West Seattle Blog... » Development http://westseattleblog.com West Seattle news, 24/7 Sat, 25 Oct 2014 04:48:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 West Seattle development: Views of the old and the new http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-the-old-and-the-new/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-the-old-and-the-new/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 01:33:39 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=289691 Two scenes from the Junction/Triangle area:

FAUNTLEROY/EDMUNDS: Most of the future site of the mixed-use Whittaker is now cleared; just the last section on the southeast corner, the old Chevrolet showroom and service area to the west, remains (our photo was taken from Fauntleroy, looking southwest). A few blocks west:

4730 CALIFORNIA: Michael shared that photo showing that the facade of the midblock mixed-use project on California between Alaska and Edmunds is finally in view. Work on this project began with demolition in June of last year.

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West Seattle development: Last phase of Whittaker site teardown http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-last-phase-of-whittaker-site-teardown/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-last-phase-of-whittaker-site-teardown/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 18:39:01 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=289533

Rain or shine, the demolition and construction work in the heart of West Seattle is proceeding – and today, at the future site of The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW), the last round of demolition has begun. Teardown of the 1952-built former auto-dealership buildings on the south side of the site started this morning. The view in the top photo reminds us of the same stage of demolition on another formerly Huling-owned site five years ago. *added* Here’s a photo from just before the beams were revealed:

Just in case you’re a new arrival: The project to be built here includes ~400 apartments, ~600 parking spaces, and retail (Whole Foods remains the only announced tenant so far). The Masonic Center at 40th/Edmunds is not part of the site and will remain, getting some parking-lot improvements as part of the “public benefits” promised by the developers next door.

P.S. Speaking of development – the West Seattle Land Use Committee‘s scheduled to hold its third meeting tonight, 6:30 pm, Senior Center of West Seattle (Oregon/California).

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Touring the Junction/Triangle ‘walkshed’: Proliferation of plans http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/touring-the-junctiontriangle-walkshed-proliferation-of-plans/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/touring-the-junctiontriangle-walkshed-proliferation-of-plans/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 19:51:13 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288643

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Seattle Comprehensive Plan

West Seattle Junction Hub Neighborhood Plan

West Seattle Triangle Streetscape Concept Plan ..

Seattle Transit Master Plan

Seattle Bicycle Master Plan

Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan

Seattle Right of Way Improvements Manual

Seattle Pedestrian Retail Areas plan

Fauntleroy Boulevard plan

One thing was clear during last Saturday’s “walkshed” tour of the Junction/Triangle area, with Seattle Planning Commission reps listening to local community reps: There’s no shortage of plans and documents covering the area, but there’s a shortage of understanding in how they interact, interface, intersect, and what they mean.

The tour itself was linked to the Planning Commission’s ongoing work on the city Comprehensive Plan update, dubbed Seattle 2035. The next big milestone for that is the environmental-impact statement, expected to be out early next year. And this is no bureaucratic bit of wonkiness to ignore: As was pointed out at the start of Saturday’s event, this type of discussion preceded the 1990s-generated plan for “urban villages” including The Junction/Triangle – much of which is only now coming to pass, as was underscored by the current, future, and recent development sites passed (and often discussed) along the way.

But the topic wasn’t just the dense heart of the Junction/Triangle, but also its single-family zones – like a stretch of 40th south of Edmunds and the major project sites bordering it on the north.

For backstory on the tour, see our coverage of last month’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting (which included a slide deck setting the stage). To see what happened during the tour – read on:

First, Jeanne Krikawa (above, 3rd from left) and Luis Borrero (above, left), the West Seattle-residing Planning Commissioners who had come to JuNO in September to explain their work and deliver the invitation, were there for the tour. So was Jesseca Brand, the commission policy analyst who had accompanied them to JuNO. Two of the commission’s highest-ranking people introduced themselves as well – executive director Vanessa Murdock, and commission co-chair Amalia Leighton. A future commissioner, too.

Many of those – but not all – who came to join them were familiar faces from neighborhood groups, not just in The Junction, but elsewhere in West Seattle – Admiral, Morgan, Fairmount, Genesee – as well as cross-neighborhood groups such as West Seattle Transportation Coalition and Seattle Green Spaces Coalition. There was some business representation – Frances Smersh from Click! Design That Fits (WSB sponsor) in The Junction. And a regionally known pedestrian advocate – author Cathy Jaramillo from Seattle Stairway Walks.

As the group gathered at Junction Plaza Park at mid-morning Saturday, Leighton explained the importance of looking back as well as ahead – “where did we miss the mark” to “what do we want for the next 20 years?”

Krikawa stressed that they hoped to hear thoughts and ideas: “This isn’t about us talking ‘to’ you.”

Specifically to the point of the Junction “walkshed,” Leighton said they hoped to “understand what YOU think is important regarding walkability.” Ultimately, the work might lead to some kind of algorithm, but it couldn’t be created without input on topography, pedestrian structures (sidewalks, ramps, etc.), waiting times. intersection visibility.

It didn’t take long for talk to turn to some of the plans and designations, even as eyes were cast ahead to that upcoming comprehensive-plan update. Admiral Neighborhood Association president David Whiting mentioned the Pedestrian Retail Areas project that has brought a city rep to almost every neighborhood council on the peninsula in recent months. Leighton tried to say that was about zoning, while this was about transportation – possibly designating the Junction as a “Transit Community” – Whiting said the pedestrian-zone project had a lot to do with transportation and how it would be available and functional in neighborhoods.

Borrero expressed concern about pedestrian-zone boundaries, calling the lack of continuity in some spots “absurd.” The group soon had walked west to Walk-All-Ways at California/Alaska and down the west side of California south of Alaska, pausing outside Puerto Vallarta. Krikawa pointed out how the group – more than two dozen – had had to “funnel” along the sidewalk. On the positive side, she pointed to the raised crosswalk at midblock (there will be a midblock passage on the other side after construction of 4730 California is complete).

The group crossed California at Edmunds and headed east to 42nd SW, where the view proved instructive. On the west side of the street, which continues to redevelop, with Mural completed five years ago and the east building of the Equity Residential project under way, the sidewalk is wider, and there is street-level interest with businesses such as Wallflower Custom Framing (WSB sponsor) and Fresh Bistro.

Look on the east side, with Jefferson Square and Safeway, and you see a narrower sidewalk and the blank wall alongside Safeway and its parking lot, until you get past the entrance to its lower-level lot.

From the 42nd/Edmunds corner and eastbound down Edmunds, tour attendees called the Planning Commission reps’ attention to the new and future development – especially the Alliance Realty project at 40th/Edmunds, and The Whittaker to the east – that likely will turn Edmunds into a much-busier arterial. JuNO’s Commons mentioned the park site that the city has “landbanked” north of the Alliance project. Transitionally, someone else pointed out, it will be temporary home to Fire Station 32, which itself is being rebuilt at its 38th/Alaska site in The Triangle.

