West Seattle, Washington
Thanks to Keri for the tip! For the first time since we broke the news in September 2017 that the West Seattle Whole Foods Market plan was back on, there are signs of activity – literally – at the future store’s space in The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW).
The window signage apparently started going up yesterday – Keri’s tip came in late last night – and more was being added when we went by this morning.
As shown in the top photo, Whole Foods is still projecting it’ll open in fall of next year (when we last checked in April, the company told us “latter part of 2019”). The West Seattle Whole Foods saga is a long one – dating back almost 13 years, to the original February 2006 announcement that they would open in what was then Fauntleroy Place, a project later idled (post-excavation, so it was nicknamed “The Hole” for 4+ years), eventually becoming (under different owners/developers) Spruce, with LA Fitness in the commercial space instead. Then in November 2012, developers of The Whittaker announced WF as their anchor tenant, to open in 2015. That timeline kept sliding until the plan was officially shelved for half of last year, then revived.
As for when Whole Foods’ Whittaker build-out will start, city files verify that permits are in progress. We have inquiries out to WF, though the looming holiday could delay the response.
The WSB inbox has been full of update requests lately, regarding various projects (thank you!), and we’re working on a bunch. First the most-asked question of the week: When is the West Seattle Whole Foods Market opening?
First the backstory: You’ll recall that a year ago, Whole Foods was shelving its plans for The Whittaker (WSB sponsor), second time it had canceled a West Seattle plan – but then six months later, we discovered last September that it was back on, and got confirmation.
Since then, we’ve had one update on timeline, when Whittaker reps told the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce in January that “late spring 2019” was the newest projection.
So this week, we went directly to WFM. A regional spokesperson’s reply:
We are grateful for the community’s excitement for this Whole Foods Market, and look forward to opening during the latter part of 2019.
As for other questions, such as how the chain’s evolution and experiments since Amazon’s takeover will affect the West Seattle plan … no specifics are public yet.
Two biznotes at The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy; WSB sponsor):
MOD PIZZA: The “individual, artisan-style pizza and salads” restaurant is now planning to open its West Seattle location in early February. That’s according to Charlotte Wayte, who also sent word that they’re having two hiring events at the future restaurant, for 30 job openings: 10 am-4 pm Saturday, January 20th, and Sunday, January 21st. They’re also taking applications online. The announcement notes:
Named one of the “20 Best Workplaces in Retail” by Fortune, MOD offers health, dental and vision benefits, short-term disability, sick pay, flexible scheduling for work-life balance and opportunities for career growth. MOD is also proud to support its MOD Squad with special perks such as free meals, an employee assistance program, and access to an emergency crisis fund.
The chain was founded in Seattle and is growing fast. The West Seattle store is 2,500 square feet and, according to the update, “will include original artwork and MOD’s signature ‘Wall of Fame,’ a photo collage that pays homage to the local community and people from the MOD journey.” The opening date isn’t finalized yet but MOD says it will partner that day with a TBA local nonprofit who will get 100 percent of the pizza-sales proceeds from that day.
KINETIC SPORTS REHAB: According to the building’s updated site map, and a permit application, another of the remaining Whittaker spaces has been taken – Kinetic Sports Rehab is coming to the south building, in the space north of CityMD. It currently has two locations, both in north Seattle. (The space also is next to the future Orangetheory Fitness – we have a message out to check on when they’re planning to open.)
For the second consecutive day, we’ve received an announcement that another business has opened in The Whittaker (WSB sponsor). This time, it’s West Seattle’s first freestanding BECU branch. The credit union’s newest branch is 2,500 square feet, with five employees and one manager, per the announcement, which also says:
At the new location, BECU members can open accounts, apply for loans, and take care of financial transactions. Consistent with BECU’s operating model, the West Seattle location will offer an innovative “tellerless” layout, which empowers members to access their accounts in ways most convenient for them, including ATM, online banking, and mobile banking. Member consultants will be available to assist with these transactions, as well as provide one-on-one support for opening accounts and more complex services like mortgages, personal loans, auto loans and business services.
The branch at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW will be staffed 9 am-6 pm weekdays and 9 am-1 pm Saturdays, and has two 24-hour ATMs.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
WSB has just confirmed that the West Seattle Whole Foods Market is back on.
WFM spokesperson Susan Livingston confirms that to WSB this afternoon via e-mail: “We are moving forward with our West Seattle location at The Whittaker and will share more information on timelines for the opening once details are finalized.”
We inquired today after seeing WFM featured in the graphic shown atop this story – it’s the latest online map of which businesses are going where at The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW; WSB sponsor).
