Archive for June, 2008

More sidewalk cafes for Seattle

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris, oh why oh why do I love Paris? Because of all the sidewalk cafes they have there!

Spring has come to Seattle, finally (though it’s officially summer), and with that warmer weather, our mayor’s thoughts have turned to sidewalk cafes and why it is that our fair city is not teeming with them.

Deux places, s'il vous plait.

Mayor Greg Nickels says the current permitting process for sidewalk cafes is too costly, confusing and time-consuming.

Nickels sent a proposal to the city council this afternoon that recommends housing sidewalk cafe permitting within one agency, the Seattle Department of Transportation (as it is now, DPD and SDOT shuttle them back and forth).

It also recommends simplifying the permit review process to achieve a 10-day turn-around and reducing the permit’s cost by nearly $1,700.

The proposal also recommends establishing design standards for the cafes, including accessibility guidelines, and recommends allowing the cafes in all areas where restaurants and grocery stores are permitted.

The city of Seattle currently has 225 sidewalk cafes, about one for every 3,000 Seattleites.

From power plant to luxury community

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

A master plan for London’s Battersea Power Station reads like a utopian post-industrialist fantasy and a developer’s dream: a power plant reborn as dense community center by 2020.

It’s a non-local story of adaptive reuse that should result in an interesting addition to London’s skyline.

Beyond Pink Floyd

The power plant itself (you may know it from Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover) will serve as more than art deco centerpiece, with a new biofuel-powered co-generation plant in its basement sending water vapor through the 1933 plant’s chimneys. Other buildings of the plant will be converted to offices.

A transparent solar canopy will cover some of its buildings and plazas and, combined with an “eco-chimney,” will reduce the need for air conditioning.

The master plan, conceived by Rafael Vinoly Architects and Real Estate Opportunities Ltd., also features luxury apartments, a waterpark and connections to the tube. (Rendering shown above is by Rafael Vinoly Architects)

The relics of industry can tell a very important story about a city’s past glory and gloom.

Seattle’s Gasworks Park was landmarked, letting us marvel at its grotesque beauty without condos or a waterpark ever competing for our interest (though free concerts there by local legends like Pearljam have offered some distraction).

It’s interesting to look at the different tools cities employ to keep these industrial beasts alive.

Subsidies for middle class housing?

Friday, June 20th, 2008

How hard is it for a Seattle couple to find a one-bedroom apartment for $1,446?

A Seattle City Council committee gave the nod this week to a bill that provides a tax break to developers for buildings with 20 percent of units targeting people making 80 or 90 percent of the median income.

We actually love our two hour commute

It’s an extension of a subsidy Seattle’s had since 2004 that’s aimed at keeping some rents lower. The earlier subsidy targeted tenants making 60 to 70 percent of median income.

Critics say the extension is one step away from a payoff for housing the city’s middle class.

Have we reached the point where such housing needs taxpayer support to exist?

Some say it’s not needed, like the residents and community organizers who testified at Wednesday’s council meeting and council member Nick Licata. They say the city already has plenty of housing available in exactly this price range and the subsidy is just a developer giveaway for rents the market already provides.

But other council members and officials at the planning and housing departments say they are concerned about carving out a piece of the pie for middle class renters in the future. With development moving fast and furious across the city, they fear housing for people at the middle of the income chart won’t be there without a subsidy.

Read the full story at The full council votes June 30.

It’s not a landmark, but developer won’t demolish it

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The Southwest Design Review Board will check in tonight on a strangely familiar West Seattle development.

As built in 1927

The project is at 3811 California Ave. W. The developer initially proposed tearing down the Charleston Court building to build an entirely new project. Then, partway through design review, Charleston Court was nominated for landmark status. The project went on hold for a year.

The landmark board voted in April against landmarking the 1927 building, designed by William Whiteley, clearing the way for demolition. (Original building shown above.)

But the developer is back with new plans that will give the neighbors deja vu.

What the developer wants
The new design (seen at left) proposes retaining the wings of the original building and the building’s courtyard.

The rear portion of the old building would be torn down, but the developer wants to use that brick to create a new building front between the wings.

Steven Butler and Paul Cesmat bought the building in 2007. Project architect is Nicholson Kovalchick.

Reaching critical mass on Interbay

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Three years ago, the Interbay Neighborhood Association asked the city to give their hood an upzone.