Transition was a keyword for the walk – and for the ongoing state of The Junction and Triangle.

The group turned southward and walked down 40th into what is mostly a neighborhood of single-family houses (after the southeast 40th/Edmunds corner, which is proposed for commercial development at the old site of Bella Mente preschool, which moved to Morgan Junction).

So many different types of housing and zoning in such a relatively small area – a “patchwork,” as one person described it – so, how to address their diverse transportation needs? some wondered. Looking at the area in the cup-half-full spirit: A place where families could and do live; family-size apartments are in short supply, it was noted.

Looking east, Click! co-proprietor Smersh voiced hopes the Junction and Triangle will “converse.”

Several participants were part of the process that resulted in a plan for The Triangle, primarily involving streetscapes – Sharonn Meeks from the Fairmount Community Association (south of The Triangle), Josh Sutton from the West Seattle Y (WSB sponsor). The tour headed into The Triangle next. Meeks mentioned newly reopened Fairmount Park Elementary, the closest school, a few blocks south on Fauntleroy, and the stairway some students use at Edmunds to come down from her neighborhood above. The challenges posed by stairways and sidewalks in disrepair became a topic; Leighton wondered how many were aware that sidewalk maintenance is generally the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. The city’s Find It Fix It app got a mention here.

“Transition” was again the prevalent atmosphere as the group turned to Fauntleroy and walked north to Alaska, past The Whittaker’s site – where major demolition has continued in the days since the tour – with Spruce (the former “Hole”) in view to the north, and the proposed CVS drugstore site on the east side of Fauntleroy. (Since that first surfaced in July, in case you wondered, no new documents or other activity has come up publicly, but the CVS projects in other parts of Seattle and in Burien have been proceeding.)

At the Fauntleroy/Alaska RapidRide stop, JuNO’s Commons (at right in photo above) pointed out the cars zooming by: “This is a freeway.” She offered a vision for a transit center instead of a drugstore, with businesses where people could stop to shop and dine – maybe a public market, food trucks. “Missed opportunity,” she says.

The tour was now solidly in The Triangle, continuing east past Les Schwab – another of the converted ex-Huling properties, as is Trader Joe’s to the north – to 38th, crossing by Link, another newer development, apartments over a child-care center, restaurant, fitness studio. The group was headed to 37th/Snoqualmie for a look at the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor), getting ready for an expansion project.

Y executive Sutton spoke, saying almost as much about his facility’s surroundings as about the Y itself. To the south, SK Center – a food-processing business – has long been up for sale, he pointed out. To the north and south, he referred to properties owned by the Sweeney family – Alki Lumber, the renovated motel. (Asked their thoughts about the lumber yard’s relationship to everything around it in the transitional Triangle, many agreed it’s important to have a local business playing a role like that – it’s the last of its kind, where the area used to have more: “We need a local place for lumber.”)

Back to the Y’s plan – Snoqualmie is in the new Triangle Plan as a “festival street,” Sutton noted, and yet sometimes when they deal with the city, that seems to be forgotten, so they “have to keep reminding” city departments about the vision spelled out in that plan.

What about bicycle infrastructure? The Fauntleroy Green Boulevard being designed for Fauntleroy Way, barely a block north, is expected to have protected lanes. That brought up the subject of what seemed to be conflicts with the city’s Bicycle Master Plan: “Do the overlays talk to each other?” One Planning Commission rep then brought up the city’s Right Of Way Improvement Manual. Commissioner Krikawa observed that the “relationship between all these plans” was difficult to ferret out.

Yes, plans exist, but Sutton observed that they are “not very community-friendly, because we don’t live in that wonky world.” Even engaged neighborhood advocates like those on the tour “have trouble understanding how to make change.”

Some plans might be missing key components; when talk turned to area parks, and the lack of greenspace in The Triangle itself – though Camp Long and West Seattle Stadium are directly east – Leighton noted the Comprehensive Plan is missing a “parks element.”

Another issue of coordination came up – components of private projects, and how they relate to public infrastructure. Example: The hillclimb that’s planned as part of the 4535 35th SW mixed-use project now under construction (at left in rendering above), likely to be a major connection from The Triangle to the stadium/Camp Long area, not to mention the RapidRide stops at 35th/Avalon. How is that plan acknowledged and addressed when all the others are brought up?

No answers, but lots of questions, and much to think, and to keep talking, about, in this time of transition.

Those interested in continuing the morning’s conversation moved on to a Junction coffee shop; we weren’t able to stay for that, but here are some ways to speak up:

*As mentioned above, the environmental-impact statement for the Seattle 2035 comprehensive-plan is in the works. Thoughts about where the city should be going? Here’s how to send in yours.

*For the specific area traveled on the tour, get involved with the Junction Neighborhood Organization, whose next meeting is Tuesday (October 21st), 6:30 pm at the Senior Center of West Seattle (Oregon/California).

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West Seattle development updates: Demolition at 4101 SW Oregon & Fauntleroy/Alaska corner; plus, High Point ‘cover-up’ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-updates-demolition-at-4101-sw-oregon-plus-high-point-cover-up/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-updates-demolition-at-4101-sw-oregon-plus-high-point-cover-up/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 18:47:18 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288772 Three development-related updates:

4101 SW OREGON DEMOLITION: WSB’s Christopher Boffoli caught demolition starting this morning at this 87-year-old house making way for a 4-unit rowhouse. This project has been in the works for almost a year.

FAUNTLEROY/ALASKA CORNER DEMOLITION: Crews are continuing to bring down the buildings at the future site of The Whittaker, ~400 apartments, ~600 offstreet parking spaces, street-level retail including Whole Foods. Today, they’re working at the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner, demolishing the old Shell station and the former Howden-Kennedy (they moved) building.

The former auto-dealership buildings are expected to be torn down next week. A project spokesperson tells us the plan is still on to digitally re-create the mural that’s on the east side of one of those buildings; the image will be taken from a Southwest Seattle Historical Society photo that is clearer than the faded mural, which couldn’t be moved because it’s on cement block.

HIGH POINT ‘COVER-UP’: In our late September update on 35th/Graham, the photo showed a big sign for Polygon, saying NEW HOMES COMING 2015. Then, a commenter pointed out, the sign was suddenly covered over in green canvas/tarp/plastic, both sides (and we discovered the same thing on a sign a bit to the east).

Why the “cover-up”? We checked with the Seattle Housing Authority, which owns the site, and deputy executive director Anne Fiske Zuniga explained, “The Polygon signs went up prematurely and were covered up because the information was not accurate.” She added,
“Polygon and SHA are in conversation regarding the development of the site at 35th & Graham, the site is not under contract. Polygon is in the preliminary planning stages, so nothing is definite at this time.”