It’s been six months since the revelation that Whole Foods was backing out of West Seattle again, though its official statement at the time was that “Whole Foods Market has decided to delay indefinitely the opening of our West Seattle store.” The company overseeing the businesses in The Whittaker, Weingarten Realty, subsequently said that WF was working with it to find a replacement tenant.
Less than three months later came the news about Amazon buying Whole Foods. We tried multiple times after that – before and after the deal closed – to get a comment about whether the new ownership might lead WFM to reconsider the West Seattle store location; no reply.
Until now, the space has continued to be shown on the online Whittaker site map as available – you can see that in our August story about the signing of another tenant, Orangetheory Fitness. And then our routine check last night showed Whole Foods was back on the map – Weingarten pointed us to WFM for comment, and we just got the confirmation quoted above.
It’s been almost five years since Whole Foods was originally announced as the anchor tenant for The Whittaker (even before the mixed-use project got that name). That in turn was two years after WF announced it was no longer going into the project across the street that at the time was an inactive excavation site dubbed “The Hole,” since sold and finished as Spruce, with LA Fitness in the space where the grocery store was to be.
At The Whittaker, Whole Foods will join already-signed businesses T-Mobile (which is now open), BECU, MOD Pizza, CityMD, and Orangetheory Fitness. As spokesperson Livingston told us, there’s no timeline just yet – but we’ll continue to follow up. Before the March announcement, the company had told us two months earlier that it was expecting to open the store in summer 2018.
(UPDATED 10:12 AM with Weingarten statement, 12:40 PM with Whole Foods statement)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 2:25 AM: Back in January, you might recall, we reported that Whole Foods had decided to delay its West Seattle opening in The Whittaker (WSB sponsor) until summer 2018. That was a delay from what the company told us last June, when it said the West Seattle WF would open “in the second half of 2017.” And that in turn was two years later than the original plan – when we reported in November 2012 that WF would anchor the 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW mixed-use project, the announcement projected the store would open in 2015. (A bitter battle over the project’s “alley vacation” – lots of backstory here – figured into some delays.)
Since our January report of the latest WF delay, rumors have continued to circulate that – as eventually turned out to be the case with its previously planned WS location across SW Alaska – Whole Foods might be icing the plan all together. But there were signs of life in city permit files as recent as last month, with an application and permit for sign installation.
This morning, there’s a new report – the Daily Journal of Commerce says in its Monday edition that Whole Foods has “decided to indefinitely delay its plans” for West Seattle. Note that most of the story is behind a paywall, so if you’re not a subscriber, you won’t be able to read it. We have already sent a followup inquiry to WF and will update when we get a direct update.
10:12 AM UPDATE: Our first reply of the morning is from Carrie Murray with Weingarten Realty, which owns The Whittaker’s retail space:
Weingarten Realty is actively working with Whole Foods to find a replacement for the space Whole Foods leased at The Whittaker. We currently have several prospects interested but we cannot make an announcement at this time.
12:40 PM UPDATE: Whole Foods spokesperson Beth Krauss‘s statement in response to our inquiry does not elaborate further:
As part of a careful evaluation of our growth strategy, Whole Foods Market has decided to delay indefinitely the opening of our West Seattle store. We look forward to continuing to serve Seattle with our three other area locations: Interbay, Roosevelt Square, and South Lake Union.
After a few recent reader questions about the status of West Seattle’s future Whole Foods Market, planned for the north side of The Whittaker (WSB sponsor), we checked around – and just found out the new timeframe for its opening.
When last we checked, in June of last year, a Whole Foods spokesperson told WSB that the store was expected to open in the “second half of 2017.”
This afternoon, responding to our inquiry about the current timeline, Susan Livingston from Whole Foods told WSB: “We look forward to opening our doors in Summer, 2018.”
I’m delighted to share that we’ve updated our plans since we last shared them with your readers. Some of the new features include the addition of a tap room with lots of seating, an expanded Prepared Foods department with additional venues, and improved pedestrian connections. As with any project, weather and other factors can impact our schedule, but we’ll share details about our grand opening as we get closer to the actual date.
Livingston says that the “new features” are part of what has pushed back the timeline, and that it’s not unusual for “big-box anchor tenants” in projects like this to take longer than first expected.
When construction of The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW) began two years ago, WF was the only signed commercial tenant. Then last August, four more tenants were announced – MOD Pizza, BECU, CityMD, and T-Mobile, as shown in the latest site map above (the yellow spaces are still available, and one of them – AOL – is set aside for a restaurant). The aforementioned already-announced businesses are expected to open later this year, as are the apartments in the north building – the south building at The Whittaker is already leasing.
