As-it-happened coverage: Crowd at City Hall as Design Commission looks at 4755 Fauntleroy’s alley vacation

1:39 PM: About 25 people are in the audience at the City Hall Boards and Commissions Room right now as the Seattle Design Commission takes a look at part of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way megaproject – the requested alley vacation. We’ve never seen a crowd this size in five years of covering West Seattle project reviews here, so we’re going to publish live updates. Some of those here are wearing T-shirts with the logo of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21; we recognize members of the project team and some local community leaders as well. This will start with a presentation by project team members – Bill Fuller from Fuller Sears Architects and Lance Sherwood of Weingarten Realty (developing the site with Lennar) will lead. Land-use lawyers and representatives of the developers are here too. (Added: As introductions went around the room, West Seattle Thriftway [WSB sponsor] owner Paul Kapioski was among them. The project, if you don’t know, includes a Whole Foods Market.)

1:44 PM: The presentation has begun. This is the first time it’s gone before the commission, so the briefing starts with basics including where in West Seattle it’s located. Fuller says the building will have “approximately 400 residential units” – that’s 30 more than has been mentioned previously. Fuller notes the project site was upzoned last year to 85′ height (though this project is not proposed to be that tall – 70′ for most of the site). He also refers to Spruce across the street (“The Hole”) as “about to start up”; last time we were here covering a Design Commission meeting, that was the project, with an update last year. Fuller says this project’s streetscape will “complement” the Junction, rather than “compete with” it. He also shows a grid of alleys in the Junction/Triangle area, and an overview referring to development goals for the area, which includes respecting its status as a “gateway” to the area. While 4755 Fauntleroy is not a “transit-oriented development” by the city’s definition, Fuller says, they believe it will function as one, with its proximity to the RapidRide C Line, etc. He’s explaining everything around the site so that the commissioners, who are appointed from around the city, will have context (though we believe at least one is a West Seattleite).

2 PM: Background over, presentation begins. Fuller says they plan to improve the section of the alley they are not seeking to have “vacated” – the section that runs north-south north of SW Edmunds, east of the Masonic Lodge (which is adjacent to the project on two sides but not part of it). Fronting Fauntleroy, he says, there will be small retail spaces on the north part of that frontage, but they are proposing to move the drugstore drive-up to be on a driveway parallel to that north-south alley, rather than the original proposal on the east-west “midblock connection” between 40th SW and Fauntleroy. The site height will be mostly 70′ except for the “tower” element at the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner (something new since the first two Design Review meetings). He mentions the site across 40th just purchased by the city as a new park and says they are hoping to find a way for pedestrians to get from Fauntleroy to the park. The current mid-block connector section across the project site also will be utilized by cars. Fuller now brings up the mural that’s on the current ex-Huling building to be demolished and says that while it’s not in good enough shape to save, they plan to take a digital image to recreate it on the project site.

2:13 PM: Fuller shows what the project would look like if the alley vacation isn’t granted – including going to its full allowable 85′ height.

Then he recaps what the project is offering – retail frontage on Fauntleroy, “safe circulation for all vehicle classes” from trucks to bicycles, supporting the “green street” plan for 40th on its west side, and more. The presentation ends, and Beverly Barnett of SDOT – who handles alley vacations – says she’s glad to see so many people here.

She says SDOT is not satisfied right now that the configuration of the interior east-west mid-block crossing (above) would provide safe usage for everything from deliveries to people trying to park: “Right now, there’s so much happening in there, where we see drive-through for a drugstore, delivery trucks … we’re not satisfied that the design as proposed is going to meet all the safety fundamentals plus go so far as to provide public benefits.” She thinks either design changes to the loading area or pedestrian accommodations elsewhere on the site might help; she also expresses criticism of the proposed drive-through drugstore. “Design changes, space enhancements, figuring out how some of the functions might happen differently, or just go away” will be their recommendation. She says “West Seattle loves midblock crossings … but it’s gotta be safe … not putting kids (in the path of) grocery trucks backing up.” (Editor’s note: This concern came up in early design review meetings, too.) Now a City Council staffer, Michael Jenkins, speaks. He says Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is also concerned – especially about the midblock connector and the corner of Fauntleroy/Alaska – and has asked him to follow the project through this process as well as Design Review (where its next meeting is in three weeks).

