Charlestown Cafe/Petco site meeting report

January 26, 2007 at 10:23 am | In Charlestown Cafe, Development, West Seattle politics | 30 Comments

We couldn’t go to last night’s Design Review Board meeting but WSB reader Sage Wilson did and offers this detailed report (thanks, Sage!), after the jump:


The presentations of the project by the developer and architect were
unbelievably poor. One member of the Design Review Board said it was
the worst project he had seen in his two years on the board.

First, the developer said that the tenant he’s building for had been
“a member of our community” for 23 years, and they want to “remain a
part of our community”. Yes, he was talking about Petco! Who knew that
a nationwide discount pet-supply big box retailer had such loyalty to
us! This attempt to fabricate community roots was utterly unsuccessful
with the crowd, as it would be with any sentient human being.

The architect went next. He had the gall — or perhaps the stupidity
– to propose that a few trellises attached to the building for
landscaping would make it friendly to the street. He even showed off a
collage of trellises and such they had put onto other projects the
firm “designed”. All of them looked painfully suburban; one was a
Petco that, yes, looked like every other Petco that’s been built in
strip malls everywhere. Clearly, a quality architectural firm.

They are proposing a 1-story concrete block box, taking up about half
of the site. The other half of the site would be parking. (Zoning
allows a taller structure, but for some reason the property owner is
requiring only a 1-story development — curious to know the story
behind that.) The proposed structure would have no windows or doors on
California, absolutely killing any hopes that this section of the
street could develop a lively street life. Like every Petco in
history, the building would face the parking lot. I didn’t think it
was possible, but the proposed project would present an even more
hostile attitude to pedestrian sensibilities than the current Junction
Petco does.

Sentiment in the room was universally against the project, for two
reasons:

1. It would destroy a community institution.
2. West Seattle doesn’t want big box development.

The first item was more important than the second for most of the
audience; however, the design review board only has jurisdiction over
the second item. Many were frustrated by the narrow scope of the
issues that could be discussed at this meeting.

The good news is that I think the project can be stopped, or at least
stalled, by attacking the big box nature of the development. The site
is being developed exclusively for Petco, and Petco by their very
nature builds big boxes. Architectural interest is simply not in their
business model, nor is community context. This is actually good news,
because it means that a campaign to stop the developer from building a
big box would have the same effect as a campaign to stop Petco from
moving to the site — and it would be within the design review
guidelines. And stopping Petco from moving in would halt the current
project, because the project exists to serve Petco.

So my humble suggestion is to make sure we all speak up specifically
about the big box design of the structure. Even if that’s not our only
concern, it is important in its own right, and it’s the tool we can
use to get in the way of this hideous development at this very early
stage of the city’s process. The Design Review Board did not seem to
want this project, for various reasons. We need to make sure they have
all the ammunition they need to stand in the way.

We might also want to tell Petco corporate office what we think:

Petco Customer Relations Online:
http://www.petco.com/Content/ContactUs.aspx?PC=contactus&Nav=143

Finally, I’ve always wondered what the heck it would mean to be the
architect of something like a Petco, that’s essentially the same
everywhere it’s built. Last night’s meeting provided the answer: it
means choosing trellises!

30 Comments

  1. Great work, Sage!

    A good summary of the meeting. I too lament the Charlestown Cafe issue, but in order to really fight this, we (the concerned folks) need to focus on what we CAN have an affect on, rather than what we CAN’T. The owner/developer is well within his right as a landowner to make decisions about tenants and redevelopment. We CAN have a good deal of input on design, so much so that we can create a scenario where a store like Petco won’t be able to work. The important thing here is that the collective “we” need to organize and speak as a strong voice, and I’m all for helping organize that single voice. I’m open to suggestions.

    By the way, I’m the president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association. The site doesn’t fall within either the Admiral “planning area” or within the WS Junction “planning area”, so its kind of on it’s own, but I’m happy to help how I can.

    Here’s the web site:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AdmiralNeighborhood/

    Thanks again for a great post,

    Mark

    Comment by MW — 11:21 am January 26, 2007 #

  2. Any suggestions on what works or has worked in other similar situations to “make sure they have all the ammunition they need to stand in the way”?

    Comment by Jeff — 12:23 pm January 26, 2007 #

  3. I’m a bit green to the process but from what I have seen on a couple of prohjects, community members can express concerns over design, etc at these meetings but if a parcel is zoned for a proposed building, sadly there isn’t much the average citzen can do prevent it from happening. For example, look at all the condos/congestion being created on California for 2 miles between Admiral and the Morgan area. A street that cannot be widened.. I could be wrong and I welcome tips because I want to fight this as well.

