4755 Fauntleroy alley-vacation showdown at City Hall tomorrow

(For perspective – top of graphic is east, Fauntleroy Way frontage; ‘not a part’ is the Masonic Hall site)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Phones have been ringing, mailboxes have been jumping. Few political-candidate campaigns have been as intense as the campaigning going on in West Seattle in advance of a City Council committee hearing tomorrow.

And it’s all over a bit of bureaucracy that seldom gets much notice – an “alley vacation” (a process explained here). When a private property owner/developer asks the city to “vacate” a part of a publicly owned alley or street, City Council approval is required, and if it’s given, the property owner/developer has to pay the city fair-market value for the land involved. Before the project gets that far, it also has to show “public benefits” that will be part of the project.

(Recent West Seattle projects for which alley vacations were approved include Spruce, the former “Hole”; Admiral Safeway; the Equity Residential project at California/Alaska/42nd; and Capco Plaza at 42nd/Alaska/41st.)

Tomorrow morning, the City Council’s Transportation Committee – chaired by West Seattleite Tom Rasmussen – will consider the alley-vacation request for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, recently named The Whittaker, a proposal for ~370 apartments, ~600 parking spaces, and a Whole Foods Market (in addition to other TBA retail). It’s asking to buy part of the alley on its site, while also dedicating space to a “midblock connector” that the city calls in effect a “private alley.” The application was filed in February of last year (here’s the story we published then).

The plan for the 4755 Fauntleroy project to include non-union Whole Foods has drawn intense concern from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, first voiced at the project’s first Design Review in September 2012 (WSB coverage here), even before WF had been announced as the anchor tenant. West Seattle’s other supermarkets, with the exception of Trader Joe’s – kitty-corner from The Whittaker’s site – are unionized.

The opposition is culminating in a telephone campaign; WSB commenters reported getting calls from “live” people last week, and then this afternoon, we’ve received multiple reports of robocalls that included an option for those receiving the call to hit a button and be taken to Councilmember Rasmussen’s voice mail.

Project backers have been rallying support too, including a postcard campaign. And both sides have been meeting privately with public officials – including City Council members and Mayor Ed Murray – as tomorrow’s hearing nears. And we have confirmed that Whole Foods itself has had a phone campaign going (as noted by yet another WSB commenter) to sample West Seattleites’ opinions about the company.

This alley-vacation proposal became a citywide flashpoint last July, when then-Mayor Mike McGinn sent then-SDOT director Peter Hahn this memo saying his department should reject it:

No one could remember a mayor jumping into an alley-vacation issue before.

(We have asked for McGinn’s successor, Mayor Ed Murray, to share his position on the alley vacation; to date, he has declined to comment publicly.

As reported here last week, SDOT’s report on the proposal is out – without a clear topline recommending approval or denial. Its bottom line says that if the council chooses to approve the alley vacation, it should be done with certain conditions. Here’s that full memo:

(The table/attachment referenced in the document is here.)

The project itself first came to light in summer 2012 – here’s our first report, from July of that year; two months later, as the project’s first Design Review date was set, we reported that the developers were multi-state firms Lennar and Weingarten.

Before this project was proposed, much of the site had long been all but fallow; the former Huling (and briefly Gee) automotive property that fronts Fauntleroy has been vacant for six and a half years (except for West Seattle Produce‘s tenure on the site until it moved across the street to 4722 Fauntleroy). The owners of Howden-Kennedy Funeral Home sold their part of the site to the developers and moved to a new location on 35th SW six months ago. The corner Shell station closed after the one kitty-corner to it reopened.

In November of 2012, Whole Foods announced it would be the project’s “anchor tenant.” Many noted some irony, considering that WF originally had been slated for the development site across SW Alaska, from which it pulled out in 2010, two years after the project stalled, three years before it revived (now minus any supermarket; the development, Spruce, will consist of an LA Fitness health club plus apartments).

The project went through four sessions each before the Southwest Design Review Board (meeting in West Seattle) and Seattle Design Commission (meeting downtown), all of which were covered here.

