A Design Review for the “Stone34″ project was held on Monday night at the University Heights Center. We couldn’t attend, but reader Mike pointed me to a Facebook page called “Hey Skanska & Brooks: Down In Front” which provided the following recap from that group’s point of view:
The neighbors showed up in force at last night’s Design Review meeting. Two-thirds of the comments were on our side. They were thoughtful, clear, and substantive. The prevailing message to the Design Review Board (DRB) was that a recommendation to the city at this time is premature because the proposed Skanska/Brooks building does not currently meet the DRB’s own guidelines nor has the Environmental Review been completed. It would be inappropriate for the Board to make a recommendation for a departure without knowing the impacts on Lower Wallingford.
The DRB chair started the meeting off saying that this is likely the last meeting, meaning they would provide a recommendation thereby closing the design review portion of the process. The community’s comments clearly made an impression: the Design Review Board decided to hold off on a recommendation and they sent Skanska back to the drawing board once again.

Congratulations to the community for continuing to make your voices heard loud and clear!

Anyone else attend the design review? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.
  • Ralph

    I was there and it was pretty clear that the majority of the people speaking were opposed to the project on many levels. Frankly, I was surprised by the turnout. I thought the meeting would be packed with Skanska/Brookes supporters.

  • Donn

    The Design Review Board probably deserves some credit for dealing with this situation as gracefully as they have. The reason we’re all packed in there is that we’re either in favor of this building or (mostly) opposed, and the key question is whether they can use the promise of a green building to shoe-horn something in that’s out of scale with the surrounding site.

    I’m pretty sure that isn’t the DRB’s call. Their normal function is to review design details that, from the point of view of all these people who have made up their minds already, are just sugar coating, so they make these recommendations about terracing the structure and so forth, and the architects come back with mass seating out at 34th and Stone and space for farmers market tents, and so forth. During part of the presentation Monday, the landscape architect was standing in the way so 1/4 of the audience couldn’t see the presentation materials, but no one said anything – because it really doesn’t matter. The architects wrestle with these design details, we sit through the presentations, the DRB makes recommendations, and we come back a few months later to do it over again. I guess this was the third time so far.

    Not that it isn’t an important process, but the time for it is after the basic preconditions have been met. Planning & Development underestimated the opposition to this project when they thought they could hustle a non-compliant structure through the process, and evidently this design review process was started in motion a little prematurely. So now it grinds along, cheerfully chewing on the types of shrubberies that could be used and so forth, while the project is under the shadow of this more basic question of whether it’s viable at all. It looks like the DRB is finding some way to take the community input into account in the process, which is cool, but that input really is for Planning & Development, not the DRB.

    I don’t know a lot about the system or this project, that’s just how it looks to me. Maybe it will be some consolation to those who couldn’t get there to squeeze into that room. If you’re really interested in this kind of urban design, I suppose there must be a number of other local projects coming up that are actually going to be built, and the DRB would welcome your participation – they’re a handful of smart people who clearly enjoy their volunteer job there, and under better circumstances I would have enjoyed attending.

  • Miss Ruby

    I fully believe this project WILL be built. The DRB’s comments, while a bit scattered, seemed doable and I’m sure we’ll see another round of design soon. It was a long meeting in a hot room, but this is the process for public input and it seems to be working.

  • Winn

    I was shocked at all the 20-30 year veterans of our community that managed to show in force. What is clear is this is a battle with the haves (I got mine and I don’t want you to change it, even if its does good things) versus those that know there is a better use for that corner. Some comments I heard, “What’s wrong with this corner? I like it the way it is.” and “I think this is a sexy design and I like what Skanska is doing… but its too big.” And “I’m not sure this building looks better at one less story.”

    Seems a little hypocritical to be some one who advocates for sustainable, green communities and yet fights so ardently against greater density. I just paid attention to what was actually being said that evening, and found it so humorous and often contradictory.

    I love what you are doing Skanska and Brooks. Stay the course. You are doing the right thing despite those voices that have always opposed development of any kind in our neighborhood. I applause you pushing so hard. Nothing good ever came easy. Nothing.

  • Donn

    If the current state of that street corner is unsatisfactory, complaints should be directed to the land owner. If she can’t do anything with it while respecting its zoning restrictions, she should sell it to someone who can. It isn’t exactly a jewel right now, but the woman from the Fremont Chamber of Commerce who made it out to be a gritty, scary place needs to get out more.

    Advocates for greater density should be pleased to see that several new large large residential developments are going up around the same neighborhood, on Stone and Woodland Park, apparently with little if any protest.

