By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One thing was clear during last Saturday’s “walkshed” tour of the Junction/Triangle area, with Seattle Planning Commission reps listening to local community reps: There’s no shortage of plans and documents covering the area, but there’s a shortage of understanding in how they interact, interface, intersect, and what they mean.
The tour itself was linked to the Planning Commission’s ongoing work on the city Comprehensive Plan update, dubbed Seattle 2035. The next big milestone for that is the environmental-impact statement, expected to be out early next year. And this is no bureaucratic bit of wonkiness to ignore: As was pointed out at the start of Saturday’s event, this type of discussion preceded the 1990s-generated plan for “urban villages” including The Junction/Triangle – much of which is only now coming to pass, as was underscored by the current, future, and recent development sites passed (and often discussed) along the way.
But the topic wasn’t just the dense heart of the Junction/Triangle, but also its single-family zones – like a stretch of 40th south of Edmunds and the major project sites bordering it on the north.
For backstory on the tour, see our coverage of last month’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting (which included a slide deck setting the stage). To see what happened during the tour – read on:
First, Jeanne Krikawa (above, 3rd from left) and Luis Borrero (above, left), the West Seattle-residing Planning Commissioners who had come to JuNO in September to explain their work and deliver the invitation, were there for the tour. So was Jesseca Brand, the commission policy analyst who had accompanied them to JuNO. Two of the commission’s highest-ranking people introduced themselves as well – executive director Vanessa Murdock, and commission co-chair Amalia Leighton. A future commissioner, too.
Many of those – but not all – who came to join them were familiar faces from neighborhood groups, not just in The Junction, but elsewhere in West Seattle – Admiral, Morgan, Fairmount, Genesee – as well as cross-neighborhood groups such as West Seattle Transportation Coalition and Seattle Green Spaces Coalition. There was some business representation – Frances Smersh from Click! Design That Fits (WSB sponsor) in The Junction. And a regionally known pedestrian advocate – author Cathy Jaramillo from Seattle Stairway Walks.
As the group gathered at Junction Plaza Park at mid-morning Saturday, Leighton explained the importance of looking back as well as ahead – “where did we miss the mark” to “what do we want for the next 20 years?”
Krikawa stressed that they hoped to hear thoughts and ideas: “This isn’t about us talking ‘to’ you.”
Specifically to the point of the Junction “walkshed,” Leighton said they hoped to “understand what YOU think is important regarding walkability.” Ultimately, the work might lead to some kind of algorithm, but it couldn’t be created without input on topography, pedestrian structures (sidewalks, ramps, etc.), waiting times. intersection visibility.
It didn’t take long for talk to turn to some of the plans and designations, even as eyes were cast ahead to that upcoming comprehensive-plan update. Admiral Neighborhood Association president David Whiting mentioned the Pedestrian Retail Areas project that has brought a city rep to almost every neighborhood council on the peninsula in recent months. Leighton tried to say that was about zoning, while this was about transportation – possibly designating the Junction as a “Transit Community” – Whiting said the pedestrian-zone project had a lot to do with transportation and how it would be available and functional in neighborhoods.
Borrero expressed concern about pedestrian-zone boundaries, calling the lack of continuity in some spots “absurd.” The group soon had walked west to Walk-All-Ways at California/Alaska and down the west side of California south of Alaska, pausing outside Puerto Vallarta. Krikawa pointed out how the group – more than two dozen – had had to “funnel” along the sidewalk. On the positive side, she pointed to the raised crosswalk at midblock (there will be a midblock passage on the other side after construction of 4730 California is complete).
The group crossed California at Edmunds and headed east to 42nd SW, where the view proved instructive. On the west side of the street, which continues to redevelop, with Mural completed five years ago and the east building of the Equity Residential project under way, the sidewalk is wider, and there is street-level interest with businesses such as Wallflower Custom Framing (WSB sponsor) and Fresh Bistro.
Look on the east side, with Jefferson Square and Safeway, and you see a narrower sidewalk and the blank wall alongside Safeway and its parking lot, until you get past the entrance to its lower-level lot.
From the 42nd/Edmunds corner and eastbound down Edmunds, tour attendees called the Planning Commission reps’ attention to the new and future development – especially the Alliance Realty project at 40th/Edmunds, and The Whittaker to the east – that likely will turn Edmunds into a much-busier arterial. JuNO’s Commons mentioned the park site that the city has “landbanked” north of the Alliance project. Transitionally, someone else pointed out, it will be temporary home to Fire Station 32, which itself is being rebuilt at its 38th/Alaska site in The Triangle.
Transition was a keyword for the walk – and for the ongoing state of The Junction and Triangle.
