Too Big to Fail: Part 2 of 4 [Project #3028017, Griffin Building & Sheridan Apartments]

The following is a comment letter sent to the Land User Planner of the SDCI regarding Project #3028017, 2005 5th Avenue:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the November 27, 2017, EDG Design Proposal for #3028017. We would welcome another well-designed residential building in our neighborhood; however, the Applicant needs to show that the design is functional before it merits your approval.

After studying the Applicant’s proposal, several design issues are clear:

1. There is absolutely no justification for approving the Special Exception request for tower separation between this tower and the one proposed immediately to the north (#3026266) in their Preferred Option 3. Their rationale is not valid for three important reasons: 1) They are not “preserving” the two historic buildings, only using the preservation of the façade to avoid necessary alley setbacks. 2) The positioning of #3026266 on the south property line is because they need to comply with tower separation rules across the alley from the Warwick Hotel. 3) The 80’ tower separation requirement is also important to maintain for health and productivity reasons.

2. While the basic building design is more aesthetically attractive from the street than most of the “big box” designs I’ve seen, the Applicant has not shown that the design is functional. You cannot replace a 4 story commercial building and a 5 story apartment building with a 44 story (440 units, 292 parking spaces) residential tower and not address the dramatically increased alley/loading and delivery demands in your design.

2a. There is no way that the nominal 16’ alley is serviceable for expected loads, and certainly not for 2-way traffic as proposed. There must be enough alley set back for trucks to pass each other and for one truck to pass a truck stopped to load/unload or in a queue for a loading berth. Below is a picture taken at 7:11 AM, which would be during a normal rush hour for resident alley exits.


Alley at 7:11 AM

This is rush hour for resident alley exits!

2b. Since SDOT announced on November 28 that they would not support a curb cut onto 5th Avenue, all vehicle access must be provided from the alley. All vehicle access through the alley is frankly not workable without requiring additional setbacks on the alley and improvements to the loading areas through a redesign of the ground floor site plan.


Two way traffic in these alleys is not feasible - and alleys are frequently blocked

2c. The idea of sharing space for trash bins and/ or the loading area with buildings across the alley (and charging them a lease fee) is conceptually, logistically, and financially flawed. You would also need the cooperation of not only Hotel Andra, but Lola and Assaggio restaurants, and the Virginian Apartments, who together had 26 trash bins, used cooking oil containers, and dumpsters in the alley last Friday when the picture below was taken.

26 trash bins and containers in this alley from existing buildings

26 trash bins and containers in this alley from existing buildings

2d. The one loading berth, perpendicular to the alley , of undefined dimensions will require too many maneuvers for a delivery truck or moving van to enter and exit, is most likely not deep enough to load/unload without nosing out into the narrow alley, and thus will likely result in no use at all, as is occurring today with other new projects (such as Helios at 3rd and Pine).

2e. The 3 parking spaces perpendicular to the alley are ill conceived and are a recipe for even more alley congestion. Using these spaces will no doubt result in vehicles nosed out in the alleyway and causing traffic delays as vehicles attempt to enter and exit these spaces.

2f. Keeping the historical façade at the alley entrance onto Virginia simply reinforces the dysfunctional “choke point” that now exists. The alley is often impassable today as daily deliveries to and garbage pickup from the existing hotel and restaurants causes queues in the alley and gridlock on Virginia Street. Add the two proposed towers in this alley between Virginia and Lenora with a total of 898 residential units and 592 parking spaces, and you have a recipe for loading, servicing, and resident parking disaster. Below is a picture taken at 7:48 AM, which would be during a normal rush hour period for resident vehicle exits.


Alley at 7:48 AM

This is rush hour for resident alley exits!

2g. There is no “cumulative impacts” study of the multiple developments on the block, nor a functional plan to move residents’ vehicles and service trucks into the alley from Virginia and out onto Lenora (or vice versa) without unacceptable gridlock and danger to pedestrians. Design cannot be considered complete until this study is completed and the necessary changes made to the alley/street level design as a result.

Pedestrians aren’t even safe on the sidewalk with the overflow from alleys and streets

Pedestrians aren’t even safe on the sidewalk with the overflow from alleys and streets

3. If you are truly interested in Belltown historical preservation and affordable housing downtown, keep the Sheridan Apartments ($990-$1170/mo. rent) intact, not just the façade. Then, instead of your HALA contribution being sent to build affordable housing somewhere in the boondocks along a transit line, you will actually preserve, not displace, relatively cheap housing downtown.

Finally, Ms. Hogness, I would suggest that you contact the Urban Freight Lab at SDOT and ask them to brief you and the DRB on SDOT/UW joint research on downtown alleys/loading matters and the need for a code amendment.

I believe that careful review of my comments, along with those of land-use attorney, Claudia Newman, and transportation consultant, Ross Tilghman, should make it clear that this design is not functional, and thus is nowhere close to meeting the standards for approval today.

You will be doing the Applicant a favor by requiring them to come back for a 2nd EDG with a functional ground-floor alley-side design. Otherwise, it will be years and years before they are able navigate the legal steps necessary to build this tower.


John Sosnowy,

For the Escala Owners Association

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