With businesses testing the water in the traditionally industrial area, and an uber close-in location right on a bus line, they argued it was an ideal place to target workforce housing. The area is zoned commercial, so they wanted tall buildings and a change in zoning to encourage residential-retail developments.

A new life for Dravus?

Since then, the city up-zoned its downtown area. It’s moving forward on plans for height increases for South Downtown. It gave Vulcan a targeted up-zone in South Lake Union.

Metro now plans to run a rapid ride route right through Interbay on its way between downtown and Ballard, starting in 2010. Denali Fitness opened a branch there, and a Whole Foods is under construction. The city is also considering an Interbay site among four other candidates for its new municipal jai, and the hood is a contender for LEED-ND.

This week, Interbay’s upzone finally came to the table, with a council committee hearing DPD’s recommendation on the matter. DPD officials are recommending extending heights in the hood to only 85 feet, not the 125 the INA originally proposed. But they say that upzone could still bring the 1,500 residentail units INA wanted.

Last year, the city passed guidelines for including affordable housing as part of every upzone. They are expected to formally legalize those plans with legislation coming out of the mayor’s office in the next few weeks.

With affordable housing needs at the tip of their tongues, council members said Wednesday that Interbay’s time has come.

Read the full story at

The greenies v. the preservationists

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Crosscut’s Knute Berger wrote an interesting column today about the animosity between historic preservationists and green building proponents.

Too often, he says, green building techniques and density goals are used as justification for tearing down Seattle’s usable buildings and squandering their embodied energy and inherent greenness.

Meanwhile, historic preservationists get sidetracked by the historic and architectural significance of the buildings they are trying to protect. They don’t put that same effort into making a sustainability case for keeping those buildings.

Adaptive reuse in Portland's Pearl District

If Seattle really wants to be sustainable, Berger says, the two groups need to form an alliance. Both need to embrace the environmental value of the existing building and build from there.

I think things get complicated when density concerns are added into the mix.

But some cities, like Portland, have done a great job of encouraging adaptive reuse of historic building stock. These aren’t the landmarked buildings that allow only minimal changes, but the buildings that serve as mainstay to new floors of condos or offices above or around.

The federal government even offers a 10 percent tax credit for adaptive reuse of certain historic buildings. There are a few caveats, like making sure the addition can be removed and the historic building is left largely intact.

It could be painful for preservation purists to see some buildings getting such a drastic face-lift. It will likely be even harder for those greenies who like to start from scratch and leave their fingerprints.

Pestilence! Townhouses!

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

The townhouse situation in this city has gotten so bad that a Seattle City Council committee is holding a special meeting Saturday on the matter.

The Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee will hold a special meeting on townhouse design at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Capitol Hill Arts Center at 1621 12th Ave.

Scourge on society

The meeting will feature a presentation by Tom Eanes of the Seattle Planning Commission, and a forum discussion with various neighborhood groups and organizations.

The meeting is free and open to the public.

Saturday’s discussion of townhouse design follows council’s decision in April to make fewer multifamily projects subject to environmental review. It comes before its formal discussion of proposed multifamily code changes that seek in part to lay out better design standards for Seattle townhouses. Rooflines, fence heights and other design guidelines are included.

The committee has already discussed its concerns with garages that are too small for cars, driveways that can’t be easily accessed, and townhouses built on single family property lines that dwarf neighboring houses.

Changing landscapes, one strip mall at a time

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Every architect dreams of redesigning the strip malls that pepper America’s landscape, says Mike Jobes of the Miller/Hull Partnership. The mass homogeneity of the medium means vast applicability of design, and far more impact than could ever come from a single building or project, no matter how exceptional.

A Miller/Hull design is one of 10 finalists in a national competition on rethinking strip malls.

One-stop shopping

In the Miller/Hull vision, movable aeroponic plant trays shade parking and reduce the heat island effect at a Scottsdale strip mall. Biofuel and textile-quality plants take irrigation from a treated city sewer line. Rainwater capture waters plants that could be harvested on-site at a lot-side farmer’s market.

A portion of the strip is reoriented to face houses at its current backside, and rezoning residential space for street-level retail and live-work space remakes an alley as a pedestrian street.

All this, and Famous Footwear and Subway are still in business.

Read the full story at