By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Through the city’s half-dozen-plus public meetings related to the design of 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, to be anchored by a Whole Foods Market, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 were a constant presence, voicing concerns, keeping watch on the project, often with a contingent of members/leaders in yellow logo-bearing T-shirts.
After the project’s design won final approvals in that process from the Southwest Design Review Board and the Seattle Design Commission, the union launched a campaign called Getting It Right for West Seattle, focused on the remaining approval needed by the project – the City Council’s blessing for the project’s requested “alley vacation,” in which the developer seeks approval to buy publicly owned alley land. The campaign scored an early victory with Mayor McGinn‘s July announcement that SDOT would be told to recommend the council reject the alley vacation, for concerns including worker wages.
While that part of the process rolls slowly along, UFCW Local 21 has paid for a University of Washington architecture professor to develop two “alternative designs” for the site. Monday night, those designs – one of which would potentially have room for a Whole Foods or other big chain store, one of which was not – were “offered up as food for thought,” as union organizer and West Seattle resident Elena Perez put it. She organized the presentation at Emeritus-West Seattle (WSB sponsor) with about two dozen people in attendance, not including the site’s developers/owners, Weingarten Realty and Lennar, to whom Perez said she’d given notice too late.
However, a member of the Huling family, which previously owned most of the site, was there and spoke up in a somewhat dramatic moment – more on that later.
Perez characterized their ongoing interest in the site – which she clarified is the focus of GIR4WS, not local development in general – as anchored in the “precedent” it would set, and reiterated that the advocates’ goal is what they stated it to be half a year ago – to obtain a Community Benefit Agreement “with local West Seattle stakeholders” as part of a deal with the city for the alley vacation, which would involve selling two sections of alley for fair-market value plus a public-benefit package (this slide deck from June details the public benefits approved by the Design Commission in that stage of the review).
The alternative designs by Dr. Sharon Sutton turned out to involve only the commercial level of the site, leaving the rest of it to imagination/speculation. Though Dr. Sutton herself was not in attendance, the designs were presented and described by West Seattleite Deb Barker, who served four years on the Southwest Design Review Board and is a retired land-use planner.
Barker made it clear she was speaking for herself as a private citizen, unrelated to other community-advocacy roles in which she currently serves. She extended the invitation for us to cover the meeting; GIR4WS had not sent announcements of previous meetings, either for news coverage or public-calendar postings.
After a condensed primer on the process through which the project already has gone, Barker reiterated that UFCW Local 21 had paid for Dr. Sutton’s work, which she compared and contrasted with selections from the design packet for one of the public meetings about the project’s official design by Fuller Sears Architects, the Seattle Design Commission session on June 20th, like this one:
Barker also explained the alley vacation process (here’s the city’s primer) and the “mid-block connector” currently designed into the project as a sort of replacement alley, the target of criticism at many official reviews because it would be used by trucks as well as pedestrians. “You’re going to get to play duck-dodge with a panel truck or semi-truck,” Barker contended. (The union had talked at previous city meetings, like this one in April, about its studies of a North Seattle Whole Foods store, with at least 4 semitrucks daily and up to 31 panel trucks making deliveries.)
Continuing to set the stage before showing the alternatives, she also zeroed in on the “gateway” corner of the development, the southwest corner of Fauntleroy/Alaska (roughly where the former gas station is being dismantled/dug up right now). Here’s what the official design includes:
(See the two alternatives below, one for each envisioned concept.) Barker explained that Dr. Sutton was just asked to deal “with the pedestrian experience” – not the residential floors of the project. The input she was given included a survey circulated online by Getting It Right for West Seattle (in response to a question later, Perez said 357 responses had been received, this past July and August) as well as two charrettes whose participants were described as “community activists and UFCW 21 representatives.”
The two concepts were labeled Alley and Market. Barker said she wasn’t sure which she liked better: “To me, these are breaths of fresh air, just imagining the possibilities.” Here is “Alley”:
The parking access would change, and any “large retail opportunity” would front Fauntleroy. Deliveries for that would be on the Fauntleroy/Edmunds corner. The midblock connector/pass-through “would be for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles only.” There would be second-floor roofs with raingardens.
The gateway area – Fauntleroy/Alaska – concept for the “alley” design was described as an “egg” because of its shape:
Next, the “market concept.” Barker referenced the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, the Reading Market in Philadelphia, Melrose Market on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, saying it was envisioned as including “a big place for small businesses, lots and lots and lots of small businesses, access onto streets,” with live-work units on the southeast side, facing Fauntleroy, “places for hanging out,” and a “huge internal space” on the north side, with doors opening to the streets on the west.
“From inside the market, you pour out into a stage area with outdoor seating and a performance area,” and sunshine from the southwest corner (though it should be noted a development is set for that side, too).
From the back of the room at that point: “Where’s Whole Foods?”
“Maybe not in this project,” Barker replied. She went on to show the imagined “gateway” for this configuration, “a very, very, very large space several stories tall, surrounded by windows,” enabling people to see into the “market space,” and out to the theoretically sun-dappled public park/performance area.”