2:21 PM: Public comment, now.

Steve Marquardt of UFCW Local 21 (above right) says he’ll speak for the group here (the commission asked for some consolidation) and for their 10,000 members, 750 of whom he says live in West Seattle. He says the design contortions are to accommodate Whole Foods, which they oppose: “This neighborhood already has 7 major supermarkets within a radius of 2 miles. Construction of an 8th supermarket … is a threat to the viability of neighborhood jobs.” He also says they believe this plan undermines the walkability viability of the Triangle site, as well as traffic trouble at Fauntleroy/Alaska, and has massing issues – all of which they want to see “better addressed.” .. “Our members don’t see a public benefit here” and “don’t think this is in the public interest.” Now Chas Redmond speaks for the Southwest District Council and Morgan Community Association, saying they have four concerns – seeking a “more striking structure” at Fauntleroy/Alaska; concerns about whether the midblock crossing is safe for pedestrians; concerns about the pedestrian access to the Alaska side of the project – “although there are windows, Alaska has become a showcase of brutalist architecture and we hope it won’t continue that way”; and “knowing there are 3 other projects to be built now or in the future adjacent to this intersection, we are particularly concerned about transportation – deliveries, residents (etc.)” Then a local resident stands up to speak, saying she lives in High Point, used to live in Junction area, and she agrees the additional grocery store is unnecessary and placing burdens on the design of the project. She thinks the pedestrian environment, as others said, will be dangerous, and thinks the midblock connector should be a public right-of-way without the loading dock and other elements. After her, another resident says “what you see now is an eyesore and a danger right now … I think the project that’s coming in is awesome and is going to be beautiful … for me, I think it’s a great project … I think it’s a great idea, is going to bring a ton of jobs, is going to bring a lot of life to the area.” A resident standing next to her says she feels the same way. “I’m concerned about my health, I don’t want to eat at Safeway, I don’t want to have to go to (various stores) … basically Whole Foods is amazing and if I have to sell it, I’ll sell it. I like shopping at Whole Foods and I have to go all the way to Interbay. I want to shop where I live.”

2:32 PM: Commissioners are now asking questions – starting with the “midblock crossing.” Trucks would enter it off Fauntleroy, headed west, “two or three a day” then would go into Whole Foods to the north (behind a door). Residential access would be into the alley off Edmunds on the south side. Visitor parking would be entered from Edmunds too. That side of the alley also would include the aforementioned drugstore drive-through, possibly with a one-way flow. In response to another question, the architects say, people would be moving in/out off Fauntleroy and two spots along Edmunds, which also is where most of the residential traffic is supposed to be. Access to the drugstore drive-through would be from 40th or from Fauntleroy, then “out the alley to the south.” Discussion veers into the Triangle Plan itself and how it envisioned these corners – but then goes right back to the traffic-flow issue. One commissioner asks how much vehicle traffic has been measured in the area; while the architects look it up, she says, “A lot, qualitatively.” 1,500 PM peak-hour trips on Fauntleroy, they find. How many will this project add? “We are adding … about 250.” Among a subsequent discussion of parking, a commissioner asks about bicycle parking; Fuller says “it will be a bicycle-friendly project,” meeting the city’s bike-parking requirements, and he says they’re working on having a bike shop as part of the project. They also are undergrounding utilities along Fauntleroy to make room for a bike lane along the Fauntleroy frontage while preserving vehicle parking there too.

2:52 PM: This was only supposed to go until 3 pm – it’s definitely going overtime. A commissioner says that while there’s a “plaza” proposed at Fauntleroy/Alaska, for the public, it seems from the renderings to have a “private” nature. This is a topic more for discussion at a later meeting of this group, when they talk about “public benefit” – the topic here is “urban design” of the site – but it’s agreed that they can discuss it. There is a four-foot-high or so buffer structure at the corner meant to be more about safety and separation from traffic, not to close off the “plaza.” Parking comes up again, and Fuller says the parking along Fauntleroy will be the only “visible” parking on the site aside from a few visitors’ spaces (for the leasing office) along Edmunds. How does the site speak to the Masonic Temple and its parking? the architect is asked. A currently blocked section of alley will be improved, which should benefit them and their visitors too, is the reply.