In a preview of what was its fourth and final review before the Southwest Design Review Board last July, we first mentioned the union-backed Getting It Right for West Seattle campaign. Less than a week later, Mayor McGinn’s directive to SDOT emerged. A week after that, the Getting It Right campaign e-mailed Councilmember Rasmussen, asking him, as chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, to support the mayor’s directive, and shared what they had sent:

"Getting It Right for West Seattle" letter to Councilmember Rasmussen

It has taken until now, however, for the review to get to Rasmussen’s committee. “Getting It Right” has kept up the pressure, with an advertising campaign, urging community letter-writing, and commissioning alternative designs for how the project’s street level might appear. We covered the presentation of those designs four months ago – see them in this November WSB story.

More recently, they created animation showing traffic flows past the development site (the :30 of animation begins at :42 into the clip):

Via Twitter, they also sent us this five-page document described as “the transportation study used for the video”:

The project team’s response, after viewing the video last week:

Our project completed a thorough traffic analysis by professional traffic engineers to determine the impact of the project on the adjacent arterials. Our professional analysis was included in numerous city approval stages and accepted by Seattle’s Department of Transportation. We firmly believe this project constitutes smart development by providing 400 permanent jobs in the Junction and putting density at the intersection of two major arterials with direct access to mass transit.

A significant amount of technical analyses were prepared for this project and have been reviewed and approved by SDOT and DPD. This included multiple traffic studies that documented the anticipated impacts to the surrounding intersections from both general purpose vehicles and truck traffic. The latest traffic study submitted and approved by DPD/SDOT included the results of a multi-store loading dock study to validate the assumptions for this site. In addition, a significant effort was undertaken by the project team in evaluating the turning templates and patterns for the large delivery trucks. It is important to note, that while the site expects 30 – 40 deliveries a day, only two to three of those would be the larger trucks.

The project team, working on behalf of the site’s developers, recently sent postcards to residents in the nearby area; one of those residents shared a photo of what she had received:

The back of the postcards point in turn to this website, which also advocates contacting the City Council regarding the alley vacation – only, in their case, with messages of support.

While we haven’t seen open acrimony, the campaign has found longtime West Seattle community advocates on opposite sides – some for, some against. Same with businesses. It will all come to a head tomorrow, when the council’s Transportation Committee holds a public hearing during its 9:30 am meeting in council chambers at City Hall; members might also vote, or could decide to delay action. Here’s the agenda, which includes the item, broken out this way:

Petition of West Seattle Project X, LLC to vacate a portion of the alley in Block 3, Norris Addition to West Seattle in the West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village.


Presenters: Beverly Barnett and Luke Korpi, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT); Susan McLain, Bruce Rips, and John Shaw, Department of Planning and Development (DPD); Michael Jenkins, Seattle Design Commission; Andy Rasmussen, Weisman Design Group; Jack McCullough, McCullough Hill Leary

Beverly Barnett: overview of the presentation and the decision before the committee; what will be covered; will describe SDOT role and their review; major dates in the review process. (5 minutes)

Public Hearing (60 minutes)

DPD background: Bruce Rips and Susan McLain describe the neighborhood plan and the Design Review Board process (15 minutes)

Project overview: Andy Rasmussen from the project team will present the presentation slides for the project. (15 minutes)

Design Commission process: Michael Jenkins describes the review and project changes. (10 minutes)

SDOT review: Luke Korpi and John Shaw to address traffic safety and function. Beverly Barnett will address issues identified during the review and how those issues were resolved, and policy questions. (15 minutes)

Council questions (20 minutes)

The actual action item is here.

If you are not going, you can watch the meeting live via Seattle Channel, online or Cable Channel 21. We also will be there reporting live.

What happens next depends on what happens tomorrow. Final decisions on an alley or street vacation would be through a vote of the full Council.

25 Replies to "4755 Fauntleroy alley-vacation showdown at City Hall tomorrow"

  • Deb Barker March 10, 2014 (6:00 pm)

    TR -This is an excellent summary of this rather complicated and truly unprecedented topic. Thank you for covering ALL of the meetings, and getting project information out to the West Seattle public. Imagine if we were Ballard and didn’t have the WSB to tell us what was going on! Scary.
    WSB – you rock.

