(NEWEST UPDATE BELOW: Response from regional Whole Foods exec, added 5:35 pm)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 11:58 AM: Mayor McGinn has told SDOT that he will not recommend City Council approval of the “alley vacation” request by the 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW (“Whole Foods”) megaproject. We’ve just obtained a copy of the memo from the mayor’s office – read it here or embedded here:
The memo’s ending summary:
… it is difficult to see how the alley vacation proposal meets our public benefit standards when it does not support equitable economic development as stated in our Comprehensive Plan, does not support community vibrancy and walkability, and does not support our local urban design plans. It is the position of the executive that because this project is not in the public interest, we will not forward a recommendation to approve this alley vacation request to the City Council at this time.”
The project just passed Design Review last week, and has also been approved by the Design Commission, which reviews projects that require alley or street vacations, as does this 370-apartment, 600-parking space proposal. But other reviews are ahead because of the alley-vacation request – in fact, they were part of a separate followup we were working on when this broke – including the city Transportation Commission. (P.S. Since we believe in credit where credit’s due, hat tip Slog.)
ADDED 12:19 PM: As one commenter has pointed out, “alley vacation” isn’t exactly an everyday phrase. Here’s our basic breakdown: If a developer wants to buy and include city-owned right of way – part of an alley, or a street, or a “street end” – in a project, that right-of-way has to be “vacated” by the city – as explained here. West Seattle projects for which alley vacations were approved include Admiral Safeway and Spruce (formerly Fauntleroy Place, aka “The Hole”); one was also approved for the not-yet-begun Equity Residential (formerly Conner Homes) two-building project at California/Alaska.
(added) Here’s the east-west alley, looking to Fauntleroy from 40th, that the developers are asking for, along with part of the north-south alley:
Further south on the site, their proposal includes a “midblock connector,” seen here in the west-to-east view:
ADDED 12:36 PM: If you haven’t already read the mayor’s memo – he specifically calls out the non-union Whole Foods Market as cause for concern:
We have a strong commitment to social and economic justice at the City of Seattle. One of our core economic development goals is to provide fair and livable wages and benefits for our residents. The Economic Development elements of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan contain clear language to this effect: “seeking a greater proportion of living wage jobs that will have greater benefits” and “support key sectors of Seattle’s economy to create jobs that pay wages that can support a family, provide necessary benefits, and contribute to the vitality of the City including, but not limited to, the industrial, manufacturing, service, hospitality and retail sectors.” The primary retail use in the proposed project is a 41,000 square foot Whole Foods Market. There are already seven large supermarkets within a mile and half of the site, at least six of which offer employer-paid, comprehensive affordable health benefits for full and part-time employees and their families, as well as family-supporting wage scales.
Family health benefits and employee wage scales offered by the proposed anchor tenant are
significantly lower than other similar businesses, particularly for the growing percentage of employees who work part-time. In addition, if the City is going to transfer its assets or otherwise help grocers build new facilities, we should encourage grocers willing to locate in underserved areas identified as having low food security and poor food access, consistent with the strategies identified in the City’s Food Action Plan.
Whole Foods remains the only signed commercial tenant for the project, confirmed its developers at last week’s Design Review meeting; they said they might lose the unsigned drugstore tenant because they pulled out the much-criticized drive-thru window that had been proposed. The Whole Foods (and supermarket-oversupply) arguments made by the mayor above have also been voiced at prior project meetings by representatives of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, which, as noted in our preview of last week’s Design Review meeting, is spearheading a campaign called “Getting It Right for West Seattle” seeking a “community benefits agreement” for this project.
1:50 PM UPDATE: More background: It’s been almost exactly one year since we broke the news this development was in the works. It spans everything along 40th and along Fauntleroy between Edmunds and Alaska *except* the Alki Masonic Temple and its parking lot. Here’s the Fauntleroy view, as photographed today:
Here’s our February report from when the alley-vacation application was announced. According to the city website, the next steps in the process would be the SDOT recommendation – which, as noted in the mayor’s memo, he says should be thumbs-down – and then a public hearing before the council’s Transportation Committee, which is chaired by West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, which in turn would make a recommendation to be considered by the full council.
ADDED 5:37 PM: We’re expecting comment from the development team, no later than tomorrow. In the meantime, we just received unsolicited comment from Whole Foods’ regional president Joe Rogoff:
I wanted to contact you directly because the information that Mayor McGinn shared in his letter regarding Whole Foods Market is factually inaccurate and it’s important for us to set the record straight. The vast majority – 70-80 percent, depending on the store – of Whole Foods Market’s team members work full time and that will be reflected in the team members we hire for our West Seattle location. That’s opposite of many other supermarkets, where part-time employees are the norm.
We do more than provide team members with fair and livable wages and benefits. We create a great place for our team members to build a career. We offer training, competitive benefits, stock options for all team members, gain-sharing and much more. Company benefits include a team member store discount of 20-30%, health care coverage for domestic partners and a health spending account to help cover health care expenses. Nearly all of our part-time workers can participate in our health care benefits. Our average wage for non-leadership Team Members in our Seattle stores is $16.15/hr. which is excellent for grocers.
In addition to our team members, we are also committed to the health and well-being of the communities where we do business. In every local community, we cultivate valued partnerships with a wide range of organizations – from school districts to non-profits to academic institutions. Programs like our Local Producer Loan Program and funds made available through the Whole Kids Foundation to add salad bars and school gardens are examples of this commitment to community. In addition, quarterly 5 Percent Days provide direct funding to local non-profit partners.
We’re proud to have been part of Seattle since 1999, and that our 6 metro stores now employ over 1400 Team Members. Many of those Team Members live in West Seattle, and they’re excited to work in their immediate community. We’re also looking forward to being part of this vibrant community as we are in so many others – socially and environmentally conscious citizens who contribute in many ways. This store will employ another 150 or so Team Members, most of whom will be local.
We’re reaching out in hopes to meet with Mayor McGinn very soon to share the facts and discuss how Whole Foods Market is absolutely in line with the City’s core economic goals.
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