Junction development: Businesses ask for your help in alley fight


That’s the alley stretching south from Alaska, between 42nd and California (Rocksport on one side, Super Supplements on the other). The company that wants to build a two-building development on both sides of that alley has just filed its formal request for “vacation” of that alley, in order to build one underground parking garage (including land that’s under the alley surface) to serve both buildings. SDOT review and City Council approval are required, and this afternoon, representatives of several Junction businesses and the West Seattle Junction Association told WSB they want you to help them fight against approval of that request. If it’s granted, they say, the alley will be closed for at least a year – and they say that will kill the businesses that rely on alley access for deliveries. Read on to find out about the action they want you to take if you support their campaign — and to get more details on exactly what is happening here:

We have told you about this development before. Conner Homes wants to build two mixed-use buildings, one facing Alaska and 42nd (where it will stretch southward to the site where Harbor Properties is currently building Mural in the ex-Petco parking lot), one facing Alaska and California (all the way down to Talarico’s).

We brought you first word of the proposal here on WSB in March. This spring, the project went to the Design Review Board for two rounds of “early design guidance” (most recently, May 30th; WSB coverage here); that means at least one more DRB meeting is required, one for “recommendations.” This shows the “preferred alternative” Conner’s architects proposed at that meeting:


We haven’t had any updates since that May meeting – this would be a time when the developer is working on a new proposal to take back to the DRB.

Then, came today’s Land Use Information Bulletin, with word that SDOT has officially given notice it has accepted the petition for alley vacation; read the online version of that notice here.

The publication of that notice opens an official comment period. Whether you support the proposed alley vacation or oppose it, you are encouraged to submit comments to the city, through the addresses listed on that link. But the people who spoke with WSB this afternoon — including Junction Association executive director Susan Melrose, Liz Schroeder from Elliott Bay Brewery, and Michael Hoffman from Liberty Bell Printing — are asking you to go a step further. They are starting what you might call a counter-petition drive.

This is the petition they are circulating, for signatures from anyone and everyone in West Seattle interested in signing it. They are looking for as many people as possible to sign it, to: “express … opposition for the subterranean alley vacation proposed by Conner Homes in the Junction …”

The petition text says:

“The project will impact our ability to do business and will have severe negative economic effets on the businesses in the Junction area. This impact will be compounded by inhibiting the use of the alley during the proposed construction. During this time we will not be able to access parking freely at the rear of the business along the alley way. There will be the impact of not having the ability for customers to load and unload in the alley way and access the businesses. This also will make it very difficult for deliveries to take place during the construction. These daily deliveries are vital to sustaining the business along the alley way.”

During our conversation at EBB this afternoon, Hoffman was more blunt. “If (Conner) does this, it’ll be the end of the businesses. That will be the noose, it will kill us.” The alley-use concerns were expressed at the Design Review Board meetings (see this story), but the businesses say the project appears to be proceeding as planned anyway.

Schroeder says Elliott Bay doesn’t just rely on food deliveries, for example – it relies on the alley for deliveries of carbon dioxide for the brewery part of the business; it comes in by truck and is piped in through a hole in the wall along the alley. Will deliveries be possible from the California side, the merchants ask? They say it is up to the developer proposing the alley vacation to work out these logistics, not up to them to figure out how they will cope with it. They say even trash/recycling pickup is a question mark — would they have to carry it to the front of their business and leave it on the California-side curb? (Businesses on the potentially affected block, by the way, include four businesses in addition to Elliott Bay Brewery, as well as retailers including Curious Kidstuff and Petco as well as Liberty Bell.) The southern section of the alley will remain open, but there is nowhere for trucks to turn around, and that section also will, within months, be used by residents of the Mural.

They believe that if the “alley vacation” is granted, the north end could be closed off for up to two years, since construction doesn’t always proceed as quickly as hoped. They also note that developers who request special permission like this are required to provide some kind of public benefit in exchange; they say that what Conner has offered, including a five-digit sum for Junction Plaza Park directly across SW Alaska, is not nearly enough compensation for the benefit the developer would be getting. And their concerns include emergency-vehicle access as well as delivery truck and customer access. “The Fire Department even told us to paint our address numbers on the alley side, because that’s their first line of response,” Hoffman says.

Melrose says she is also concerned that the developer is not proactively offering enough information about the project and seeking input from its neighboring businesses, not to mention the Junction Association. “This project has for the most part flown under the radar,” she contends. “Community input is vital for creating development that complements and is considerate of our community.” (Conner did accept an invitation to speak to the Junction Neighborhood Association in mid-May [WSB coverage here].) They remain concerned about other elements proposed and criticized, such as a residential lobby that would front California, in a spot which is now exclusively business, but right now the alley vacation proposal is their major center of concern.

