City Council committee recommends that Conner Homes’ Junction project get its ‘alley vacation’

(Added 12:20 pm: Seattle Channel video of today’s meeting; Conner item begins 7 minutes in)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After more than three years and 10 public meetings, the 200-apartment Conner Homes mixed-use project in the heart of The Junction has cleared one of its last remaining hurdles: After an hour and a half, the City Council’s Transportation Committee – represented by its chair, West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen – has just decided to recommend approval of the “alley vacation” required for the project to go forward.

But not before a formidable voice of concern spoke out – Dave Montoure of Junction restaurant/bar West 5 (who also chairs the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board but was not speaking on its behalf), one of four people to speak during the public-comment portion of the hearing.

(Image from Seattle Channel feed of today’s hearing)
Montoure (above) said he wasn’t there to oppose the alley vacation, which only involves an underground area, or to send the project back into Design Review, but was there to strongly oppose two aspects of the project that had been longstanding points of concern- its residential lobby on California SW (“Retail frontage off California Avenue is the best retail frontage in West Seattle,” Montoure argued) and its garage entrance from 42nd SW rather than the alley (“Do you want to hear, ‘caution, vehicle approaching’ over and over” each day? he asked.)

“I’m tired of going to meetings about (this project) – but let’s not let this fatigue excuse us from our duty to our community,” he summarized.

Rasmussen said Harbor Properties, developer of Mural (WSB sponsor) to the south, also had sent a letter of concern about the 42nd SW entrance. He agreed that the vehicle crossings on the sidewalk should be “minimized”; architects said they had “pulled back” the building facade to create better sight angles, in hopes of enhancing safety. Harbor’s Emi McKittrick stepped to the podium as Rasmussen mulled their letter, which requested that the entrance be further north than currently planned; she pointed out there is no crosswalk in that immediate area. But Rasmussen ultimately said he believes 42nd would provide a “better entrance” than the alley.

(Sketch of California-facing view from presentation for Conner project in The Junction)
Rasmussen also described the 13-foot residential entrance on California as a “relatively small” area that he didn’t believe would significantly reduce the area’s retail frontage, so he did not ask for any changes in that.

The lengthy briefing and hearing underscored the fact that this is a “very important project,” as Rasmussen had described it toward the hearing’s start.

Any project that requires an alley or street vacation – for the city to give up its “right of way” – ultimately requires approval from a variety of official boards/councils, concluding with a City Council vote. Today’s Transportation Committee hearing was the key prelude to that final vote, which will happen next month.

“Every street/alley vacation is a balancing act, between competing interests,” noted Beverly Barnett, who is the SDOT specialist for vacation requests. Though this was complicated, she called it ultimately “a pretty modest vacation request,” since it involves only an underground area, and did not increase the development area – all it does is facilitate the two Conner buildings’ plan to share a single underground parking garage.

There will be only one phase of construction during which the north side of the alley will be closed; there will be a detour (graphic above) so there’s still two access points for the vehicles that use the alley, either to serve businesses or reach residences.

(Image from Seattle Channel feed of today’s hearing)
For an alley or street vacation to be approved, the developer must offer “public benefit” in exchange, so that was at the crux of the hearing. It’s fully detailed in the presentation (which you can see here), but was also outlined by Conner Homes’ CEO Charlie Conner (above), leading the briefing for the committee.

“Today is the culmination of nearly four years of work on the project,” as Conner described it, opening his presentation, while later summarizing, “”I believe this project’s probably had more scrutiny than any other project in the neighborhood there,” adding he believes it’s a “much better project” because of that scrutiny. (The archive of our coverage can be browsed here, newest to oldest.)

He touted the parking that will be provided by his project, with its underground garage (facilitated in part by the “vacation” of the underground section of the alley), and said it will remove some of the traffic in the area, with people circling for street parking. (Conner said he had been out in the area last Friday “observing the traffic.”) 60 of its spaces are for retail beyond the required number of spaces for retail – paid or voucher parking, Conner clarified on a question from Rasmussen.

