An overhead view of the site's northeast corner. Courtesy of Jackson | Main Architecture and Vibrant Cities
An overhead view of the site's northeast corner. Courtesy of Jackson | Main Architecture and Vibrant Cities

Plans for an eight-story development kitty-corner from Counterbalance Park will return to the West Design Review Board for a second Early Design Guidance meeting, after receiving a lukewarm reception on Wednesday night.

At the crux of the decision were concerns that the designs presented for 631 Queen Anne Ave. N. — in particular the preferred option — were short on specifics.

“I’m fearful that if we approve a direction that we really don’t know what we’re approving,” said board member Patreese Martin.

All three proposals called for approximately 95 residential units, 20 parking stalls, and anywhere from 4,200 to 5,800 square feet of ground-level retail space where Manhattan Express currently stands, but the preferred option was one that Robin Murphy with Jackson | Main Architecture characterized as, “far superior to the others.”

The plan — referred to as the “hinges” design — pushed back the commercial space along Queen Anne Avenue away from the property line, with room for an outdoor dining space along Roy Street. The sidewalk along Queen Anne Avenue would start at 14-feet wide, and extend up to 24-feet going north to the corner.

Though pulling commercial space out to the property line sounds logical, Murphy said, it’s not that simple.

“Because of the complexity of the right of way and sidewalks, there is very little room to have that work efficiently,” he said.

Meanwhile, Murphy noted that the intersection of Queen Anne Avenue and Roy/West Roy Streets is a “chaotic” one.

“One of the things we really want to do with this project is calm this intersection down,” he said.

Public comment was generally supportive of the project. Developer Maria Barrientos, who co-chairs the Uptown Alliance Land Use Review Committee, said the plans presented Wednesday reflected much of the input they had given when project architects approached them as they first started concept design in August.

“We appreciated that they came to us really early, and wanted to get feedback,” she said.

Trent Mummery, who represents the property owner at 14 W. Roy St., also voiced support for the preferred option.

“We applaud the efforts of the design team thus far,” he said.

But the board found that many elements of the preferred option were unresolved, to the point where passing the project on to the recommendation phase would have left too much to chance.

“I just find myself not really sure what I’m voting on to move forward,” said board member Stephen Porter.

As a whole, the board found the preferred scheme too massive, instead gravitating toward the second option. Martin noted that this development would set the standard on this corner, while board member Homero Nishiwaki mentioned the need to find the right transition between new development in the neighborhood and the character of the long-standing buildings.

“I still think we need to be mindful of the history of the city,” he said.

As part of the Uptown rezone passed by the city council last October, the site was included in a small area north of Seattle Center, that saw maximum building heights more than double from 40 to 85 feet.

Members also encouraged project architects to hold the street edge, potentially with a podium and upper story setbacks facing Queen Anne Avenue.

The board also raised questions over whether the proposed outdoor seating was better located on Roy Street, or at the corner of the site.

It wasn’t all negative feedback for the preferred design though, with the board expressing its approval of its retail layout, and its residential and driveway entries along Roy Street. Members also agreed that the materials used on the project should be contemporary and high quality, and encouraged further examination of how they can tie into the overall vision of how the building fits into the established neighborhood. 

Architects will now use the feedback from Wednesday’s meeting to make changes to the development plans, before returning to the board. If the project is approved at the second Early Design Guidance meeting, it will move on to the recommendation phase, and will have to be okayed one more time before a Master Use Permit is issued.

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Early Design Guidance Presentation (FINAL) — 631 Queen Anne Ave. N. (Feb. 7, 2018) by QueenAnneMagnoliaNews on Scribd