The group turned southward and walked down 40th into what is mostly a neighborhood of single-family houses (after the southeast 40th/Edmunds corner, which is proposed for commercial development at the old site of Bella Mente preschool, which moved to Morgan Junction).
So many different types of housing and zoning in such a relatively small area – a “patchwork,” as one person described it – so, how to address their diverse transportation needs? some wondered. Looking at the area in the cup-half-full spirit: A place where families could and do live; family-size apartments are in short supply, it was noted.
Looking east, Click! co-proprietor Smersh voiced hopes the Junction and Triangle will “converse.”
Several participants were part of the process that resulted in a plan for The Triangle, primarily involving streetscapes – Sharonn Meeks from the Fairmount Community Association (south of The Triangle), Josh Sutton from the West Seattle Y (WSB sponsor). The tour headed into The Triangle next. Meeks mentioned newly reopened Fairmount Park Elementary, the closest school, a few blocks south on Fauntleroy, and the stairway some students use at Edmunds to come down from her neighborhood above. The challenges posed by stairways and sidewalks in disrepair became a topic; Leighton wondered how many were aware that sidewalk maintenance is generally the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. The city’s Find It Fix It app got a mention here.
“Transition” was again the prevalent atmosphere as the group turned to Fauntleroy and walked north to Alaska, past The Whittaker’s site – where major demolition has continued in the days since the tour – with Spruce (the former “Hole”) in view to the north, and the proposed CVS drugstore site on the east side of Fauntleroy. (Since that first surfaced in July, in case you wondered, no new documents or other activity has come up publicly, but the CVS projects in other parts of Seattle and in Burien have been proceeding.)
At the Fauntleroy/Alaska RapidRide stop, JuNO’s Commons (at right in photo above) pointed out the cars zooming by: “This is a freeway.” She offered a vision for a transit center instead of a drugstore, with businesses where people could stop to shop and dine – maybe a public market, food trucks. “Missed opportunity,” she says.
The tour was now solidly in The Triangle, continuing east past Les Schwab – another of the converted ex-Huling properties, as is Trader Joe’s to the north – to 38th, crossing by Link, another newer development, apartments over a child-care center, restaurant, fitness studio. The group was headed to 37th/Snoqualmie for a look at the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor), getting ready for an expansion project.
Y executive Sutton spoke, saying almost as much about his facility’s surroundings as about the Y itself. To the south, SK Center – a food-processing business – has long been up for sale, he pointed out. To the north and south, he referred to properties owned by the Sweeney family – Alki Lumber, the renovated motel. (Asked their thoughts about the lumber yard’s relationship to everything around it in the transitional Triangle, many agreed it’s important to have a local business playing a role like that – it’s the last of its kind, where the area used to have more: “We need a local place for lumber.”)
Back to the Y’s plan – Snoqualmie is in the new Triangle Plan as a “festival street,” Sutton noted, and yet sometimes when they deal with the city, that seems to be forgotten, so they “have to keep reminding” city departments about the vision spelled out in that plan.
What about bicycle infrastructure? The Fauntleroy Green Boulevard being designed for Fauntleroy Way, barely a block north, is expected to have protected lanes. That brought up the subject of what seemed to be conflicts with the city’s Bicycle Master Plan: “Do the overlays talk to each other?” One Planning Commission rep then brought up the city’s Right Of Way Improvement Manual. Commissioner Krikawa observed that the “relationship between all these plans” was difficult to ferret out.
Yes, plans exist, but Sutton observed that they are “not very community-friendly, because we don’t live in that wonky world.” Even engaged neighborhood advocates like those on the tour “have trouble understanding how to make change.”
Some plans might be missing key components; when talk turned to area parks, and the lack of greenspace in The Triangle itself – though Camp Long and West Seattle Stadium are directly east – Leighton noted the Comprehensive Plan is missing a “parks element.”
Another issue of coordination came up – components of private projects, and how they relate to public infrastructure. Example: The hillclimb that’s planned as part of the 4535 35th SW mixed-use project now under construction (at left in rendering above), likely to be a major connection from The Triangle to the stadium/Camp Long area, not to mention the RapidRide stops at 35th/Avalon. How is that plan acknowledged and addressed when all the others are brought up?
No answers, but lots of questions, and much to think, and to keep talking, about, in this time of transition.
Those interested in continuing the morning’s conversation moved on to a Junction coffee shop; we weren’t able to stay for that, but here are some ways to speak up:
*As mentioned above, the environmental-impact statement for the Seattle 2035 comprehensive-plan is in the works. Thoughts about where the city should be going? Here’s how to send in yours.
*For the specific area traveled on the tour, get involved with the Junction Neighborhood Organization, whose next meeting is Tuesday (October 21st), 6:30 pm at the Senior Center of West Seattle (Oregon/California).