3:03 PM: Commissioners’ questions continue. One asks about utilities. The overhead power goes north-south but does not run along the alley, which was added after the site was originally developed. Now it’s on to the commissioners’ discussion among themselves. First one: The midblock crossing does not appear as pedestrian-friendly as the Triangle Plan suggests one should be there. Another commissioner says he agrees the midblock connection is “tighter and more active” than the plan would suggest, but the plan, he says, is a guideline, and this could just be seen as “a departure” from the plan. The next commissioner says she believes this project meets the “urban design merit” on which they’re reviewing it – the cut-through, for example, is an improvement over what’s there. But she has concerns about traffic impacts. Another commissioner says she too will have concerns about the cut-through if not improved by the “public benefit” review, but for now, “urban design merit” for the project is OK. Then two commissioners say they’re wondering why the project came to the Design Commission since SDOT has concerns.

3:18 PM: The idea of digitizing the mural and putting that replica on the site is not a hit with one commissioner (perhaps the original artist should be contacted, it’s suggested), who also says the plaza at Fauntleroy/Alaska strikes her as a “private space.” Another brings up the Spruce project across the street (“The Hole”) and says that it’s just not “a great corner to hang out.” Now, the review of the commissioners’ observations/recommendations – noting that “urban design merit” is the first of two reviews from the Design Commission before SDOT can approve the alley vacation (and send it to the City Council, which gets the final say). The member reading the list of concerns reiterates what has been voiced over the preceding hour and a half.

3:25 PM: The vote – unanimously against approving the “urban design merit” at this stage. So this project will have to come before the Design Commission at least two more times, one for UDM and one for “public benefit.”

35 Replies to "As-it-happened coverage: Crowd at City Hall as Design Commission looks at 4755 Fauntleroy's alley vacation"

  • rich hall March 7, 2013 (2:04 pm)

    what is the parking situation going to be like? I live on Fauntleroy and worried that this will bring more cars to our blocks and we won’t have our parking spot anymore due to the influx of shoppers this will bring.

    • WSB March 7, 2013 (2:40 pm)

      Rich: 600 spaces. That’s for the 400 units’ residents plus visitors and shoppers – we don’t know how many are supposed to be set aside for retail.

  • Diane March 7, 2013 (3:30 pm)

    oh I am so happy to see West Seattle turn out for this important meeting, and of course wsblog covering; thank you; I could not make it, so I sent my letter to Design Commission this morning; I sure hope it was distributed to commission members prior to meeting; yay neighborhood advocates; this is so awesome; you made my day

  • Not NIMBY March 7, 2013 (3:51 pm)

    What a bunch of NIMBY whiners. You live in a city. God forbid you experience traffic, or have options if you want to buy good food at a grocery store. Oh the horror – a Whole Foods! The horror. But really, I hope people recognize that constructive input about the design, building height, plaza, parking, and pedestrian safety is a lot more important than protesting a nice grocery store in the neighborhood. I get the sense that some of those against the development would prefer the concrete parking lots to any development.

  • Jormp March 7, 2013 (4:47 pm)

    @Non NIMBY, right like the other 5 grocery stores in this name neighborhood? Crikey! How many options do we need?

    If the developers were willing to develop on the land as is, I think you might have a point. However, that’s not the case here.

    It’s not about anti-development, What these developers are asking for is a significant street vacation and a transfer of a public alley to a private one. In their own admission, this is needed to accommodation the space for a new grocery store.

    Since the developers are asking for a significant change, it seems completely fair for community members to ask questions about the benefit of this change.

