(For perspective – top of graphic is east, Fauntleroy Way frontage; ‘not a part’ is the Masonic Hall site)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Phones have been ringing, mailboxes have been jumping. Few political-candidate campaigns have been as intense as the campaigning going on in West Seattle in advance of a City Council committee hearing tomorrow.
And it’s all over a bit of bureaucracy that seldom gets much notice – an “alley vacation” (a process explained here). When a private property owner/developer asks the city to “vacate” a part of a publicly owned alley or street, City Council approval is required, and if it’s given, the property owner/developer has to pay the city fair-market value for the land involved. Before the project gets that far, it also has to show “public benefits” that will be part of the project.
(Recent West Seattle projects for which alley vacations were approved include Spruce, the former “Hole”; Admiral Safeway; the Equity Residential project at California/Alaska/42nd; and Capco Plaza at 42nd/Alaska/41st.)
Tomorrow morning, the City Council’s Transportation Committee – chaired by West Seattleite Tom Rasmussen – will consider the alley-vacation request for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, recently named The Whittaker, a proposal for ~370 apartments, ~600 parking spaces, and a Whole Foods Market (in addition to other TBA retail). It’s asking to buy part of the alley on its site, while also dedicating space to a “midblock connector” that the city calls in effect a “private alley.” The application was filed in February of last year (here’s the story we published then).
The plan for the 4755 Fauntleroy project to include non-union Whole Foods has drawn intense concern from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, first voiced at the project’s first Design Review in September 2012 (WSB coverage here), even before WF had been announced as the anchor tenant. West Seattle’s other supermarkets, with the exception of Trader Joe’s – kitty-corner from The Whittaker’s site – are unionized.
The opposition is culminating in a telephone campaign; WSB commenters reported getting calls from “live” people last week, and then this afternoon, we’ve received multiple reports of robocalls that included an option for those receiving the call to hit a button and be taken to Councilmember Rasmussen’s voice mail.
Project backers have been rallying support too, including a postcard campaign. And both sides have been meeting privately with public officials – including City Council members and Mayor Ed Murray – as tomorrow’s hearing nears. And we have confirmed that Whole Foods itself has had a phone campaign going (as noted by yet another WSB commenter) to sample West Seattleites’ opinions about the company.
This alley-vacation proposal became a citywide flashpoint last July, when then-Mayor Mike McGinn sent then-SDOT director Peter Hahn this memo saying his department should reject it:
No one could remember a mayor jumping into an alley-vacation issue before.
(We have asked for McGinn’s successor, Mayor Ed Murray, to share his position on the alley vacation; to date, he has declined to comment publicly.
As reported here last week, SDOT’s report on the proposal is out – without a clear topline recommending approval or denial. Its bottom line says that if the council chooses to approve the alley vacation, it should be done with certain conditions. Here’s that full memo:
(The table/attachment referenced in the document is here.)
The project itself first came to light in summer 2012 – here’s our first report, from July of that year; two months later, as the project’s first Design Review date was set, we reported that the developers were multi-state firms Lennar and Weingarten.
Before this project was proposed, much of the site had long been all but fallow; the former Huling (and briefly Gee) automotive property that fronts Fauntleroy has been vacant for six and a half years (except for West Seattle Produce‘s tenure on the site until it moved across the street to 4722 Fauntleroy). The owners of Howden-Kennedy Funeral Home sold their part of the site to the developers and moved to a new location on 35th SW six months ago. The corner Shell station closed after the one kitty-corner to it reopened.
In November of 2012, Whole Foods announced it would be the project’s “anchor tenant.” Many noted some irony, considering that WF originally had been slated for the development site across SW Alaska, from which it pulled out in 2010, two years after the project stalled, three years before it revived (now minus any supermarket; the development, Spruce, will consist of an LA Fitness health club plus apartments).
The project went through four sessions each before the Southwest Design Review Board (meeting in West Seattle) and Seattle Design Commission (meeting downtown), all of which were covered here.
In a preview of what was its fourth and final review before the Southwest Design Review Board last July, we first mentioned the union-backed Getting It Right for West Seattle campaign. Less than a week later, Mayor McGinn’s directive to SDOT emerged. A week after that, the Getting It Right campaign e-mailed Councilmember Rasmussen, asking him, as chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, to support the mayor’s directive, and shared what they had sent:
It has taken until now, however, for the review to get to Rasmussen’s committee. “Getting It Right” has kept up the pressure, with an advertising campaign, urging community letter-writing, and commissioning alternative designs for how the project’s street level might appear. We covered the presentation of those designs four months ago – see them in this November WSB story.
More recently, they created animation showing traffic flows past the development site (the :30 of animation begins at :42 into the clip):
Via Twitter, they also sent us this five-page document described as “the transportation study used for the video”:
The project team’s response, after viewing the video last week:
Our project completed a thorough traffic analysis by professional traffic engineers to determine the impact of the project on the adjacent arterials. Our professional analysis was included in numerous city approval stages and accepted by Seattle’s Department of Transportation. We firmly believe this project constitutes smart development by providing 400 permanent jobs in the Junction and putting density at the intersection of two major arterials with direct access to mass transit.
A significant amount of technical analyses were prepared for this project and have been reviewed and approved by SDOT and DPD. This included multiple traffic studies that documented the anticipated impacts to the surrounding intersections from both general purpose vehicles and truck traffic. The latest traffic study submitted and approved by DPD/SDOT included the results of a multi-store loading dock study to validate the assumptions for this site. In addition, a significant effort was undertaken by the project team in evaluating the turning templates and patterns for the large delivery trucks. It is important to note, that while the site expects 30 – 40 deliveries a day, only two to three of those would be the larger trucks.
The project team, working on behalf of the site’s developers, recently sent postcards to residents in the nearby area; one of those residents shared a photo of what she had received:
The back of the postcards point in turn to this website, which also advocates contacting the City Council regarding the alley vacation – only, in their case, with messages of support.
While we haven’t seen open acrimony, the campaign has found longtime West Seattle community advocates on opposite sides – some for, some against. Same with businesses. It will all come to a head tomorrow, when the council’s Transportation Committee holds a public hearing during its 9:30 am meeting in council chambers at City Hall; members might also vote, or could decide to delay action. Here’s the agenda, which includes the item, broken out this way:
Petition of West Seattle Project X, LLC to vacate a portion of the alley in Block 3, Norris Addition to West Seattle in the West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village.
PUBLIC HEARING, DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE VOTE
Presenters: Beverly Barnett and Luke Korpi, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT); Susan McLain, Bruce Rips, and John Shaw, Department of Planning and Development (DPD); Michael Jenkins, Seattle Design Commission; Andy Rasmussen, Weisman Design Group; Jack McCullough, McCullough Hill Leary
Beverly Barnett: overview of the presentation and the decision before the committee; what will be covered; will describe SDOT role and their review; major dates in the review process. (5 minutes)
Public Hearing (60 minutes)
DPD background: Bruce Rips and Susan McLain describe the neighborhood plan and the Design Review Board process (15 minutes)
Project overview: Andy Rasmussen from the project team will present the presentation slides for the project. (15 minutes)
Design Commission process: Michael Jenkins describes the review and project changes. (10 minutes)
SDOT review: Luke Korpi and John Shaw to address traffic safety and function. Beverly Barnett will address issues identified during the review and how those issues were resolved, and policy questions. (15 minutes)
Council questions (20 minutes)
The actual action item is here.
If you are not going, you can watch the meeting live via Seattle Channel, online or Cable Channel 21. We also will be there reporting live.
What happens next depends on what happens tomorrow. Final decisions on an alley or street vacation would be through a vote of the full Council.