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Charge a development fee to encourage ‘affordable housing’? Seattle City Council committee says yes http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/charge-a-development-fee-to-encourage-affordable-housing-seattle-city-council-committee-says-yes/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/charge-a-development-fee-to-encourage-affordable-housing-seattle-city-council-committee-says-yes/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 20:45:46 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288680

(Click the image to go to the full-size map on the city website)
Would a new type of development fee lead to more affordable housing in the city? The City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee has just voted in favor of a proposal for a so-called “linkage fee” intended to make that happen. If it became law, it would affect commercial and multifamily development in certain parts of the city, shown on the map above – including parts of West Seattle:

A City Council committee today recommended approval of a plan to create an affordable housing linkage fee to preserve and create affordable housing in Seattle. The resolution directs City departments to develop legislation whereby new construction in multi-family and commercial zones would mitigate the cost of increasing rents by funding housing affordable to those households making $45,000 – $65,000 per year, which is 60% – 80% of area median income (AMI).

“If we want Seattle to be an inclusive city for people of all incomes, then we need to see more housing produced that’s affordable to more people. Up until this point, the market has clearly not given us the housing we need,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee and the legislation’s sponsor.

Developers could either pay a per-square-foot fee, which is variable based on project’s location in the city, or avoid the fee by dedicating at least 3% – 5% of the units in their project to households making less than 80% AMI. The money generated from fees would be invested in workforce housing.

“Our expert economic consultants suggest that at this fee level, development would absorb the fees without constricting new supply or significantly raising rents,” Councilmember O’Brien added.

The (above) map illustrates where the linkage fee would be applied in multi-family and commercial development in the city.

Full Council is expected to vote on the resolution on Monday, October 20. Draft legislation for Council consideration is expected by June 1, 2015. The final legislation is anticipated to gradually phase-in over a three year period and would not affect existing projects or new projects with permit applications already submitted.

Additional information about O’Brien’s proposal for an Affordable Housing Linkage Fee in Seattle is available online.

This is separate from the city’s Multi-Family Tax Exemption program, which enables a partial tax exemption on projects that commit to below-market rents for part of their units. The city’s current list of projects in that program includes nine buildings in West Seattle.

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West Seattle development: ‘Streamlined design review’ proposals for townhouses at 3811 California http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-streamlined-design-review-proposals-for-townhouses-at-3811-california/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-streamlined-design-review-proposals-for-townhouses-at-3811-california/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 16:16:31 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288661 The latest plan for 3811 California SW is advancing, with a plan now in city files for “streamlined design review” (SDR) – which means public comments will be accepted, but there’s no Design Review Board meeting. The site is currently home to Charlestown Court, the brick fourplex that has been rejected twice for landmark status. The proposal, as first reported here in January, is to replace it with four 2-unit townhouse buildings and eight offstreet-parking spaces on the alley. Here’s what architect S+H Works has filed with the city for the SDR process:

(If you can’t see the embedded document, try this link.) If you’re interested in commenting on the proposal, this page on the city website explains how.

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What’s next for 3078 Avalon appeal: One more witness http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/whats-next-for-3078-avalon-appeal-one-more-witness/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/whats-next-for-3078-avalon-appeal-one-more-witness/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 19:40:07 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287562 By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The appeal hearing challenging key city approvals for the ~100-apartment project planned at 3078 SW Avalon Way has one more session to go, next Friday.

The original schedule for testimony before city Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner spanned three days during the week before last, with a full day on Tuesday, Sept. 30 (WSB report here), another one on Wednesday, Oct. 1st (WSB report here), then a partial day on Thursday, Oct. 2nd. But what was brought up by the teams on both sides – appellant Neighbors Encouraging Reasonable Development (NERD) and the city Department of Planning and Development plus developer Northlake Group – led to the need for one more witness, next Friday, October 17th. Tanner said she did not expect to publish her ruling, due to various scheduling challenges, until mid-November.

This is one of at least four project sites on Avalon that is in some degree of limbo, or at least waiting.

(As revealed during testimony, legal action is pending both related to this project site and to what was once a near-twin proposal next door at 3062 SW Avalon. Also within a two-block stretch of that street, the city’s recent order related to pending microhousing projects has put 3268 and 3050 Avalon on hold.)

Now, to the continued testimony in the case:

NERD, based in the single-family-home neighborhood of 32nd/Genesee to the north of the disputed project site, had presented its case first. Last week’s final testimony began with a witness for the project’s side, architect Radim Blazej, founder of Caron Architecture.

He was led through a recap of the Design Review process that led to approval for 3078 SW Avalon – one of the approvals that are being challenged in this appeal. City policy gives deference to those decisions, so an appellant has to prove conclusively that they were wrong, in order to get anything overturned.

The prospective developer’s lawyer, Richard Hill, went through the city guidelines that were identified as being important to this project, included “respect for adjacent sites.”

Blazej acknowledged “this site is very challenging for design, for several reasons,” including the abrupt zoning “edge” between midrise along Avalon and single-family behind – the neighborhood where NERD is headquartered.

He was asked to review the “massing options” – size and shape – presented when the building had its first Early Design Guidance meeting in September 2012, attended by a standing-room-only group of neighbors (from which NERD eventually sprang).

At the time of that meeting more than two years ago, the project was taller, because of a bonus for “affordable housing,” but the city’s rules have since changed, and the application was revised. Height calculation remained a focus for the site, said Blazej, because of the height variations on the site. “At the Early Design Guidance meeting, the board discussed height, bulk, scale at length, would you agree to that?” Hill asked Blazej, who concurred. He also said that, regarding privacy issues raised by the project and its window placement, “we tried to mitigate toward the (32nd/Genesee neighborhood) as well as the adjacent project to the south” – 3062 Avalon, which at one point was being designed in tandem, but has since been canceled.

Acting on the board’s recommendations from that first meeting, Blazej testified, the project’s “floor-to-floor height” was reduced by eight inches, and the total height of the building was three feet less. Some tree species were replaced, in favor of ones that might enhance the privacy. Exterior trim was changed from “dark metal” to “painted material.”

And the FAR (floor-area ratio) calculation error that had been brought up before had been corrected, Blazej testified. In fact, he said, the documents for the project still haven’t been finalized.

From there, granular details of the design and its review were recapped, especially relating to its windows. “At the end of the day, how did (they) change?” asked Hill.

Blazej listed changes including the raised height of some clerestory windows, and that a window was removed on the south side. Asked if the building would offer “a chance to look out and enjoy the neighboring building from the north window,” Blazej laughed and said “the building to the north is not of architectural merit.”

