience along with a mixed use residential” to Madison Valley.  Mr. Strazzara held up the arborist and geotech reports, and the traffic study, none of which were public at the time of the meeting.  He said the arborist found no trees meeting the criteria of “exceptional.”  The geotech report supports removing the entire hillside under the property down to E. Dewey Pl as a way for the building to stabilize the area.

Next, Mr. Strazzara gave a brief overview of the three building options.  Option one has an interior courtyard, necessitating pushing the building’s mass and volume to the edges of the property lines and making for “a big wall on Dewey, with a maximum height of 70 feet.”

The second option places the courtyard on Madison, making this a retail/pedestrian plaza.  This option would have the retail entrance below the sidewalk on Madison.  However, the mass and large wall issues, especially on the east (Dewey) and south (Republican) sides remain a challenge with this option.

Finally, option three, the one “preferred” by the developer, “pulls the majority of the building mass towards Madison, steps back the retail entrance 9 feet and provides a setback near the corner nearest the pea patch.”  Also, it provides a “10 foot setback on Dewey, 15 feet on Republican, and would have a recessed ‘back wall’ terraced to the upper floors, with a 46.6 foot wall facing Dewey.”

Mr. Strazzara said that the third option’s height calculations do not require zoning exceptions.  He said parking in this option would be “subterranean.”  Importantly, in this most recent version of option 3, the proposed parking garage entrance for tenants would be on Dewey, while the garage entrance for retail customers, freight loading and trash services would be on Madison.

Mr. Strazzara then moved to “design direction.” This would include using superior materials such as “brick, wood, steel and glass” on building exteriors.  Half of the 75 units would have balconies; the retail floor would be 16 feet high, rather than the 10 feet for the residential and parking garage floors.  The retail supermarket would have windows high up on the east wall.  There would be landscaped rooftops.  A staircase requiring approximately seven landings is planned from the northeast corner of the building down to Dewey Place.

Next, the Review Board members asked clarifying questions of the architect.  One question was what is the relationship of the third level roof terrace to Dewey.  Mr. Strazzara said that from Dewey there would be “36 feet of concrete, then the next three floors would be wood frame.”  The podium [retail] level allows for “mature landscaping (trees) directly above the podium level, with grass vegetation above that.”  The third level is planned to be an “activity level, with space for private rooftop terrace amenities, not a communal space.”  Also, the design calls for “keeping people away from the edge.”

The board’s next question was about the grade directly below the northeast corner where E. Mercer is undeveloped.  Mr. Strazzara said the “highest portion of the building façade is on the south east side of the hill climb assist, not on the right-of-way.”

The next question was to explain how and where services such as trash and retail loading would be.  Mr. Strazzara responded: “There would be a shared curb cut on Madison,” (where the current one is for the City Peoples’ parking lot) but Velmeir may ask for a “departure to extend the curb cut.”  Just inside the garage entrance would be trash services (bins and compactors), with the loading zone for trucks past this along the northern edge inside the garage entrance.  The loading bays would not accommodate large semi-rigs.  The proposal calls for “great signage” near the supermarket entrance.

Another board question was asking for an explanation of how the architect’s rendering showing full-size trees would be accomplished.  The architect said that there would be both deciduous and conifer type trees, breaking up the façade on Dewey with different tree types, likely primarily a columnar type.  For the blank wall on Dewey, the architect is “looking at ‘green’ walls, possibly ivy.”  For the parking garage structure he is proposing “5’x5’ cutouts” and a “decorative grid.”

Next, the board wanted to understand whether any of the plan options do not have “above ground screened parking on Dewey.”  In response, Mr. Strazzara said that while the “neighborhood guidelines promote subterranean parking, the proposed option is considered 70% subterranean.”  He went on to say that the garage structure is “predicated by the retail and residential space having something to support it.”  Also, 122 parking spaces are the code requirements; the project proposes 156 spaces as “we don’t want overflow parking on the street and the grocer has parking requirements.”

When asked by the board if the preferred option has “any departures,” Mr. Strazzara said that it does not contain any departures.

The board asked about the garage entrance on Dewey and what mitigation would be proposed.  The architect said that the “ramp would be at the west [?? should be south] end of Dewey.”  Another board concern was the visibility impact of concrete.  Mr. Strazzara was not sure what materials would be used.  He thought, some sort of “recessed wall, possibly stone baskets or poured concrete.”  Mr. Strazzara said:  “I like exposed concrete if it’s detailed correctly; it gets richer-looking over time.”  He continued: “At the grocery level there would be some sort of board; the Madison façade would be a type of long board, like the Ballard Commons, a high cost material.”  Also: “brick facing in keeping with Madison Lofts, and steel and glass for the retail storefront.”

Following the board clarifying questions were 20 minutes for public comments.  A number of Save Madison Valley (SMV) members presented grave concerns with the proposed plans.  These are detailed in the full SMV presentation.

Public Comments

The first person had a preference for option 2 as it could provide a “central community gathering space, and that the proposed building is an opportunity to change the area from a pass-through corridor to a destination neighborhood.”  Also: “a bus stop in front of the building would improve the experience.”  The next person thanked the architect for “proactive community involvement.”  A Madison Lofts resident preferred option 2, wanted more setback on the Madison side, possibly terraces with trellis material.  This person also had concerns about the backlit signage for the retailer, the height of the storefront windows, the loading dock, and the HVAC equipment on the roof.

