West Seattle development: Design Commission revisits The Whittaker; see the art, landscaping planned around its siteDecember 22, 2014 at 11:40 am | In 4755 Fauntleroy, Development, West Seattle news | 28 Comments
When the Seattle Design Commission gave its qualified approval last year to The Whittaker, West Seattle’s biggest development project ever (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW), they told the project team they’d have to come back when certain aspects of the project finished taking shape.
That return visit happened on Thursday, and revealed more details of the art and landscaping that will surround the building. We’ve since obtained the full slide deck shown at the meeting (see above), which resulted in some suggestions by the commission, whose role in the project is related to the fact it required an alley vacation (subsequently approved by the City Council this past April).
For the first time in a while, the Seattle Design Commission has a West Seattle project on its agenda. At 9 am next Thursday – December 18th – the commission will be checking in on the “public benefit” program promised by The Whittaker (under construction at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW) as required for its alley vacation (explained here). The SDC reviewed the project four times last year before giving its blessing; here’s our coverage of the final meeting, including links to the three before it. Next Thursday’s meeting is open to the public, in the Boards/Commissions Room at City Hall downtown.
(WSB video by Patrick Sand)
FIRST REPORT, 2:22 PM: With ice axes digging into dirt near the southwest corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska, ground has just been ceremonially broken for The Whittaker, ~400 apartments, ~600 parking spaces, and Whole Foods Market (the anchor, and lone announced, retail tenant). A two-year construction process now ensues; demolition and site clearing has just concluded, and excavation/shoring is expected to start in a few weeks. It’s been almost two years since we broke the news of an ‘early’ proposal for the site. We have the by-invitation ceremony on video and will add it, along with photos and more details, after our return to HQ.
ADDED 6:12 PM: We’ve substituted a slightly longer YouTube version of the actual “groundbreaking” video above, in place of the short Instagram clip (which you can still see here). And here’s our video of the speeches that preceded it:
Most of those on hand for the event, held near the northeast corner of the project site – just south of where the gas station used to be – were affiliated with members of the project team – residential developer Lennar Homes, retail developer Weingarten, Whole Foods, local communicators, general contractor Chinn Construction, whose owner Kevin Chinn was there:
(WSB photos by Torin Record-Sand)
With him at left above is Josh Sutton from the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor). Sutton was on the community advisory group that worked with the city on the Triangle Plan a few years ago, as was West 5 restaurateur Dave Montoure of the West Seattle Chamber/Junction boards:
That’s Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive director Clay Eals at right above with Montoure. Speaking on the Chamber’s behalf, its board chair Nancy Woodland (leaning to the left and smiling in photo below):
She mentioned the community’s strength and its many “opinions,” the only overt allusion to the controversy that beset the project for months, including former Mayor Mike McGinn’s instruction to SDOT in July 2013 to not approve the project’s “alley vacation” and a standing-room-only City Council hearing last March, followed by the council’s 6-3 approval vote in April, the last major hurdle the project had to clear.
That was three months after the development team had announced the project would be named for climbing legend and West Seattle native Jim Whittaker. He and wife Dianne Roberts were at today’s ceremony:
In his honor, mountaineering metaphors were plentiful. The groundbreaking was described as “base camp,” but with a long climb ahead – two years of construction, to result in this:
And even as today’s celebration continued, so did site-prep work on the south side of the site.
Development manager Kelley Kohout told WSB the excavation work will start from that side, and head north. The project is so big, two tower cranes will be required; he says they’ll arrive sometime in the first quarter of next year. It’s already been a month since the start of demolition/abatement.
As construction ramps up, Whole Foods will continue planning its store; VP of store development Tee Ayer promised the market will reflect the community’s spirit and personality, saying, “you will see West Seattle” in it. (Just a week ago, WF announced plans for another new Seattle store, on Capitol Hill.)
As for what else you’ll see in The Whittaker’s retail space – Weingarten executive Lance Sherwood told WSB today they have nothing to announce yet, but “lots of interest” and an expectation that they’ll “have no problem” leasing it all.
Our archive of coverage on this project is here, newest to oldest.
SIDE NOTE: The last ceremonial groundbreaking for a major development was in 2008, across the street at 3922 SW Alaska, then known as “Fauntleroy Place,” to be anchored by Whole Foods. After excavation, the project was stopped by legal and other problems, no fault of WF, which was just a planned tenant; terms of its lease, for store space to be available, never were fulfilled, which left the chain free to mull other WS possibilities – finally landing with this one. Meantime, after a foreclosure sale leading to an ownership change and name change to “Spruce,” that development re-started a year and a half ago and is close to completion, now with its entire commercial space to be taken up by an LA Fitness gym.
The city has issued the master-use permit for The Whittaker, the mixed-use megaproject at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW. The project team told us they got the news from the city this week, and the online files say the permit is officially dated today. According to correspondence in the same files, the project team has told the city it is eager to move forward so the deteriorating, vandalized old buildings on the site can be torn down, but has had to wait for that permit to be finalized, which has taken longer than they expected. The demolition permit is separate and is not shown as finalized yet, so you’re not going to see backhoes show up immediately, but the project team hopes some site work can start soon. The project will line Fauntleroy from Alaska to Edmunds, and Alaska from Fauntleroy to 40th, with two buildings holding about 370 apartments, a Whole Foods Market, and other retailers yet to be signed/announced. The project gained regional attention when former Mayor Mike McGinn told SDOT to reject developers’ request to buy a city-owned alley that’s on the site; the ultimate decision was up to the City Council, which approved the alley deal last April. Construction is expected to last about two years.
(TOPLINE: The long-debated alley vacation is approved by the City Council in a 6-3 vote.)
