In September the Council approved emergency legislation that requires new development to meet minimum density standards in our Urban Villages. As I wrote in a previous blog post, the legislation was prompted by the proposal by CVS Pharmacies to construct three new suburban-style drugstores in Uptown, Wallingford, and West Seattle that would be freestanding, single story buildings with parking in front. The new standards would not affect these CVS projects, however, because we cannot apply new legislative standards to projects that are already in the permitting process.
CVS has responded to concerns raised by the City and our neighborhoods by looking at possible new designs. They had actually already begun this process before the legislation was approved. CVS has hired a Seattle architecture firm, Schemata Architects, to help them design stores that are more in keeping with the character and desired attributes of Seattle neighborhoods. They are also meeting with neighborhood organizations and seeking their advice and counsel on the proposed designs.
In Wallingford, CVS proposes to keep the façade of the 84 year old building that currently occupies the property and fronts on the street. They will also move parking behind the building and add additional landscaping. While this does not add additional density, it does create a much more urban feel. According to CVS, they are leasing the property from the current owner, who does not want anything more than a one story building.
In Uptown, CVS is adding a second story with office space and moving the parking underground. Their conceptual design options include additional landscaping and integrated seating and an awning for the adjacent bus stop.
CVS has not yet indicated what it might do with the proposed West Seattle store. CVS is leasing the property from the current owner in that location as well, and this means that any change in plans must be negotiated between CVS and the property owner. The community is looking forward to hearing about possible modifications there. Because the West Seattle CVS is not located within a pedestrian zone, the minimum density controls would not apply, even if the project were not already vested.
It is a great tribute to our communities that they came together to insist on true urban visions for their neighborhoods. I am pleased that CVS, headquartered in the Midwest, is working to try to respond to this, and hopeful that their designs will continue to improve. While the steps they have taken move in the right direction, it is not clear yet whether these actions will satisfy enough of the concerns of neighbors.
We plan to advance permanent legislation to replace the emergency ordinance next year. I will propose that this new legislation continue the requirement for minimum density standards, with some possible refinements and additions. This will ensure that future projects will be designed to match our Urban Village visions.