(UPDATED 2:58 PM with archived meeting video; POST-HEARING TOPLINE: No committee vote until April 8th)
9:34 AM: We’re at City Hall for the alley-vacation hearing (process explained here, same as ‘street’ vacation) for 4755 Fauntleroy before the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Standing room only. Supporters are wearing purple stickers with slogans; opponents are wearing yellow stickers with slogans (photos added):
Live coverage ahead – you also can watch the stream via Seattle Channel (click “play”) in the window below (UPDATED 2:59 PM – THIS IS NOW THE ARCHIVED VIDEO OF THE MEETING):
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has opened the discussion by playing a message on his voice mail – he got the robocall that project opponents sent around West Seattle last night. “It told me to call Tom,” he said, drawing laughter.
9:39 AM: First to speak, project opponent Deb Barker, who was the voice of the aforementioned robocall.
She is a community organization leader and former Design Review Board member. She says the public benefits in the project package are not enough. She talks about the setbacks and says the alley vacation overall will “waste public land for profit.”
Next, project supporter Sharonn Meeks, also a community-organization leader. She notes she was “involved in this project way before it began” – that included being on the Triangle Planning Group. She calls the site “a blighted grayfield.” She says scrapping these proposal would cost time and “an excellent developer.”
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Next, opponent Steve Williamson. He points out that the SDOT report on the vacation does not endorse the public-benefit proposal. He says there was a lack of community input in the street-vacation review process, and says the plan is unsafe. He also mentions income inequality.
Both sides are hauling out their highest-profile speakers first.
Jim Whittaker, after whom the building was recently named, is now speaking for the support side, saying “this is a magical place … I would like to see people live here and enjoy the natural world … this building will represent a lot of nature. … Let’s get out of base camp and climb this mountain.” Applause follows.
For the opponents, Dr. Sharon Sutton, who was commissioned to design two alternative designs for the site. (See them in this WSB report.) She also calls attention to the SDOT public-benefit non-endorsement and says that her favorite “public benefit” is a “beautifully designed building.” And she says a pedestrian overlay on Alaska would be a “public benefit” as well. She also is followed by some applause.
Next is the first speaker we don’t recognize; a project supporter and business owner whose name is Clark and he says he used to service the old Huling lot on the site, and also has worked with Whole Foods. He says the store will “foster growth in our communities.”
On the opponent side, Claudia Newman, a land-use lawyer. (Each speaker has up to two minutes.) She says the SDOT recommendation is “missing” some things. First she mentions the midblock connector and says that she has submitted a transportation study showing it would not be safe. She also says the midblock connector in the neighborhood plan was envisioned as for pedestrians, not for (motorized) vehicles too.
Pro: Denise from Whole Foods reads a statement she says is from an “organic farmer from Monroe” who supplies 18 WF markets in the region. She says the farmer also has been involved with neighborhood farmers’ markets that have found that Whole Foods did not impact those markets.
Anti: Natasha, who is reading a statement from a friend she says is a West Seattle resident named Ames, a “trade chef and cheesemonger at Metropolitan Market” who could not be present because he was hit by a car in The Junction about two weeks ago. The statement says that he had been working in the community to raise concern about the project, and he does not want the city to allow the developer to use public land. “This plan takes an already pedestrian-unfriendly plan and makes it worse.”
Pro: A-P Hurd., with the state’s commercial real-estate association, and she is here to speak for a “predictable … alley-vacation process.” The developer is providing $2.4 million in public benefits and open space, she says. She says if this alley vacation is judged by the tenant – Whole Foods – then we’ll have a city of buildings with approved tenant lists.
Anti: Tracie Champion, a West Seattleite “since the day I was born.” She says she’s been in the grocery building for 15 years and went to the Roosevelt Whole Foods to watch traffic. She says the project team’s numbers on deliveries are not accurate and if that’s the case, “what else are they misleading us on?”
Pro: Gordon McHenry, Jr., CEO of Solid Ground, which he says has a longrunning partnership with Whole Foods. It is a group that helps low-income people with food and housing. He says Whole Foods is an exemplary committee partner and he hopes the City Council will support its growth.