The group stressed they are not opposed to this development in general. They believe it could be built in phases, one tower at a time, without alley closure required at any point.

Before we started to write this story, we sent notes to our previous Conner Homes contacts, Alison Conner and project manager Jim Miller, requesting comment. We have not heard back yet; when we do, we will publish another followup with their response to our questions about the Junction businesses’ contentions and concerns. It should also be noted that opposition to the alley vacation is not unanimous; the petition Conner presented to the city was required to have signatures from a majority of property owners in the affected area, but we have not seen it so we can’t tell you who the signatories are, only that the executive director of the Junction Association and the aforementioned business tenants are expressing major concerns.

Meantime, if you are interested in signing those businesses’ petitions against the alley vacation, copies are available at Elliott Bay Brewery and at Liberty Bell Printing, and participants expect to add more locations; Melrose says that if you print out a copy and sign it, you can mail it to the Junction Association headquarters (its mailing address is here). And as mentioned previously, the city is accepting comments for and against the proposal; the deadline is in mid-August so the sooner those comments are received, the better. The address/phone number/names for that are on this city webpage.

Next steps on the city’s side of the deal are explained on this webpage: SDOT will review the proposal and make a recommendation on whether to grant it or deny it; a hearing before the City Council’s Transportation Committee also would be required before a final vote by the full council. Contact information for the City Council is here. Depending on the kinds of comments the city receives, further reviews, including potentially an environmental review, might also be required, and that would trigger a different level of comment period. We will keep you updated on what happens.

18 Replies to "Junction development: Businesses ask for your help in alley fight"

  • marianne July 31, 2008 (5:03 pm)

    Those artist’s drawings look like something from downtown Bellevue, not the small business – oriented West Seattle Junction. Is this the future of the Junction? Kinda gives me the creeps.

  • GenHillOne July 31, 2008 (5:09 pm)

    For what it’s worth, Petco already blocks off spaces in front of its door on Calif for deliveries. Annoying when parking is limited already. The alley isn’t even closed yet and they see this as an easier option for themselves (certainly not their customers).

  • Karen July 31, 2008 (5:36 pm)

    I thought an alley with utilities running through it could not be vacated. Our alley is unpaved and overgrown. It’s used as a dumping ground so we looked into having it vacated but were told that because the power lines go down it stays as it is.

    I don’t really understand this. Are they asking to vacate it for two years for building purposes or to permanently vacate it?

    Here’s some infomation:

  • nottheenemy July 31, 2008 (5:38 pm)

    they should probably check the spelling in their petition.

  • Hormel July 31, 2008 (5:49 pm)

    Also for what it is worth if they are building on both sides of the alley you can count on the alley being closed for a significant amount of time for construction operations, if not for the duration of the project. The developer would also be required to replace the existing alley paving which will add to the amount of time the alley is closed during construction. SDOT will readily grant the permits required to close the alley during construction.

    One would assume a combined garage means fewer garage entry ramps that take up valuable commercial space and allows for more parking to be put below grade. This is not a free vacation and the alley does come back after construction.

    I would not say that the above renderings look like downtown Bellevue, it is only a massing diagram which is what the developer is required to present per the requirements of the Design Review Board. Further detail that would show what the building would actually look like is supposed to be flushed out in following DRB meetings. However, I would assume that the developer reads the WSB and will take your comments to heart. It’s bad enough to be compared to Fremont or Ballard, but Bellevue?

  • rjm July 31, 2008 (6:19 pm)

    I find it great that we are given a forum to have input on these projects. But it seems the the first voice in almost every one of these projects tends to be negative.

    The junction is slowing morphing into a destination for food, shopping, and entertainment. I personally am very excited about it and look forward to it and in the long run several of these business named above in the petition will benefit from continued improvement and growth.

  • lorax July 31, 2008 (6:39 pm)

    It would be fabulous if there were a way to get multifamily housing in a designated “Hub Urban Village” such as the Junction an exemption from the city’s parking requirements or at least a reduction. The residents of this building will have great access to transit and maybe if the developer weren’t required to package each unit with 1 or more parking spaces, they would choose to build a smaller parking garage which would thereby have a smaller impact on these businesses AND reduce the cost of this new housing AND reduce traffic congestion on the Bridge, on California, and elsewhere. Just a thought.