    Comment by chet_desmond — 1:39 pm January 26, 2007 #

  4. Chet (and I’m sure others) -

    A tricky situation to be sure. Property owners can do what they want within the limits of the law, zoning, permitted uses, etc. This is the document that briefly describes what can happen on this site – it’s a NC1-30 zone (Neighborhood Commercial 1, 30 foot (or so) height limit)

    http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/stellent/groups/pan/@pan/@publication/documents/web_informational/dpds_007440.pdf

    The Design Review board has some ability to affect the project. In the extreme, they can prevent the project from being granted a Master Use Permit. Here’s the very boring, but meaningful, section in the Seattle Municipal Code:

    http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?d=CODE&s1=23.41.014.snum.&Sect5=CODE1&Sect6=HITOFF&l=20&p=1&u=/~public/code1.htm&r=1&f=G

    The other part – what the neighborhood wants – is tough as well. In the name of full disclosure, I work for an architecture firm in downtown Seattle, and we do lot’s of good work in communities in and around Seattle. So I’m all for GOOD development. And I’m all for lot’s of things that many people may not be, like more multifamily housing, new opportunities for neighborhood-scale retail, etc. But the thing to keep in mind here is this:

    It sounds like everybody wants the Charlestown Cafe to stay, and it sounds like not many people want a big ugly Petco store there. So that is what we can all focus on. Hopefully we can come together under these ideas. Write letters. Talk to people. Reach out to the property owner and developer and engage them in a healthy discussion. I hope that we can do all of these things.

    Mark

    … sorry for the long post!

    Comment by MW — 2:33 pm January 26, 2007 #

  5. Just one more for now -

    If you have comments related to design, you can give them to Art Pederson, the DPD planner assigned to the project.

    Art Pederson
    Phone Number: 206-733-9074
    Fax Number: 206-386-4039
    E-mail Address: art.pederson@seattle.gov

    Comment by MW — 2:41 pm January 26, 2007 #

  6. I’m new to this process too, and I don’t know what specific powers the design review board has in practice (thanks for the code citation above), but at the very least, they have the power to delay the project by sending it back for revisions when it doesn’t meet the standards, which inevitably it won’t meet — because it’s a Petco after all. Delay is our ally here, because it lets us explore and push on whatever other fronts we have. It also annoys the developer and landowner, which they richly deserve, and costs them money.

    Speaking of the developer and landowner — anyone know their names? Carefully applied personal pressure on them could be useful. Also on Petco. They at least *ought* to be sensitive to public perceptions of which kind of a neighbor they are. They’re the drivers of this project, so if they can get squeezed out, we’ve got a fighting chance.

    If zoning law isn’t on our side, we should try to push it anyway. And in any case, we still might be able to pressure/annoy the players into submission.

    (And for what it’s worth, like Mark above, I also tend to like dense mixed-use development. Development isn’t always bad. But big box development for giant national chains with lots of surface parking *is* always bad.)

    Is it time for pickets at Petco?

    Comment by Sage — 3:08 pm January 26, 2007 #

  7. thanks Mark

    Comment by chet_desmond — 3:59 pm January 26, 2007 #

  8. Mark thanks especially for that address, which provides a concrete (no pun intended) way to take action. I am forwarding this to ten or twenty West Seattle friends. Sounds like the action step is to focus on the effect we feel the *design* – a big windowless box and parking lot – will have on the neighborhood (versus opposition to Petco per se or nostalgia for the Charlestown. Personally, I think if Petco wanted to remodel the existing Charlestown building and even double its size in the same style, they should be free to go for it…)

    Comment by T — 4:19 pm January 26, 2007 #

  9. I second T’s comments as it sounds like the only thing we can potentially influence is the design and not necessarily who or what goes in the space. And, like T, I will forward the address Mark gave us to my WS crew so the DPD has as much “ammunition” as possible.

    Comment by dq — 5:00 pm January 26, 2007 #

  10. Ok, last one…

    Here’s a link to the Design Review web site. These are the guidelines by which projects like this are “judged” by the Design Review board. Read them and understand them. You’ll easily notice how many of these guidelines aren’t addressed by the proposed Petco project.

    http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/Design_Review_Program/Applicant_s_Toolbox/Design_Guidelines/default.asp

    BUT – don’t forget what I mentioned earlier about writing letters and other things. This design review process is just one avenue, and it can only do so much. Heck – write a letter to the Mayor!

    Ok – that’s it.

