Tomorrow morning at 9:30 am, the City Council’s Transportation Committee revisits the “alley vacation” request for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, the mixed-use project now named The Whittaker. Four weeks have passed since March 11, when the committee held the required-by-law public hearing but decided to postpone a vote until some questions could be answered (WSB as-it-happened coverage here). While tomorrow’s meeting is not an official public hearing, it will begin with a public-comment session. Meantime, six West Seattleites sent City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the committee, one more plea not to advance the alley vacation, and detailed concerns about the project and process. It is in essence their response to his response to those who sent him comments and concerns, as reported here on March 14th.
RE: ALLEY VACATION PETITION FOR THE 4755 FAUNTLEROY WAY SW DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL
Dear Councilmember Rasmussen:
Thank you for the explanation of your analysis of the proposed development at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle. We appreciate the time you took to listen and respond to community inquiries about this proposal. We continue to be concerned about several aspects of this proposal presented during public testimony by the developer and others that appear to be in error. This letter is sent to ensure that the record is accurate and that our concerns are appropriately considered.
Triangle Plan – First, we want to make it clear, we are not opposed to redevelopment of this site within the applicable zoning code requirements. We also feel strongly about adherence to the Triangle Plan because this is a legacy decision that our community will live with for 50 to 75 years (at a minimum). The community, including residents, businesses owners, and other interested parties, dedicated significant time and effort to making the Triangle Plan the best guidance possible for the life of the planning area. Attached is an analysis of concerns we have with the proposed development’s compliance with the Triangle Plan in Exhibit A – Triangle Plan.
Public Benefit – We understand the alley vacation is not a “giving” of the public right-of-way to the property owner, but a market rate sale. We hold that public property is a limited resource that should not be sold or otherwise transferred out of public ownership without substantial public benefit being achieved. To that end, we sought, without success, a Community Benefit Agreement with the developer that would establish terms of the benefits accruing to the community from such transfer. We remain concerned that some of the benefits identified by the developer to justify the alley vacation are standard requirements under the Seattle Municipal Code and should not, therefore, be counted toward the benefit required for vacating public right-of-way. Please see the full discussion in Exhibit B – Public Benefit.
Community Outreach – Members of the community have been actively involved in the review of this project since first presented in 2012. We appreciate that the developer made presentations at meetings with the community. We are concerned that on Page 5 of the developers March 11, 2014 presentation to the Transportation Committee, many of the Community Outreach Meetings listed with a particular group actually involved only one or two members associated with that group. Further, the meetings were held in conjunction with members of other groups. The developer has by accident or design overstated their outreach to the West Seattle community. This is important because it may appear that a particular group or board has supported the project, when in reality that group or board never saw a presentation. Please see full discussion in Exhibit C – Community Outreach.
Traffic Impacts – We also are concerned about the lack of a more robust traffic analysis for the retail component. In May of 2013, we submitted to the Seattle Design Commission (SDC) the attached pictures and vehicle counts of actual delivery truck traffic patterns and conflicts associated with the Whole Foods located in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. We also provided the SDC with a copy of the USDOT/WSDOT-sponsored study of truck traffic at Puget Sound grocery stores, which showed that even at conventional grocery stores, freight deliveries are much more frequent than project proponents assume. We ask that you look carefully at these highly relevant comparisons because they do not comport with the traffic analysis relied on by the Seattle Department of Transportation in making its recommendations to the City Council on this development. There is also additional analysis available from work done by Ross Tilghman, P.E, who is now a member of the Seattle Design Commission. Please see Exhibit D – Traffic Impacts.
Review Process – Much has been made of the project reviews before the Southwest Design Review Board (SWDRB) and the Seattle Design Commission. We attended all of the public meetings and we believe that these reviews were much more tentative than characterized in public testimony. The SWDRB was not unanimous in its final approval. The SDC conditionally approved the vacation, and had scheduled an administrative review of a key design condition prior to the alley vacation hearing. But that review was cancelled purportedly because the developers were not ready to provide updated plans. This is consistent with what happened to the public as this proposal moved forward, i.e., the chance for public review continually shifted, and our comment opportunities diminished. Please see Exhibit E – Review Process.
