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By Clair Enlow
April 8, 2015
Columbia City has a long history, but it has waited a long time for Angeline. Now a big package of sorely needed urban goods is being delivered, on a very tough site.
Security Properties is developing the mixed-use building between South Angeline and Edmunds Streets, just off Rainier Avenue South. It's anchored by a PCC Natural Markets grocery store with 193 apartments above.
Luckily, the project is not going to make this reviving neighborhood a different place. But it will be even more populated day and night — and more fun to walk around. When it opens in July, Angeline will give back to Columbia City with some new, semi-public streets.
Since the 1980s, signs of new life have been appearing along the streets of Columbia City: galleries, bookstores, bars and restaurants joined by a nonprofit bike shop and biodiesel co-op.
Columbia City Farmers Market, which has become a local institution, sets up outdoors on Wednesdays and attracts crowds from spring to fall. Sound Transit started light rail service along nearby MLK Way in 2009, and it stops at Columbia City Station, just a little more than two blocks from the old commercial center.
The stage was set in 1978, when Columbia City was anointed a historic district. That meant that any project proposed for the Angeline site had to satisfy a historic district review board.
And for decades, nothing did.
In the meantime, an old supermarket shell sat in the middle of a paved-over city block there — right next to a park, a Carnegie library and one of Seattle's intact streetcar-based commercial districts.
Security Properties purchased the site in 2011 from HAL Real Estate Investments, which had bought it in 2007. After lengthy reviews with community input, the landmarks board had rejected design proposals from HAL showing a 306-unit apartment complex wrapped around an interior court. The board was more receptive to Security Properties' proposal, which made the building very approachable from three sides.
The Angeline project was designed by Bumgardner, which also designed PCC's first supermarket-sized store in Fremont, part of a mixed-use project there called Epicenter.
At six stories, Epicenter and Angeline are each taller than their historic neighbors. But the five-floor residential part of Angeline is stepped back from the edge, and the tall walls are not parallel to the base. They shift direction, which makes for interesting views from all sides and from the many apartment balconies, and breaks up the bulk and scale.
Unfortunately, the character of the outer walls seems to shift abruptly with each corner, which makes the much-reviewed building look like it was designed by committee — which, in a way, it was.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to developing the site was an existing one-story corner bank with drive-through lanes and parking. The bank carves away about a third of the Angeline block, but it now faces 20-foot-high concrete party walls on two sides.
The good news is on top, where a long, broad deck above the 20-foot base of Angeline will support an urban farm similar to one that produces food for Bastille Cafe and Bar in Ballard, according to John Marasco of Security Properties, which owns the building in Ballard, too.
While the bank holds to its suburban-style corner lot, Angeline will offer an urban way around it all. With large setbacks on two sides, a new, street-like private drive extends the path of South Angeline Street (named after Chief Seattle's daughter) west from Rainier Avenue South, connecting with South Edmunds Street by turning north. The idea is to provide a wide-open pedestrian connection between Rainier Avenue South and the park.
But this is also a nice drive. There will be perpendicular parking on both sides of the South Angeline Street extension, which will slow traffic. Then it gets a little more fun.
The bending roadway passes beneath an overhanging corner of the building (and the entrance to below-grade parking). But there is plenty of room to shelter cars and pedestrians at the ground level, according to architect Mark Simpson of Bumgardner, who said the corner was inspired by Corbusier's Villa Savoye and other early Modern buildings.
Before joining up with South Edmunds Street, the driveway will pass a broad, stepped courtyard on the long side of the Angeline, one that is filled with tables and chairs, and managed by the full-service PCC.
Along with the balconies above, those tables will have a great view over the new woonerf-like, car-and-pedestrian street — and over Columbia Park, a sweeping greenway bordered by mature trees, craftsman-style houses and the historic library building.
The third side of the Angeline could mean the most to Columbia City. Around the corner on existing South Edmunds Street is where the loading docks for the super-sized PCC store will be. There, the back-of-store logistics of a supermarket meet a savvy urban neighborhood.
It's not an easy dance, according to Simpson. Pedestrians can't be jostled too much, but business can't be disrupted, either.
But there's even more going on along this side. Columbia City Farmers Market has been setting up in a closed-off South Edmunds Street in season. And according to PCC CEO Cate Hardy, the natural food store is committed to doing its best to support the ongoing life of the outdoor farmers market through cross-marketing and other strategies that promote local growers.
The mix of regular traffic, delivery trucks large and small — along with stalls and booths on market days — will test these new relationships. Success is likely to be a matter of careful delivery timing — and true commitment by PCC.
But to make the loading area more hospitable to pedestrians as well as store personnel, the architect has designed a special canopy over the docks and sidewalk. It's just one more move in this dance.