  • Rod March 7, 2013 (4:52 pm)

    @Not NIMBY – Options? What in the world are you talking about? Seven supermarkets in lil ol’ WS equals plenty of options! You can get healthy, good food at any of them. If you don’t like Safeway – and just for the record, I do not – go to QFC. If that’s not good enough, get on your bike or take a bus or walk (that’s healthy!) to Met Market or Thriftway. Or maybe you will drive & get stuck in traffic thanks to your beloved development. I like Whole Foods just fine, but it’s unnecessary here.

  • KD March 7, 2013 (5:03 pm)

    I am not clear as to the specific definition of “Alley Vacation”. Could someone clarify what this is? Just wondering.

    Also, thank you WSB for covering this.

  • chris March 7, 2013 (5:36 pm)

    I totally agree with Not NIMBY…Car lots are turning into housing and retail…do you know how many other communities around the country would kill for this and the rest of the planned developments? I’m all for vetting the projects but the usual angry anti mood that one reads is predictable, tiresome and ignorant.

  • Stephen March 7, 2013 (5:41 pm)

    Whole foods is a great addition to our neighborhood. Its a niche supermarket and will not necessarily take business away from your run of the mill Safewways, QFC’s, etc. Lets face it, most people can’t afford to shop there regularly anyways.

    I am baffled as to why UFCW 21 opposes this new store. Can somebody please explain how adding a new niche supermarket such as Whole Foods is “a threat to the viability of neighborhood jobs”?

    I’m a west seattle resident and am 100% behind this development.

    • WSB March 7, 2013 (6:23 pm)

      Stephen – Whole Foods, like Trader Joe’s, is non-union, unlike West Seattle’s other grocery stores.

  • Belvidere March 7, 2013 (7:07 pm)

    Whole foods also sided with Monsanto when it came time to protest their GMO Round up ready alfalfa. I will not support their company. They put themselves out to be “healthy” and “organic” and then stab the organic and non GMO food community in the back. No thank you.

  • Rod March 7, 2013 (7:17 pm)

    Have fun getting to/from work, Chris…and parking in the junction…and driving up and down California Ave. Oh wait, you probably don’t drive. I do. Sorry. Stephen, you said it all in one sentence: “Lets face it, most people can’t afford to shop there regularly anyways.” That is NOT a great addition to our neighborhood. Utilize what you already have … I didn’t even include Trader Joe’s in my last post! WHY do we need a market where “most people can’t afford to shop there regularly anyways.” I don’t understand you people.

  • fauntleroy fairy March 7, 2013 (8:06 pm)

    The people who think that Whole Foods would be the only organic, healthy option have completely overlooked PCC. That tells me right there that they are not in anyway from West Seattle and they should stay out of my “backyard”…Mr. Nimby.

    Support local businesses!

  • jedifarfy March 7, 2013 (8:21 pm)

    And one day, someone may build another grocery store east of 35th! EIGHT grocery stores?! Really?

    • WSB March 7, 2013 (9:06 pm)

      If we’re counting grocery stores, we can argue over Roxbury Safeway, which is in the county but just steps from West Seattle, so I’d call it #9: Metropolitan Market, PCC, West Seattle Thriftway (WSB sponsors); three Safeways, two QFCs, one Trader Joe’s. And if you count Target’s grocery section, #10.

  • chris March 7, 2013 (9:01 pm)

    Yes, it is weird having such a concentration of grocery stores, but rather than complain, we should be grateful…let the “invisible hand” of the market decide who survives. Remember the Delridge area is a grocery desert and comes up here to shop too. One has to go all the way to Westwood Village really for another store beyond Morgan Thriftway.

  • AlkiGrl March 7, 2013 (9:54 pm)

    @Chris. Let the invisible hand decide who survives? This development cannot happen with Whole Foods as a tenant without us taxpayers handing over public property to this private developer. The developers said so themselves. How is a public subsidy letting the invisible hand decide? If we stick with your wish, we don’t give a handout in the form of an Alley vacation and let this development sink or swim based on its own merit. Otherwise we are cheating the many locally owned grocers who ARE currently surviving on their merit.

  • Denny March 7, 2013 (10:44 pm)

    According to this 2008 NYC work, a desired ratio of supermarket/grocery stores is 1 store for every 10,000 people within an 8-10 min drive. (Slide 7). We have approx 85,000 people in WS after 2010 census, and more coming. Looks like the market does drive the markets.