Photos by Christopher Boffoli for West Seattle Blog
Two years after ceremonial groundbreaking launched construction of The Whittaker – West Seattle’s biggest mixed-use project ever – its first building at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW is officially open, with a ribboncutting celebration today, including namesake Jim Whittaker, the West Seattle native who made history on Mount Everest. The lobby displays a photo of him on Everest in 1963:
Whittaker’s partner Dianne Roberts told Christopher that they still have the ice axe and flags in the iconic photograph, as well as the camera used to shoot it. She said that the clothes he was wearing in the photo are now on display at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado.
The ribboncutting marked the fact that residents are moving into the south building this month, and will follow in the north building next spring. Property manager Ashlie Quon of Windsor Communities told WSB’s Christopher Boffoli that the South building has 129 units complete and open, 39 of which are leased so far.
Art for the site was commissioned from West Seattleite Troy Pillow – who also created the new kinetic sculpture in Junction Plaza Park. Some of his work is up outside the south entry:
The lobby sections open today feature sitting areas with gas fireplaces, a “wine room” upstairs with a function area with a small kitchen just off it for events, a mailroom, and a separate package room.
The large, open lobby features reclaimed wood throughout and a suspended Douglas Fir staircase (which leads up to the wine room/function area. That’s where some of today’s speeches took place.
While the residential units are opening, the commercial tenants won’t start to open until next year. So far, as we reported last summer, they include – besides anchor tenant Whole Foods Market, taking the retail space in the north building – BECU, City MD, MOD Pizza, and T-Mobile.
West Seattle Chamber of Commerce CEO Lynn Dennis, among today’s speakers, said, “The Whittaker represents an example of creating density while preserving green spaces and celebrating the real character of West Seattle.” Jim Whittaker spoke too, saying he felt “lucky” to be born in West Seattle and that the new building was marvelous and he was delighted to be on hand for the opening.
(2014 photo contributed by Mark Cohan)
You might remember that faded mural, “Alki in the Twenties,” from the east-facing side of the former Huling Brothers building along Fauntleroy north of Edmunds. As shown in the review process for the project that’s being built on the site, The Whittaker, the mural couldn’t be saved but was to be “digitally re-created.” And indeed, it has been. Here’s a sneak peek at the partly visible re-creation:
We took the photo today while checking on the removal of The Whittaker’s second tower crane, which stretched into a third day amid stormy weather. The re-created mural is on a west-facing wall of the building, and we expect to get a closer look soon.
FIRST REPORT: Tonight is the first night of road work that’s closing SW Alaska between 40th SW and Fauntleroy Way, related to The Whittaker, the big mixed-use project under construction there. The project team says SDOT required that the work be done at night to minimize the effect on traffic. Detour signs are set up.
ADDED 10:10 AM TUESDAY: More information on what’s happening: It’s about linking the signals and preparing for upgraded crossings between The Whittaker and Spruce across the intersection; the work will continue nightly through the 20th, approximately 8 pm to 6 am: “Scope of work is to install all the underground conduits and doing temp patch for a later date down the road [when more work will be done] … They will try as much as possible to be conscious of noise, but also want to be sure to finish on time to minimize the time of construction.”
9:05 AM: As reported here earlier this month, today is installation day for the second tower crane on the biggest construction project under way in West Seattle, mixed-use The Whittaker at Alaska/Fauntleroy/Edmunds. This one’s going up on the north end of the project, two months after installation of the first one at the site’s south end. The installation staging is happening primarily on 40th SW, so it’s not affecting a major arterial right now, but an engine from temporary Fire Station 32 was parked on the street for quicker access while this is under way.
The Whittaker will include almost 400 apartments and nearly 600 parking spaces, as well as retail including Whole Foods Market (no other tenants have been announced so far). The only other project in West Seattle with a tower crane right now is the mixed-use 4435 35th SW.
1:03 PM: Thanks to Matt for this photo:
That’s the first crane in the foreground at right.
Four development/land-use notes so far today:
FIRST CRANE @ THE WHITTAKER: As previewed last week, the first of two tower cranes planned for The Whittaker on the east edge of The Junction is going up today. It’s on the south side of the project and when we went by around 9:30 am, the installation operation was centered off the street at 40th/Edmunds, with no additional traffic effects except for some intermittent truck maneuvering. We’ll be checking back on it for an update later. This makes three cranes currently working in West Seattle, with the one at Broadstone Sky on the west side of 40th/Edmunds and the 4435 35th SW project.
ADDED: Above this line, our photo from noontime; below, a midafternoon photo courtesy of Eddie:
No date yet for the north-end crane.