  • WSFOREVER March 10, 2014 (6:34 pm)

    Wow, thanks WSB for the coverage. It sure looks like the Union has some explaining to do.

  • Peter March 10, 2014 (6:53 pm)

    If you haven’t done so yet, please contact the city counsel transportation committee ASAP to express your support for the project. Don’t let the antis rule the discussion! Your support matters, so let the committee know! Email committee chair Tom Rasmussen: Tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov; or call his office at 206-684-8808. And if you’re opposed to the project, the same contacts work for you, too, but I sincerely hope you’re greatly disappointed at this time tomorrow.

  • Chuck and Sally's Van Man March 10, 2014 (7:16 pm)

    Same to ya, Pete.

  • sonic March 10, 2014 (7:29 pm)

    I just emailed the councilman to express my support for this project. The GIRFWS group has ulterior motives, in my opinion. I want to see this project move forward and I can’t wait to have Whole Foods in my neighborhood.

  • SteveP March 10, 2014 (8:35 pm)

    I agree with you Sonic, and I just did the same thing. I’m sick of looking at this eyesore. It is not worth waiting another 5 years or more to see any progress.

  • Pigeon Point Ben March 10, 2014 (9:03 pm)

    My email to Council Member Rasmussen has been sent. I believe the city should act in it’s best interest and deny this alley vacation. We cannot afford to coddle businesses from outside our community that cannot compete without paying their employees a living wage. That the owner of Whole Foods has aggressively sought to undermine efforts, in all communities, of workers to collectively seek their fair share of the profit derived from providing a service only increases the necessity of this defensive maneuver. Our community cannot afford to subsidize this business in the form of providing a social safety net to it’s employees in the form of food stamps, medical care and coverage, transportation, mental health services and housing subsidies. If you are a progressive person or a fiscal conservative I encourage you to email Council Member Rasmussen as well.Tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov

  • WestSeattlePorVida March 10, 2014 (9:14 pm)

    Comment by Deb Barker: so are you the “Hi this is Deb …” that robocalled all my friends today?

  • Paul March 10, 2014 (9:23 pm)

    I just sent my email in favor of the alley vacation. The decision shouldn’t be based upon something as transitory as the business practices of an initial tenant. This building will likely outlast Whole Foods (at least in this location). Whole Foods should not be a factor in the alley vacation decision.

  • Ws gal March 10, 2014 (9:31 pm)

    Pigeon point Ben – Yes, as you mention, I am a progressive person or a fiscal conservative so that’s shy I emailed Tom and asked him to approve the alley vacation. Thank you for the reminder

  • Sutton March 10, 2014 (9:46 pm)

    Pigeon Point Ben,
    I’ll bite.
    While you may be focused on a single tenant of the project, I am looking at the larger project as it relates to the further development of West Seattle.
    I am both a fiscal conservative and highly progressive person – weirds some people out. I believe the project does what the community asked for (and the City Council passed) in the Triangle Development Plan, by putting development where it ought to be – on transit. It passed through every design control hoop that the city has, and has evolved to meet community requirements.
    It brings almost 400 homes, about 400 jobs (mostly retail/service), 670 parking spaces and lots of new taxes for the city! Property taxes, sales taxes, taxes on construction…revenue to pay for things we want like parks, good streets, transit…
    My progressive side loves the density being created in the hub of West Seattle – a future walkable, safe, urban community with bike lanes, a garden street and open spaces that will draw more people to the community I love.
    My fiscal conservative side says that the developer is paying over $2.4m in benefits to WS, and paying for the land in the alley – just to create a new alley that they have to maintain! Not the city maintaining it – the private landowner. Oh, and the taxes!
    So I’m looking through the lenses you asked and seeing a lot I like about this project.
    What I don’t like? Special interests that swoop into a land use issue and try to create social change because they don’t like the employment practices of one of the tenants. And another 5-6 years of a run down site in the middle of our lovely community. Time wasted, and likely poorer development because the next landowner will want to create the most profit for the least resistance…

  • David March 10, 2014 (9:51 pm)

    This is not about union or non-union workers. This is about publicly elected officials selling publicly owned land to private citizens with no clear public benefit. Council members represent the public interest, not the private interest.

