Neighbors shaping development on rim of Kiwanis Ravine; at least one developer is responding to neighborhood concerns

A public meeting on July 10 and a Design Review Board meeting on July 18 allowed citizens' input on a four-story mixed-use project at 3150 W. Government Way, which has yet to obtain a Master Use Permit.
Design Review Board members are Seattle residents with design expertise who offer opinions to the Department of Construction and Land Use.
Although numerous concerns were raised by community members about the four-story structure, changes in the architectural plans show that developers are trying to work with the neighborhood.
"I thought it was wonderful that they were listening and obviously did a lot of work," neighbor Donna Kostka said.
Many residents of neighboring single-family homes were unhappy with the size of the multi-unit structure. When the architects modified their plans to respond to two criticisms, a side effect was that the scale of the building was reduced from 30 units to 27.
The ground-floor commercial space will now just surpass the minimum required by the city's building code. The size reduction is due in part to a 10-foot setback from the northern neighboring home and stepping back the development's upper levels.
Interior space also decreased because the architects relocated the underground parking entrance. Vehicles were going to enter and exit the parking area from an alley on the west side of the building.
The problem was that vehicles leaving the alley would enter West Government Way on a blind curve.
Architects now plan to locate the parking garage entrance at the northeast corner of the building, directly on West Government Way.
"This allows a better line of site to the entrance," explained architect Steve Grassia.
The architects had originally earmarked alley space for the entry ramp and now must cut into the building itself. They determined that street safety, however, warranted the shift.
A side benefit of relocating the parking garage entrance is that architects can use the alley as a greenbelt, a move that several neighbors have advocated. They hope to plant a dense row of conifers such as Douglas fir, creating a buffer between the building and Kiwanis Ravine.
"I think they're headed in the right direction by trying to do a vegetation border on the alley," neighbor JoAnn Williams said.
The city of Seattle Transportation Department must approve any changes to the alley, even though it is currently unused and overrun by blackberry bushes.
Neighbors continue to worry about plans for storm water detention, even though such details won't be worked out until after the Master Use Permit has been granted.
"There won't be any place for storm water to go except down the ravine," Kostka said.
Malli Anderson of the Department of Construction and Land Use explained that many neighbors fear slides similar to those that occurred on nearby Brygger Drive West. Houses built there a few years ago were not required to meet the storm water detention standards of today, and slides resulted.
"The trust level has gone down because of that," Anderson said.
According to Grassia, conceptual studies are being done to prevent slides into Kiwanis Ravine. Most likely, a water retention vault in the garage will collect water from the building's roof. A small pipe running from the tank will control the release of water from the tank.
"If there's heavy rainfall, the pipe doesn't dump a huge amount of water onto the site and cause erosion," Grassia said.
The pipe could direct water into the ravine, where it now flows naturally, or into the city's storm drainage system. Plans won't be final until an engineering study is completed.
Neighbors also worry about soil stability at the site. A deep layer of fill covers what once was part of the ravine. Grassia expects the building to be supported by pilings, but a soil study will determine that for sure. Seismic stability is critical to a construction project.
Members of the Design Review Board stressed that no vinyl, metal or stucco be used on the exterior of the building. Current designs indicate wooden shingles, which many feel is in character with the neighborhood.
The Design Review Board also suggested eliminating a pitched roof to reduce the height of the building.
Neighbors are concerned because birds often fly just over the treetops and the building's fourth floor will reach above the tree canopy.
"Design-wise, I don't think a flat roof is a good idea, but we have to get the height reduced so herons aren't running into it," Williams said.
Architects will consider the option and have hired a wildlife biologist to prepare a study on the herons.
Since extensive studies are needed before a final decision can be made, the next Design Review Board meeting on the project will likely be more than a month away.
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