  • booger July 31, 2008 (7:24 pm)

    FWIW, Petco has ALWAYS had their deliveries to the front door. even before the current construction. And if businesses needed to do so to stay afloat during an alley closure, so be it. Try walking for a change…

  • old timer July 31, 2008 (7:32 pm)

    The buildings, if completed and occupied will be the source of a lot of taxes for the City and the County.
    More people living there are more customers for The Junction.
    Maybe this application for alley vacation is the cheapest and quickest way to sort out a mitigation process for those directly affected.
    IMO, I’d look at it as such and proceed on a negotiation basis rather than a confrontational one.
    With all the transit sited and proposed in that block, density is unavoidable.
    Nasty fights hurt everyone involved.

  • b July 31, 2008 (9:37 pm)

    The vacation of the alley has quite a bit to do with the design of the buildings. It’s an interesting concept but I’m not totally sure if it will work yet. They are trying to make it more of a walking mall I think. Don’t pay too much attention to those renderings either, they are just for massing and the actual design is quite a bit different (but not much smaller). What’s so bad about Ballard anyway? Every time I go I see hundreds of people walking around having a good time. Is that so bad?

  • Engie July 31, 2008 (10:15 pm)

    If Conner is willing to fund the Junction Plaza Park, which is in need of a massive fund raising effort, that no one in the Junction wants to step up & get started (several organizations and individuals in the community have already committed plenty to the purchase of the property) then let them close the alley and build the Park for the benefit of the entire Junction and residents of West Seattle.

  • WSB July 31, 2008 (10:52 pm)

    Data point, they’re not “funding” it – as I understand it (and I’m still waiting to hear back from Conner, as mentioned above), it is a contribution. BlueStar, for example, is reported to be contributing $25,000; the entire park, however, needs hundreds of thousands of dollars, as I understand it. — TR

  • 4thGenWestSider August 1, 2008 (11:10 am)

    Developers like Connor are the types that destroy the small community by bulldozing through with attorneys and lawsuits. Remember the (continuing) saga of the Satterlee House on Beach Drive he was trying to turn in to a mini urban village?

  • JEM August 1, 2008 (11:11 am)

    I am not as concerned about deliveries – go ahead and block 1/2 of California – park further away and walk. But I am concerned about the trash/recycling issue – where will the dumpsters go? Are they expected to put their trash out in front of the businesses on the sidewalk?

  • esdl August 1, 2008 (11:15 am)

    Dividing the development into two separate phases to keep the alley open would be prohibitively expensive for the developer. Generally the only way to make a development feasible is to run it so that your subcontractors (concrete, carpenters, window installers, etc.) are on site one time only during the project. It they put up the towers one after the other, the costs of the subcontractors would be noticably higher… I realize the that cost for the developer is not the only concern, but this would likely be a deal breaker for them. There are always pluses and minuses to development.

    I second rjm’s sentiments as well!

  • Stephanie August 1, 2008 (11:33 am)

    I am totally against blocking off the alley. I already have a hard time finding parking to shop at Petco with the parking lot gone but where I do park I walk through the alley to make the trip shorter. Sure I can park a street over, but that means I can’t take my large dog in to shop with me to get her large bag of food. I only go there when I absolutely have to now which is sad. I don’t like whats happening there now.

  • rjb August 1, 2008 (12:22 pm)

    “I personally am very excited about it and look forward to it and in the long run several of these business named above in the petition will benefit from continued improvement and growth.”
    Aren’t these businesses going to get razed in a future project? I seem to remember that getting approval a while ago.
    And how can you look forward to this? You do realize that you can kiss free street parking goodbye, the free parking lots, and the low levels of traffic we experience in the Junction once all these development projects are done. I’m for some development, yes, but the development that is happening in this part of WS is so concentrated that it’s going to be overcrowded and gross soon.
    I hardly ever leave WS except for work. Walking to the Junction I have everything I need – grocery store, book store, music store, drug store, coffee places.. what are they putting in that we really need? More high end boutiques that sell $300 sweaters? More cell phone stores? More supplement stores? You know that’s what we’re going to end up with. Yay. Progress.

  • Keith August 1, 2008 (4:19 pm)

    I walk through the alley from Oregon to Alaska three times a week – there’s a constant coming and going of delivery trucks, sanitation pickups and regular car traffic. I don’t see how the businesses there could function if the alley was closed. And it’s the Junction businesses that make that area so unique and enjoyable. I’m totally on their side with this one.

    This development reminds me of the horrible White River Ampitheatre down in Auburn, a concert venue built for 20,000 people… with only a two-lane road to get all those people in and out. It seems like a mistake by Connor Homes to put all this focus, extra traffic and increased pedestrian activity on an alley that’s already very busy serving a vital function to established businesses, businesses that are important parts of the community. Those alleys aren’t there to be prettified pedestrian “breezeways” – that’s what the sidewalks are for.

Sorry, comment time is over.