    For those of you complaining about traffic, parking & development, get a new hobby or your voice will wear out. You live in a healthy, developing, well off city. I was born here, raise my family here, and plan to stay.

    As for the “taking” of an alley, or handouts to corporate developers, when this thing is done it would have the same amount of alley E-W, now privately developed and maintained. The N-S alley would be a little shorter. A blight of undeveloped parking lot, gas station and funeral home would be replaced by something new & vibrant. All of the utilities would be under grounded on Fauntleroy, leaving room for a true bike lane, and 40th will be one of the greenest, garden like streets in WS with a cafe on the corner. Take the alley, please.

  • LongTimer WS March 7, 2013 (11:34 pm)

    Please, please make sure these projects LOOK good. How buildings look from the street is SO important. West Seattle has suffered in the past in terms of design.
    We have such a lovely natural setting with Puget Sound & Mountains (Olympics and Cascades) to frame our views. Please, keep the concept of a beautiful street facade in the forefront of the discussions. It will keep the positive energy in West Seattle. Do not let development make us another Ballard!!! It’s sad to see what has happened to Ballard.

  • FauntleroyLiving March 8, 2013 (8:47 am)

    I do think that it will be great to add some color to that area vs. the ugliness that sits there at the moment. I am curious though, and perhaps it has been mentioned and I missed it, what is going to happen to the area where the pawn shop, billboard, and hideous parking/storage area across the street?

  • let them swim March 8, 2013 (8:53 am)

    Forget the building above ground.
    Go down 2-3-4-or more levels. Install
    parking below and build a green space
    as in a park.Park’n’Ride below with
    a fantastic green space above. Huges trees,
    open grassy lawns covering rolling hills.
    With all the people living in W.S. we
    need more open space instead of another
    grocery store. As WSB mentioned, we have ten groceries
    now and that does not include the produce stands,
    the Delis on Calif. ave. Let’s go green on top
    and Park’n’Ride below.

  • KT March 8, 2013 (8:55 am)

    UFCW 21 opposes this new store …“Our members don’t see a public benefit here” and “don’t think this is in the public interest.” Now there’s an impartial party.

  • Martin Babb March 8, 2013 (9:14 am)

    The thing that really upsets me about this project, other than the fact that I’m a loyal long-term PCC customer (an excellent LOCAL natural foods grocery store just down the street) and don’t see any real need to jam another national chain supermarket into the Alaska Junction area- is that a “street vacation” is nothing less than handing over public land to a private corporation. In so doing we, the citizens, loose so many rights and I’m really really fed up with the privatization of the public commons.

    As for the person who said she has to drive to Interbay to get food worth eating, here is a link to PCC (I’m not employed by them, just a loyal customer).

  • AlkiGrl March 8, 2013 (9:27 am)

    @Denny. How many people live within a 2-mile radius of the site? We have 7 grocery stores with 2 miles! The population stat you posted isn’t relevant to local circumstances. And an alley vacation requires significant public benefit. I don’t see it in this project. Go back to the drawing board. There are other ways to develop this Site so it would be embraced by our community, this isn’t it.

  • Gina March 8, 2013 (12:29 pm)

    I have visited every grocery store in and about West Seattle, including Roxbury Safeway, Costco, Burien Safeway, White Center Albertsons and Normandy Park QFC. Every store is doing a booming business. Think that more stores will be welcome, and if the market can’t bear it–look at what happened to The Grocery Cart supermarket, and the Alki supermarket. Other uses for the buildings and land was found.

  • Red March 8, 2013 (3:25 pm)

    Yay for Whole Foods! Lets not forget the JOBS this brings to the community – yes, jobs!!! That whole area needs development. It’s great to see WS grow! And as far as Whole Foods being NON UNION – good for them!!! Unions are the death of companies.

  • steve March 8, 2013 (6:17 pm)

    A new grocery store doesn’t create new jobs unless you assume people eat more because it’s there. Spending and employment just gets redistributed, and if wages and benefits are lower at at the new store (as they are at Whole Foods) the average drops.