  • Jeffrey March 10, 2014 (9:55 pm)

    Woohoo WHOLE FOODS… I’m stoked!

    And YES the GIRFers DO have ulterior motives. Don’t trust ’em any further than ya can throw them. They are great at misrepresenting facts.

    Woohoo… the alley IS going on vacation, and it ain’t coming back!

    Me and Clyde are excited about driving to Whole Foods!

  • kj March 10, 2014 (10:42 pm)

    Oh No! An apartment building that is an attractive project And has adequate parking for its residents.

    Why are people against this when there are so many other projects going up around here offering neither of these features?

  • repeater repeater repeater March 10, 2014 (10:58 pm)

    Here’s an interesting comment from WSB’s March 7 post about this. There was no response from WSB, but I think it is worth discussion to see if true:

    Begin quote—–

    Thanks WSBlog for the update! However, I think the information and quotes you’ve chosen to highlight miss important aspects. The Design Commission meeting on June 20th ended with an approval PENDING a required Administrative Review meeting with the developers to nail down three outstanding issues – one of them being their continued dissatisfaction with the gateway corner design – which has been an issue since day 1 for Design Review board, Commissioners and community members. The Admin Review was scheduled for last Wednesday and the developers canceled because they weren’t prepared… to date I have not been told when that Admin Review is taking place, so the Design Commission recommendation is not complete.
    Secondly, the SDOT refusal to recommend the adequacy of the public benefit is HUGE. Definitely not the norm.

    There is much to draw from what’s included… and not included in the final materials sent to City Council.

    The Weingarten megaproject is bad for West Seattle, and City Council should deny the alley vacation – why on earth would we sell our public property to developers who can’t even be prepared for a required meeting of the Design Commission when they had 8 months’ notice?

    Comment by AlkiGrl — 6:02 pm March 7, 2014 #
    End quote

    • WSB March 10, 2014 (11:34 pm)

      It was not a “required meeting of the Design Commission.” The full Design Commission had four meetings on this; we covered them all. It was an administrative followup, described to me before its postponement as an office session with one or two commissioners present, along with staff member(s). (You can see the conditions – administrative review of a couple elements – listed toward the end of the minutes from the project’s final Design Commission review last summer: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/AppDocs/GroupMeetings/DCReport4755-Fauntleroy-Alley-VacationAgendaID4477.pdf ). The project team says these reviews are not customarily done until after the project has final clearance to move ahead (as in, Council approval) so the meeting will be rescheduled. Most if not all of these types of reviews – Design Commission, Design Review Board – eventually end in recommendations with conditions, in my experience covering virtually every West Seattle project to go before one or both of those groups in the past six-plus years. – TR

  • Seaview March 11, 2014 (5:32 am)

    In looking at the video clip that illustrates the traffic, makes me think a tunnel or lid for all of in/out Fauntleroy way traffic would have been perfect at the Alaska intersection …but we can’t say tunnel anymore.

  • Jeff March 11, 2014 (6:33 am)

    Seems like a formality. City Light has already started moving lines for construction clearance, this project will happen (and I think that’s good).

  • Wsrez March 11, 2014 (6:46 am)

    I’m in 100% support of this project for multiple reasons- I can actually go grocery shopping and have everything I need in one store without having to traverse all over west seattle. We also live very close and believe its a great improvement to the neighborhood. In all honestly, I drive Fauntleroy everyday on my way to infant care and people need to slow down anyway- maybe more delivery trucks will make people realize it’s not a highway but instead, a neighborhood road. The construction going on in the junction is bringing TONS of dump trucks through everyday and they’ve closed off that alley- and done it so local residents and business’ aren’t affected. I have a family member who lives in the LADD that dreaded the construction as it turns out, there has been no issue. I understand that people don’t love change and that west seattle was a one point a sleepy, suburban type neighborhood but with a city experiencing 15-35% growth yearly- it’s bound to be discovered. We shouldn’t be surprised that so many people want to live here- it’s awesome! Traffic will be an issue here until a new transportation alternative exists but until then, the fact that we live in a metropolitan city and can get “downtown in 25-30 minutes sounds dreamy to places like LA, NY, San Francisco and Boston where the commute can be 2 hours each way and it’s still and arm and leg go commute. We live in an urban environment and it’s just the way it is for now. Something I also find interesting is that everyone here seems to commute at exactly the same time. I go downtown Mon, Wed, and Friday for a 9am meeting- always leave at 8:30 and never have trouble. I have NEVER been late. In fact, normally parked and walking in around 8:45-8:50 with time to grab coffee AND I go down 1st which is quite possibly the slowest way to get in with the most amount of lights. It’s not a terrible idea for some people to test out other drive times. Leaving at 7-7:30 is brutal but just a bit later isn’t that bad. Getting it right for west seattle shouldn’t assume that everyone is against this project. I for one am a west seattle business owner who is interested in starting a local business within this complex once it’s done. Small business CAN coexist with big business and in my humble opinion- we should be jumping for joy that they decided to open a socially conscious whole foods rather then another Kroger type company.