The next witness was brought in for rebuttal by the appeal side. Rachel Padgett, a 32nd SW resident, said she was involved extensively in the early stages of the neighborhood’s active participation in the process and fact-finding. She recounted talking to city planner Garry Papers in 2012 regarding “major concerns” such as the building’s size, the “parking situation,” and the use of the alley for ingress/egress. Before the Early Design Guidance meeting, she said, Papers had warned that it would be “challenging” to push for stories to be removed from the building, because the developer had zoning in their favor. She said they were advised to focus on “more cosmetic things.” She said he had made a comment that “stuck with” her, that “if this were a real city, we wouldn’t even be having this process.”

In followup questioning by NERD’s lawyer Peter Eglick, Blazej acknowledged that he had met with community members privately and that “there was a desire to lower the building significantly” and that he had told them “that is probably not what you can expect as a response from my client.” Did he say to neighbors that the building was “too tall” but that had been his client’s orders? He couldn’t recall, but did say that he didn’t think a lower building “would be financially feasible.”

While testifying, Blazej also said that while he had mentioned recollections from the EDG meeting, he hadn’t been there in person, but was basing his comments on discussions with Caron Architecture staffers who were. He also confirmed he has not been paid in full for his work on the project and is “currently involved in a legal process” for approximately $160,000 of unpaid invoices (about four times what he said he had been paid so far).

NERD’s Paul Haury, testifying in rebuttal, recalled more of a meeting with Blazej and “at least five neighbors” in November 2012, after the first Design Review Board meeting. “At that point it was an eight-story building when it was supposed to be seven,” Haury said, adding that Blazej had expressed disdain for the zoning allowing so much height, but saying that’s what his client was paying for. Haury recounted that residents had suggested the design be more like the building Transitional Resources had constructed relatively recently, further north on Avalon. “We were in a panic because our neighborhood was getting overrun.”

Local architect Vlad Oustimovitch, a past SW Design Review Board member who had served as a fill-in member for the second of the project’s three meetings, was called back that afternoon as a rebuttal witness. Among the points on which he elaborated: The planset for a project is what matters, not drawings created along the way; in the matter of the windows, he said, while the drawings changed, “the plans hadn’t changed.” And he referred to the error in FAR that wasn’t brought up during the hearing: “There are many parts of this project that were difficult to deal with from an urban design point of view. The project could have used some modifications in other areas. DPD seemed to have a position that the maximum density had to be achieved in the building and that we had to figure out a way to achieve that. There were compromises made by the Design Review Board that would not be in this plan if the FAR calculation we were given had been given to us clearly.”

Alluding to – without identifying – some already-built projects in West Seattle that went through Design Review, Oustimovitch added, “The community has been very concerned about how recommendations get translated into buildings that get approved.”

After more questioning about the window specifics, the day’s testimony wrapped up, with discussion of the logistics ahead: One last witness on October 17th at 9 am, in “a limited continuation of the hearing”; Tanner’s written decision not likely before November 17th, as she will be making a site visit as well as accepting written closing statements from both sides. You’ll be able to watch for the decision to be published on the Hearing Examiner’s website.

Separate from this appeal, the project’s permits haven’t been finalized yet; at any point in the process, you can check their status here.

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West Seattle demolition watch: Arbor Heights, Genesee Hill, Whittaker updates http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-demolition-watch-arbor-heights-genesee-hill-whittaker-updates/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-demolition-watch-arbor-heights-genesee-hill-whittaker-updates/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 19:45:52 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288367 Went out this morning to check on the three largest demolition sites working in West Seattle:

ARBOR HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY: At the Arbor Heights site, the buildings are now all gone. Teardown work here started the Friday before Labor Day, but didn’t really rev up for another week. Seattle Public Schools says work will stop down for much of the winter before the second phase, construction, begins. A decision is also pending on whether the new $42 million school will be built to 500 or 650 capacity. During the two-year construction period, AHES is sharing the Boren Building with K-5 STEM.

Now to the district’s other big WS project:

ON GENESEE HILL: The future home of the Schmitz Park Elementary program is now five weeks into the demolition phase. As shown in our photo, just a bit of the main building of the former Genesee Hill Elementary is still standing, toward the east side of the site. This school will be built for 650 students.

And on the private-development front:

‘THE WHITTAKER’ SITE UPDATE: Back on Wednesday, we reported on the start of abatement and demolition work at the site of West Seattle’s biggest current project, The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW). The work has focused so far on the middle section of the site, between 40th (above) and Fauntleroy – yesterday, that included the wooden building that was the original home of West Seattle Produce (which has long since moved across the street):

A project spokesperson tells us the major demolition work is likely still more than a week away. The site also holds a former auto dealership, former used-car lot, former gas station, and former funeral home. The mural on the side of the dealership is to be digitally re-created on a wall of the new development, which will have almost 400 apartments over street-level retail, plus almost 600 off-street parking spaces.

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West Seattle development: Abatement/demolition begins for The Whittaker; six other teardown/rebuild notes http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-abatementdemolition-begins-for-the-whittaker-six-other-teardownrebuild-notes/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-abatementdemolition-begins-for-the-whittaker-six-other-teardownrebuild-notes/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 01:40:47 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288129 Seven West Seattle development notes:

ABATEMENT/DEMOLITION WORK BEGINS AT THE WHITTAKER: If you have driven past the site of The Whittaker (400 apartments plus retail including Whole Foods Market) at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, you might have noticed the heavy equipment beginning work. A project spokesperson confirms that they have “officially started abatement work,” adding that the “auto body shop on 40th is scheduled to be demolished sometime tomorrow.” Major demolition is about two weeks away, if all goes as planned, and construction is set to start next month.

Six smaller demolition/construction projects of note, with permits granted or applied for in the past week or so:

4101 SW OREGON: In The Junction, the demolition permit has just been granted for a project first mentioned here almost a year ago; an 87-year-old house will be demolished and replaced with a 4-unit rowhouse.

4316 SW THISTLE: The application is now in for a “lot boundary adjustment” at this corner parcel, on the books as two lots, as mentioned here in July, though holding one house for more than a century. That house is planned for teardown, and replacement with two single-family houses including “accessory dwelling units,” which means four residences in all. (For “accessory dwelling units” to be legal, the city rules say, the property owner has to live on site, either in the main house or ADU.)

6540 FAUNTLEROY WAY SW: In Morgan Junction, this 98-year-old house is proposed for demolition and replacement with a new single-family house.

9007 45TH SW: In Fauntleroy, this 71-year-old house is planned for demolition and replacement.

6047 47TH SW: In Seaview, this 71-year-old house is planned for demolition and replacement.

6470 MARSHALL SW: Also in Seaview, this 95-year-old house is planned for demolition and replacement.

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Seattle microhousing has rules, definition, and a name – SEDUs – after unanimous City Council vote http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/seattle-microhousing-has-rules-definition-and-a-name-sedus-after-unanimous-city-council-vote/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/seattle-microhousing-has-rules-definition-and-a-name-sedus-after-unanimous-city-council-vote/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 23:37:36 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287991

The city officially has rules for microhousing – or, if you prefer, SEDUs (small efficiency dwelling units). They’ve been in the works for months and, two weeks after the final committee discussion, won official, unanimous council approval this afternoon. Read the full bill here; here are the highlights from the city toplines featured our story about them last month:

*Creates a definition for small efficiency dwelling units (SEDU).