Finally, we believe the inaccuracies and insufficiencies in the public record are enough to ask the City Council to pause in its deliberations. Pretty drawings and clever naming does not change a poor development into a good one. If this developer has the staying power to do a development that provides the legacy and cornerstone project the West Seattle community is looking for, there is no need to rush this forward. We believe there are sufficient reasons to hit the pause button and make sure the record is clear and correct before you proceed.
Thank you for your consideration.
West Seattle Residents:
Diane Rose Vincent
C: Seattle City Council
Mayor Ed Murray
Exhibits: Exhibit A – Triangle Plan
Exhibit B – Public Benefit
Exhibit C – Community Outreach
Exhibit D – Traffic Impacts
Exhibit E – Review Process
We don’t have all the attachments due to format compatibility problems but below are two:
Exhibit C – Community Outreach
Page 5 of the applicant’s March 11, 2014 presentation to the City Council’s Transportation Committee contains a list of Community Outreach Meetings beginning in September 2012, as evidence of the public process that the project went through. The list (copied below) references a specific group and related meeting dates.
At least three of these meetings are misrepresented by the developer.
While raising this issue may appear trivial, it points to a larger problem with the developers’ perception of their community outreach efforts. Meeting with one person is not the same as meeting with an entire board or organization, and it is dishonest to represent it as such. Meeting with the Chamber of Commerce does not meet the intent of broad community outreach. Taken as a whole, the applicant of the largest development project in West Seattle’s history did not conduct a true community outreach program and did not engage with the West Seattle public outside of Design Review Board meetings.
PUBLIC PROCESS (Page 5 of the March 11, 2014 developer presentation)
Community Outreach Meetings
Chaco Canyon Cafe
Fairmount Community Association
9/11/2012, 11/27/2012, 2/26/2013
Informal Community Stakeholder Design Group
11/27/2012, 1/24/2013, 2/26/2013
Masonic Temple owners
Morgan Junction Community Association
West Side Baby
West Seattle Chamber of Commerce
9/11/2012, 11/27/2012, 12/10/2012, 2/26/2013
West Seattle Junction Association
7/30/2012, 7/31/2012, 8/14/2012, 8/30/2012, 9/05/2012, 9/13/2012, 10/16/2012, 11/27/2012, 12/10/2012, 2/26/2013
West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Association
9/11/2012, 11/27/2012, 12/10/2012, 1/24/2012, 2/26/2013
THE FOLLOWING THREE MEETINGS ARE MISREPRESENTED BY THE DEVELOPER:
(1) Informal Community Stakeholder Design Group – The developer has inaccurately represented this group. At the first EDG meeting held on Thursday, September 27, 2012, twenty-five members of the public spoke about height bulk, scale, architectural character, Community Connection, mid block connection and triangle plan, street design, and other issues. The developer invited many of those speakers to attend three meetings held at Chaco Canyon Café. Two of the meetings included design parameter discussions of a project that was well beyond the preliminary design phase, while the third meeting was a Whole Foods presentation. Meeting attendees included persons who spoke as representatives of the West Seattle YMCA, West Side Baby, and the West Seattle Junction Association, as well as persons who represented themselves as residents and citizens.
(2) Morgan Junction Community Association – The developer has inaccurately stated that the Morgan Junction Community Association (sic) participated in public outreach meetings. West Seattle resident Deb Barker was invited to participate in Informal Community Stakeholder Design Group meetings, which she did based on her experience as a former member of the SW Design Review Board. Although Deb is the president of the Morgan Community Association (MoCA), she was not representing that organization in the stakeholder design group. The developer’s team requested time on MoCA meeting agendas to present their proposal. This request was honored for several months, with the team canceling before each meeting. To date, the developer has never met with the Morgan Community Association.
(3) West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Association – The developer has inaccurately stated that the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Association (sic) has participated in public outreach meetings. West Seattle resident Rene Commons was invited to participate in Informal Community Stakeholder Design Group meetings, which she did as a resident of the Junction neighborhood and citizen. The defunct Junction Neighborhood Association (or JuNO) was dormant for several years, and was not relaunched as a community group until July 2013, with Ms. Commons as President. Although it is impossible to meet with a non-operational group, the developer has listed this group in their public outreach efforts. To date, the developer has never met with the Junction Neighborhood Association.