We’re at City Hall this afternoon for the City Council meeting expected to bring a vote on the “alley vacation” for 4755 Fauntleroy Way, aka The Whittaker (or, the “Whole Foods” project). Five councilmembers voted in favor of it at the Transportation Committee‘s meeting almost two weeks ago.
The meeting begins with public comment on whatever’s on the agenda, not just this item; Deb Barker, a longtime opponent, is the first to comment on the alley vacation, urging the council to vote “no.” Next commenter is Elena Perez (above), coordinator of the group that has opposed the development for a year, Getting It Right for West Seattle. She says that after outreach done by the group, “Overwhelmingly, the conclusion is that this development is bad for our community” and calls the potential alley vacation “a land grab.”
First speaker in favor of the alley vacation is Sharonn Meeks (above). She says there’s a misconception – “the developer is going to pay” for the alley, not get it for free. She’s followed by Dave Montoure, who also is a supporter and says he has been to many meetings and hearings: “Density supports business, not just Fortune 500 businesses, (but also) small businesses like my own.”
2:25 PM: Now to the alley vacation item. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, one of three councilmembers who voted “no” at the Transportation Committee meeting, presents the “minority report” first. He says the main reason he’s opposing it is because of “the public-benefit tradeoff.” He says he doesn’t think it will meet the needs of pedestrian access. Next, the “majority report,” presented by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. He says it’s been vetted through “dozens of meetings” at community and city-department levels. After a brief bit of history about the alley/street-vacation process, he notes that the committee he chairs reviewed the project and determined that it meets the requirements laid out in the process, including public benefits such as green-street improvements on 40th, a crosswalk to the north, landscaping, a $25,000 contribution to the new city park on 40th, and a new bike lane on the west side of Fauntleroy. And Rasmussen reiterates that the developer would pay “full market value” for the alley land.
Next, Councilmember Nick Licata, who voted against it at the committee meeting, says he is still opposed because he believes it does not provide “a significant public benefit.” After him, Councilmember Sally Clark reiterates her support, and also says she’s glad to hear that West Seattle is forming a Land Use Committee (via the Southwest District Council – see our earlier coverage). She says she believes the project “is providing more than adequate public benefit” while acknowledging that the project might not be perfect, but it has gone through boards and committees and other layers of feedback and “sets of expectations.”
Rollcall vote: 6 yes, 3 no. The alley vacation petition is approved. Rasmussen offers closing words that the development will upgrade what is currently a “bleak” site. He also thanks everyone for public involvement in the extensive process. The “no” votes are Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, and Kshama Sawant; the “yes” votes are Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Sally Clark, Jean Godden.
The council will be talking about parks funding after this meeting so we’ll be staying for that, as parks funding is a big issue for much of West Seattle.
TUESDAY MORNING NOTE: We’re working on a separate followup for later today, but a project spokesperson says a published report today of construction starting in July is NOT accurate. They continue to expect that work will begin “by year’s end.”
(TOPLINE: Five councilmembers voted in favor of the alley vacation at today’s hearing; final vote expected at full Council meeting on April 21st)
(Photos/video by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
9:35 AM: Just under way at City Hall – the City Council Transportation Committee meeting that will include the “alley vacation” request for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way (aka The Whittaker) development. You can watch the live Seattle Channel stream by clicking “play” in the window below:
(EVENING UPDATE: The archived full-meeting Seattle Channel video is now embedded above)
The meeting will start with public comment, about this and the meeting’s other big item – the updated Bicycle Master Plan. After that, 4755 Fauntleroy is the first item on the agenda. We’ll update live as it goes.
(Added: WSB video of the entire public-comment period)
9:42 AM: Public comment is under way. The committee’s chair Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is calling alley-vacation commenters first, then bicycle plan. First commenter, Deb Barker, a co-author of the letter/supporting documents we published last night, including criticism of the public-outreach period. Second, Joe Rogoff from Whole Foods Market, the only announced tenant for the project so far. He says opponents have mischaracterized the project’s truck-traffic potential. He also says, “Whole Foods Market being singled out as a tenant does not seem right to me” and notes there was no union outcry when non-unionized Trader Joe’s went in nearby. Third commenter, identified as Rebecca, who says city policy discourages alley/street vacations if they don’t benefit the city’s transportation system and thinks this should be denied. Next, a man identifying himself as a land-use attorney representing a commercial real-estate group. “Adding density to the region is critical,” he says. “… Especially dense new development near transit lines.” He says developers are starting to avoid alley vacations because they are such a hassle, and says that’s bad. Next: Steve Williamson, who says he wants the committee to vote no but if anyone chooses to vote “yes,” to explain what they believe is its public benefit. He, like Rebecca, says research has shown only one street/alley vacation denied by the council since 1998. And he says “development policy … is one way to address income inequality.”
9:54 AM: The commenters continued with supporter Josh Sutton, who says that if this project doesn’t go forward, another developer could move in with something worse. He says this project “has passed every step of the Seattle development process along the way … You have all you need to make a decision today.” Next, Jim Guenther, who says, “The train’s pulling away from the station and the only people on that train are going to be the developers, the City Council, and city staff.” He says opponents “have no problem with Whole Foods” and point out that they offered alternatives to the developers who, he says, “said no.” He lists four conditions he thinks should be required of the developers, including making half of the mid-block connector pedestrian-only, and “meaningful plazas” on the site. Next speaker, John, says, “I’ve had so many conversations with people about Whole Foods coming to West Seattle … (people) want WF to come here.” He contends, “The voters in West Seattle really, really want to see this happen.” He’s followed by Patrick Keating, who says he’s “here to talk about the traffic impacts … Currently (the crosswalks and bus stops) in the vicinity are difficult at best.” Next, Richard, who says, “A lot of this has turned into some bizarre union thing vs. non-union, Whole Foods … (but) this is really about the development of the property there. I don’t know if you’ve been down there but the place is a cesspool … derelict buildings, graffiti, the alley in question isn’t even an alley per se, it’s two streets cut off by dumpsters.” The next commenter, Kurt, says he got involved with a group of project opponents because he thought they were concerned about overall West Seattle development, but learned they were only focused on this project, and only on opposing Whole Foods being part of it. He says he supports the project. Final commenter is Dave Montoure, who says he wants to clarify that the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, for which he serves as past board chair, supports the project. He says he hopes the committee will vote today. He’s the last commenter on this project – next, four bicycle-plan commenters, so there’ll be a break in our coverage.