    It is a nice design, would be a great building, on a suitable site. Its tragedy is that it got caught up in the land owner’s grasping desire to squeeze more out of that site than it’s zoned for. There are probably places west of Fremont where Brooks could have all the space they want, and run the ironically named Burke-Gilman trail right through the building.

  • prop3

    Love the design and am thrilled to have a company like Brooks in the hood.

  • coolio

    There could be something better maybe for the corner which is in compliance with the requirements.! Novel thought!

    I recall a recent post here in which a poster mentioned that almost everyone was fo r this new building! Surprise! Just because you THINK so or wish something is so, does not make it so! And using personal opinion as fact or to denigrate anothers words shows some lacks… judgment, thought, accuracy…

  • Neighbor2You

    That’s an interesting point about personal opinion being represented as fact. Sure, subjectivity is always in play at some level, but in general, and for this proposed development in particular, I really appreciate the posts that explain what happened, “…at the meeting, thus-and-so-was discussed.”

    And ditto for personal statements: “I like the building,” or “I think it’s too tall,” as they help me understand where my neighbors are coming from. But conjecture about others’ intentions, or accusations about DPD staff? Well, that’s not so useful, and if anything, it may mean that an opinion that is otherwise spot-on just doesn’t register.

    Yeah, it’s a blog, and people can post pretty much what they want. And as a reader, it’s my responsibility, and option, to choose what I read, take seriously, and take to heart. But that’s all the more reason to say THANKS to those–whether they are for the development or not–who take the time to write with thoughtfulness, ownership, and care. I believe this helps us all in the long run.

    Yours for the ‘hood.

  • Katherine

    I’m one of the longtime veterans of this community who has issues with this building at it’s proposed height. Like my neighbors, I do not have issues with responsible development, hence our not opposing all of the other buildings going in on Stone Way. Why are we not opposing those? Because they are within current zoning.

    I’m also a longtime environmentalist like many others who oppose the height, bulk and scale of this building. There are number of issues that have led me to this position.

    One, I believe in good process, fair zoning, and sustainable neighborhoods. These are all issues that come into play with this building. The process has been fast-tracked and due process has been set aside all for a corporation’s timeline: Brooks’ lease ends in 2013. A 65-foot building (plus 18 feet of rooftop features) contradicts numerous policies outlined in the city’s own comprehensive plan. And giving special privileges to one developer means that you have one building looming over 20 feet above all other buildings just feet from Lake Union’s designated shoreline.

    Two, this is not a good location for a green building. The parking lot will cut into an underground water source diverting over 20 gallons of water a minute into the city’s sewer system instead of naturally letting it flow into Lake Union.

    Plus, the building runs north/south which is not ideal for good daylighting. The city and Skanska have both acknowledged this. In addition to the orientation, there are issues with the current design. The Technical Advisory Group and city officials made the following comments:

    “12’6″ floor to floor heights and building footprint/configuration will not result in a “daylit” building.

    “Many group members felt that floor heights above the first floor of 13’6″ would be preferable to 12’6″. Such heights, if they were possible, would likely have a greater impact on “day-lighting” the building.”

    The floors above the first floor are currently designed to be 12’6″. There are clearly a number of issues with this building that need to be addressed before many people jump on board to support it.

  • Mickey

    I don’t see where the process has been fast-tracked, seems to be all the same timelines and notices as other projects. The Living Building Pilot legislation does give what they call “Permit Facilitation” for projects enrolled, whatever that means.

    Can there really be a bad location for green building? Yes, there are going to be many locations that are not ideal, but isn’t that part of the challenge? We need to make green buildings where they stand, not cherry pick the best sites.

    Lots of facts here from dubious sources…I don’t think anyone has said this would be a “daylit” building, but certainly the goal is to increase daylighting as much as possible to improve energy efficiency and get to that 75% reduction.

  • impliedobserver

    While I applaud the thinking behind it, I think the whole Living Building Pilot is dodgy. From the documentation:

    In order to meet these standards, projects may seek to utilize design approaches such as natural daylighting, natural ventilation, solar energy or water collections systems, or other features that may be inadvertently discouraged or prohibited by existing Land Use code development standards. In order to provide flexibility for these projects, the pilot program would allow enrolled projects to request departures from an expanded range of standards through the design review process if they would better meet the goals of the Living Building Challenge and would not conflict with Design Guidelines.

    Does anyone really thing that the extra floor is needed in order to make the building green? Unfortunately Skanska didn’t have a plausible answer. But I wonder if any of the proposed buildings in the city will have a plausible answer. The whole program is being used to get around zoning. There’s no developer who is going to do it because they care about being green. That’s the sad truth.