*Clarifies the definition of dwelling unit.

*Establishes required components of SEDUs, including a 150-square-foot minimum sleeping room area, a 220 square foot minimum total floor area, a food preparation area (sink, refrigerator, countertop, cooking appliance) and a bathroom (sink, toilet, shower or bathtub).

*Limits the issuance of Restricted Parking Zone permits to no more than one per SEDU or congregate residence sleeping room.

*Requires Streamlined Design Review to be applied, in all zones, to congregate residences and residential uses that are more than 50 percent comprised of SEDUs if they contain between 5,000 and 11,999 square feet of gross floor area.

*Limits the construction of congregate residences that do not meet certain ownership or operational requirements to higher density zones that are located within Urban Centers and Urban Villages

*Increases the minimum required area of communal space in a congregate residence from 10 percent of the total floor area of all sleeping rooms to 15 percent of the total floor area of all sleeping rooms.

*Creates a new vehicle parking requirement of one parking space for every two SEDUs for areas of the City where vehicle parking is required for multifamily residential uses.

*Increases bicycle parking requirements for SEDUs and congregate residences to 0.75 bicycle spaces per SEDU or congregate residence sleeping room.

*Requires the bicycle parking required for SEDUs and congregate residences to be covered for weather protection.

*Allows required, covered bicycle parking for SEDUs or congregate residence sleeping rooms to be exempt from Floor Area Ratio limits if the required parking is located inside the building that contains the SEDUs or congregate residence sleeping rooms.

*Calls on the Department of Planning and Development to complete an analysis of the City’s vehicle and bicycle parking requirements and present its recommendations for regulatory changes to the City Council by no later than March 31, 2015.

That last item, as we noted last month, goes beyond microhousing.

West Seattle has two microhousing buildings already open – Footprint Delridge and Footprint Avalon I – and three on the drawing board. As reported here two weeks ago, two of the not-yet-under-construction projects – at 3268 SW Avalon Way and 3050 SW Avalon Way – are on hold because of a court decision that would require them to go through Design Review, or undergo a significant redesign.

During this afternoon’s council meeting, discussion preceding the vote included a rebuke by West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen for city departments not catching “loopholes” he said developers exploited when first opening these projects here. (You can watch the discussion and vote in the archived Seattle Channel video atop this story; the vote is 71 minutes into the video.)

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Tour The Junction with Seattle Planning Commissioners who are also your neighbors, to discuss ‘successes … and opportunities’ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/tour-the-junction-with-seattle-planning-commissioners-who-are-also-your-neighbors-to-discuss-successes-and-opportunities/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/tour-the-junction-with-seattle-planning-commissioners-who-are-also-your-neighbors-to-discuss-successes-and-opportunities/#comments Sun, 05 Oct 2014 17:30:01 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287874

“We want to see this through your eyes – we’re interested in a dialogue.”

With that, two Seattle Planning Commissioners, both West Seattleites, are inviting you to be part of the dialogue about the future of The Junction and vicinity with a walk-and-talk event next Saturday (October 11th), 10 am.

They came to September’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting to initiate the dialogue, and we since have received official confirmation and the invitation itself (see above, or click here for the PDF version) – RSVP for updates on where they’re planning to meet (we’ll also have that here, later in the week).

Commissioners Jeanne Krikawa and Luis Borrero said they realize many might not even have heard about the Seattle Planning Commission, an independent, but city-convened/funded, group of appointees. That’s why they and commission policy analyst Jesseca Brand visited JuNO, to talk about not just what they do but also about looking at The Junction’s “walkshed” – what “essential components of livability” it has, and doesn’t have. Those were described as parks, plazas, libraries, community centers, wayfinding, green streets, bike infrastructure, as laid out in the Seattle Transit Communities report a few years back.

If any of those elements don’t exist in a “transit community,” they should be only “a stop or two away.” Here’s the slide deck Borrero and Krikawa showed JuNO:

This all figures into the Seattle 2035 process to update the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a major project for the Planning Commission right now, and one that has already resulted in a variety of events.

Even if this all sounds a little too wonky for you, remember that a process more than 15 years ago set the stage for much is what’s happening now. That’s what designated The Junction and vicinity as a Hub Urban Village – one meant to encourage workplaces to locate in the area, not just residences and services, the commissioners told JuNO.

In turn, JuNO director René Commons and attendees told Krikawa and Borrero that the Junction “walkshed” is definitely missing some of what are supposed to be hub characteristics – no nearby community centers, libraries, public schools.

The commissioners in turn asked those in attendance how they feel about The Junction’s growth. We’d summarize the various answers as “trepidational,” as well as eager for more transit – but join next Saturday’s walking tour, and tell them yourselves.

The bottom line of all this is consideration of how The Junction and vicinity should be viewed in the decades ahead, as a prism through which to see growth and the choices to be made. It’s a rare chance for more of a big picture look than the piecemeal decision-making so many have decried in the past few years. If you’re interested in having a say – or at least listening – be part of the tour next Saturday, and the conversation to follow.

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Tower crane coming down at Spruce after 16 months http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/tower-crane-coming-down-at-spruce-after-more-than-a-year/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/tower-crane-coming-down-at-spruce-after-more-than-a-year/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 18:52:48 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287573

By midmorning, the tower crane at Madison Development‘s Spruce project (3922 SW Alaska, once known as “The Hole”) was a shadow of its former self. Sixteen months after it went up, it’s coming down, as previewed here on Wednesday. This has been arguably the most-visible tower crane in West Seattle this year, not just because of the sharper angle at which its jib has been raised, but because the holiday lights installed last year have stayed up, a prominent feature on West Seattle’s nighttime skyline. Now, though, the apartments-and-health-club project is a few months from completion, and it’s time for the crane to go.

Thanks again to Steve for the tip about the alert notice distributed to nearby residents, which suggested this will be a two-day job. Once this is gone, West Seattle will have two working tower cranes for now – at California/Alaska/42nd and 40th/Edmunds – but the one for 4435 35th SW is likely not far away. (If you’re interested – here’s an explanation of how tower cranes work.)

ADDED THURSDAY EVENING: Thanks to David for sharing this photo taken as he passed the crane-removal operation late in the day:

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Of height, parking, bus stops, and FAR: Day 2 of 3078 SW Avalon appeal hearing http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/of-height-parking-bus-stops-and-far-day-2-of-3078-sw-avalon-appeal-hearing/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/of-height-parking-bus-stops-and-far-day-2-of-3078-sw-avalon-appeal-hearing/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 15:50:14 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287540

(Aerial showing 3078 Avalon project site, from project materials distributed in fall 2013)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Hearings often yield information beyond their immediate subjects.