1201 HARBOR SW: From today’s Land Use Information Bulletin, the city has approved the land-use permit for a 4-unit rowhouse at this location (map) in an “environmentally critical area” (ECA). That opens a 2-week appeal period; the LUIB notice includes links to the decision and information on appealing.
ALSO ON HARBOR SW: The construction-permit application is in for 3005 Harbor SW (map), a six-unit apartment building; that’s two fewer apartments than were planned when this project was first mentioned here in early 2014.
6001 BEACH DRIVE: Further south along the West Seattle shore, applications are in to demolish the single-family house that’s currently at this location (map) and build a replacement. The same project also has filed a land-use-permit application, because it’s in an ECA; that application says the house will have “surface parking for five vehicles.”
Thanks to LB for noticing that tower-crane base installed at the site of The Whittaker (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW), and sharing the photo. Crane arrivals are of interest for a variety of reasons, from traffic effects on installation day(s) to the draw of spectators, so we checked with the project team: The first of its two cranes is set for installation Monday-Tuesday of next week (April 27-28). More details to come; no date yet for the second crane. Meantime, in case you’ve been wondering – Whole Foods Market remains the only retailer confirmed for the project, which also includes 389 apartments and 594 underground parking spaces.
When the Seattle Design Commission gave its qualified approval last year to The Whittaker, West Seattle’s biggest development project ever (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW), they told the project team they’d have to come back when certain aspects of the project finished taking shape.
That return visit happened on Thursday, and revealed more details of the art and landscaping that will surround the building. We’ve since obtained the full slide deck shown at the meeting (see above), which resulted in some suggestions by the commission, whose role in the project is related to the fact it required an alley vacation (subsequently approved by the City Council this past April).
For the first time in a while, the Seattle Design Commission has a West Seattle project on its agenda. At 9 am next Thursday – December 18th – the commission will be checking in on the “public benefit” program promised by The Whittaker (under construction at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW) as required for its alley vacation (explained here). The SDC reviewed the project four times last year before giving its blessing; here’s our coverage of the final meeting, including links to the three before it. Next Thursday’s meeting is open to the public, in the Boards/Commissions Room at City Hall downtown.
(WSB video by Patrick Sand)
FIRST REPORT, 2:22 PM: With ice axes digging into dirt near the southwest corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska, ground has just been ceremonially broken for The Whittaker, ~400 apartments, ~600 parking spaces, and Whole Foods Market (the anchor, and lone announced, retail tenant). A two-year construction process now ensues; demolition and site clearing has just concluded, and excavation/shoring is expected to start in a few weeks. It’s been almost two years since we broke the news of an ‘early’ proposal for the site. We have the by-invitation ceremony on video and will add it, along with photos and more details, after our return to HQ.
ADDED 6:12 PM: We’ve substituted a slightly longer YouTube version of the actual “groundbreaking” video above, in place of the short Instagram clip (which you can still see here). And here’s our video of the speeches that preceded it:
Most of those on hand for the event, held near the northeast corner of the project site – just south of where the gas station used to be – were affiliated with members of the project team – residential developer Lennar Homes, retail developer Weingarten, Whole Foods, local communicators, general contractor Chinn Construction, whose owner Kevin Chinn was there:
(WSB photos by Torin Record-Sand)
With him at left above is Josh Sutton from the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor). Sutton was on the community advisory group that worked with the city on the Triangle Plan a few years ago, as was West 5 restaurateur Dave Montoure of the West Seattle Chamber/Junction boards:
That’s Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive director Clay Eals at right above with Montoure. Speaking on the Chamber’s behalf, its board chair Nancy Woodland (leaning to the left and smiling in photo below):
She mentioned the community’s strength and its many “opinions,” the only overt allusion to the controversy that beset the project for months, including former Mayor Mike McGinn’s instruction to SDOT in July 2013 to not approve the project’s “alley vacation” and a standing-room-only City Council hearing last March, followed by the council’s 6-3 approval vote in April, the last major hurdle the project had to clear.
That was three months after the development team had announced the project would be named for climbing legend and West Seattle native Jim Whittaker. He and wife Dianne Roberts were at today’s ceremony:
In his honor, mountaineering metaphors were plentiful. The groundbreaking was described as “base camp,” but with a long climb ahead – two years of construction, to result in this:
And even as today’s celebration continued, so did site-prep work on the south side of the site.
Development manager Kelley Kohout told WSB the excavation work will start from that side, and head north. The project is so big, two tower cranes will be required; he says they’ll arrive sometime in the first quarter of next year. It’s already been a month since the start of demolition/abatement.