    Mark

    Comment by MW — 5:04 pm January 26, 2007 #

  11. Oops! I mean Design Review Board. :)

    Comment by dq — 5:13 pm January 26, 2007 #

  12. If you look closely at the SMC provisions posted above, you will see that the DRB does not have the authority to deny the MUP application, but rather only to deny departures from certain design standards. If Petco’s project complies with the zoning code, they can’t tell Petco to go away just because a lot of people don’t think it looks pretty. Fifth Amendment anyone?

    The point is this: If you don’t like the project, you have a far better chance of influencing its characteristics-and whether it goes forward at all-by communicating your sentiments to Petco, not by delay tactics in the Design Review stage. (BTW: The DRB can’t force further rounds of review either.)

    Comment by Ginger Rodgers — 10:13 pm January 26, 2007 #

  13. This would be a good time to mention Mud Bay Granary is now open nearby at Admiral/California, with great quality pet food. It’s a Washington-owned, small chain. The community doesn’t need the Petco at that location.

    Comment by MFishpaw — 2:44 am January 27, 2007 #

  14. Here’s their web site:
    http://www.mudbaygranary.com

    Comment by MFishpaw — 2:44 am January 27, 2007 #

  15. I for one was happy that Petco would be relocating in West Seattle, however, it sounds as though there ultimately may be too many hoops for them to jump through.

    I haven’t compared prices, so I can’t speak to that specifically, but the amount of parking available for Mud Bay Granary seems problematic.

    Parking is an issue when you are carrying a 30 lb bag of dog food.

    Comment by WS Junctionite — 8:49 am January 27, 2007 #

  16. Parking is an issue for Mud Bay, but they do have “loading zone” parking right out front that would work well when buying a huge bag of food (or cat litter in my case)! They carry only natural, high-quality pet foods, so prices may be a little higher than Petco.

    Comment by MFishpaw — 9:30 am January 27, 2007 #

  17. Believe it or not, but MudBay’s prices on the items that Petco also carries are, generally speaking, quite a bit lower than Petco’s. Petco’s markup is unacceptable with that sort of buying power. Obviously, Mudbay’s higher quality foods are a bit more expensive, but you are getting so much more for your buck (no byproducts, well-balanced nutrition, happy and healthy pets)! Also, the people that work there have offered to carry my 30-40 lb bags of dog food to my car for me every single time (no matter where i park). Taking all of this into consideration, there is absolutely no reason we need Petco with MudBay, Next to Nature, and Pet Elements in town. West Seattlites can get all they need, plus some, from the small, cute, quality local pet stores.

    Comment by bj — 10:57 am January 27, 2007 #

  18. If Petco wants to stay in West Seattle, they should relocate to Westwood Village. There are no pet stores on that side of town and they would fit in a whole hell of a lot better.

    Comment by Jess — 11:15 am January 27, 2007 #

  19. A response to Ginger -

    The DRB can in fact request additional design review meetings – I would imagine that they have requested (or will request) a supplemental Early Design Guidance meeting for this project. Then there is the final Design Review meeting before the developer files for the MUP, and if the developer still hasn’t complied with the DRB recommendations, they can request additional meetings. Then they make their final recommendations to the Director, and…

    3. The Director’s design review decision shall be made as part of the overall Master Use Permit decision for the project. The Director’s decision shall consider the recommendation of the Design Review Board, provided that, if four (4) or more members of the Design Review Board are in agreement in their recommendation to the Director, the Director shall issue a decision that makes compliance with the recommendation
    of the Design Review Board a condition of permit approval, unless… (and it goes on from there – you can read the full text from my link above).

    So – there are some “teeth” to the DRB’s recommendations, BUT I haven’t seen many of them in West Seattle. There are other areas of the City that are much, much tougher, like Capitol Hill and Queen Anne and others. My conclusion – this is a great opportunity for us WS folks to really demand what we want to see happen in our community.

    Mark

    Comment by MW — 8:59 pm January 27, 2007 #

  20. One more link…

    Here’s the project info on the DPD site:
    http://web1.seattle.gov/DPD/permitstatus/Project.aspx?id=3004297

    It contains the project details and the contact info for the architect and the developer. And I’ll just go ahead and list it for you here!

    NICK GABRIEL
    MULVANNY G2 ARCHITECTS
    1110 112TH AVE NE
    SUITE 500
    BELLEVUE, WA 98004
    (425) 436-1454

    MADISON DEVELOPMENT GROUP LLC
    10510 NE NORTHUP WAY # 120
    KIRKLAND, WA 98033
    (425) 889-9500

    Comment by MW — 9:09 pm January 27, 2007 #

  21. The important info. I wanted to convey is the following: (1) The DRB does not have the authority to deny a MUP, and if they shot down a project that complied with the zoning code, the Director would likely go against the DRB recommendation because it would have exceeded its authority (see SMC 23.41.014(F)(3)(b)). (2) The DRB cannot force extra rounds of review (See SMC 23.41.014(D)(1)).