  • Donn

    I believe Skanska does indeed care about being green, they’re proud of their effort here and care about their reputation for competence and innovation in this area. Their projects need to pay for themselves, but very likely they could be working on more lucrative stuff if that were all they cared about. I believe Brooks is likely willing to pay extra for a green building – and commit the considerable sacrifices it will take to make it operate as designed over time.

    I don’t believe green buildings have to violate zoning height restrictions in order to be economically viable.

  • Mickey

    Agree with Donn – I’ve met the Skanska Team, heard them talk about this project and I believe in their commitment to this. They don’t want to do just another office building, they want this to be special.

    The extra height makes the building green, and makes it available at market rates. That’s what makes this sustainable – you make green buildings all day, but if no can afford to be in them, what’s the point?

  • Donn

    You’re agreeing with impliedobserver, not me, if you think the only way they can afford to build projects like this is at the expense of neighborhoods they don’t fit in.

  • Ralph

    Thanks, Don

  • Mickey

    I agree that Skanska does indeed care about being green. I don’t agree with implied observer as Skanska needs the height, besides to improve daylighting and energy efficiency, to make green happen at market rates, to make it something other builders can and will do.

    Neighborhoods always think things “don’t fit in”, till they’re built, and they do.

  • walkinroun

    Actually, the reason so many in the neighborhoods show up at meetings like this, and engage in diligent review of proposed developments and spend years working on responsible neighborhood zoning plans is exactly because of the experience of having inappropriate development proposed or developed in their neighborhoods. Once something is built it is pretty difficult to remove, so yeah, people learn to live with it. Witness all those gloomy concrete buildings down by the Canal in Fremont which, imho, sucked all the life out of this vibrant used to be quirky part of town. Wallingford is a pretty cohesive, savvy neighborhood populated by a lot of smart, community minded folks. No doubt many of us living here applaud Skansa’s efforts to build green. But green is only part of the equation and Skansa, Brooks (and the property owner!) need to be mindful of this neighborhood’s zoning and community vision.

  • Neighbor2You

    Well, my wish for the future is that Wallingford will become far more welcoming of diversity, especially diversity of thought.

    The risk in identifying a neighborhood as “cohesive” is that it can perpetuate the belief that for any issue, there is only one acceptable point of view, advanced as though it represents “the neighborhood”….or worse, “the community”.

    I’ve been to enough public meetings to watch this unfold, and to that extent, I think public process itself is partly to blame. Its emphasis on consensus may result in dissenting perspectives being demoted (e.g., disappearing from the discussion summaries) so that it can be reported, tidily, that “there is neighborhood consensus about X.”

    And yes, people who are “savvy” about public process can work this effectively, whether for narrow interests or for broader ones. That’s precisely why I hope we’re becoming better at sharing points of view. Doing so with sincerity is what can gradually incorporate diversity into the community vision.

    Let’s keep the discussion going!

  • Winn

    Seth Godin said it best…
    “It fascinates me that we’re so gullible, that people will embrace patently false ideas if it helps them deal with their fear of change.”

  • ralph

    Fear of change…. hmmm… I assume you are speaking only about the Skanska building. What about the three major apartment developments on Stoneway that have no opposition from the neighborhood. Could that be because those developments are actually conforming to the existing zoning laws?

  • coolio

    ralph, you said it, but people would rather be mean-spirited and call those who want complinac eadhered to names and old foggies and alos, “if you odn’t like it you dont have to live here”. Those are immature irresponsible communications and in a way make stronger resolves to ‘beat’ ignorance o ra new proposal which refuses to comply.

    Skansa has enough architects and staff to find a place to build many buildings which allow this height OR to design buildings which fulfill compliance requirements.

    it has NOTHING to do with if Brooks or a spaghetti house is a nice addition to a neighborhood

  • Miss Ruby

    Ralph: Building the same old thing (to code, as you point out) is not change.

  • Donn

    Zones don’t preserve a neighborhood in the state they found it. Ask people on my block, which when we moved in was all older houses and is now half condos. We’ll have hundreds of new residential units on Stone, and new retail – lots of stuff is changing and the zone height restrictions don’t defend against that.

    The continued attempts to paint opponents as generally opposed to change is disingenuous, and more or less in the same spirit as if I were to propose that you two are Fremont Dock’s stooges or otherwise represent some vested interest in the profits that stand to be made, if this building can be built on land that doesn’t command the price that it would if it were zoned accordingly.

  • Donn

    “Spaghetti house” — ha ha, I missed that. Alas, no spaghetti on the menu, unless you count spaghetti squash (if you’re reading this, restaurant people, note the “GH” in spaghetti.)

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