Is Heron and Pagoda making Escala Cosmo 2.0?

With work kicking my ass others have been quicker to report on some projects but I hope to continue to provide the best forums for customer discussion of new projects. Thankfully Dan is helping me out by contributing the post below. Before we get to Dan’s thoughts let’s set the stage with other’s thoughts on Heron and Pagoda:

Ben from the Seattle condo blog:

Just based on the scale of the project (1.2 million square feet, $900 million) and striking architecture, this has got to rate as the most exciting development Seattle will experience. The project will consist of two 43-story towers (550?), up to 200 hotel rooms and 500 condominium homes.

I also like how Ben points out the number of twin towers coming to Seattle not counting the ones we already have:

It seems Seattle will be awash with double vision in the coming years. Besides the Heron/Pagoda project, at least four other twin-tower projects have been proposed in the downtown area — Insignia Towers, 1200 Stewart, 2nd & Virginia and the Pike Street Group’s project at 6th & Lenora.

James from the Stroupe Blog:

Alec Carlin with Hummingbird Advisors of Seattle informed us that last nights design review meeting with the Department of Planning and Development went well and is moving to the next stage. Mr. Carlin said concerns were addressed by Escala and that he’s interested in working with them on the project. In the meantime, DPD and Carlin will be moving towards the Master Use Permit (MUP) and recommendation process.

And the Seattle PI had an article recently, Hotel-condo project to face Westin:

Ishmael Leyva, of New York was chosen as architect, “not because we don’t like Seattle designers, but because we feel Seattle is ready for something that’s more edgy, more ‘out there,’ ” Carlin said.

“This is a sophisticated design that says Seattle looks not toward Vancouver but toward Chicago and New York,” he said.

“It also says Seattle is ready for higher density downtown, which has happened in Vancouver and in Portland.”

Bonus link: Cosmo Seattle has the timeline of how they lost their tower separation without public consultation.

– Matt

Hey Matt, I thought I’d forward along my post from skyscrapercity.com. I wrote this after attending the design review for 1913 5th Ave, aka Heron and Pagoda Towers, on February 12th.

I am an East facing home buyer at Escala and attended the design review meeting for this project last night. Apparently this block is zoned DOC-2 (mostly office use) and has no tower spacing requirements, although the block immediately to the North is zoned DMC and would require 80 feet of spacing. This means that the twin towers will be built an alley width, or about 20 feet, from the Eastern face of Escala. This is the same situation that residents of Cosmopolitan are facing.

I was surprised by the Design Review Board’s lack of concern with the eradication of light, air space, privacy and view for both the Escala building and the proposed tower. John Midby, the Escala developer, and an attorney were also present to make clear the severe impact this building will have on Escala. The board said that it’s not really their position to preserve individual views, and rightly so. But it seems to me when we’re talking about 60-80 residential units that some consideration should be given to it.

Also, the architect, Ismael Leyva, was present to offer revised designs of the base of the tower as suggested by the Board. The height of the base has been cut from around 170′ down to 140′. This will eliminate the multi-level retail environment that was originally proposed, which is too bad, since the initial design looked very vibrant. But a 140′ tall base still seems enormous. Basically that will put a wall in front of EVERY unit left to right at Escala, up to about the 12th floor. Part of the wall will, however, be a “living wall” with plants and an irrigation system.

At the end of the meeting I spoke with a member of Multi-Capital, the financier of the Heron/Pagoda Towers and I asked what made them confident that a nearly billion dollar project would succeed in this real estate climate. He didn’t have an answer, but according to the recent PI article they feel the recession will have blown over by the time the buildings are complete. He also said that they didn’t really want to build both towers, but the city owned both properties (the parking lot and vacant retail spaces on 5th) and wanted to sell them as a package. So they purchased both and decided to build on both. I find it very strange that the developer has chosen to finance and construct a building that they didn’t initially conceive. It will have no views for many West facing units which I imagine would make them a very tough sell (especially at $1000/SF).

Also, I found this recent quote from Mayor Nickels which speaks in direct opposition to what the city is allowing here: “The debate is no longer about how tall our downtown grows; it’s about how well we grow as a city. These changes will help shape the economic heart of this region, by creating affordable housing and livable urban neighborhoods.” – Mayor Greg Nickels.

Are we growing well as a city when we allow so many residential units to have their view and light jeopardized before the project has even hit street level? Or allowing a developer to create a building that will, by its own design, face dozens of units directly into an adjacent residential building 20 feet away? Is this creating a livable urban neighborhood? In my eyes, this is creating an unlivable nightmare where my home is mired in perpetual darkness and my privacy is a notch above that of a prison inmate. Take a tape measure, lay it out to 20 feet and have another person stand at the opposite end. Now imagine this is a stranger across the alley way looking into your window. It’s a shocking proposition to live this way.

Heron Tower, proposed for the 5th & Stewart parking lot, makes a small impact on surrounding buildings because it’s immediate neighbors are only a few stories high. However, there is no justification in my mind for shoe-horning the enormous Pagoda Tower into this space (the North end of the block, now occupied by Icon Grill). Are we out of parking lots with adjacent 3 story buildings? Are multi-million dollar condos in such high demand that we can’t afford to waste another minute before putting more of them up, conscientious design be damned?

I will continue to pursue changes with the design review board. While this project looks beautiful and I’m all for creating a more vibrant neighborhood, I think it will create a surplus of astronomically expensive units while eroding the value of its neighbor (Escala) by obliterating views and light. There are are better design options or more suitable locations.