Exhibit D – Traffic Impacts
ü Truck Delivery/Pickup Traffic at Roosevelt Whole Foods, observations by Tracie Champion April 2013
ü Truck Trip Generation by Grocery Stores, a report prepared for TransNow and WSDOT, August 2010
ü Circulation comments by Tilghman Group Transportation Planning, dated May 13, 2013
ü Delivery and Loading Dock Management Plan – SW corner of Alaska Ave and Fauntleroy Mixed Use Development (Undated Draft – only page provided)
And here is the final section that we have:
Exhibit E – The Review Process
Much has been made of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW project reviews before the Southwest Design Review Board (SWDRB) and the Seattle Design Commission (SDC). We attended all of the public meetings and we believe that these reviews were much more tentative than characterized in public testimony. As detailed below, the “public process” has been degraded by insufficient comment opportunities, and the absence of shared information.
SW Design Review Board – The SW Design Review board conducted two Early Design Guidance (EDG) meetings and two Recommendation meetings for this project between September 27, 2012 and July 11, 2013.
· The SWDRB composition is five volunteers. Ongoing Board rotation during the review time-span meant that new Board members had to be brought up to speed during the meeting, wasting valuable time. Changing board membership also meant that the project was inconsistently evaluated.
· The largest project in West Seattle history was allotted 90 minutes of DRB meeting time, sharing the meeting docket with other development projects at each meeting.
· At every meeting, the applicant presented new information that had not been previously distributed to the Board in their packets, or made available to the public. This meant that the public had no time to evaluate new details or research new information before being asked for comments.
· Due to time constraints, individual public comments were limited to 1 – 2 minutes at every meeting. Any detailed design commentary delivered within these time constraints can be rendered incomprehensible or becomes a “shout out.”
· Despite these being design related meetings, specific design related commentary was allocated equal time as “I can’t wait for this store to open” comments. This devalues the time of design professionals who have relevant information to impart to the DRB.
· Although the SWDRB and the SDC meetings ran concurrently, SDC meeting minutes were not made available to SWDRB members, who instead had to rely on the applicant’s interpretation of the SDC meetings and associated commentary.
· The final SWDRB vote has been inaccurately stated as unanimous. It was actually a 3 to 1 vote for Recommendation.
Seattle Design Commission – The Seattle Design Commission conducted two Urban Design Merit meetings and two Public Benefit meetings for the alley vacation request between March 7 and June 20, 2013.
· The 10 member all-volunteer board conducts their meetings during the workday. The timing of these public meetings severely limits the ability of the public to attend as most citizenry are not able to take time off to attend daytime meetings – even if they worked downtown.
· At each SDC meeting, the applicant presented new information that had not been previously distributed to the Commission in their packets, or made available to the public. This meant that the public had no time to evaluate new details or research new information before being asked for comments.
· Despite the longer meeting length, public comments were still limited from 1 to 2 minutes. Any detailed design commentary delivered within these time constraints is rendered incomprehensible or becomes a “shout out.”
· The final Urban Design Merit vote was 5 to 3, with two members excused from the meeting. There were five conditions of approval from this vote.
· The final Public Benefit vote was 6 to 0, with one abstention and three members excused. There were four conditions and one recommendation resulting from this vote.
· Official published minutes of the final Public Benefit meeting contain inaccurate information, such as a monetary contribution of $45,000 ($20,000 too high), incorrect location and address information, and an incomplete listing of the public benefit package.
· Seattle Design Commission Public Benefit Condition #3 states “Provide drawings of the gateway element for administrative review when the design has been further developed per Commission’s recommendations. Despite the fact that the gateway is at a loud, busy intersection, it must be a well developed, prominent feature given its central location in the neighborhood.” The SDC had scheduled an administrative review of these key design details prior to the March 11, 2014 alley vacation hearing. That review was cancelled purportedly because the developers were not ready to provide updated plans. At this time, this key project component has not been fully vetted.
Again, tomorrow’s meeting is at 9:30 am in City Council chambers at City Hall downtown. Even if they do vote tomorrow, the committee doesn’t have final say on the alley-vacation proposal – the full Council does. We’ll be at City Hall for the meeting; if you can’t, you can watch live on Seattle Channel, on cable or online – it’s the first item on the agenda, with another major item afterward, the Bicycle Master Plan Update.