During day two of the Neighbors Encouraging Reasonable Development (NERD) appeal hearing regarding a planned ~100-apartment building at 3078 SW Avalon, we learned about a lawsuit involving the project site. We also learned about a lawsuit involving the site next door that once was slated for a “twin” building. Neither is directly related to this appeal, yet both are relevant, in looking at the big picture of development in that area.

And we heard a lot more about how the city’s Design Review process works, and doesn’t. We also heard Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner, who is presiding over the hearing and will rule on the appeal, say that her office hasn’t traditionally had “broad jurisdiction” over the process.

The Design Review approval of the project is one of two city decisions that NERD, based in the single-family-home neighborhood north of the west stretch of Avalon, is appealing. The other is the Department of Planning and Development‘s “determination of non-significance” (DNS) saying the project did not require a full environmental-impact report.

It’s an uphill fight, with the hearing examiner required to give the most weight to the city’s decision unless the appellant proves it was in error and should be overturned.

Today is the third and final day scheduled for the hearing, though some testimony already has been scheduled for a spillover date in two weeks. We have been at the hearing examiner’s Municipal Tower hearing room for both days so far and are expecting to be back again today. Here is our report from day 1; below, the toplines from Day 2:

Lawyer Peter Eglick represents NERD; across the table from him are Bill Mills, a senior planner for DPD who also happens to be a lawyer, and Rich Hill, the lawyer representing the applicant/prospective developer, Northlake Group.

The day began with a dissection of which transit stop near 3078 Avalon was used as reference for the project review. Eglick’s questioning was somewhat contentious and at one point he explained, “I just have this feeling that we’re not being told something and we’re going to find it out later in some big surprise,” so he was trying to ask his questions in a variety of ways. Again in this second day, there were moments of tension at the hearing, which otherwise was so wonky that one of the more-memorable quotes we noted was a witness advising that he be stopped if he starts “speaking in acronym.”

Another recurring issue: Who authorized the application for the project’s MUP (Master Use Permit) once it got past the first stage of Design Review? Portions of various documents were read, including a letter that declared “Northlake is and has always been authorized by the property owner to pursue the MUP application,” while another seemed to reiterate that the property owners and developer “are not in contract.” This is where the lawsuit involving 3078 Avalon came up; online court records show that it was filed in May. Northlake’s Jim Thorpe described it in testimony as a case of the property owner “holding out for more money” than originally agreed to. (A hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Friday, the records also show.)

Then it was back to the issue of the “frequent transit within a quarter-mile” for the area. DPD’s transportation specialist John Shaw said there actually was at least one other stop that would have qualified. Eglick protested, saying that the months of preparation for the hearing focused on only one stop mentioned in DPD’s reviews, and if a second stop was going to be introduced, his case would need time to consider the information and figure out how to respond to it. (The second stop is the one at Avalon and Yancy.)

In the witness chair next was Paul Haury, the neighbor who has been the most vocal member of NERD, which he said the neighborhood launched after realizing that the Design Review process wasn’t working the way they expected it to. He said he has lived on 32nd SW for about 12 years and is a native Seattleite from a family that’s been here for multiple generations. He said he has attended every meeting related to 3078 Avalon and helped organize the neighborhood’s response to it.

The West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village Neighborhood Plan from 1999 specifically calls out his neighborhood, Haury said, pointing to page 40, as one of “three pockets of single-family zoning within the (urban) village boundaries” and recommending that the plan “protect the character and integrity of the existing single-family areas.” (Here’s the full plan, part of the Comprehensive Plan that was designed to look ahead to this year:)

Challenges to that character and integrity, he testified, include three microhousing projects built/proposed without offstreet parking – the completed Footprint Avalon I at 3266 SW Avalon Way, the proposed “carbon copy” ~56-unit building that was close to starting construction next door at 3268 SW Avalon, and the 100+-unit building proposed at 3050 Avalon (which Haury described as a “nasty” site where “we would like to see reasonable development”). The latter two are on hold, as reported here September 23rd, because of the city’s interpretation of a recent court case.

Haury’s concerns about how Design Review played out for 3078 Avalon included the fact that none of the three hearings included the same group of board members, which affected continuity of board discussion. He said the weight given to concerns regarding Avalon, as opposed to the ones regarding his street, seemed to mean “the neighborhood comments didn’t matter,” which made no sense to him, given that he and his neighbors are the ones who will be facing the building as it rises over the alley across from their homes.

He said that DPD’s planner for the project, Garry Papers, told the board that it didn’t have the authority to just remove a floor from the project. Exactly how this was or wasn’t said has come up several times during the appeal. Though it’s not part of the record in this appeal, we note that our report on the contentious second Design Review meeting, held in November 2013, includes this paragraph:

… Papers speaks up to try to “take the edge off.” He says, again, Design Review might be able to effect change in terms of “feet, not floors.” But, he says, the site is zoned for this. “A lot of this tonight is about you’re not happy about that zoning. (But changing it …) is not authority this board has. Lopping off two stories is not a reasonable expectation of what the Design Review Board can do.” …

It’s also been pointed out multiple times that the project was lowered to some degree over the course of the three Design Review meetings, and that a city code change removed 15 “bonus” feet that at one point could have been incorporated into the project. But, said Haury, “The mere fact that we are here, that our neighborhood pulled together and hired a lawyer – no, we do not agree” that their concerns were mitigated.

Discussing the parking situation in the neighborhood, he noted that the study related to the review of this project preceded the opening of the 3266 Avalon microhousing building, and “would not even come close to what’s there now.” But, he said, the neighbors are not “against the people in the microhousing – (the appeal is) about bad policy decisions affecting the neighborhood in an adverse way.”

He showed photos he said he had taken of parking conditions while out for one of his three daily walks with his dog, and mentioned tweeting them to the mayor (among others):

(Haury said he received a reply suggesting he call 911.) And he showed a photo of the now-fenced-off substation (and former Beni Hoshi Teriyaki) city-owned site which he said had become spillover for the microhousing residents.

The parking crunch was again the topic as the hearing reconvened following lunch, now focused on the applicant and city’s side, with Hill asking DPD’s Shaw if other areas in the city have similar challenges. “Yes,” Shaw replied, “I frequently see parking studies from other neighborhoods with areas over 100 percent” parking utilization.

The transportation/parking effects took up a lot of time in the project review, said planner Papers, next in the witness seat. In his time with the city these past few years, he said, he has reviewed “20 projects that are in building permit and/or construction (stage) and 30 more active projects in Design Review or MUP review stage.” The final report for 3078 Avalon, he said, included two “departures” – zoning exceptions.