10:17 AM: Now, the official agenda item.
Councilmember Rasmussen recaps that discussion and presentations were extensive on March 11th so the city staffers are here mostly as “a resource.” Beverly Barnett, who is the city’s point person for reviewing street/alley vacations, speaks first. She goes through the process and says that the city’s default is supposed to be “retain right of way … so when people (bring in proposals), we do feel there’s kind of a ‘hump’ for them to go over.” The more-problematic ones, she says, never get to the council because of so much advance discussion. She says if there’s a vote today, it would be on whether to grant the alley vacation – which means, the right for the developer to buy the alley land at fair-market value – “as conditioned.” (The documentation are all in the items linked to the agenda and was also included in our March 11th coverage.) City staff is going over the list of meetings at which the project was discussed; Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she was concerned, but it sounds as if it’s been thoroughly discussed/presented. Councilmember Tim Burgess asked Barnett if this went through the standard vacation process. Yes, she said, although it’s been “more,” she added. He asks if it was circulated to city departments to see if there are any objections; yes, she replies, and says the developer met with departments including SDOT and Seattle Public Utilities to review elements including the design of the “mid-block connector” through the project. Luke Korpi of SDOT elaborates on that, saying “various alternatives” were explored, and that they felt they had finally arrived at the best version, which features a pedestrian walkway “separate from vehicle traffic, truck traffic.”
10:36 AM: Korpi says SDOT is “comfortable” with the final version. Bagshaw says she is still concerned about people getting from the project to the newly purchased park land across 40th SW. (There’s been controversy over whether SDOT would allow a mid-block crosswalk there; the West Seattle Triangle Plan calls for one.) Korpi says traffic engineers want to wait until after the project is finished to see how traffic patterns shape up, how the park is developed, etc. The developer is reported to have said that they will “participate” in making that crosswalk possible, and Bagshaw says she would like to make sure that is on the record somehow. Councilmember Mike O’Brien asks why, since Triangle Plan called for pedestrian-only midblock connector here, it’s OK for vehicles to be part of the one through the project. Korpi says they evaluated whether it would meet the goals of the plan, and SDOT determined it would. “So why was the letter of the neighborhood plan not achievable?” O’Brien asks. Korpi says it was deemed preferable for this project to have three access points for vehicles – Fauntleroy, 40th, Edmunds – to reduce pressure on Fauntleroy in particular. Councilmember Sally Clark says she supports getting the developer on record as helping pay for the future crosswalk. Rasmussen now moves for conceptual approval of the alley vacation and is second. Discussion ensues: He says the tenant is not part of the consideration, per city law; one critical point, he says, is whether the public will “lose alley function” with granting of a vacation, but he says that will not happen with this plan. And he quotes the Design Commission as saying that the plan with a midblock connector will “better meet the need … than the current alley … which is petitioned to be vacated.” He says that reviews indicate traffic will not be worsened at the area and that there are other benefits, such as wider sidewalks and an added bicycle lane, so he concludes “the public trust in the right of way” would be served. He also says that leaving the current alley configuration in place would not serve the goals of the Triangle Plan. And he notes SDOT did “not make a recommendation” regarding approval or denial, but did suggest conditions if the council chooses to support it. “My conclusion is that the public benefits are strong,” he concludes, and says he supports approval.
11:02 AM: Councilmember O’Brien, vice chair of the Transportation Committee, says he’s voting no. He thinks, for one, a grocery store could be placed on the Fauntleroy side, and he likes the fact that if the site were developed without an alley vacation, it would mean more housing units, and he says those are needed. Overall, he says he is not convinced there is enough public benefit, and the midblock connector concerns him the most – whether it has enough pedestrian orientation. He says he doesn’t think it’s possible to “put enough conditions on it” to make the vehicle traffic and pedestrian interaction work well enough. Councilmember Licata – who is an alternate member of the committee – is asking more about the connector. “It doesn’t seem to work in terms of just a pedestrian area,” he said, without “destinations on other side of the sidewalk … I don’t get who this is serving.” Rasmussen explains, “This is a very, very large site, and without a pedestrian connection, people would” have to walk up to and around the site on Alaska and Edmunds, “so it serves a very practical function.” Licata is not convinced. Next, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who says she’s been to the site and a “vibrant development” certainly is in order, but she still wants to see the jobs question considered – just because that hasn’t been part of the review process “doesn’t mean we should keep doing it the same way until the end of time.” She points out that this would be in an area with several other grocery stores and that she believes they are all unionized (editor’s note: not Trader Joe’s) and that she will vote no.
11:16 AM: The vote is “divided,” Rasmussen announces (5 for, 3 against, we’re still confirming how it shook out since it’s a voice vote), so it goes to the full council on April 21st. Five votes is a majority of the council, so if no one changes, that means it will be finalized then, and supporters are in a jovial mood outside the chambers. The committee now goes on to the Bicycle Master Plan – you can continue watching the meeting in the live window above. We’re hanging around until the end to be sure we have clarification on who voted what and what happens next.
11:55 AM: Just spoke with Rasmussen’s legislative assistant Brian Hawksford:
-The no votes were O’Brien, Sawant, and Licata.