As construction ramps up, Whole Foods will continue planning its store; VP of store development Tee Ayer promised the market will reflect the community’s spirit and personality, saying, “you will see West Seattle” in it. (Just a week ago, WF announced plans for another new Seattle store, on Capitol Hill.)
As for what else you’ll see in The Whittaker’s retail space – Weingarten executive Lance Sherwood told WSB today they have nothing to announce yet, but “lots of interest” and an expectation that they’ll “have no problem” leasing it all.
Our archive of coverage on this project is here, newest to oldest.
SIDE NOTE: The last ceremonial groundbreaking for a major development was in 2008, across the street at 3922 SW Alaska, then known as “Fauntleroy Place,” to be anchored by Whole Foods. After excavation, the project was stopped by legal and other problems, no fault of WF, which was just a planned tenant; terms of its lease, for store space to be available, never were fulfilled, which left the chain free to mull other WS possibilities – finally landing with this one. Meantime, after a foreclosure sale leading to an ownership change and name change to “Spruce,” that development re-started a year and a half ago and is close to completion, now with its entire commercial space to be taken up by an LA Fitness gym.
The city has issued the master-use permit for The Whittaker, the mixed-use megaproject at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW. The project team told us they got the news from the city this week, and the online files say the permit is officially dated today. According to correspondence in the same files, the project team has told the city it is eager to move forward so the deteriorating, vandalized old buildings on the site can be torn down, but has had to wait for that permit to be finalized, which has taken longer than they expected. The demolition permit is separate and is not shown as finalized yet, so you’re not going to see backhoes show up immediately, but the project team hopes some site work can start soon. The project will line Fauntleroy from Alaska to Edmunds, and Alaska from Fauntleroy to 40th, with two buildings holding about 370 apartments, a Whole Foods Market, and other retailers yet to be signed/announced. The project gained regional attention when former Mayor Mike McGinn told SDOT to reject developers’ request to buy a city-owned alley that’s on the site; the ultimate decision was up to the City Council, which approved the alley deal last April. Construction is expected to last about two years.
(TOPLINE: The long-debated alley vacation is approved by the City Council in a 6-3 vote.)
We’re at City Hall this afternoon for the City Council meeting expected to bring a vote on the “alley vacation” for 4755 Fauntleroy Way, aka The Whittaker (or, the “Whole Foods” project). Five councilmembers voted in favor of it at the Transportation Committee‘s meeting almost two weeks ago.
The meeting begins with public comment on whatever’s on the agenda, not just this item; Deb Barker, a longtime opponent, is the first to comment on the alley vacation, urging the council to vote “no.” Next commenter is Elena Perez (above), coordinator of the group that has opposed the development for a year, Getting It Right for West Seattle. She says that after outreach done by the group, “Overwhelmingly, the conclusion is that this development is bad for our community” and calls the potential alley vacation “a land grab.”
First speaker in favor of the alley vacation is Sharonn Meeks (above). She says there’s a misconception – “the developer is going to pay” for the alley, not get it for free. She’s followed by Dave Montoure, who also is a supporter and says he has been to many meetings and hearings: “Density supports business, not just Fortune 500 businesses, (but also) small businesses like my own.”
2:25 PM: Now to the alley vacation item. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, one of three councilmembers who voted “no” at the Transportation Committee meeting, presents the “minority report” first. He says the main reason he’s opposing it is because of “the public-benefit tradeoff.” He says he doesn’t think it will meet the needs of pedestrian access. Next, the “majority report,” presented by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. He says it’s been vetted through “dozens of meetings” at community and city-department levels. After a brief bit of history about the alley/street-vacation process, he notes that the committee he chairs reviewed the project and determined that it meets the requirements laid out in the process, including public benefits such as green-street improvements on 40th, a crosswalk to the north, landscaping, a $25,000 contribution to the new city park on 40th, and a new bike lane on the west side of Fauntleroy. And Rasmussen reiterates that the developer would pay “full market value” for the alley land.
Next, Councilmember Nick Licata, who voted against it at the committee meeting, says he is still opposed because he believes it does not provide “a significant public benefit.” After him, Councilmember Sally Clark reiterates her support, and also says she’s glad to hear that West Seattle is forming a Land Use Committee (via the Southwest District Council – see our earlier coverage). She says she believes the project “is providing more than adequate public benefit” while acknowledging that the project might not be perfect, but it has gone through boards and committees and other layers of feedback and “sets of expectations.”
