That’s one way we would sum up organizer Mark Wainwright’s main theme for the spirited crowd that sardined itself into the northernmost room of Charlestown Cafe tonight. Not to say there won’t be some rabblerousing …
If you’re just joining the saga here, to recap: After 16 years in West Seattle, Charlestown Cafe is losing its lease (first announced last summer). The landowner is currently looking to turn the choice parcel into the new home of Petco, which will be moving out of The Junction next year as a huge new project takes over what’s now its parking lot. But cafe fans and concerned neighbors think a “big-box store” like Petco would be a bad fit for the neighborhood, so they’re organizing a grass-roots campaign to (a) find something more suitable and (b) hopefully save the cafe in the process.
Here’s what happened at tonight’s first meeting of said grass-roots campaign:
-Most touching moment: In the meeting’s final moments, a woman whom we’re guessing works at the cafe choked up while thanking everyone for showing up.
-Most enlightening factoids: Cafe boss Larry answered the question “what’s in it for the landlord?” regarding booting CC, noting that the cafe rent peaked at $9K, but the landlord apparently expects at least $5K more from the next tenant. Also, organizer Mark said the original architect for the Petco proposal has dropped out, reportedly because of all the heat the project’s drawing. (The design alone got panned at the first Design Review Board meeting.)
-What’s next? Two milestones will be some sort of protest/demonstration (one of tonight’s meeting-goers promised to organize it, with updates on the Our Town/West Seattle Yahoo! group) — Larry said picketers would be welcome outside the restaurant if they wanted to march there instead of outside Petco — and the next DRB meeting for the project (no date set last time we checked). Also, a handout went around with e-mail addresses, phone numbers, other contact info for key people including Larry, Mark, Petco, the landowner, and the developer. We don’t have time to transcribe it all here now; joining the Our Town/West Seattle group will probably get you access, if someone posts it there (if not, we’ll get to it here soon).
-If not Petco, what would happen to the site? Mark W stressed that it’s vital for concerned community members to come up for a vision of what they’d like to see there, not just “we don’t want Petco.” Retail with smaller shops? Maybe a floor or two of residential above? He revealed that WS architects have done some sort of study about possibilities for the site, but apparently haven’t made it public, so far. (He briefly compared the cafe site to the big chunk of land where Rite Aid sits, south of The Junction; that made us wonder, what about moving Petco there? That Rite Aid store never seems terribly busy.)
-Why can’t Charlestown move to the development that’s going in on the burned-out Schuck’s site across the street, one attendee asked? Larry said (a) those developers aren’t sure they want a restaurant after all and (b) they are not offering any sort of “tenant improvements” — so moving over there, he implied, would be prohibitively expensive.
-Who’s going to lead this fight? While Mark graciously agreed to serve as something of a ringleader for now, he also cheerily but firmly made it clear that this can’t be one person’s fight. Everyone who cares can contribute in their own way, he noted — write a letter, join the forthcoming demonstration, put on another big show of support at the next Design Review Board meeting, talk to any development types you know about whether something better might be possible for the site. (Or blog about it! like us “crazy” WS Blog people, as Mark referred to us, albeit seemingly semi-fondly.)
-Clear takeaway: While the Charlestown Cafe’s future is the catalyst for this concern, what it’s really about — as Mark had previously noted in online discussion — is the future, and character, of our community. Development isn’t inherently bad. But the wrong type of development in the wrong place can reduce the quality of life for people all around, just as the right type, in the right place, can enhance it.
We’ll of course keep tracking the Charlestown campaign here. But we want to pitch once more, if you want to join in, be sure to join the Yahoo! group. See you there.