-The only councilmember who wasn’t here was Bruce Harrell; so, the yes votes were Rasmussen, Bagshaw, Godden, Clark, Burgess.
-”Divided” vote means that since it was not unanimous, a report must be prepared by council staff laying out the points that were made, and that is why the final vote is delayed a week, and scheduled for the second meeting after the committee vote instead of the first one.
-Even though the committee itself is just three members, the rules allow any councilmember to join in the proceedings of any committee (including voting) at any time.
ADDED 2:25 PM: From e-mail, reaction from Getting It Right for West Seattle, which had sought to have a Community Benefit Agreement required before the alley vacation could be approved:
Transportation Chairperson Tom Rasmussen’s approval of the biggest megaproject of its kind in West Seattle is another illustration why it’s time for the city to modernize its definition of what constitutes a public benefit. The city council should consider the public’s priorities, such as compliance with neighborhood plans, public transportation, family wage jobs, affordable workforce housing, and more. It should no longer be okay to sell public property to developers and businesses who don’t meet Seattle’s community-oriented standards. We thank Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant for voting no on this project.
ADDED 10:08 PM: We have replaced the original cameraphone photos included here as we reported – crowd at top, council midway through – with two clearer images by our photographer. We also have replaced the original “live video” window with archived Seattle Channel video of the entire meeting, and also added the backup video we recorded while there – broken into two segments, the public comment, and the actual agenda item/discussion/vote.
Tomorrow morning at 9:30 am, the City Council’s Transportation Committee revisits the “alley vacation” request for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, the mixed-use project now named The Whittaker. Four weeks have passed since March 11, when the committee held the required-by-law public hearing but decided to postpone a vote until some questions could be answered (WSB as-it-happened coverage here). While tomorrow’s meeting is not an official public hearing, it will begin with a public-comment session. Meantime, six West Seattleites sent City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the committee, one more plea not to advance the alley vacation, and detailed concerns about the project and process. It is in essence their response to his response to those who sent him comments and concerns, as reported here on March 14th.
RE: ALLEY VACATION PETITION FOR THE 4755 FAUNTLEROY WAY SW DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL
Dear Councilmember Rasmussen:
Thank you for the explanation of your analysis of the proposed development at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle. We appreciate the time you took to listen and respond to community inquiries about this proposal. We continue to be concerned about several aspects of this proposal presented during public testimony by the developer and others that appear to be in error. This letter is sent to ensure that the record is accurate and that our concerns are appropriately considered.
Triangle Plan – First, we want to make it clear, we are not opposed to redevelopment of this site within the applicable zoning code requirements. We also feel strongly about adherence to the Triangle Plan because this is a legacy decision that our community will live with for 50 to 75 years (at a minimum). The community, including residents, businesses owners, and other interested parties, dedicated significant time and effort to making the Triangle Plan the best guidance possible for the life of the planning area. Attached is an analysis of concerns we have with the proposed development’s compliance with the Triangle Plan in Exhibit A – Triangle Plan.
Public Benefit – We understand the alley vacation is not a “giving” of the public right-of-way to the property owner, but a market rate sale. We hold that public property is a limited resource that should not be sold or otherwise transferred out of public ownership without substantial public benefit being achieved. To that end, we sought, without success, a Community Benefit Agreement with the developer that would establish terms of the benefits accruing to the community from such transfer. We remain concerned that some of the benefits identified by the developer to justify the alley vacation are standard requirements under the Seattle Municipal Code and should not, therefore, be counted toward the benefit required for vacating public right-of-way. Please see the full discussion in Exhibit B – Public Benefit.
Community Outreach – Members of the community have been actively involved in the review of this project since first presented in 2012. We appreciate that the developer made presentations at meetings with the community. We are concerned that on Page 5 of the developers March 11, 2014 presentation to the Transportation Committee, many of the Community Outreach Meetings listed with a particular group actually involved only one or two members associated with that group. Further, the meetings were held in conjunction with members of other groups. The developer has by accident or design overstated their outreach to the West Seattle community. This is important because it may appear that a particular group or board has supported the project, when in reality that group or board never saw a presentation. Please see full discussion in Exhibit C – Community Outreach.
Traffic Impacts - We also are concerned about the lack of a more robust traffic analysis for the retail component. In May of 2013, we submitted to the Seattle Design Commission (SDC) the attached pictures and vehicle counts of actual delivery truck traffic patterns and conflicts associated with the Whole Foods located in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. We also provided the SDC with a copy of the USDOT/WSDOT-sponsored study of truck traffic at Puget Sound grocery stores, which showed that even at conventional grocery stores, freight deliveries are much more frequent than project proponents assume. We ask that you look carefully at these highly relevant comparisons because they do not comport with the traffic analysis relied on by the Seattle Department of Transportation in making its recommendations to the City Council on this development. There is also additional analysis available from work done by Ross Tilghman, P.E, who is now a member of the Seattle Design Commission. Please see Exhibit D – Traffic Impacts.
Review Process – Much has been made of the project reviews before the Southwest Design Review Board (SWDRB) and the Seattle Design Commission. We attended all of the public meetings and we believe that these reviews were much more tentative than characterized in public testimony. The SWDRB was not unanimous in its final approval. The SDC conditionally approved the vacation, and had scheduled an administrative review of a key design condition prior to the alley vacation hearing. But that review was cancelled purportedly because the developers were not ready to provide updated plans. This is consistent with what happened to the public as this proposal moved forward, i.e., the chance for public review continually shifted, and our comment opportunities diminished. Please see Exhibit E – Review Process.
Finally, we believe the inaccuracies and insufficiencies in the public record are enough to ask the City Council to pause in its deliberations. Pretty drawings and clever naming does not change a poor development into a good one. If this developer has the staying power to do a development that provides the legacy and cornerstone project the West Seattle community is looking for, there is no need to rush this forward. We believe there are sufficient reasons to hit the pause button and make sure the record is clear and correct before you proceed.