Rollcall vote: 6 yes, 3 no. The alley vacation petition is approved. Rasmussen offers closing words that the development will upgrade what is currently a “bleak” site. He also thanks everyone for public involvement in the extensive process. The “no” votes are Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, and Kshama Sawant; the “yes” votes are Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Sally Clark, Jean Godden.
The council will be talking about parks funding after this meeting so we’ll be staying for that, as parks funding is a big issue for much of West Seattle.
TUESDAY MORNING NOTE: We’re working on a separate followup for later today, but a project spokesperson says a published report today of construction starting in July is NOT accurate. They continue to expect that work will begin “by year’s end.”
(TOPLINE: Five councilmembers voted in favor of the alley vacation at today’s hearing; final vote expected at full Council meeting on April 21st)
(Photos/video by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
9:35 AM: Just under way at City Hall – the City Council Transportation Committee meeting that will include the “alley vacation” request for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way (aka The Whittaker) development. You can watch the live Seattle Channel stream by clicking “play” in the window below:
(EVENING UPDATE: The archived full-meeting Seattle Channel video is now embedded above)
The meeting will start with public comment, about this and the meeting’s other big item – the updated Bicycle Master Plan. After that, 4755 Fauntleroy is the first item on the agenda. We’ll update live as it goes.
(Added: WSB video of the entire public-comment period)
9:42 AM: Public comment is under way. The committee’s chair Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is calling alley-vacation commenters first, then bicycle plan. First commenter, Deb Barker, a co-author of the letter/supporting documents we published last night, including criticism of the public-outreach period. Second, Joe Rogoff from Whole Foods Market, the only announced tenant for the project so far. He says opponents have mischaracterized the project’s truck-traffic potential. He also says, “Whole Foods Market being singled out as a tenant does not seem right to me” and notes there was no union outcry when non-unionized Trader Joe’s went in nearby. Third commenter, identified as Rebecca, who says city policy discourages alley/street vacations if they don’t benefit the city’s transportation system and thinks this should be denied. Next, a man identifying himself as a land-use attorney representing a commercial real-estate group. “Adding density to the region is critical,” he says. “… Especially dense new development near transit lines.” He says developers are starting to avoid alley vacations because they are such a hassle, and says that’s bad. Next: Steve Williamson, who says he wants the committee to vote no but if anyone chooses to vote “yes,” to explain what they believe is its public benefit. He, like Rebecca, says research has shown only one street/alley vacation denied by the council since 1998. And he says “development policy … is one way to address income inequality.”
9:54 AM: The commenters continued with supporter Josh Sutton, who says that if this project doesn’t go forward, another developer could move in with something worse. He says this project “has passed every step of the Seattle development process along the way … You have all you need to make a decision today.” Next, Jim Guenther, who says, “The train’s pulling away from the station and the only people on that train are going to be the developers, the City Council, and city staff.” He says opponents “have no problem with Whole Foods” and point out that they offered alternatives to the developers who, he says, “said no.” He lists four conditions he thinks should be required of the developers, including making half of the mid-block connector pedestrian-only, and “meaningful plazas” on the site. Next speaker, John, says, “I’ve had so many conversations with people about Whole Foods coming to West Seattle … (people) want WF to come here.” He contends, “The voters in West Seattle really, really want to see this happen.” He’s followed by Patrick Keating, who says he’s “here to talk about the traffic impacts … Currently (the crosswalks and bus stops) in the vicinity are difficult at best.” Next, Richard, who says, “A lot of this has turned into some bizarre union thing vs. non-union, Whole Foods … (but) this is really about the development of the property there. I don’t know if you’ve been down there but the place is a cesspool … derelict buildings, graffiti, the alley in question isn’t even an alley per se, it’s two streets cut off by dumpsters.” The next commenter, Kurt, says he got involved with a group of project opponents because he thought they were concerned about overall West Seattle development, but learned they were only focused on this project, and only on opposing Whole Foods being part of it. He says he supports the project. Final commenter is Dave Montoure, who says he wants to clarify that the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, for which he serves as past board chair, supports the project. He says he hopes the committee will vote today. He’s the last commenter on this project – next, four bicycle-plan commenters, so there’ll be a break in our coverage.
10:17 AM: Now, the official agenda item.