Anti: Jim Guenther, a West Seattle resident who says he is a former King County public-works director and is speaking as a private citizen and member of Getting It Right for West Seattle. He voices concern about the midblock connector. And he points out that the project is on Fauntleroy, a major thoroughfare to the ferry dock.
Pro: Susan Livingston, who also is affiliated with Whole Foods. She brought two e-mails she says are among “hundreds” WF has received regarding the alley vacation. The first voices support; the second one notes that the controversy “is stirred up by a group posing as concerned citizens but are not concerned citizens, but rather union representatives.”
Anti: Shawn Terjeson, who distributes visuals and asks that they be given to the council. He says he got drawn into the process by Chas Redmond, to look at the Triangle framework. “One of the most important points to them was a pedestrian corridor to connect the Triangle to the Junction.” He notes that West Seattle will have 300 percent of the density agreed to in the comprehensive plan. “We are going to have a VERY urban neighborhood.” He says the Alaska side of the project will include “a dead zone for pedestrians … please don’t give our alley away.”
Pro: Dave Montoure, business owner (and former West Seattle Chamber of Commerce chair). He says he was the only person who spoke the last time he came to an alley vacation hearing. “This process has been very politicized … it hurts me to see how this whole process has been hijacked by politics. Let’s put the noise and distraction behind us …” He points out that 80 percent of the project is housing, which the city needs. The tenants will change. He points out that his business (West 5) is in a building that has had many changes in its almost 90 years.
Anti: Sandra Adams. She reads a letter from T. Frick McNamara, local business owner (also Design Review Board member and landscape architect). The letter says McNamara voted against approving the project after she joined the board before its final review, though it makes clear she is not writing in that context. She says she supports a vibrant gateway, and a connector that is pedestrian-focused.
Pro: Nancy Woodland, chair of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which is officially supporting it. “This project will increase the economic vitality of our area.” She notes she has participated in the meetings leading to this point and has spoken to developers “and asked very hard questions … adjustments have been made along the way.” She says she has often walked near the alley in question, including with kids in strollers, and “it’s a blight.” And she says “there’s a 65-foot building going up in my own back yard, so I’m very aware of how this affects our community.”
Anti: Robbie, who says he has brought a letter from 20 organizations opposing the alley vacation, including some working on poverty. “To me, this is about where the council is going to stand … on income inequality. They’re very clear that Whole Foods is going in, to compete against 8 other markets in the community.” He says Whole Foods’ leader is against health care, and that it does not treat workers well. He says the alley vacation would put private profit over public good.
Pro: Tracy Cilona, owner of Twilight Gallery in The Junction. She says that as a business owner it’s important to have a thriving, walkable community, and she looks forward to welcoming new residents. She says mixed-use development will benefit her as a resident and a businessperson. She believes the plans are pedestrian-friendly. “The Whittaker is what West Seattle needs, and I ask you to support it and approve it.”
10:20 AM: Anti, Patrick Keating, West Seattle resident. “The impact on traffic that this development is going to create has not been studied enough. It will have a huge impact on public transportation … bus stops will need to be removed and redone.” He says it will make crossing the street to the RapidRide stops difficult. He says something needs to go there, and this should be reviewed.
Rasmussen says there are about eight more minutes in the comment period.
Pro: Tracy Dart.
“Living in West Seattle, I’ve seen many changes over 40 years.” She says that she believes in supporting developers who will support small businesses, and she believes this will – she is a small business owner herself. “I’m willing to ‘get it right for West Seattle,’ I’m not willing to ‘get it right’ for a union.”
Anti: Transit Riders Union rep Katie. They are not opposed to development, but they are opposed to contractors, developers, etc. who stand to profit. Too much Seattle development creates businesses that don’t pay a living wage, and too much of the housing development creates not-affordable housing, she says.
(First TV sighting at 10:24 am)
Pro: Martin Monk from the Masonic Lodge neighboring the project site. “We are living on a block that looks horrible, hideous … something has to be done. Is this a great design? I don’t know but progress has to happen. We love our community and give back to our community and hope to stay there for generations beyond.)
Anti: Pauline from the Transit Riders Union says “I saw this happen in Ballard a generation ago, where blocks of houses were transformed into apartments and suddenly there was noplace for anybody to park, and the traffic got really bad, and someone finally said ‘Whoa, maybe we need to rethink this’.” She says that West Seattle’s traffic grid has trouble. And she ends with a plug for Proposition 1.