Thank you for your consideration.
West Seattle Residents:
Diane Rose Vincent
C: Seattle City Council
Mayor Ed Murray
Exhibits: Exhibit A – Triangle Plan
Exhibit B – Public Benefit
Exhibit C – Community Outreach
Exhibit D – Traffic Impacts
Exhibit E – Review Process
Continuing coverage of on our one-on-one Q-and-A with Mayor Ed Murray, one topic at a time: Two weeks from today, the requested “alley vacation” for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project – aka The Whittaker, and/or the Whole Foods project – goes back to the City Council Transportation Committee, which held a public hearing two weeks ago (WSB coverage here). Last summer, the mayor’s predecessor had told SDOT to recommend rejection of the request. After Mayor Murray took office, we asked for his comment on the situation, and his spokesperson had told us he wasn’t commenting. So we asked during our one-on-one interview Friday; here’s his reply:
The proposal to grant the project’s developers the opportunity to buy the alley land for not-yet-specified “fair market value” ultimately goes to the full City Council for a final vote, possibly as soon as April 14th, depending on what happens at the committee meeting April 8th.
Our next question for/answer from the mayor is also a development issue – his thoughts on the relatively new city rules allowing housing without off-street parking if it’s a certain distance from what’s considered frequent transit, though the city can’t guarantee the ongoing availability of said transit.
(From project team’s presentation at last Tuesday’s hearing)
Following up on Tuesday’s City Council Transportation Committee hearing (WSB as-it-happened coverage here) on the requested “alley vacation” for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, recently named The Whittaker, aka “the Whole Foods project” for the only tenant announced so far for the ~400-apartment, ~600-parking-space mixed-use building: The committee’s chair, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, has made public the e-mail he is sending to those who’ve contacted him with concerns. Read it here or below:
As noted both in Rasmussen’s e-mail and our Tuesday coverage linked above, the next official step is the April 8th committee meeting. It will also have a public-comment period, but since it’s not the formal public hearing on the proposal, it won’t be as long as the hour last Tuesday. Along with Rasmussen, the committee includes vice chair Mike O’Brien and member Jean Godden. The final vote on the proposal would be up to the full council.
As-it-happened: 4755 Fauntleroy alley-vacation hearing, standing room only; vote delayed to April 8thMarch 11, 2014 at 9:34 am | In 4755 Fauntleroy, Development, West Seattle news, West Seattle politics | 76 Comments
(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.”
IF READING FROM HOME PAGE, CLICK AHEAD TO READ THE REST OF OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE
Click to read the rest of As-it-happened: 4755 Fauntleroy alley-vacation hearing, standing room only; vote delayed to April 8th…
(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).
‘Alley vacation’ for The Whittaker? Preview what City Councilmembers will see at Tuesday’s public hearingMarch 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm | In 4755 Fauntleroy, Development, West Seattle news | 12 Comments
As we’ve been reporting for a month, next Tuesday is the official City Council Transportation Committee public hearing on the “alley vacation” request by the developers of The Whittaker, the 370-apartment, 600-parking-space project at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, with Whole Foods Market the only announced tenant so far. Two days ago, we showed you the SDOT memo sent to the committee by the staff that’s been reviewing the request for months. Now, the committee meeting’s agenda is out, and it includes other documents:
*Slide deck explaining the Seattle Design Commission‘s four reviews of the project before it voted last June to approve the “public benefits” that are required for alley/street vacations – see it here or via the Scribd viewer below:
*The Whittaker’s presentation – see it here or via the Scribd viewer below:
Again, the SDOT memo and an attachment were featured in this WSB story on Tuesday (and are also linked in the meeting agenda). Toward the end of that story, we noted we were reading the 22-page memo so we could post excerpts for those who didn’t want to go through the whole thing. We never got to add them so we’re doing so now, after the jump:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We are now one week away from the project at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, now known as The Whittaker (previously nicknamed the Whole Foods project after its anchor tenant), going to the City Council Transportation Committee for a public hearing.
The public hearing, the date for which was set last month, is your chance to comment on the “alley vacation” requested by The Whittaker’s developers – asking for City Council approval of their potential purchase of alley space on the site, for their 370-apartment, 600-parking-space mixed-use project. It includes what some have described as a new private alley, a “midblock connector” through the project. In addition to paying what the city calls fair-market value for the alley space, developers are supposed to include a package of “public benefits” in order to gain approval.
With behind-the-scenes meetings and advocacy campaigns having been long under way, the hearing is shaping up as a showdown between project supporters and opponents; the latter most notably include UFCW Local 21, which funded a campaign called “Getting It Right for West Seattle” focused on raising concerns about the project, from Whole Foods’ pay scale to potential truck traffic. The project team launched a campaign of its own recently, including this website mentioned in postal-mail cards sent to people in proximity of the project.
The Seattle Department of Transportation reviews alley-vacation requests before they go to the City Council. Last July, you might recall, then-Mayor Mike McGinn told then-SDOT director Peter Hahn not to recommend approval of the alley vacation. The SDOT staff review was not complete at that time. It is now, one week in advance of the hearing, and we have just obtained it:
(The table/attachment referenced in the document is here.) In our first quick read of the 22-page document, we note that SDOT concludes that, “Should the City Council choose to support the vacation, it is recommended that the vacation be granted upon the Petitioner meeting” conditions laid out at the end of the document – you can see the long list of those conditions in the embedded document above.
We’ll be adding more to this story later this afternoon, and we’ll have a followup looking more closely at the campaigns focused on this proposal. Next Wednesday’s hearing is at 9:30 am in City Council Chambers at City Hall downtown.