Councilmember Rasmussen recaps that discussion and presentations were extensive on March 11th so the city staffers are here mostly as “a resource.” Beverly Barnett, who is the city’s point person for reviewing street/alley vacations, speaks first. She goes through the process and says that the city’s default is supposed to be “retain right of way … so when people (bring in proposals), we do feel there’s kind of a ‘hump’ for them to go over.” The more-problematic ones, she says, never get to the council because of so much advance discussion. She says if there’s a vote today, it would be on whether to grant the alley vacation – which means, the right for the developer to buy the alley land at fair-market value – “as conditioned.” (The documentation are all in the items linked to the agenda and was also included in our March 11th coverage.) City staff is going over the list of meetings at which the project was discussed; Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she was concerned, but it sounds as if it’s been thoroughly discussed/presented. Councilmember Tim Burgess asked Barnett if this went through the standard vacation process. Yes, she said, although it’s been “more,” she added. He asks if it was circulated to city departments to see if there are any objections; yes, she replies, and says the developer met with departments including SDOT and Seattle Public Utilities to review elements including the design of the “mid-block connector” through the project. Luke Korpi of SDOT elaborates on that, saying “various alternatives” were explored, and that they felt they had finally arrived at the best version, which features a pedestrian walkway “separate from vehicle traffic, truck traffic.”
10:36 AM: Korpi says SDOT is “comfortable” with the final version. Bagshaw says she is still concerned about people getting from the project to the newly purchased park land across 40th SW. (There’s been controversy over whether SDOT would allow a mid-block crosswalk there; the West Seattle Triangle Plan calls for one.) Korpi says traffic engineers want to wait until after the project is finished to see how traffic patterns shape up, how the park is developed, etc. The developer is reported to have said that they will “participate” in making that crosswalk possible, and Bagshaw says she would like to make sure that is on the record somehow. Councilmember Mike O’Brien asks why, since Triangle Plan called for pedestrian-only midblock connector here, it’s OK for vehicles to be part of the one through the project. Korpi says they evaluated whether it would meet the goals of the plan, and SDOT determined it would. “So why was the letter of the neighborhood plan not achievable?” O’Brien asks. Korpi says it was deemed preferable for this project to have three access points for vehicles – Fauntleroy, 40th, Edmunds – to reduce pressure on Fauntleroy in particular. Councilmember Sally Clark says she supports getting the developer on record as helping pay for the future crosswalk. Rasmussen now moves for conceptual approval of the alley vacation and is second. Discussion ensues: He says the tenant is not part of the consideration, per city law; one critical point, he says, is whether the public will “lose alley function” with granting of a vacation, but he says that will not happen with this plan. And he quotes the Design Commission as saying that the plan with a midblock connector will “better meet the need … than the current alley … which is petitioned to be vacated.” He says that reviews indicate traffic will not be worsened at the area and that there are other benefits, such as wider sidewalks and an added bicycle lane, so he concludes “the public trust in the right of way” would be served. He also says that leaving the current alley configuration in place would not serve the goals of the Triangle Plan. And he notes SDOT did “not make a recommendation” regarding approval or denial, but did suggest conditions if the council chooses to support it. “My conclusion is that the public benefits are strong,” he concludes, and says he supports approval.
11:02 AM: Councilmember O’Brien, vice chair of the Transportation Committee, says he’s voting no. He thinks, for one, a grocery store could be placed on the Fauntleroy side, and he likes the fact that if the site were developed without an alley vacation, it would mean more housing units, and he says those are needed. Overall, he says he is not convinced there is enough public benefit, and the midblock connector concerns him the most – whether it has enough pedestrian orientation. He says he doesn’t think it’s possible to “put enough conditions on it” to make the vehicle traffic and pedestrian interaction work well enough. Councilmember Licata – who is an alternate member of the committee – is asking more about the connector. “It doesn’t seem to work in terms of just a pedestrian area,” he said, without “destinations on other side of the sidewalk … I don’t get who this is serving.” Rasmussen explains, “This is a very, very large site, and without a pedestrian connection, people would” have to walk up to and around the site on Alaska and Edmunds, “so it serves a very practical function.” Licata is not convinced. Next, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who says she’s been to the site and a “vibrant development” certainly is in order, but she still wants to see the jobs question considered – just because that hasn’t been part of the review process “doesn’t mean we should keep doing it the same way until the end of time.” She points out that this would be in an area with several other grocery stores and that she believes they are all unionized (editor’s note: not Trader Joe’s) and that she will vote no.
11:16 AM: The vote is “divided,” Rasmussen announces (5 for, 3 against, we’re still confirming how it shook out since it’s a voice vote), so it goes to the full council on April 21st. Five votes is a majority of the council, so if no one changes, that means it will be finalized then, and supporters are in a jovial mood outside the chambers. The committee now goes on to the Bicycle Master Plan – you can continue watching the meeting in the live window above. We’re hanging around until the end to be sure we have clarification on who voted what and what happens next.