  • Fed up March 9, 2013 (10:54 am)

    People say we need density and I agree to a point. People also say density is better than sprawl BUT a lot of people are moving out of increasingly dense areas like WS and moving to suburban areas to escape living jowl to jowl in neighborhood and schools. You can have it.

  • Sharon Maeda March 9, 2013 (11:39 am)

    This is not a NIMBY comment. It is a jobs and justice comment:

    West Seattle has PCC and Metropolitan Market and a great Farmers’ Market for those who want to eat healthy……why would we want a Whole Foods whose founder, in his autobiography said: “unions are like herpes, they crop up when you least expect it and you can never get rid of them!” He’s laughing all the way to the bank that he’s jacking up prices, and marketing to those of us who value healthier options of food. And, if we’re going to shop at a non-union store, TJ’s is just down the way. West Seattle does not need Whole Foods for its goods, status or anything else. We already have a wonderful array of options of supermarkets.

  • Steve March 11, 2013 (9:19 am)

    I’m not seeing the value. Another Grocery store where we have more variety than perhaps any other square mile in the City? NO VALUE there. Go back to the drawing board, please.

    It’s not about being NIMBY, it’s about being WIMBY. That is: What In My Back Yard. The site needs development, but that doesn’t mean that it’s NIMBY to be critical of a particular development. We need good jobs, not bottom end jobs. We need a development that fits, that is a true gateway to the community. We need value for turning over our public right-of-way to a private concern.

  • Robert March 11, 2013 (9:29 am)

    Too dangerous! Did you see how they are going to be backing semi’s over the pedestrian pass-thru? Absurdly dangerous. And now a drive-through pharmacy window also right through the pedestrian pass-thru?

    Nobody will walk through that alley twice. Time to give this design a big THUMBS DOWN to this pedestrian DANGER ZONE!

  • Reagan March 11, 2013 (9:48 am)

    @Red. Do you have health insurance? Do you have enjoy the fact that our state has the highest minimum wage in the country? Well better say thanks to unions for making that possible. But, let’s get one thing clear, whether you are pro-union or not, I think we can agree on two things: 1) The design of this plan is rediculous. It’s over-sized. It has loading docks in pedestrian areas. It’s just not well thought out and it is going to create a traffic nightmare. 2)9 grocery stores in a 2 mile radius is sufficient.

  • MaxwellsMom March 12, 2013 (9:54 am)

    I just want to begin with stating that I am not anti-development. In fact, I think developing this area would be great and I hope they do it sooner rather than later.

    That being said, I have serious concerns around the proposed 600 parking spots for 300 units. I thought this was supposed to be walkable community. Why do we need that many parking spots if people living there are supposed to care about walkability?

    Second, I agree with concerns about pedestrian safety. I live above the Safeway now and I know that alley is a frequented walking area, with delivery trucks to service the Whole Foods and residents of the some 300 units, I am concerned about the possibility of someone getting seriously injured.

    Third, I have heard no mention of affordable housing in this conversation. I think West Seattlites need to start thinking about affordable housing as more and more new developments are built. I love West Seattle and want to stay, but as a renter these new developments without affordable units, make me worry I won’t be able to stay for much longer. How are families going to afford to stay?

    I think we need to consider less parking and no Whole Foods…I had never thought about that grocery store statistic of 10 grocery stores in WS. WOW! No food desert here! Maybe Whole Foods should build somewhere where there aren’t 10 grocery stores in the vicinity.

  • Steve March 13, 2013 (6:03 pm)

    Remember that in an alley vacation, the developer pays the City the appraised value for the property, and then also has to provide “public benefit” above and beyond that. They don’t just get the alley for free or in exchange for public benefit. In this case, on the plans I also see they’re providing a new “alley” or street with pedestrian access across their site which is more than 40′ wide. So they just moved the alley location, made it wider, improved it (compared to what’s there, which partly can’t be accessed), made it work for their development (and Whole Foods), paid for it and gave West Seattle other “public benefit” on the site.

Sorry, comment time is over.