Asked what kind of in-progress documentation goes out during the review process, he mentioned memos issued about 10 days before each Design Review meeting, “usually with a summary of public comments.” The fact this project is in a “transition zone” – midrise multifamily right up against single-family – was called out to the Design Review Board as a “high priority” throughout the process, he said. But, Papers said, he also pointed out that “the Design Review meeting is not the place to change zoning or argue for changes in the city code.”

Acknowledging the neighborhood plan “clearly outlined a protected neighborhood,” Papers said the protection boundary was along the alley, between the neighborhood and the development. (Questioned a while later, he reiterated, “i think it’s clear the single-family neighborhood is meant to stay single family but the protected boundary does not extend over to Avalon.”)

As for the format of the meeting, he mentioned the public-comment period was extended at the Early Design Guidance meeting “because of the large attendance,” and pointed out changes to the proposal that resulted from public comment, such as the location of a courtyard along the alley, and a reduction in the “dark cladding” on the project’s exterior. Lowering the project, as had been suggested, would have created more problems than it solved, he suggested. Overall, he said, over the course of the three Design Review meetings, “the board felt the responses … were an appropriate balance” of concerns and guidelines they had emphasized. (The guidelines refer to a formal list of points the board can consider; at meetings, they go through the list and identify which ones are most important for the project under consideration.)

Under questioning from NERD’s lawyer Eglick, Papers again defended the composition of the board at the project meetings – for example, three were present for the first meeting, with two absent, but three is “quorum,” he noted.

Eglick then got into a not-often-discussed aspect of Design Review Board membership, that each member is identified as a representative of a particular stakeholder group, such as community, developer, design, business. Which representatives were at these meetings? he asked. Papers said that wasn’t tracked, and pointed out that with seven boards citywide, “I have 35 members to keep track of.” Another DPD staffer works to get substitutes when needed, he added, and figuring out which “interest group” they represent is not a factor.

In the day’s final major section of testimony, featuring DPD’s lead rep Mills – whose background as a lawyer, before he went into planning, plays into his work “draft(ing) legal building-site determinations” and other documents for the department – one other big issue with the project returned to the spotlight: An error in calculating whether it met the rules for FAR (floor-to-area ratio). He explained that the interpretation mistakes involved portions of lower floors that were claimed as exempt from consideration but were not.

Under questioning, he said that projects do not have to be confirmed as “fully compliant” with code (zoning) while going through the Design Review process. The zoning compliance doesn’t get final approval until much later in the process.

But, he acknowledged, the DPD staffer(s) reviewing zoning compliance for 3078 SW Avalon Way did not notice this error or generate a “correction notice” related to it, so it was not pointed out to the Design Review Board.

Today, applicant attorney Hill will present his case, with witnesses including the project’s architect, Radim Blazej from Caron Architecture (who sat in on much of yesterday’s proceedings, which had no spectators other than people with some interest in/relation to the case). Because of new material that’s emerged, there will be some additional testimony on October 17th, even if everything else wraps up today. At some point before writing her ruling, hearing examiner Tanner will visit the site, she confirmed Wednesday.

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West Seattle development: Another crane coming down http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-another-crane-coming-down/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-another-crane-coming-down/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:28:42 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287438 Almost 16 months after it went up, the tower crane at Spruce (3922 SW Alaska) is about to come down. Neighbors have been notified (thanks to Steve for the tip!) that the removal is scheduled to start early tomorrow morning. Unless you’re a recent arrival, you might still know the site best as “The Hole,” so nicknamed because it was excavated in 2008 and then sat idle until a new owner started construction last year. Spruce will have more than 200 apartments and one commercial tenant, LA Fitness.

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West Seattle development: 3078 SW Avalon appeal hearing begins http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-3078-sw-avalon-appeal-hearing-begins/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/west-seattle-development-3078-sw-avalon-appeal-hearing-begins/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 13:52:48 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=287335 By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Two years ago, a crowd of neighbors from the neighborhood just north of Avalon filled the room for the first Southwest Design Review Board meeting about 3078 Avalon, proposed for ~100 apartments and 60 parking spaces:

(WSB photo, September 2012)
A lot has happened south of their neighborhood since then – a twin proposal for 3062 Avalon has come and gone; a microhousing building has opened a block west, with two more in the works; two more apartment buildings have opened on the south side of Avalon, just east of 35th.

3078 Avalon has continued to work its way through the system, finishing Design Review in January, though its permits don’t have final approval yet. Forming a group called NERDNeighbors Encouraging Reasonable Development – some of the neighbors have followed it with concerns and critiques.

After the city finalized the Design Review recommendations and issued a Determination of Non-Significance saying the project would have no significant environmental impacts, they got a lawyer and filed an appeal in May. The hearing for that appeal is now under way before city Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner, at the Municipal Tower downtown. We were there for testimony all day Tuesday and expect to return as it continues today.

While the case is just about one development, the issues are much bigger.

First, for reference, here’s the appeal letter from May, which details the issues on which the decision is being challenged:

During Tuesday’s seven hours of testimony (9 to 5 with one hour for lunch), much of the focus was on how the Design Review process works, and how the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) works with projects beyond that process.

Avalon is a flashpoint because it’s an extension of the urban village/center centered on the Junction/Triangle. So the roots of this dispute can be traced in one sense all the way back into the ’90s.

We found another connection – the lawyer leading the case for NERD, Peter Eglick, represented a group called the West Seattle Defense Fund almost 20 years ago in the battle over the city plan that created the “urban villages.”

Meantime, on the other side, is land-use lawyer Rich Hill, who has been involved in many of the cases we’ve covered once they got to appeal or court-case stages. In this case, he is representing the developer, referred to during the hearing as “the applicant.”

In the hearing examiner’s chamber, the two sides sit across from each other at a big table right in front of the examiner. DPD is defending the decision, and its reps are next to Hill.

But the process somewhat stacks the deck against the challengers here. As Tanner has to say at the start of the case – and at the end – she is required to give the most weight to the decision made by the director of the department that is being challenged. The burden of proof is on the challengers – appellants – to prove why a decision should be overturned.

Testimony for the appellants took up all of day one, and will continue today. Eglick started by declaring the decision the result of a “perfect storm of failures and shortcomings,” explaining that this area is unusual because it’s an “edge” between a midrise zone and a single-family zone, an abrupt transition that does not exist in many other places in the city (if anywhere).

So far, testimony and questioning focused on the issues that have dominated so much West Seattle development discussion – including parking, since the rules changed a few years back to allow construction without offstreet parking if “frequent transit” is nearby. This is the neighborhood that pointed out parking was so hard to find, spillover was moving into the abandoned Beni Hoshi Teriyaki restaurant’s lot – and the city, which owns the property, fenced it off, as reported and discussed here.