    The public meetings held in conjunction with the DR process are a great forum for public input, but keep in mind that the DRB process is not a forum in which the public can insist on denial of a permit for a project that conforms to the zoning code. If we don’t like “big box” stores, the DRB meeting is not the place to stop them from going up. We need to push for a change of the zoning code or these things are going to keep going up regardless of how ugly they are.

    GR

    Comment by Ginger Rodgers — 12:12 pm January 28, 2007 #

  22. A MUP can be denied if the proposal is not in compliance with the code. For NC1-30 for commerical development you must have “transparency” for 60% of a street facing faade. Sounds like from what was described above they don’t meet that. I also looked up on the DPD website and the proposal is for 13,600 SF – I think the maximum size for NC1 is 10,000 SF for most uses. Also Parking can only be to the side not at the street level. A MUP can outline means of mitigating adverse impacts to the surrounding neigborhood. If the director feels such impacts can not be mitigated they can deny the MUP. Here is some information on what “transparency” means
    http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?d=CODE&s1=23.48.018.snum.&Sect5=CODE1&Sect6=HITOFF&l=20&p=1&u=/~public/code1.htm&r=1&f=G

    Comment by EM — 9:46 pm January 28, 2007 #

  23. EM -

    This site is zoned NC1-30. It’s not a “Seattle Mixed” zone. Here’s the correct link to the land use code. http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/toc/23-47.htm

    I don’t believe there has been anything proposed that is outside of the land use code – the Board asked the applicant directly if they were seeking any departures, which would be something that would deviate from the code. They said they weren’t.

    Always worth checking, but I believe the main issues right now are design-specific issues.

    I’d like to suggest a meet-up. And as I said before, there are definitely two issues at hand: saving the Charlestown Cafe, and getting the best project on the site. I’m all for keeping the Charlestown, and I’ll help on that front as well, but I’d love it if a few of us who are up on the design review issues could get together and chat. Feel free to email me: mwainwright@mac.com .

    Sage, EM, Ginger? Let me know if you’re interested.

    Thanks,
    Mark

    Comment by MW — 12:17 pm January 29, 2007 #

  24. I think the Westwood Village idea for Petco is a super idea! I live near SSCC and Westwood is about a mile from me, and AK Junction 2+. We don’t have any services in the ‘burbs. I shop at all 4 of West Seattle’s pet stores, depending on what I need. Westwood is a perfect location for this sort of store.

    Comment by WendyHJ — 3:28 pm January 30, 2007 #

  25. Well, I would love to help out, but in the interest of full disclosure, I am an English Coonhound. I was once kicked out of the Charlestown Cafe, and I have not been allowed back in. So, I am rooting for the Petco.

    Comment by Ginger Rodgers — 10:59 pm January 30, 2007 #

  26. What happened to the Trader Joe’s rumor? I think that site would be perfect! (They have some nice pet food products there, too.) Their buildings are generally more attractive than Petco’s. There are a lot of butt ugly buildings on California. It certainly would be nice to have some sort of PLAN with regard to future commercial development. I know that is asking way too much.

    Comment by Ms_F — 6:13 pm January 31, 2007 #

  27. There is actually a plan – basically driven by zoning. The Charlestown Cafe site, along with the other three corners at the California/Charlestown intersection are zoned (Neighborhood Commercial) NC1-30. The NC part dictates what kind of uses can happen there (generally neighborhood-scale retail, i.e. smaller stores), the “1″ is the “least intense” type of NC classification (smaller buildings, smaller retail spaces, etc), and the “30″ is the height limit (this can increase a bit, but not too much).

    So there is a basic “plan”. This site falls outside of the “planning area” for the Junction and the Admiral District, but each of those areas have a real, honest-to-goodness neighborhood plan. Lot’s of local folks worked hard on those plans.

    Understandable that some people aren’t aware of these plans, but they exist.

    Concerning Trader Joe’s – I’d agree they would be a better fit, but honestly, any large, single-purpose commercial building with a big parking lot would be an unfortunate use of that property.

    Mark

    Comment by MW — 9:13 pm January 31, 2007 #

  28. And concerning the Coonhound note from Ginger -
    I’ve owned a coonhound. I know coonhounds. You, Ginger, are no coonhound.

    Comment by MW — 3:07 pm February 1, 2007 #

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  30. sage wilson is a unionist.

    Comment by rbj — 9:13 pm November 16, 2008 #

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