  • McFail March 11, 2014 (7:46 am)

    Based on the past right of way vacations that were listed (thank you), I see no issues with this project being denied the land. They offer the same or better “public benefit” i.e. contributions and public space. In my experience the “public benefit” examples has never been skewed to consider living wages or traffic impacts. Perhaps they should be it should be reformed formally in the City policy rather than forced on a particular project that now seems controversial. You can thank McGinn for blame the union comments… With that said this project bring density to planned urban village, creates jobs, and provides the means for future development.

  • Sarah March 11, 2014 (7:49 am)

    I am against this project and it has NOTHING to do with unions (a red herring if there ever was one.) This is about West Seattle being destroyed by huge buildings and out-of-state developers who have no concern for what once was the small town vibe of our community. I’m guessing that few of the supporters are long-time West Seattle residents! If you want your big buildings and big stores you should have stayed in your old neighborhoods!! CALL Tom Rasmussen’s office or email and let him know you are against this Mega-Project. West Seattle is not for sale!!!

  • JVP March 11, 2014 (8:14 am)

    What strikes me is that normal West Seattle residents like me, who are in support of the project, have various reasons and arguments for why we like this project.
    GIRFers (I love that term!) all seem to be regurgitating the same spin from the union and using deliberately misleading messages.
    Please don’t let this sit as a rotting, infested parking lot for another 6 years! It’s U G L Y, time to move on with what is a nice looking project.

  • Jeff March 11, 2014 (8:44 am)

    “West Seattle is not for sale!!!”

    But you are wrong, it IS for sale. You were perfectly welcome to submit a competitive bid to the Huling family so that you could buy this eyesore and leave as is, or make it a park, or whatever higher use you want.

  • wetone March 11, 2014 (9:35 am)

    If alley vacation is approved it should be paid for just as any other property sale not another tax break/write off like the investors are offering. This project will do nothing for W/S except cause more traffic issues. The city (tax payers) just paid roughly $2.2 mil for the properties across the street of this project (west side on 40th) for a new park to be built someday. Measure total alley sqft. with setbacks and charge investor same per sqft. as we paid for park. No more TAX breaks for these people. Put alley property up for sale on open market if vacated and start holding investors more accountable for the problems their causing surrounding neighborhoods and communities.

  • Ray Krueger March 11, 2014 (1:39 pm)

    As a relatively new West Seattle resident living very close to the project in the Fairmount Park neighborhood, I offer my view as a former resident in another city living one mile from a Whole Foods Market (WFM) with a habit of patronizing that store and 2 other national brands at least 3-1/2 miles further. I often drove behind the WFM during the daytime and very rarely noticed a truck at their docks. I don’t consider delivery by semis or smaller delivery vans to be a safety concern. I appreciated their merchandise presented. Hopefully the Junction store will offer an eating area for customers who want to consume the hot food and lunch selections in the store.

    Councilmember Sawant’s concern for union workers wellbeing is valid and totally a red herring in your deliberations unless there are actual wage records presented and I’m tired of hearing that red herring.

    I am eager to have the WFM in my neighborhood and I will continue to also patronize Trader Joe’s, West Seattle Produce, and QVC. I will learn to schedule my shopping trips to find convenient parking if I don’t walk 1/2 mile.

Sorry, comment time is over.