West Seattle development followup: Formal notice of March 11th hearing on 4755 Fauntleroy ‘alley vacation’February 14, 2014 at 8:50 am | In 4755 Fauntleroy, Environment, West Seattle news | Comments Off
Back on Wednesday, we reported the date had finally been set for the City Council Transportation Committee’s public hearing on the “alley vacation” that needs council approval before The Whittaker, aka “the Whole Foods project,” can proceed at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW: 9:30 am March 11th in council chambers at City Hall. This morning, the official city notice is out – see it here. It includes details on how to comment at, and before, the March 11th hearing. It also includes this map of the site and the surrounding area (partially shown at right). The hearing before the Transportation Committee, chaired by West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, is the first step in formal council consideration; the full council would consider it afterward.
(WSB file photo of the east-west alley that the development wants, along with a north-south section)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One key approval still needed if the 4755 Fauntleroy SW (map) project, aka The Whittaker and “the Whole Foods project,” is to go forward is the one that became an issue in last year’s mayoral campaign: The “alley vacation” request, in which the developers are seeking approval to buy part of the alleys on the site, which are city-owned right of way. A date is finally set for the City Council review of the request to begin – March 11th, 9:30 am, the first hearing before the council’s Transportation Committee, chaired by West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.
Though the date technically is still tentative, Councilmember Rasmussen tells WSB they expect SDOT to get all the necessary documentation in by then.
‘The Whittaker’ chosen as name for 4755 Fauntleroy project, in honor of West Seattle native Jim WhittakerJanuary 10, 2014 at 4:27 pm | In 4755 Fauntleroy, West Seattle news | 38 Comments
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The largest development currently planned for West Seattle now has a larger-than-life name:
The name chosen for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW is a tribute to the West Seattle native who first made history as the first American to summit 29,028-foot Mount Everest, Jim Whittaker (right).
The legendary outdoorsman was, typically, outdoors when he talked with us about it – near the sea, not far from the mountains, standing in the rain at a spot where he could get a cell connection. Exactly one month shy of his 85th birthday, Whittaker says he has never had a building named for him before, jokingly telling us, “That’s usually something that happens after you’re dead.”
We also talked with spokespersons for project developers Lennar and Weingarten about the name choice and the status of what until now was just nicknamed “the Whole Foods project,” after its first announced tenant.
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.)
The advocacy group Getting It Right for West Seattle is going public Monday with its alternative visions for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project site. As reported here in community-meeting coverage last month, the group that grew from union concerns about the Whole Foods Market-anchored project hired University of Washington architecture/urban design/planning professor Dr. Sharon E. Sutton to come up with alternative “design concept” for the site, based on feedback from an online survey. (She had earlier outlined concerns about the project in her role as urban-design consultant to UFCW Local 21.) Her two designs will be shown at a meeting Monday night. The group says the public is welcome at that meeting – 6:45 pm Monday (November 18th) at Emeritus (formerly Merrill Gardens; WSB sponsor)-West Seattle, 4611 35th SW.
SIDE NOTE: If you are wondering about the project’s official status – the former gas station at the Fauntleroy/Alaska is being demolished/dug up, as reported here earlier this month, but the rest of it continues to await a key city decision, regarding the alley vacation required by the design that was approved by the city’s Southwest Design Review Board and Design Commission. The alley vacation is not expected to go to the City Council before Mayor Mike McGinn, who told SDOT to oppose it, leaves office in early January.
You might have noticed that some demolition work started today at 4755 Fauntleroy Way – aka the Whole Foods (and ~370 apartments as well as other retail) site – but that does not mean the project has its final approvals, and it has nothing to do with the results of last night’s mayoral election (you might recall that the “alley vacation” needed for the project became a campaign issue, when Mayor McGinn told SDOT not to approve it). What’s happening here, a project spokesperson told WSB today, is demolition of the former gas station on the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner, so that its tanks can be dug up and the site can be cleaned up.
This work will take about three weeks, according to the project spokesperson. (Even if the site had remained under its previous ownership, the tanks were slated for removal and replacement – we had been watching permits and processes there for a long time.) As for the aforementioned alley vacation, it still has to go before the City Council Transportation Committee, which wouldn’t happen any sooner than next month. As SDOT’s street/alley-vacation specialist Beverly Barnett told the Junction Neighborhood Organization in September, the proposal remains open for public comment.
4755 Fauntleroy alley spat: Development team defends its ‘public benefit’ plan; Whole Foods says, ‘We’re a good employer’July 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm | In 4755 Fauntleroy, Development, West Seattle news | 37 Comments
In the second week since the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project – 370 apartments, a Whole Foods Market, and other TBA retailers – was catapulted into the citywide spotlight by a mayoral letter, we heard yesterday from the advocacy group rallying concerns, and now, today, we hear again from the development team and WF. Reps for Lennar Homes and Weingarten Realty tell WSB they are still hoping to engage the mayor directly in dialogue, but for now, here’s their defense of the “public benefit” they are proposing as a prerequisite for City Council approval of an “alley vacation” for the site, which would lead to the city selling the alley land in question to the developers, which the mayor says the city shouldn’t do:
… This is the first project implemented under the West Seattle Triangle Plan and is an exciting opportunity for the community to have the environmental issues on this site remediated, abandoned buildings removed, and vacant parking lots replaced with new businesses, housing and, most of all, jobs.
Early in this process, the development team reviewed the planning and zoning documents for these parcels and we were impressed with the grass-roots effort that created and implemented the West Seattle Triangle Plan.
Accordingly, this re-development fully supports the recommendations of the community as expressed in the West Seattle Triangle Plan. This vision, passed by Council and signed by Mayor McGinn less than two years ago, includes vacating the public alleyway and creating a midblock connector.