He also said it will include artwork – with community collaboration – “telling the history of The Junction.” Here’s how that was described on page 20 of the presentation:

The current design has incorporated 10 locations for small glass art installations and eighteen locations for larger sculptural panel installations (three to four square feet each). It is envisioned that the sculptural panels, designed by local artists, will in some way portray historic elements of the West Seattle neighborhood.

And he says they will underground the power adjacent to their project.

More details were offered by architect Jim Westcott from Weber Thompson, who led many of the briefings in other official city venues – from the maximization of retail along the street- and alley-facing parts of the project, to the “midblock walkway” that will take you along the south side to the alley (along 42nd SW, it’ll be between the Conner project and Mural, to “café seating” in areas along the street.

The “meat” of the public benefit, as Westcott termed it, is the plan for the sidewalk; he noted that there had been much concern throughout the public vetting process about the sidewalks’ width. “We have held back our storefront to the very back of the residential columns … and pulled our residential entry way back” to facilitate wider sidewalks, he said – at least 16’7″ along California, at least 15’5″ along Alaska, and at least 18’11” along 42nd. And he says there’s continuous weather protection – some glass, some canvas – “all the way around the building.”

And they will add more than 100 pieces of furnishing – bike racks, café seating, safety bollards, recycling cans – along sidewalks and the midblock walkway.

For the rationale behind the two controversial aspects that hadn’t changed since earlier stages of the project: The main entry to the garage will be from 42nd SW, instead of the alley as per city code (other developments will have to enter from the alley, the Conner team pointed out, so this in their view might eventually be a boon); a residential entrance remains on California – Westcott said the rationale included the fact that the building’s address (4700 California SW) is on California.

Before the developer/architects’ presentation, the committee heard a little about the mediation process that led to an agreement in which Conner made promises and neighborhood leaders agreed not to oppose the alley vacation.

“This was a very controversial project in the neighborhood,” acknowledged the DPD staffer who mediated the discussions, Gary Johnson (Seattle Channel image at right); in his view, that was largely because while this is within Junction 85-foot zoning, there is nothing in the area now that rises to the level, “a first step toward a significant change to the neighborhood.” He facilitated the unusual series of meetings between neighborhood representatives and Conner Homes; he explained that it began with 12 people and he asked for a smaller group, which eventually became 7. “I won’t say that it was easy. … To all of our surprise, the process lasted almost a full year. But I was pleased to see that neither side was willing to throw in the towel, and as long as (they were) willing to stay at it, I certainly was.” The end result included “significant changes to the architecture” of the project, as well as the formal agreement you can read on the final page here. (Dave Montoure’s comments toward the end of the hearing included some sharp words of criticism for that process having not been announced publicly, and involving what he said seemed to be “hand-picked” representatives.)

The Design Review Board met six times – a three-year process recapped at this morning’s meeting by planner Michael Dorcy, who was the point person on the project at (and between) those meetings – and the Design Commission three times (street and alley vacations must win their approval before being finalized).

As Dorcy noted, the final decision on the master-use permit for the project cannot be made until the City Council’s final decision on the alley-vacation proposal that was at the heart of today’s meeting.

Besides Montoure, whose comments of concern we noted earlier, three other people spoke in the public-comment portion of this morning’s meeting, all offering support – including a High Point resident who said she recently read about it here on WSB and fully supports it, and Tom Phillips, who had long been the Seattle Housing Authority manager for High Point.

As noted earlier, the permits for the Conner project have not yet been finalized, and he told WSB earlier this month that he did not expect work to begin any sooner than the end of this year.