During the Design Review meetings, neighbors said the building was too tall, too big, to be in that edge zone. They brought research they said supported their claims. The project moved along anyway, though a few feet were shaved off late in the Design Review process.

“This is not just another one of many disappointing (DPD) director’s decisions,” Eglick declared. “This is a project in which significant adverse impacts were left unaddressed.”

DPD’s Bill Mills countered by saying the Design Review process worked, reducing the building’s bulk and scale.

Hill called the project a “poster child for Design Review,” saying each of the three meetings on the project led to a reduction in its bulk and scale.

But was it enough, and should the process have involved a review of the parking impacts, instead of generating a “Determination of Non-Significance” under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)?

Because it’s “in an urban village and close to ‘frequent transit service’ as defined in code,” the city contended that there was no authority under SEPA for mitigation of any parking effects. That was reinforced by city planner Garry Papers, the first witness called by NERD. He is the official staff person assigned to the project. Among the questions Eglick asked – how did the city determine the area had “frequent transit service”? Papers said he checked the Metro schedules. Asked about another project on the drawing board in the area, the microhousing planned at 3050 Avalon, Eglick asked if it consisted of “aPodments”; Papers said, “It’s … whatever the city’s definition is.”

(That process is still in progress.)

That came into play in the discussion of an 800-foot “area of concern” around a project. (That was later explained as “a reasonable walking distance for someone to park their vehicle and get to their residence or business.”) Papers said someone else had led the “vicinity study.”

The next witness was DPD’s senior transportation planner, John Shaw, who said he had worked with Papers on the “parking analysis that is part of the DPD decision.” He reiterated that DPD has “no authority to mitigate parking” in this area because it’s in an urban village and within a quarter-mile of “frequent transit.” In that analysis, though, he was asked, how were the nearby microhousing proposals considered – for the number of residents, or the number of “units” (if you follow development issues, you know that’s been a point of dispute), with each unit representing up to eight rooms/residents.

During this discussion, Shaw said, “The expectation is that people living in units with no parking … tend to have relatively low auto ownership and wouldn’t be bringing too many cars to the project site.”

The nearby Vue Apartments at 3261 SW Avalon Way, opened within the past year, were on DPD’s radar for the analysis, Shaw also said, explaining they didn’t expect spillover because it was built with about one space for each unit.

Issues subsequently discussed included what percentage of street-parking use was considered in an assessment of capacity – 75%? 85%? – and how the big-picture conclusions were reached about parking in the vicinity of a project. One conclusion of note that was mentioned: Two microhousing buildings in the area, though built without parking, were expected to result in about 40 vehicles added to the area.

Is there a record that Design Review Board members visited the site? DPD reps said no. Is there a reason that they get the “packet” showing photos, renderings, and information from the developer/architect, but don’t get a packet with public comments about the project before their meetings?

Planner Papers said, “I can’t answer to why department policy is what it is.”

Do Design Review Board members review the draft decision – which is usually issued a few weeks after their final meeting – before it’s published? “Typical procedure does not involve circulating a draft to board members.”

If a board member missed a previous meeting on the project – which was established to have happened here (and is not uncommon) – how do they get up to speed on what’s happened previously? he was asked. Papers’ reply acknowledged that no minutes are taken of meetings during the process, and the meetings are not audio- or video-recorded, but, he said, board members are advised to “consult public comments” which can be found in projects’ online files. (Not including the ones that are offered in person at meetings, though, unless the speakers also have sent a written version.)

Eglick asked Papers about e-mail from the project team mentioning that they were “considering adding another level of parking,” which would have added 25 more spaces to the 59 planned for the ~100-unit project. The e-mail, Eglick said, asked if that could be approved as “a minor change” because the project team did not want to go back to the DRB.

The change was never made, but how it was considered and discussed – including a “hallway conversation” and a meeting that didn’t include Papers, though he was the project’s assigned planner – was explored at length.

Another first-day witness was architect and former Seattle Planning Commission member Thomas Eanes, whose testimony included elaboration on the “edge” situation between Avalon and the single-family neighborhood to the north, which, he said, calls for “mitigation” when projects come up, through Design Review and SEPA.

A major part of his testimony included the city’s relatively recent change in calculating projects’ height – which was the result, he said, of a recommendation made while he was on the Planning Commission. That change “has effectively allowed building to be taller on the street than it would have been under the old (method)” – a full story taller, he said, suggesting that some of the building’s units could have been moved to lower levels to eliminate that story. “That’s what design review is for – to approve design departures that mitigate impacts.”

Hill noted that Eanes hadn’t served on a Design Review board, so he wasn’t an “expert” in that process.

“Depends on your definition.”

Another witness who was unquestionably an expert in the process was Vlad Oustimovitch, also a local architect, and a veteran of years of service on the Southwest DRB, including two full terms as well as fill-in appearances, including one of the sessions for the 3078 Avalon project. A miscalculation by the project team in the project’s Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) meant the board got erroneous information, he said. That error involved what amounted to “several units of housing.” Other aspects of the process, said Oustimovitch, “call into question the design that was ultimately approved – had this square footage been known beforehand, there would have been some different discussion, (but) people on the board felt the pressure to allow the maximum density on site.”

Also called by NERD: Area resident Charles Burkhalter, who talked about the parking situation since the 3266 Avalon microhousing project opened. He said he knew that some of the street parkers were from the building, because he had talked with them. “This used to be an area where parking was readily available.” He spoke about how the neighbors had tried to stress to the city “that this is a very unique area, and mitigation is required and warranted, with the unique aspect of a 15-foot alley separating midrise development and single-family houses.” The 1999 neighborhood plan “called out 32nd SW as an area to be protected,” he added.

In Design Review, Burkhalter said, it “seemed more like a process … to check a box off to get this thing through to completion.” Eglick asked him if he recalled the board being told it did not have authority to remove a story from the building; he said he did. Yes, changes were made, but in Burkhalter’s view, it was “as if they took an ice pick to a glacier,” not addressing the community’s concerns, and “that’s why we’re here” (in the appeal hearing).

Burkhalter, a CPA by trade, also spent time making calculations on a whiteboard in the hearing room in a further discussion about area parking and what added development would/could bring; he pointed out that because of the business area to the west, and the stadium to the south, the only area for spillover parking is their single-family neighborhood to the north.

One final topic before the day’s testimony concluded was an exploration of how DPD handled it when the FAR error was discovered. Mills said, “We considered what that might do to the project and how to address that,” but “we would not withdraw the (approval) decision.”

Again, the appellant’s case is being presented first, so the first day was all under their lead; once they’re done, the city and project team will present their side. When both sides are done, and rebuttals too, the Hearing Examiner takes it all under consideration and issues her decision in writing, usually within a few weeks.

If you’re interested in following along, documents in the case are filed here. Also, we’ll likely be posting as-it-happens highlights again today via the WSB Twitter feed.

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