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.