The proposal to vacate an on-site alley went through extensive vetting by DPD, SDOT, the Design Commission and the West Seattle Design Review Board. Under the City’s established process, the Design Commission unanimously recommended approval of the alley vacation and the West Seattle Design Review Board also recommended approval of the project. Strong public support in favor of the re-development was seen at all meetings and is also seen in comments posted on media websites.
The total width of the midblock connector is 51 feet on 40th Avenue and 41 feet on Fauntleroy Way. This is the normal width of a typical city street in Seattle and exceeds the minimum required standards for an alley, which are just 20 feet.
Along with providing a new midblock connector that is more than twice as wide as the requirements of an alley, this redevelopment will also create a functioning north/south alley. Currently, the existing alley that runs north and south, dead ends into a 6’-0” high retaining wall and is impassable for vehicles or pedestrians.
Although we are replacing approximately 6,600 square feet of vacated alley with a 11,000-square-foot midblock connector, which includes a public easement, the city requires us to purchase the vacated portion of the alley from the city. This transaction will occur after a post-construction appraisal is completed.
In addition to purchasing the vacated alley from the city at full-market value, we are required to provide a “public benefit” package. For this project, more than $2 million will be invested into the community by providing:
• Activation of a city-designated Green Street on 40th Ave. SW
• Creation of 5,000+ s.f. of public plazas and open space on site
• Widening of 40th Ave. SW on the north end of the block
• Creation of 6- to 10-foot-wide bands of landscaping around the project
• Addition of a 5-foot-wide bike lane on Fauntleroy Way
• Curation and installation of public art
• Funding for design of a new city park on 40th Ave SW
Another positive outcome of the re-development will be a new source of sales and property tax revenues for the city.
Through all of this and more, we are demonstrating a strong commitment to the community, and West Seattle will benefit from a blighted area being re-developed into a thriving, pedestrian-friendly business and residential district.
Meantime, Whole Foods – which is not part of the “development team” but rather a signed tenant for the project – has sent us its latest rebuttal. From regional president Joe Rogoff, from whom we first heard July 16th (in a statement toward the end of our story the day the controversy erupted):
Click to read the rest of 4755 Fauntleroy alley spat: Development team defends its ‘public benefit’ plan; Whole Foods says, ‘We’re a good employer’…
(West side of 4755 Fauntleroy, rendering by Fuller Sears Architects)
One week ago today, the 4755 Fauntleroy Way mixed-use project’s path through the approval process hit a sudden pothole when Mayor McGinn sent a letter to SDOT, saying the department should recommend the City Council reject the project’s request for an “alley vacation” to facilitate 370 apartments, 600 underground parking spaces, and retail including Whole Foods Market. The “vacation” would involve the city agreeing to sell a section of alley on the property to the developers. The mayor cited concerns including most notably the proliferation of supermarkets in central West Seattle and the wages and benefits that non-union Whole Foods would offer its staff, points that had been made at prior hearings on the project by members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, which has recently become involved with an advocacy campaign called “Getting It Right for West Seattle,” focused on this project.
Our initial coverage a week ago, which you can see here, includes the mayor’s letter, Whole Foods’ response, project background (we’ve been covering 4755 Fauntleroy for a year), and 185 reader comments. Then last Wednesday, we published a followup including the developers’ response (see it here) and what happens next – the project’s referral to the City Council Transportation Committee for a public hearing on the alley vacation. (No date yet; SDOT communications director Rick Sheridan tells WSB, “In terms of schedule, the earliest a recommendation could be delivered is the fall.”)
In the past week, all this has circulated into regional media. And now there’s a followup – Getting It Right for West Seattle has sent a letter to the Transportation Committee’s chair, West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, and e-mailed us a copy late today:
As you’ll see if you scroll through it, the letter is signed by representatives of more than two dozen local businesses, three unions including UFCW Local 21, 22 people identifying themselves as West Seattleites, four political/advocacy groups, and five clergy/faith-group representatives. If you can’t read the embedded document, the heart of the letter reads:
This project, if approved, would be the largest multi-use development ever built in West Seattle. While acquisition of a public right of way would greatly increase these developers’ profits, the project in its current form will:
• increase West Seattle’s traffic and congestion;
• degrade pedestrian safety;
• create low-wage jobs and housing unaffordable to those workers;
• drive away existing local, small businesses; and
• set a lower standard for future development in West Seattle.
We are aware that the Seattle City Council has final authority over alley vacations. We urge you as chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee to let the Executive’s decision stand.
Once that committee has a hearing and takes a vote, the alley-vacation request would then move to the full Council. If it voted to approve the request, the mayor could veto it; if he did, the council could override it, and that would be the final say (pending legal challenges, etc.). Before this letter arrived, we had been working on a separate followup we expect to publish tomorrow, with other updates.
P.S. If you are just coming in on this – this project was first proposed a year ago for a site including the former Huling (and briefly Gee) auto property along Fauntleroy south of Alaska, plus the Shell station north of it, the Howden-Kennedy Funeral Home west of that (they are moving to a new location in Sunrise Heights), and another former auto-sales property at the corner of 40th/Alaska. It would abut the Alki Masonic Temple on two sides; the developers announced during the May Design Commission review that they would pay to improve the Masons’ parking lot.
(40th SW side of the 4755 Fauntleroy project, from the “packet” from last week’s Design Review meeting)
As reported – and extensively discussed – here on Tuesday, Mayor McGinn has put up a potential roadblock in the permit-seeking path of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project, by telling SDOT to not recommend approval of the “alley vacation” the plan requires. While continuing to update that story Tuesday afternoon and evening, we sought comment from the development team, Lennar Homes (responsible for the residential component) and Weingarten Realty (handling the commercial component, anchored by a Whole Foods Market). Here’s the statement we received late today:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Mayor McGinn’s comments about our mixed-use re-development, located at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW.