22 Replies to "City Council committee recommends that Conner Homes' Junction project get its 'alley vacation'"

  • In the name of public notices April 26, 2011 (11:56 am)

    Thanks for the great coverage WSB! Still dont understand why the City mediated metings had ZERO PUBLIC NOTICES and ALLOWED for ZERO input by those outside of 7 persons who signed off to approve the project: 5 residents, a Junction Assoc. rep and a Jucntion board rep. who met with Conner and Polygon for for a total of FIVE City mediated meetings, with NO notice to the public. I realize a lot of time was sacrificed by these folks because they REALLY DO care about the community, sure hope they understand how it might feel to others who weren’t aware of these meetings.

  • HelperMonkey April 26, 2011 (12:21 pm)

    sick and sad that we’ll be losing great businesses to this cookie cutter piece of crap. you’re not wanted here, Connor Homes!

  • huskilvr April 26, 2011 (12:52 pm)

    No point in getting stressed HelperMonkey. I’ve come resigned to the fact that there’s nothing you can do about it, and Connor or one of the other developers will eventually get all of California Ave and make it like this. That’s the zoning and that’s the plan.

  • RJB April 26, 2011 (2:31 pm)

    Where exactly is this going in??? What businesses will be “lost”??? This doesn’t sound like something West Seattle wants (and/or needs). Why come in and tear up the most awesome area ever?? Maybe you should think about this Mr. Conner….you are creating some serious backlash. I understand growth…but….wow.

  • Glendafrench April 26, 2011 (2:50 pm)

    Is there any way still to fight this? I have no problem with development behind the Junction to Fauntleroy, but don’t want the height changes right on the Junction this will usher in.

    • WSB April 26, 2011 (2:55 pm)

      Glenda – This has been going through the system for three years (please see the story-archive link in this article, which includes pretty much everything during that time that has mentioned Conner Homes; we broke the story that the development plan had reactivated in early 2008 and have covered it extensively ever since) and there are no formal comment periods remaining. If you want to doublecheck that for yourself, you can contact Michael Dorcy, the city planner assigned to the project, who would be the official expert on where it stands in the system of reviews prior to permits being granted. The City Council still needs to take its final vote on the alley vacation itself, but today was the public hearing on that; the full vote is likely to be a relatively quick action – TR

  • NotMe April 26, 2011 (3:32 pm)

    Unfortunately, I think when it comes down to it, those opposing this are out-numbered. It’s pretty clear it is going to happen, and the guy willing to spend the most money wins.
    Too bad something couldn’t be worked out so that the “hole” spot is developed first. After all, the hole is already dug.

  • In the name of public notices April 26, 2011 (4:04 pm)


    Last Summer, 5 residents, a Junction Assoc. rep and a Jucntion board rep.= 7 Individuals total who signed off and approved that this project should go forward with no further review.

    Today, 1 person came to testify for specific asks against the current proposal. Council recieved 3-4 letters with various desgres of asks.

    We are very fortuante that we have the WSB to let us all share our thoughts. The unfortuante part is that just because you do, doesn’t mean that’s where it should end! But perhaps that’s what happens when there is no notice from the City about City facilitated meetings!!

  • RJB April 26, 2011 (4:13 pm)

    Yeah….let’s make a trade with Mr. Conner, he gets the hole and we get to keep the Junction as is. The garage is already dug!

  • Todd April 26, 2011 (4:13 pm)

    I’m going to miss the Rocksport and other businesses in the area. The historic buildings will be gone. Funky Jane’s already moved in anticipation of this event (announced years ago).

  • Another KBear April 26, 2011 (4:57 pm)

    Ah, yes, the “Ballardizing” of another great place….