A local merchant who is also an area resident was concerned about construction noise, traffic, the width of the garage entrance, as well as how deliveries and garbage would be handled.  Another person liked the proposed design, but wants a combination of options 2 and 3 because “the community needs a gathering space.”

A resident spoke up that the existing trees should remain, does not like “70 foot walls,” and does not want the hill climb staircase as it would: “cause parking on the residential street.”  Also, requests resident entrance on Madison.

A member of SMV spoke about a report by an urban ecologist on the site.  This report states that: “14,500 square feet of urban tree canopy would be destroyed.”  The report also notes that “snags [standing dead trees used for wildlife] and possible exceptional trees as well as a possible exceptional grove of trees” was not noted in the developer’s arborist report.  Further, the ecologist’s report said none of the trees on the site would survive the development.  The replacement value of these trees is estimated at $206,000.

The next comments were in support of option 3.  This person also supports “maximizing the F-A-R [Floor Area Ratio] to keep units affordable.”  Also, this person said the parking “seems appropriate,” and that “small units attract people who want to be car-free.”  He went on to say that he does not think: “Dewey would be impacted as much.”

Another 28-year Madison Valley resident said he thinks: “the project is way out of scale for the neighborhood, is concerned for the loss of the canopy, and suggests building within City People’s boundaries.”  Another long-time resident expressed similar sentiments, feeling the “building is too big for this area and that people would drive to PCC as a destination.”

Another Madison Lofts resident favored options 2 and 3, and said that height would not be a problem.  Someone else who lives nearby would bike to PCC, likes the architect “not using hardy panel on the street side, feels the transition on the single-family side “needs work,” and likes the “effort on transition from Madison and Dewey, wanting to see those connected.”

A person identifying as an “affordable housing advocate” thinks the height and scale are appropriate and the studios and one-bedroom units are needed.  Also, that the building “addresses the tree canopy issue, and would stabilize the slope and storm water retention.”

Written Comments

The board received written comments which were summarized:

  • Site is already a bottleneck – this would not help – cites guidelines
  • Several letters that the note taker was not able to get down
  • Lack of support for loading dock
  • Dewey would need to be upgraded to support traffic
  • Tree canopy concern
  • Pedestrian hazard on Dewey entrance
  • Would like to see building utilize Seattle green building standards
  • Support for retail space
  • Option 2 has big impact on residents below

Deliberation

Following public comments, the board spent about 20 minutes deliberating.  An outline summary of those deliberations follows:

  • Height/bulk/scale
  • Unique to this area – three options are ok for Madison but need more sensitivity to Dewey – south Dewey façade needs more work (unanimous). Work should continue on Madison side
  • Appreciate a more thorough height calculation discussion – need to know how this was done and could it be improved
  • DCI is looking at this
  • Doesn’t happen till zoning review
  • Concern about relationship to steep slope
  • Massing is consequence of site – one tax parcel – aggregation results in bigger footprint
  • Blank walls are a big concern
  • Tree canopy needs further study (see below)
  • Access for loading services
  • Having both entrances seems logical
  • Would like to see more info about planning for trash / services
  • Gathering / community center
  • Courtyard – PCC in Columbia City has indoor / outdoor seating; feels like a destination where you can shop and eat… advocates working with PCC directly
  • Gathering place is desirable for neighborhood
  • Tree canopy
  • Would like greater understanding of urban forest
  • Board would be reviewing arborist report next week, including exceptional tree / grove issue, plus snags
  • Board wants to see more details with landscaping plans 
  • Some concern about columnar row of trees – planting within setback. Feels like urban landscape gesture. 
  • Transition to single family 
  • Expressing as if it is possible – but it’s four stories on Dewey on top of parking… does not think that it’s an appropriate transition
  • Two stories of parking makes it less of a transition
  • Some solution for impact lies with alternate parking solutions
  • Troubled by blank walls – although there’s landscaping, would require multiple years to grow. Also need to look at Madison Lofts as neighbors
  • Topography - Not most sensitive response 
  • Architect has provided generous setbacks – appreciated 
  • Blank parking wall on Dewey concerning – feels suburban and inappropriate

Board's Conclusion

  • Option 1 least successful – wall on all sides, least respectful. Appreciated option 2, but affects single family residents. Likes hybrid, but needs to respect both sides of street
  • Height along Madison appropriate. Community stuff can be programed within building… interested in a massing option that would be more respectful of Dewey…
  • Option 3 most appropriate, but needs to come back for another meeting
  • Architect should continue to talk to community about preferred options; probably an amalgam of 2 and 3. Much more concerned about south side, parking options, trees. Needs to come back to board
  • Unanimous – project needs to come back. Key = massing off Dewey.
  • “Turning your back on neighborhood to south,” making screen; may not be best way to address single family. Paneling and row of trees not enough; this “doesn’t feel like building with life in it.”
  • Planner, Magda Hogness / DCI would notify parties of record

Following the meeting, a representative of the Department of Construction and Inspections visited the development site and issued a Correction Notice to Meng Strazzara (the architect) regarding the trees and applicable land use code. Click here to download the Correction Notice.