Six years ago, the apartments at 7706 & 7718 SE Washington Street went before the Montavilla Neighborhood Association (MNA) for design review. The building designer described the process as challenging and laments some of the changes made to address neighborhood concerns.
There were very few multi-story apartments proposed for Montavilla in 2014. The designer of the project, Kym Nguyen of Concept Design and Associates LLC, recalled a great deal of opposition from the community. “They were strongly against it as I think this was the only [project with] multiple units proposed in that area. They said it would ruin the neighborhood.”
In preparation for the apartment’s design review, the Montavilla Neighborhood Association (MNA) posted the project’s images and descriptions on their Facebook page. Lew Scholl was the Land Use and Transportation Chair for MNA in 2014. In correspondence with Nguyen, Scholl shared some community criticism the project received on Facebook. Comments centered around the roofline and lack of on-site parking.
Much of Facebook criticism echoed through public commentary at the October 2014 MNA meeting. “It was a very interesting meeting process, some very rude [people] and some being cautious [with] what they were saying,” described Nguyen. Lew Scholl did not recall the MNA meeting as being highly critical of the project. “There were no highly controversial issues about what was proposed… Some comments were posted on the MNA Facebook Group about parking that she brought up with the owners, but she was not able (nor required) to provide on-site parking. The development met the city’s zoning code, and no variances were requested.”
The commentary offered at the meeting advanced the project towards a publicly acceptable design. However, not all changes desired by neighboring residents were possible. “The zoning at this site back then is R1, which limited the height, along with the setback and building plan. It was challenging on the design to have parking on-site, so I recommended to have two levels and only two parking [spaces] available at the rear of the site.” Explained Nguyen.
Criticism of the roofline and zoning height restrictions forced Nguyen to choose a more conventional hip roof for the final design. She felt it was an unfortunate compromise. The high peak created by a modern one side shed roof allowed for a vaulted ceiling on the second floor. Taller walls could bring more light into the living space by accommodating larger windows. Nguyen imagined those elements would have enhanced the perceived beauty felt by the occupants. There were also practical advantages to the original roof design. Rainwater management would run along just one side of the roof instead of the entire parameter, creating a cleaner aesthetic and providing easier maintenance.
Ultimately the builder made more compromises towards conventional design. Standard vinyl windows replace unequal split sash windows. The building’s color pallet changed from dark to light, and cladding highlights became muted by material and paint.
Examining past projects like this can be helpful as we enter a new era of density in Montavilla. Changes in zoning during the last six years encourage more multi-story projects in neighborhoods. Now is a good time for the community to consider how multi-family buildings will fit into the area. Apartments by their nature will not look like a classic single-family home. Residents will need to come to terms with that and start to think about what features of large buildings will comfortably fit in the community.