  • old timer April 26, 2011 (8:10 pm)

    I hope the economy allows the project to proceed as planned – we certainly do not need another hole in the ground.
    After watching the tape of the meeting, (thank you WSB)
    and then this afternoon, walking around the area –
    California to Alaska and East to QFC, then South to Safeway and back North and West to the transit center – I think the buildings will be a great boost to the area.
    They will enhance the Mural and the new park.
    Putting all those wires away in the ground will be a very good thing.
    New homes for 200 people with live/work units mean more customers for the Junction area merchants and restauranteurs.
    The sidewalks will be significantly wider, and will add to the
    ease of moving thru that area.
    Some tables for coffee or sandwiches along California will be easily accommodated.
    I wish I had taken a camera to photograph the sloppy Super Supplements corner, and that tavern or whatever it is on Alaska. Nothing ‘historic’ to my eyes in that building with the gold anodized aluminum barrel awnings on the corner of Alaska and 42nd.
    An upgrade is long overdue.
    That is my OPINION.
    The only guarantee in life is that things will change.
    That is FACT.

  • Glenda April 26, 2011 (10:34 pm)

    Old Timer –
    I totally hear you – I generally don’t stand in the way of progress for progresses sake and the buildings they are taking down are not exactly beautiful or historic. My main problem with this is the height of the building right on the Junction and what that will usher in soon enough – I can see it leading to the loss of our cuter brick one stories that give the Junction its character.

    Plus there is plenty of room to develop on Fauntleroy.

  • dsa April 27, 2011 (1:38 am)

    The height of those new buildings will bring one thing for sure. It is called *shade*. Welcome to downtown West Seattle. You want growth, you got it.

  • Jill Loblaw April 27, 2011 (7:45 am)

    I moved to West Seattle 28 years ago, loving the small town feel.To me, the Junction will lose its intimacy, and character. Yes, it will bring homes for more people but it is getting increasingly difficult to access the Junction businesses as it is. I don’t want another Ballardization or Bellevue sterilization of our “small” town. Additionally, discussion should cover the over crowding of our area roads, into and out of West Seattle.

    I don’t support Connor Homes and their greediness. They could give a rats arse about those who are left behind when they leave.

  • Sharonn April 27, 2011 (2:07 pm)

    If the Design Review Board had acknowledged the Junction Neighborhood Design Guidelines and insisted that they be followed, this project would not have taken a year of mediation. That said, I want to know who will be approving the architectural drawings incorporating these “public benefit” changes and how will those elements be adhered to in the final product. To date, other projects in the immediate vacinity with requirements outlined by the Design Review Boards have had no oversite by the city and simply ignored, never to be incorporated in the finished building.

    Sounds like there’s a contract in place so implement it before we just get to live with it, please.

  • AnotherDayAnotherDollar April 27, 2011 (11:04 pm)

    I’ve lived in West Seattle my whole life (22 years). As a child I marveled at how big and how small it was, how it was surrounded by big cities and kept it’s small feel. My wish was always to grow up and have kids and raise them here.. But somewhere during high school all the places that allowed anyone under 21 were removed, replaced by stuffy bars and the never ending cycle of dying restaurants and the few pillars that have withstood the tests. I’m now grown and have watched the greed take over something that I once loved so deeply.. the taller, wider, larger, more more more has taken away the charm and elegance that West Seattle has earned in its 110 years. Too many people deciding it’d be great for business or the area, but not asking the people if it’s what they really want.. So, I officially renounce my dream and hopes because West Seattle developers are tightening that noose, taking away those small town feelings that were unique to living here.

  • intendyourlife April 28, 2011 (11:09 am)

    Development has gone too far. This is horrible and I will no longer support Rasmussen. What happened to my neighborhood?

  • pjmanley April 28, 2011 (1:14 pm)

    ADAD: Welcome to the West Coast! My childhood neighborhood (N. Edmonds) is being annexed by Lynnwood! Ugly, flat, congested, gray, disgusting Lynnwood. Even it was once a beautiful place, if you can believe it.

    I have to differ with my neighbors on this project. I saw the original plans, went to the meetings, spoke my mind, fought as hard as I could to prevent California from becoming a zero-sunlight canyon like the blocks South of Edmunds, and e-mailed the architects with many questions and concerns, which were replied to, btw.