Pro: Chris Matsumoto who says he is from the Experimental Education Unit at the UW, “and Whole Foods has been a community partner. … I came here today because Whole Foods has been … a fantastic partner.”
Anti: David Parsons, “here to urge a no vote on the Weingarten development”; he says he is a union member and a concerned citizen “and it is possible to be both.” (Laughter.) He is a West Seattleite and says he and his partner frequent the Alaska Junction and are bewildered at the possibility of yet another food store when there are so many choices.
Pro: Joe Rogoff, regional Whole Foods president. “We have wanted to be in West Seattle for a long time – we had a site there years ago, as you know, the developer could not finalize it … there’s been a lot said about WF Market over the past year and much of it is false.”
He says first, you shouldn’t judge a project on the basis of its tenant. “I believe in the highest wages possible for our team members … Our wages and benefits are now public record. We start at $11/hour, higher than anyone except PCC. We cap nonmanagement wages at $29.50 … our average wage for everybody nonmanagement is over $17 an hour .. We provide great benefits because our team members are responsible for our success …” He says they will create great jobs in West Seattle and denying this would deny that.”
Applause ends the public speaking period. Now the “Stand Up America” rep (Zimmerman), who has been sitting next to your editor here asking questions about what this hearing’s about, stands up and demands the right for him and everybody else to speak. Rasmussen says that he needs to sit down and be quiet. It appears he is leaving.
10:35 AM: Now, there are department presentations about the project. This is the proscribed process, Rasmussen says. Some from the audience are leaving.
Rasmussen points out that other councilmembers are here too, not just the ones on the committee.
First person to speak is Beverly Barnett, SDOT’s street-vacation point person.
She talks about the review process and what SDOT looks at. (She attended a Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting and was part of an excellent primer about the process – we’ll link it shortly.) She was asked whether part of the review is whether the city needs it any more. Yes, she said, and she noted that in this case, it’s not just a vacation of the alley, but its function would be somewhat replaced by the midblock connector.
Barnett says that the developers worked in the community to talk about the project in 2012. Then she goes through the process such as Design Review (four meetings, all covered here, starting in summer 2012; the alley-vacation petition was introduced in February 2013, and SDOT held two workshops looking at the function of the midblock connector).
From the Department of Planning and Development are Susan McLain and Bruce Rips. McLain, a West Seattleite, was the point person for the Triangle Plan process a few years ago. She notes that this block was part of that process, especially in 2010-2011. The process involved 35 community meetings, mailings, and more, she says. (Here’s a WSB report from 2011, when the resulting zoning changes were officially proposed.)
10:48 AM: Rips, who was the planner on this project, speaks now. He notes the four Design Review Board meetings (last one in July 2013), all of which were open to public comment, and goes through that process. Rasmussen notes that the Design Review Boards are made up of volunteers from the community. Rips says the SW DRB voted unanimously in favor of the massing and design.
Andy Rasmussen (no relation to Tom), who is the landscape architect on the project, is now presenting the “public benefit” package that the Design Commission had to review and approve (the latter was done with conditions) as part of the vacation process. Here is what he is showing (as published on WSB last week, when it was first made public) – The Whittaker’s presentation – see it here or via the Scribd viewer below:
11 AM: Councilmember Mike O’Brien asks if the below-ground parking garage (600 spaces) will be accessible from both entries. Andy Rasmussen says yes. O’Brien says he’s concerned about pedestrian conflicts and he thinks more of the grocery store traffic should use the south end, not the entry by the midblock connector. AR says that they used the Triangle Planning Urban Design Framework’s specific recommendations for the block and “all are incorporated” – from the gateway aspect of Fauntleroy/Alaska to “green street” features elsewhere. He now shows what they would do if they had to build without an alley vacation – 85′ height is allowed, though the current proposal is 70′; existing alley is 20′ wide and its existence would mean less underground parking.