11:55 AM: Just spoke with Rasmussen’s legislative assistant Brian Hawksford:
-The no votes were O’Brien, Sawant, and Licata.
-The only councilmember who wasn’t here was Bruce Harrell; so, the yes votes were Rasmussen, Bagshaw, Godden, Clark, Burgess.
-“Divided” vote means that since it was not unanimous, a report must be prepared by council staff laying out the points that were made, and that is why the final vote is delayed a week, and scheduled for the second meeting after the committee vote instead of the first one.
-Even though the committee itself is just three members, the rules allow any councilmember to join in the proceedings of any committee (including voting) at any time.
ADDED 2:25 PM: From e-mail, reaction from Getting It Right for West Seattle, which had sought to have a Community Benefit Agreement required before the alley vacation could be approved:
Transportation Chairperson Tom Rasmussen’s approval of the biggest megaproject of its kind in West Seattle is another illustration why it’s time for the city to modernize its definition of what constitutes a public benefit. The city council should consider the public’s priorities, such as compliance with neighborhood plans, public transportation, family wage jobs, affordable workforce housing, and more. It should no longer be okay to sell public property to developers and businesses who don’t meet Seattle’s community-oriented standards. We thank Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant for voting no on this project.
ADDED 10:08 PM: We have replaced the original cameraphone photos included here as we reported – crowd at top, council midway through – with two clearer images by our photographer. We also have replaced the original “live video” window with archived Seattle Channel video of the entire meeting, and also added the backup video we recorded while there – broken into two segments, the public comment, and the actual agenda item/discussion/vote.
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
Continuing coverage of on our one-on-one Q-and-A with Mayor Ed Murray, one topic at a time: Two weeks from today, the requested “alley vacation” for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project – aka The Whittaker, and/or the Whole Foods project – goes back to the City Council Transportation Committee, which held a public hearing two weeks ago (WSB coverage here). Last summer, the mayor’s predecessor had told SDOT to recommend rejection of the request. After Mayor Murray took office, we asked for his comment on the situation, and his spokesperson had told us he wasn’t commenting. So we asked during our one-on-one interview Friday; here’s his reply:
The proposal to grant the project’s developers the opportunity to buy the alley land for not-yet-specified “fair market value” ultimately goes to the full City Council for a final vote, possibly as soon as April 14th, depending on what happens at the committee meeting April 8th.
Our next question for/answer from the mayor is also a development issue – his thoughts on the relatively new city rules allowing housing without off-street parking if it’s a certain distance from what’s considered frequent transit, though the city can’t guarantee the ongoing availability of said transit.
(From project team’s presentation at last Tuesday’s hearing)
Following up on Tuesday’s City Council Transportation Committee hearing (WSB as-it-happened coverage here) on the requested “alley vacation” for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW, recently named The Whittaker, aka “the Whole Foods project” for the only tenant announced so far for the ~400-apartment, ~600-parking-space mixed-use building: The committee’s chair, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, has made public the e-mail he is sending to those who’ve contacted him with concerns. Read it here or below:
As noted both in Rasmussen’s e-mail and our Tuesday coverage linked above, the next official step is the April 8th committee meeting. It will also have a public-comment period, but since it’s not the formal public hearing on the proposal, it won’t be as long as the hour last Tuesday. Along with Rasmussen, the committee includes vice chair Mike O’Brien and member Jean Godden. The final vote on the proposal would be up to the full council.
(UPDATED 2:58 PM with archived meeting video; POST-HEARING TOPLINE: No committee vote until April 8th)
9:34 AM: We’re at City Hall for the alley-vacation hearing (process explained here, same as ‘street’ vacation) for 4755 Fauntleroy before the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Standing room only. Supporters are wearing purple stickers with slogans; opponents are wearing yellow stickers with slogans (photos added):
Live coverage ahead – you also can watch the stream via Seattle Channel (click “play”) in the window below (UPDATED 2:59 PM – THIS IS NOW THE ARCHIVED VIDEO OF THE MEETING):
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has opened the discussion by playing a message on his voice mail – he got the robocall that project opponents sent around West Seattle last night. “It told me to call Tom,” he said, drawing laughter.
9:39 AM: First to speak, project opponent Deb Barker, who was the voice of the aforementioned robocall.
She is a community organization leader and former Design Review Board member. She says the public benefits in the project package are not enough. She talks about the setbacks and says the alley vacation overall will “waste public land for profit.”
Next, project supporter Sharonn Meeks, also a community-organization leader. She notes she was “involved in this project way before it began” – that included being on the Triangle Planning Group. She calls the site “a blighted grayfield.” She says scrapping these proposal would cost time and “an excellent developer.”
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