    The end result is that we got a much better looking building than what was originally proposed – and I MEAN MUCH BETTER! If you want to see real horror, look at the early conception drawings.

    Connor is allowed to build and make profits, but he went further than many by showing up and listening to community concerns. To some degree, perhaps he saw the light in that, by learning about what WS folk love about WS, he could tailor his designs a bit toward those sentiments. The plans show that Connor did a lot to address community concerns.

    We can’t win on scale folks. City code allows 85 feet heights in the junction. That battle was lost in 92 when the city-wide comp plan was adopted. That Connor is not exploiting the total height & footprint allowances is something to appreciate. Yes, we are going to lose sunlight and sky at the ground level, but not as much as if they had kept their original design of flat walls straight up six stories high.

    In a day where most designs are done to maximize square footage, neighbors be damned, I’ll take and appreciate developer concessions wherever I can get them.

    I hate sayings like this, but I’ll go ahead and say that this could have been much, much worse, and Connor didn’t have to concede as much to the community as he did. At least he came, listened, and faced the community several times. Many, many developers consider themselves far above such commoners and leave it to their PR reps and architects to mingle with the serfs.

  • Junction_Resident April 28, 2011 (11:17 pm)

    That’s BS. Conner has the option of maintaining the integrity of the Junction as is. This thing is a monstrosity. It is not necessary to build that high. I dread this. It’s absolutely horrible. This is not a black and white issue of development versus none. This is an issue of neighborhood integrity and I wish I had known about it or I would have fought it sooner. The height issue, as well as the alley crossing are the worst aspects… And I have talked with some of the business owners. They don’t want it. I would like to know what the rest think. What a nightmare…

  • Nulu April 30, 2011 (9:15 am)

    Junction Johnny Come Lately,
    pjmanley comments are not BS. He participated in the process, you did not and chose to opt out.

    Now you make outrageous statements that illustrate just how uninformed you are.

    The only reasoned statement that you make is, “This is not a black and white issue of development versus none.”

    Form what I have read, compromise was made.

    There is no requirement that Mr. Connor live in the neighborhood or even any proof that developers that do live here act any more philanthropic in their projects.

    Some of you insist that a developer go bankrupt to
    accommodate your selfish narrow minded vision of West Seattle.

    You fail to acknowledge the way that all of those housing units, that increased density, has allowed the Junction to come back from many years of decline.

    Development has allowed the Junction to maintain at least some of the integrity of the neighborhood.

    Your statement, “It is not necessary to build that high,” is without merit, shows your ignorance and lacking any proof.

    Your opinion that it is a “monstrosity,” is just that. I could point to dozens of new multi-storied buildings that could fit that description, but not this one (my opinion).

    If you want to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood as you see it, you should take part in the process as the laws allow, not snipe at those who have.

  • Economic May 19, 2011 (3:03 pm)

    Too many points to make…. We all hate development, right? And none of us want to pay exorbiant amounts of money in rent, right? Well, unfortunately you need one to satisfy the other. Seattle continues to experience job growth (good thing) and jobs create a need for housing. (Demand). If you don’t allow new supply, demand will oustrip the existing supply and prices will have no place to go but up.

    As much as we’d all like to blame developers, this simple fact is WAY outside their control. We are all about to feel a surge in cost of rent in the upcoming years, partially due to the difficulty of development in this city. I am not saying this development will provide affordable rent, but what it will provide is an increase in supply that will ease pressure off rents elsewhere. Even if you live a mile away, you will indirectly benefit.

    If you have an issue with the height, blame the zoning, not the developer. That’s like blaming a guy for driving the speed limit on the road in front of your house. If you think it’s too fast, call the city.

    And last time I checked, the property belonged to the developer. He went through what sounds like a lengthy public process, progress was made and concessions were given, and everyone’s voice was heard that chose to participate.

    Odds are a developer of some type built the roof over your head. And I bet you’re thankful for it.

Sorry, comment time is over.