She declared this to be a design that would be more of a “gateway,” more of a “true entry statement than the 4755 Fauntleroy design currently has.”
Sharonn Meeks, who had served on the Triangle Advisory Group whose work was part of a city zoning overhaul of the area – including this site, technically west of The Triangle – asked at that point: “This is one-sixth of the project; what are you doing with the rest?” She pointed out that this configuration would certainly include fewer residential units.
Barker reiterated that “Dr. Sutton wasn’t asked to get into (that).”
The next question asked again about what kind of supermarket could fit into the envisioned space. Barker thought a “two-story Whole Foods” might work. She also recalled a “three-story Home Depot in the middle of a dense Chicago neighborhood,” and noted that developers have choices.
Though project developers weren’t at this meeting, as noted earlier, this is where a member of the family that sold most of the site to the developers spoke up.
Grant Huling said he wanted to “offer himself as a resource,” including availability to talk with attendees post-meeting (which he did).
He expressed appreciation for people caring about development, but said it appeared to him that “UFCW has picked a fight with this one project” at a time that is “particularly late in the process … I think a lot of community energy is getting steered toward this project, when there are a number of mixed-use things happening and they all should have community fingerprints on them … ”
Another attendee asked, “So who’s going to see these proposals?”
Perez replied: “Well, you are, tonight …”
The questioner asked, “But, in terms of making changes” to the project …
Perez acknowledged, “It’s not that you’re going to vote tonight and say ‘yay’ and it’s magically going to happen.” But, she said, they believe Seattle is “hot,” a place developers want to be, but they don’t “think it’s good enough” for an “urban infill” project.
Then addressing Grant Huling, she defended UFCW 21’s “concern about jobs … we have thousands of members who live in West Seattle like myself who want an enjoyable development. … We’re not saying our vision is the correct one. One of these designs does have space for a large anchor tenant, that could be Whole Foods.”
The next comment from the audience suggested that the “safety issue” might be the “wedge” that could be taken to the city. (It has been – our coverage of the project’s reviews by the Seattle Design Commission includes this report from last April, at which time UFCW reps brought up the truck-traffic concerns.)
Two other attendees asked about coordination of major projects, and about the Junction and Triangle plans on file with the city. Barker explained that they can be found as documents in city files (here’s the 1999 West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Plan; here are documents containing results of the recent round of Triangle planning), noting that the midblock connector for this site was a concept in the Triangle plan, not something the developer pulled “out of mid-air.” Here’s how it’s shown in the plan (before this project was proposed):
Dr. Sutton is meeting with Councilmember Rasmussen and possibly others to discuss “from a professional standpoint why there are major concerns in the (developers’) proposal,” said Perez, adding that other “neighbors” are setting meetings with councilmembers too. “Our position is that this can be a win-win, a developer can have a very profitable development. If it ends up having a Whole Foods in it, so be it.”
At that point, Meeks, president of the nearby Fairmount Community Association – south of SW Alaska, uphill from The Triangle – noted that the Triangle Advisory Group had “worked for 14 months” and “worked on the concept of what we considered a true gateway into West Seattle – It’s not this project (site), it’s what was funded (by City Council earlier this week, as reported here), the (Fauntleroy) Green Boulevard. … My concern here is that this seems to be targeted toward a (certain) project, not a vetting of what the Triangle group came together to work on. I didn’t see you supporting (the Green Boulevard).”
That’s when Perez clarified, “Getting It Right for West Seattle is very specific to this project.”
Questions still persisted about what the alternative designs would be used for, what could still happen at this part of the process. That’s when Shawn Terjeson got up and explained how he got involved, and why he is currently making the rounds to meet with city councilmembers. “I got excited about the alley vacation,” he said. “They’re building a trench from Fauntleroy to California that’s only good for cars unless you’re going to Whole Foods or LA Fitness” (in Spruce, the former “Hole,” across the street) … “My goal is to have these people build us something that is livable, exciting, that will draw us into West Seattle. The Triangle plan is fantastic.”
An attendee asked, “What’s to stop them from building this is there is no alley vacation?” Barker replied that the “existing configuration of the alleyway limits the footprint of the building.”
Asked again at the end if the designs would be taken to the developer, Perez said she sent an invitation to the “community liaison for the developers on Saturday” but “they didn’t have enough time … we’ve been very open about wanting to sit down and work with them on this, but at this point all we can do is work through the public process – democracy isn’t always pretty.”
We asked a development team spokesperson for comment:
We have not met with the union on this topic. We are already more than two years into a design that is wholly consistent with the West Seattle Triangle Plan’s community-led vision for this property. Additionally, the existing design has been approved by the West Seattle Design Review Board and the Seattle Design Commission.
We are moving ahead with the City’s process for an alley vacation, which includes paying fair-market value for the alley, as well as providing more than $2M in additional on-site public benefit. The City process for an alley vacation does not include a community benefit agreement.
When a date is set for the next step in that process – likely going to the City Council’s Transportation Committee after the first of the year – we’ll let you know.
SIDE NOTE: For an example of a “Community Benefit Agreement” precedent, the one negotiated in 2008 for a Central District project is cited. (The project was canceled the following year, after recession hit.)