O’Brien asks, could you do a grocery store along Fauntleroy instead of Alaska? “Not really. It’s a matter of depth, and better circulation,” is the reply. Next, A. Rasmussen shows a slide with a list of all the public meetings. (The gallery is now only about half full.) He says they also have had “numerous meetings” with city departments since the public process, a two-year process overall “culminating in today’s meeting.” He says the alley and the street grid haven’t been connected for years, and the project will connect it.
The project is being set back six feet from Fauntleroy so a bike lane can be built, as recommended in the Triangle plan, A. Rasmussen adds (this was brought up in some of the public meetings). And he mentions the new signalized pedestrian crosswalk planned on Alaska as part of this, from The Whittaker to Spruce (formerly “The Hole”). T. Rasmussen asks about parking along Fauntleroy. Answer: There’s street parking on all sides except Alaska. A. Rasmussen brings up the Green Boulevard project that’s in the works for the area, which will include more streetside greenery (T. Rasmussen is actually the main proponent of that).
Note: No new elements are being introduced here – we have reported on them multiple times before – but you can see them in the slide deck embedded above, including streetside “plazas,” how parking/vehicles will work, the “gateway” corner design, green stormwater infrastructure (rain gardens) on the 40th SW side, and art, for a “dynamic and interesting streetscape, unlike anything in West Seattle,” A. Rasmussen says. He continues to present renderings from the presentation shown above, including the pedestrian path along the midblock connector.
Councilmember Rasmussen says it’s time now to get to the Seattle Design Commission‘s part of the discussion; director Michael Jenkins is here to explain. He explains that the SDC had to review Urban Design Merit and Public Benefit, and that each of those aspects got two meetings each.
Here is the slide deck for the presentation that Jenkins is giving (published on our site last week) – see it here or via the Scribd viewer below:
11:29 AM: Jenkins shows how the plan evolved between meetings of the Design Commission, which did not review the entire project – just the “urban design merit” and “public benefit” aspects, as part of the alley-vacation process. (Projects without street and alley vacations do not go to the SDC, which meets at City Hall.) He explains that after the SDC’s unanimous recommendation of approval for the public benefits last June, there are some elements it asked to come back for review, which he said is not unusual for complicated projects.
11:33 AM: Luke Korpi from SDOT’s street-use division speaks now, and points again to the list of meetings (see it in The Whittaker’s slide deck) that have been held about this. “We believe the project does in fact meet the intent of the West Seattle Triangle plan and the city’s overall goals for 40th SW,” Korpi says. He explains why the city traffic engineer feels a marked crosswalk isn’t needed by the midblock connector – including, since 40th is not an arterial, it’s legal for pedestrians to cross at any place they want, he says. It is a “fairly wide street as non-arterial streets go” – 35 feet – he points out, and does note that the Triangle Plan suggested a crosswalk. But 40th will be narrower under this plan, he says. And he observes that though the decision right now is “not to mark” the crosswalk, that could be changed at any time in the future.
He says SDOT believes that the plan for traffic to be ‘dispersed’ around the project is a good “traffic operations” plan for the site, and will take some pressure off Fauntleroy, where as noted earlier there will be a bike lane. Korpi next mentions the crossing to be added at the west corner and the southbound bicycle lane along the project’s east side. He says the design seems to “meet the needs of internal circulation … through an analysis of very specific maneuvering patterns, turning movements the vehicles will take, but it has not been overdesigned for that purpose.”
Councilmember Jean Godden asks about the number of trucks, saying various numbers have been mentioned. Korpi says they believe 30 to 40 daily, from small trucks to semis with trailers (two of the latter are expected daily).
Next, Councilmember Kshama Sawant had asked about the public-benefit list, and a page from the deck “public-benefit matrix” – previously shown at Design Commission meetings – is up on the screen.
(Councilmember Sawant, with CM Sally Clark in background)
Sawant mentions that part of a city memo mentions that this alley vacation has brought up issues that haven’t been brought into the process before – she reads from it (11:49 am, if you want to go back and watch the video later – we will embed the clip when it is turned around, after this is over.) SDOT’s Barnett says this was just recognition of the fact that issues that have not previously been part of the process, have been raised with this one. Sawant says that the fact the issues aren’t part of the process now doesn’t mean they can’t be brought into it. She mentions the proliferation of grocery stores in the area and the matter of union vs. non-union. Rasmussen finally interrupts her and says this is a time for “grilling” city department reps and does she want to do that.
