These are my notes from the February 15 meeting of the Columbia City Landmarks Committee. The committee keeps no formal written notes, so I thought this might be a start to help keep neighbors informed about the status of this project. Several other neighbors attended, and I'm open to other people's suggestions for updates.
Quoted text is all paraphrased.
All this verbiage would make much more sense with some visuals to illustrate. Hopefully we can share some of that information soon.
Dana Behar of HAL Real Estate Investments gave a brief intro. He grew up in the south end, before there was a Southcenter, and he remembers shopping in Columbia City. He saw the neighborhood decline [and resurge], and he's been looking for the right place to develop in the neighborhood. He's talked with people about what they'd like to have here, and he's thinking along the lines of a small boutique grocery store. He said HAL develops only periodically, and when they do they take pride in their work. He spoke of the Braeburn, one of HAL's recent projects that he feels responds well to its context on Capitol Hill.
Mr Behar mentioned that he's served on the Landmarks Board, and this is the first time he's had the chance to present to the Board as an applicant.
Rebecca Frestedt explained that this meeting is about providing siting and massing alternatives, not about the architectural features. Future meetings will address the design in further detail.
Ed Weinstein of Weinstein A|U presented. He introduced Tim Myhr and Joel Severud of the design team. He referred to slides projected large.
- Mr Weinstein sees this as a conversation with the community and the Committee about the analysis they've undertaken so far. He thinks it's important to share their understanding of the neighborhood context, especially in this location, Columbia City. This is the first project of significant redevelopment in the historic heart of Columbia City. He feels it's important to design a building that is appropriate for our time and also that respects the existing fabric of the neighborhood.
- Most significantly, the site is really in the epicenter of the historic district.
- It's in a Neighborhood Commercial 3 zone with a 65-foot height limit. Mr. Weinstein gave a brief overview of the zoning in the vicinity. The site is in a 65' height envelope with 40' heights around it. It's intended to be a relatively significant mixed use structure. The site has ready access to light rail. It will be 5-6 stories with a retail base. "We're very aware of the challenge of the six-story scale."
- Slides documented the vicinity's topography, its existing bus routes, the network of local parks and open spaces. Mr Weinstein spoke about a tentative plan for Zion Prep to move to the Columbia School. He'd heard there might be some designation of Edmunds (and the school grounds?) to become a public marketplace. "We'd design to support that."
- Another slide showed all the nearby institutions, including schools, churches, the library, the cultural and community centers. Weinstein A|U are the architects for the combined Boys & Girls club at Rainier Vista.
- Mr. Weinstein read from the Columbia City Landmarks Committee's design guidelines verbatim. He noted that there are a few "contributing" structures across Columbia Park, as well as several "non-contributing" structures. The district has a "strong street-edge definition". The historic precedent is to build to the street.
Massing/Scale. Massing, or physical bulk and size, of all new buildings in the District must be consistent with the massing of existing historic buildings.
Height. New developments exceeding the typical one to three story height of the District's historic buildings should honor the scale, massing, and proportion of the adjacent buildings.
"We understand that."
Height/Width. New construction that exceeds the height and width of adjacent buildings should be designed to be compatible by breaking up the mass of the building to conform to widths of residential historic buildings in the District.
"This will be topical, because we've been looking, and we can't find anything at this scale that's representative. We'll have to make that up together with you."
Form. The form, or overall shape, of new construction should relate to neighboring historic buildings and promote a visual sense of continuity. Unusual building and roof forms are discouraged.
"We agree with that."
- "A challenge is to design the residential portion. We have this problem, because we can't find representative examples. We want our proportions of windows to be distinct and different according to the Department of Interior's standards, not a riff on a historic theme. How can we do something that's of our time but respectful. We're aware of the standards, some may be in conflict, we want to work with you to come to an appropriate resolution."
- Mr Weinstein showed several examples of the firm's work, from a variety of Seattle neighborhoods.