About Matt

Matt , Urbnlivn's publisher, has a love for lofts with industrial features and new construction condos that is only eclipsed by his passion for outdoor sports and urban living. Phrases such as “polished concrete” and “exposed brick” are music to his ears. You can also find Matt on Twitter or skiing.

  • Mark W

    Keep in mind that Cosmo isn’t necessarily Cosmo 1.0. Although some of the Cosmo complaints acknowledge that the property across the alley was approved for a 13-story office building, 13 stories of office aren’t the same as 13 stories of residence or parking garage. With floor ratios of 1:1.6 to 1:1.8, recent construction office building near Cosmo suggest a 13 story office building will match approx. 20-24 floors of a residential tower like Cosmo. Thus at the time of the pre-sale, more than half of Cosmo buyers facing the alley had good reason to believe they’d have an office building view – long before the plans changed to a 36-story building. In other words, the fact that much of Cosmo was going to be an alley’s width away from an office building didn’t stop the pre-sale buyers. I can see why the folks on the upper floors might now be unhappy, but they didn’t seem to be too concerned about tower spacing when it only impacted Cosmo below the 25th floor.

    I don’t know when Escala held its presale, but it’s been almost two years since the city codified its current downtown tower zoning and setback requirements. For a section of downtown that seems to straddle the Westlake area, what they enacted IMO doesn’t measure up to their references to Vancouver and discussion of skinny buildings. But the process was well-publicized, zoning information is readily available, and “buyer beware” is as good advice as ever.

    Walks through downtown, Belltown and Capitol Hill show that the city regards alley views of other buildings to be acceptable. If you buy something that faces an alley, don’t make any assumptions about the views.

  • Mark W

    Keep in mind that Cosmo isn’t necessarily Cosmo 1.0. Although some of the Cosmo complaints acknowledge that the property across the alley was approved for a 13-story office building, 13 stories of office aren’t the same as 13 stories of residence or parking garage. With floor ratios of 1:1.6 to 1:1.8, recent construction office building near Cosmo suggest a 13 story office building will match approx. 20-24 floors of a residential tower like Cosmo. Thus at the time of the pre-sale, more than half of Cosmo buyers facing the alley had good reason to believe they’d have an office building view – long before the plans changed to a 36-story building. In other words, the fact that much of Cosmo was going to be an alley’s width away from an office building didn’t stop the pre-sale buyers. I can see why the folks on the upper floors might now be unhappy, but they didn’t seem to be too concerned about tower spacing when it only impacted Cosmo below the 25th floor.

    I don’t know when Escala held its presale, but it’s been almost two years since the city codified its current downtown tower zoning and setback requirements. For a section of downtown that seems to straddle the Westlake area, what they enacted IMO doesn’t measure up to their references to Vancouver and discussion of skinny buildings. But the process was well-publicized, zoning information is readily available, and “buyer beware” is as good advice as ever.

    Walks through downtown, Belltown and Capitol Hill show that the city regards alley views of other buildings to be acceptable. If you buy something that faces an alley, don’t make any assumptions about the views.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ Cosmo Seattle

    hi dan- i feel your pain. the seattle city planning cabal is seriously hard to breech!

    one advantage you have at the moment is that the master use permit has not yet been approved. from my experience, the DPD is powerless in adjudicating these issues. it would appear that once an application is submitted, all the power-decisions have already been made. the role of DPD is to smooth the way and make sure the mayor’s and city council’s pet projects are enacted. key among their concerns are how the building will appear from the sidewalk and how it will change the skyline. my suggestion is to gather up as many escala buyers as you can and engage a land use attorney.

    it’s also nice that the escala developer is attending design review meetings on behalf of this issue (though clearly for self interest). our developer, continental properties, left us hanging in the wind under similar circumstances. they neither informed us nor acted on our behalf.

  • http://cosmoseattle.blogspot.com/ Cosmo Seattle

    hi dan- i feel your pain. the seattle city planning cabal is seriously hard to breech!

    one advantage you have at the moment is that the master use permit has not yet been approved. from my experience, the DPD is powerless in adjudicating these issues. it would appear that once an application is submitted, all the power-decisions have already been made. the role of DPD is to smooth the way and make sure the mayor’s and city council’s pet projects are enacted. key among their concerns are how the building will appear from the sidewalk and how it will change the skyline. my suggestion is to gather up as many escala buyers as you can and engage a land use attorney.

    it’s also nice that the escala developer is attending design review meetings on behalf of this issue (though clearly for self interest). our developer, continental properties, left us hanging in the wind under similar circumstances. they neither informed us nor acted on our behalf.

  • Josh

    Don’t you mean the Escala will be Cosmo 2.0?

  • Josh

    Don’t you mean the Escala will be Cosmo 2.0?

  • http://twitter.com/mattgoyer mattgoyer

    Damnit. No more 2am posts.

  • http://blog.mattgoyer.com Matt

    Damnit. No more 2am posts.

  • Woppenhe

    This is actually a break for the future citizens of downtown. When buying a view unit and paying a premium, there is no guarantee of having those views that you paid for. Hence, all of these units ought to be lower in price than they are, given the uncertainty. I was enthralled with view property downdown, but I will now include coastal property in my searches, since once you are on the coast, you do have some view security.

  • http://woppenhe@ucla.edu Woppenhe

    This is actually a break for the future citizens of downtown. When buying a view unit and paying a premium, there is no guarantee of having those views that you paid for. Hence, all of these units ought to be lower in price than they are, given the uncertainty. I was enthralled with view property downdown, but I will now include coastal property in my searches, since once you are on the coast, you do have some view security.