Less than two years ago, the City Council adopted, and Mayor McGinn signed, an ordinance creating the West Seattle Triangle Plan. The Plan calls for the vacation of the alley in this block and the creation of a new mid-block connector – goals this project has fully embraced.
Mayor McGinn’s comments are surprising given the Mayor’s past support of developments that add housing and retail along transit lines and bike lanes. In fact, our re-development is designed with alternate modes of transportation in mind.
The statement continues after the jump:
(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.
After almost four hours, the Southwest Design Review Board‘s doubleheader meeting has just wrapped up. We have it all on video, and detailed notes to come, but for right now, the bottom line: Both projects advanced. First one up, ~150 units and 115 parking spaces at 4745 40th SW, moves from the Early Design Guidance phase to the “recommendations” phase – meaning there might be just one more meeting for that project. Second one up, the ~370-apartment, 600-parking-space 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW megaproject, won final SWDRB approval – technically a recommendation to city officials – after four meetings. Both recommendations come with conditions that will be formalized by city planners, and this is nowhere near final approval for construction – a variety of other permit processes will follow, and there’s still time to comment (we’ll explain how in our longer coverage). The 4755 Fauntleroy team has said they hope to get their project going by year’s end; we’ll check with the 4745 40th SW team tomorrow.
(Looking south on 40th from Alaska, at project’s northwest corner)
The next Southwest Design Review Board meeting has been scheduled for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way megaproject – 370 apartments, ~600 parking spaces, Whole Foods, a still-unnamed drugstore, and more – 8 pm July 11th, Senior Center of West Seattle. The date appeared on the city Department of Planning and Development website late today, just hours after the Seattle Design Commission took its fourth – and ultimately, final – look at the parts of the plan in which it has jurisdiction.
That meeting at City Hall downtown ended with commissioners voting to recommend that the city approve the “alley vacation” requested for the plan.
First, they reviewed an updated presentation – now posted to the city website in its 59-page entirety – about the “public benefit” that the development team is offering, which they calculate is worth more than $2 million.
Because it involves an “alley vacation,” the 4755 Fauntleroy megaproject (more than 300 apartments, 600 parking spaces, Whole Foods) has to get signoff from the Seattle Design Commission, which has reviewed the proposas three times now. The fourth meeting is now set – 9 am next Thursday (June 20th) in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall downtown. All are welcome, and there is a public-comment period. Documents for Thursday’s presentation aren’t online yet, but here’s what was reviewed last month (WSB coverage here).
(TOPLINE: After almost 3 hours, the Design Commission told 4755 Fauntleroy to tweak its proposed “public benefit” plan and come back a 4th time)
1:43 PM: We are downtown for the third review of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way (Whole Foods/apartments) megaproject before the Seattle Design Commission – and it’s another crowded room, more than 50 people this time, including golden-shirted members of UFCW Local 21, which has expressed consistent opposition to the project, and others including members of the project team, Parks and SDOT reps and, among community members, Steve Huling, former owner of most of the land on which the project will be built, and Nancy Woodland, from the board of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The commission’s role in this is to review its “urban design merit” and the “public benefit” the developers plan to offer in exchange for the city granting an alley vacation. Highlights as they happen.
Lance Sherwood of Weingarten, the retail developer on the project, starts with three big announcements:
*There is no longer a drugstore drive-through in the project
*The developers will pay to improve the Masonic Temple’s nearby parking lot
*The developers will contribute money ($25,000) toward public outreach regarding the design of the park that the city plans to create on land it’s purchased across 40th from the project’s west side.
The presentation then is taken over by Bill Fuller of Fuller Sears Architects. He explains that the Masons’ parking lot will be graded to be at a single level (it’s on two now), with one entrance. He also notes that part of 40th SW will become the first true “Seattle Green Street” under their plan. Removing drugstore drive-through traffic and Masons’ entry from the project’s “midblock connection” will resolve many of the persistent concerns about it, he says.
He also shows the “iconic corner” at Fauntleroy/Alaska (northeast corner), which now will have glass and lighting.
Next, landscape architect Andy Rasmussen, a West Seattleite who works for Weisman Design Group, is talking about the corners of the project as part of its public benefit. An artist named Troy is here and is involved with the project, Rasmussen says.
The art will involve corten/rusted metal and will be inspired by maritime West Seattle – he shows anchors and pilings as “inspiration.”
He says the connection on 40th to the future park has been “strengthened” in the latest design. Also – more street trees, fewer curb cuts (4 total – compared to 15 on the site now), and overhead weather protection for pedestrians all around the project, he says.
2:02 PM: The discussion of the art, in particular at the Fauntleroy/Alaska SW corner, continues. Some of the forms also will be evocative of the mountains, Rasmussen explains; others, of waves. They also are continuing to work with SDOT, as mentioned previously, on a crosswalk across Alaska at that corner (where Spruce – which just started construction – will be). He says the “water-like” elements will continue down 40th south from Alaska, into the raingarden area that’s streetside on the site there:
Back to the midblock connector that will cut between the project’s two buildings, from Fauntleroy to 40th, it will still have a raised crosswalk midway through. One area on the Fauntleroy edges will also have some extra public space, north of the connector. It’ll carry on the nautical theme with “oar-like forms.”
On the Fauntleroy/Edmunds corner, it will be a more “pier-like/dock-like space,” Rasmussen continues. The major residential entry is there, as is bike parking. Fuller picks up the presentation after that, summarizing the points they believe comprise the public benefit – what’s mentioned above, and more.
OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE CONTINUES BELOW: Click to read the rest of As it happened: Design Commission tells 4755 Fauntleroy to come back for 4th review…
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