Why did SDOT not recommend approval of the public benefit? Barnett was asked by O’Brien. She says that “historically when there’s been a lot of controversy … we’ve forwarded more of an analysis to help you reach a conclusion.” Barnett said they could reach a conclusion that the midblock connector was safe and would function safely and appropriately; the policy issues from the land-use impacts, “in looking at the regulatory experts … they find this largely complies.” Re: public benefits, she says this chart is “similar to what the City Council has supported on other projects.”
11:59 AM: Rasmussen says he is suggesting a conceptual approval – if they meet these requirements, they can get their building permits, move ahead, and come back years later for final vacation approval. He says he believes there’s been an “extremely rigorous review of this project” regarding whether it meets neighborhood guidelines. He points to the Triangle Plan map of this block, “long before … this project … and what we now have before us is a project that mirrors this vision,” with one difference, the midblock crossing being for vehicles as well as pedestrians.
He also says it’s important to honor the integrity of the system of how these projects are reviewed and he believes there are significant public benefits that have been described, “meets the vision of the community …. (and is) an incredible enhancement for the neighborhood. … These public benefits are consistent to what we required for the project across the street, which at the time was proposed to be a Whole Foods project, and nobody protested.” But, “we do not make a decision about an alley vacation based on who a tenant will be.”
He continues, “it’s also interesting to those interested in traffic and congestion and more people coming to West Seattle .. there is less residential proposed for this than could be built without the vacation.” As for the gateway feature (Fauntleroy/Alaska), he supports that it be subject to further review by the Southwest Design Review Board, “let’s take this back to them one more time so that people who objected to it … can say one more time what they would like to see.”
12:06 PM: Other councilmembers’ turn – Jean Godden says having a vote the same day as the public hearing “seems to me to be a little rushed – I would feel more comfortable in waiting one more opportunity of the Transportation Committee, for a vote on the conceptual design.” Rasmussen says they usually DO vote the same day as the public hearing.
Councilmember Tim Burgess says he believes there’s usually NOT a public hearing and vote on the same day. Rasmussen says, OK, what do councilmembers want to do? Sally Bagshaw says she wants to know what information Godden wants that she doesn’t have now. Burgess says he supports proceeding – “this has been going on since 2012.” He says the issue of bringing other issues into the process, he supports looking at that, but doesn’t support changing the rules for this project that’s been under way.
Councilmember Sawant says she doesn’t support rushing into it and thinks it’s exactly time to innovate and have a thorough discussion about whether the public benefits guidelines should expand. “This is not an isolated (case),” she adds.
They’re still discussing what the general processes are for voting on street vacations. Councilmember Rasmussen proposes suspending the rules and voting today for conceptual approval. Bagshaw seconds suspending the rules. O’Brien says he’s against suspending the rules because he wants more information. Rasmussen says he feels like he has all the information. Burgess then suggests, what if we take committee action today and delay the full council consideration (which otherwise would be as early as next week)? He adds, “I’m sure that during that time both sides will continue their advocacy.” Godden says, “That means more phone calls saying to call Tom.” Rasmussen says, “Well, you’re requesting the delay, Councilmember …” O’Brien says the information he still needs involves the width of 40th SW among other things, and how will he get that information? Discussion ensues regarding whether that could be presented to him directly, or at another public meeting.
Clark says she wants advocates on both sides to know she is “not hearing a fatal flaw” regarding the vacation, but does have some questions she’d like to have answered.
BOTTOM LINE: It will return to the committee on April 8th – no vote today. That will not be a formal public hearing but there will be public comment taken, on that and whatever else is on the agenda.
ADDED 1:34 PM: Regarding how “conceptual approval/build project/final vacation approval years later” would work – we talked with Councilmember Rasmussen afterward. A few weeks ago, we noticed the Admiral Safeway alley vacation on a council agenda for final approval; since the project has been complete for more than two years, we were a little puzzled, but got sidetracked before asking about it. Rasmussen says that’s exactly what that was – the council conceptually approved the alley vacation, with conditions, and once they were fulfilled, it came back for one last vote finalizing the sale of the alley property on that site.