I received a (paper) letter from Dunn Lumber last week inviting me (and everyone else within 1200′ of their headquarters location down by Lake Union) to an open house:
Dunn Lumber has been family run and owned since 1907. We have operated and headquartered out of the same lower Wallingford location since 1930. Our legacy and commitment to our neighborhood our neighbors is the integral reason four present, and, hopefully, future success!
To remain in the same location, we are contemplating the expansion of our Dunn staging area and warehouse, with the possible addition of amenities such as grocery, restaurant, and other possible uses, on the block directly east of our flagship store (where our current outdoor lumber yard is located).
It went on to invite us down to an open house at Ivar’s this past Tuesday evening. So, along with about 50 of my neighbors, I tromped down through melting snow to the waterfront to find out what was up.
The story begins this past December, when Ivar’s sold the their Lake Union property to the Bellevue-based Fana Group (for $13.7M). Don’t go hoarding chowder yet, though: as part of the sales agreement, Ivar’s can lease back the property for up to 30 years.
However, now that they no longer own the parking lot across the street, there exists the possibility, even probability, that that location will be developed, and that poses a problem for Dunn Lumber: that parking lot is where the trucks delivering to their lumber yard park and unload palettes. Without that lot, they can’t easily unload their materials. Thus, the expansion.
The plans they introduced at the open house were still in the early design phase: while there were some conceptual drawings, Ben de Rubertis, the architect, emphasized that materials and form were still very much an open question.
The direction they were headed, however, was to take the entire block where their existing lumberyard sites, between Latona and 4th Ave NE and between Northlake Way and the Burke Gilman Trail, and build a new, two story building on the spot.
The idea would be to create a lower level where the trucks could pull in and unload into their warehouse, and then leave the upper level for third-party retail: a grocery store, a coffee shop, a brew pub, something neighborhood-friendly.
The keystone element of the project is its proximity to the Burke-Gilman Trail. Ben explained: “this is a rare in the city, a commercial property with strong trail orientation. It’s an opportunity to enhance the experience of the trail. I bike to work every day, and I would appreciate the option to stop along the way, get my groceries, or meet a friend for a cup of coffee. I’d like to be able to fold that into my day. ”
While I don’t think anyone wants to see a straight-up commercialization of the trail, I’ve often thought that it’s a missed opportunity that there aren’t more third places along the Burke. Imagine how often you might stop at Westward, for example, if instead of having to cross the desolation that is Northlake Way, you could spot a friend enjoying a cocktail in one of their adirondack chairs from your bike.
So the plan they introduced has the “front door” to the second floor retail space facing out onto the Burke Gilman itself. Imagine a cafe or brew pub with outdoor seating catching thirsty, weary or just social riders on their way to and from here and there.
The view above imagines the building as seen coming down Latona from 45th. While the general response of the people in attendance was overall positive, as you can imagine from the sketch, the people who live in the building that is pencilled in on the left were mostly sad. The zone for that area is IC-45, meaning industrial use (no residential) and buildings can be 45′ tall. That 45′ is enough to erase the view of the city the condo owners across the street enjoy today.
The image above is from the same direction, looking south from the corner of Latona and Pacific at the “front” of the building as it faces onto the trail.
One serendipitous feature being considered is a terrace overlooking Pacific. The zoning line between the IC-45 area and the stricter Urban Maritime zone lazes right through the south end of the property. As a result, they can’t build to 45′ all the way to Northlake Way. Instead, the plan is to build a (shorter than the main building) terrace overlooking both the street and the lake. If you squint, you can see that idea represented in this drawing from the perspective of Pacific and 2nd Ave NE, looking down over the top of the existing Dunn Lumber building at the new building in color.
Much of the project is still in flux: no permits have been applied for, and Dunn is negotiating with the city regarding the SDOT-owned property tucked in just below the Burke on 4th Ave NE. Dunn would like to purchase the property and roll it into their project rather than have it sit as an unsightly storage area abutting the Burke.
Still, doing something seems like a necessity for Dunn. I chatted for a bit with Rob Dunn, grandson of Albert Dunn, and now retired. He wisely refused to commit to any dates, but from what I could tell, they’d be doing well if they broke ground in 2018 and wrapped up by 2020.
In the meantime, they’re gathering community feedback on their plans. The open house included a voting system for the different types of tenants they might recruit as their tenants: “organic grocery” did well, “clothing store” and “art gallery” not as much. Surprisingly, “bike shop” fared poorly as well, with “yoga studio” getting almost eight times the votes.
Some good ideas also came up in the conversations between residents and the urban planning and architectural staff that attended. Tobin Thompson, an architect in his own right, encouraged them not to forget about the Northlake street face in their excitement over the Burke Gilman frontage.
“The project can act as an important element of continuity using strong urban design streetscape principles to reinforce that Northlake is a neighborhood street with local stewards and stakeholders,” he said. “This can send strong signals about appropriate street uses and activities along this stretch of Northlake. I think they’ve got strong representation in this effort from the landscape designers I talked to.”
He also encouraged them to look for partnering opportunities with the city and/or SDOT to improve pedestrian flow down from the neighborhoods along Latona and 4th Ave., considering how they connect pedestrians from north of Pacific and 40th down to the businesses and public street end waterways.