- "We're looking to do authentic buildings that are appropriate for their sites and circumstances. That's our credo."
- A northern portion of the site currently provides parking and access to the Hasegawa's dental/medical building. HAL has ceded development rights for that portion of the property, which means that it will remain as parking and will not be developed, effectively serving as a building setback.
- Pete Lamb on the Committee asked about the site's western fringe, which is zoned residential lowrise. The development objective is to build to the zone line, but not across it.
- Mr. Weinstein identified a high pedestrian circulation on the site's south side (Edmunds), and noted that this pattern would be increased by light rail. Most walkers will be on the sunny north side of the street. The design team proposes auto access to a garage from Edmunds. Probably a main pedestrian entry to residential apartments a little more to the west.
- Large trees on Rainier. It's highly likely that the sites across Rainier will be redeveloped. Most of the historic fabric is to the south. The design intent is to have the structure come up to the property line on Rainier. "This building wants to engage the street."
- Mr Weinstein showed a series of alternative massing studies. One involved a double-loaded corridor circling around the site in a "C". Others seemed to ring the site and look in on a central courtyard. "We need to find ways to erode the building in such a way that it's purposeful. If there's no local example, then we'll need to collaboratively come up with a good sense of scale. What we're showing is a recognition that we'll modulate the building. Let's not start painting lots of different facades to have the appearance of lots of different structures."
- Some massing alternatives carved back at the corners. Others stepped back the upper levels from Rainier.
- Pete Lamb (Committee member) asked: "How does this relate to the business district? It sounds like it's an all-residential building."
- Mr Weinstein identified continuous retail along Rainier, and retail or live-work along Edmunds. This would be "generous retail" with 13' floor heights. "We've not imagined that there would be any upper-story retail, especially if the neighbors are all single-level."
- Pete Lamb again:
- "The park needs the enlivenment, and Rainier is relatively pedestrian-unfriendly. Maybe you shouldn't put your main pedestrian residential entry there. Maybe there should be retail on the park"
- Weinstein: "We're envisioning townhouse-type units on the park. Not sure that neighbors would favor commercial on the park."
- Lamb: "You have this prominent corner on the park. Columbia City lacks a public square. The closest thing we have is the park. If you build this, you can't even see it."
- Weinstein: "That's an important observation. We could erode that corner to recognize the park.
- We're aware of the sensitivity of scale from the park and the houses. We have these ideas for how to provide relief on the park. He showed alternatives, one deeply modulated into three pronounced bays, and another with the top levels uniformly set back.
- Gary Oppenheimer (a Committee member): "What would make this area attractive for restaurant patrons walking the commercial district? It's not clear how deep your retail space is, but could you enter on one side and exit to the park? Maybe the corner provides some connection through its space, as a retail space."
- Behar: "We're having conversations with a boutique grocer. They would offer the kind of inventory that would be desirable for pedestrians. A deep retail grocery probably wouldn't work.
- Oppenheimer: "If there was one space that would be most appropriate for a restaurant, it would be on the corner of the park, with an outdoor terrace. Turning the corner might be a good place for an activated space. Some opportunity there that would be beneficial to the district.
- Gary Oppenheimer: "Would you maintain vehicle access through the Hasegawa driveway?"
- Weinstein "We probably wouldn't use it. Elevation issues, we think we can satisfy requirements another way. We'd have better control with one vehicle entry (off Edmunds). We thought that over time the Rainier Pedestrian experience would be injured more by having more crossings there. With the sightlines ther we're more comfortable with it this way."
- Oppenheimer: "Please look at that more closely."
- Lamb: "DoT is considering a road diet there, so that might help you. Right now it's dangerous. With a road diet, that's a different issue."
In the final ten minutes, there were several comments from the public. Unfortunately I didn't jot them down, because I was busy putting my own thoughts together. But there were some really good ideas. Maybe it's best to let those folks pitch in with their own comments.