Build Baby Build!

I've been following a discussion on a Land Use Forum about why homes and rentals in Seattle are becoming more and more expensive despite the frenetic level of construction. I came across an interesting analysis written by a Seattle Times staff columnist Brer Dudley. Here is an excerpt.

"Seattle should reconsider policies based on the false assumption that this is a simple supply and demand problem. The supply of various types of in-city housing will always be limited and demand is practically unlimited, so supply and demand will never even out.

Yes, growth in apartment rents is expected to moderate and vacancies will increase as new units become available over the next few years. But the city will always be relatively unaffordable as long as it's economically strong. Yet we still cling to promises that it will get better "if only we build more, more, more!"

At what point will the city pause and assess whether its "build baby build" policies work as promised for renters and buyers (vs for developers and politicians they support ...) and their downsides?"
 

What's next for the proposed City People's development?

On Wednesday, January 25, the Design Review Board passed the proposed City People’s development on to the next phase, completing the early design guidance phase. Those of you who were there know that the community turned out and spoke up. People were eloquent, informed, and clear about their concerns and wishes for this project. With an extensive “to-do” list the Board gave the developer a green light for this step.

The most important thing to know at this point is that nothing is a done deal yet, and there’s still a place for community input. Lots of folks are wondering what’s next. Here are some of the big questions, and the answers we’ve found so far.

Q: If the Board gave a green light doesn’t that mean they’re satisfied and we can’t really expect much change now?

A: Nope. In fact, one Board member specifically said that she felt the community and the Board were responsible for most of the positive changes on the project so far, and issued a warning to the applicant (developer and architect) that ‘eyes will be watching.’

Q: Well, sure, that’s nice. But how can we expect any changes if the design review is over?

A: Some aspects of the design haven’t even been decided yet. For example, the Board passed on giving an opinion whether the entrance should be exclusively on Madison, or split between Madison and Dewey. They said they wanted more traffic data and they wanted to hear from SDOT (Department of Transportation). The Board can’t get that data and SDOT can’t weigh in until the project moves out of the early design guidance phase. That was one of the Board’s reasons for punting the project on. They wanted input from more sources.

Q: So what comes next?

A: In the coming weeks the applicant will file an application for a Master Use Permit (“MUP”). First they have to finish a check-list of things – completing early design guidance was just one of those things on their list. The City will let us know when the application is filed – one of those giant white boards you’ve seen around town on construction sites will suddenly show up in front of City People’s.

Q: What happens after the developer applies for a Master Use Permit ("MUP")?

A: That begins a two-week comment period for any interested parties (all of us!).

That’s when the community can make comments (by letter) about any concerns related to water, trees, slope, height, mass, code compliance, traffic… All the stuff we weren’t suppose to bring up in design review (e.g., traffic), but also some of the things that have been discussed in design review but are still relevant at this phase (e.g., height, bulk, and scale). The focus is no longer design of the building, but now aspects of the project that impact the environment.

Q: This sounds a lot like SEPA. Are MUP and SEPA related? And what’s SEPA anyway?

A: SEPA stands for State Environmental Policy Act. And yes, they have a relationship. Once the MUP comment period ends then the City begins a SEPA review – looking at all the potential environmental impacts a development will have.

The City can assert their authority and put limits on a project if they decide the potential environmental impact should be mitigated.

Q: You said that they’ll be looking at traffic now, but the design review already approved a garage for 150 cars and a six-story building! If the development process were really that backwards in Seattle – designing a building before evaluating the environmental impacts -- we’d end up with a lot of oversized buildings around town, and probably some terrible traffic messes, and – Oh…. Oh, I get it now… never mind.

A: In short: there’s still lots to do to help our community grow in a way that increases the beauty and vitality of Madison Valley.

Design Review Board approved proposal to move forward to MUP

The third Early Design Guidance meeting for the Velmeir development took place last night. The Board heard from the architect and the community. They praised the architect’s efforts, but had a laundry list of items that still need to be addressed with the building. Nonetheless, they said the proposal could move on to the MUP (Master Use Permit) phase. This didn’t seem to be as much about the achievements of the design, as that the Board wants more information about aspects of the project (e.g., traffic impacts to the neighborhood) which they can only get from the MUP phase and SEPA (State Environmental Protection Act) which now will follow. The Board also stated that they would like to see several options for the proposal to address the outstanding issues including massing, depth of modulation, and better relation to the neighborhood. 

What does that mean for Save Madison Valley and the greater community? Our work continues. It’s not over by a long shot. There’s room for community involvement and input during this very important time when issues like water and traffic are more closely studied and the developer’s reports will be evaluated. We’ll be consulting with our attorney and architect consultant and will let you know the next steps soon. 

What else? Our disappointment in the Board’s decision to pass this project on at this point is mitigated by our gratitude to the greater neighborhood for your involvement. It was a great turnout and a very impressive presentation from folks: you were thoughtful, informed, passionate, and creative in your feedback to the Board. What an amazing place to live – and we’re going to be working to keep it an amazing place to live. We look forward to continuing to work with you to Save Madison Valley.

The city needs your feedback!

The city is requesting your feedback about the proposed development on the current City People's site.

We’ve seen the latest design from the architect for the City People’s property.  While some improvements have been made, much of the feedback from the community has not yet been incorporated:

  • The height, bulk and scale of the building are still too big.
  • The setbacks are too small to grow full-sized trees to maturity.
  • The building is over 70 feet tall on Dewey (zoned 40') and is out-of-character with the neighborhood.
  • No exceptional trees are saved.
  • There is still a blank wall on Republican.
  • Please add a community space on Madison, as the public has repeatedly asked for.
  • The garage entrance on Dewey will ruin the pedestrian-friendly character of Dewey and the surrounding streets.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Please take a few minutes to write a letter to the Design Review Board by clicking below:

The above link will open an email to the city referencing project number 3020338.  Feel free to write your own letter, or to submit this example letter written by Save Madison Valley.

JOIN US IN PERSON: The large community turnout for the previous two meetings with the city have shown the board how important this project is to Madison Valley.  Let’s show the city, the developer and the architect that we are invested in seeing our neighborhood grow in a way that that preserves and enhances its livability and vitality. 

We'll see you at EDG #3 on the 25th!

Wednesday, January 25th at 8:00pm
Seattle University: Pigott Auditorium
901 12th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122

Save Madison Valley met with the Developer and Architect on January 4

At the Second Design Review, the Board asked Velmeir and Meng-Strazzara to work with the community as they incorporate the Board’s guidance in preparation for the third Design Meeting. We reached out to Charles Strazzara and Geza De Gall and invited them to meet with some of us.

During our meeting on Jan 4th, we offered specifics based on the Board’s Report of how we hope they will incorporate the guidance the Design Review Board has offered at the last two meetings (July and October). We covered four priorities:

● If the current tree canopy can’t be saved, we asked that any replacement provide habitat for small animals and insects, intercept rainwater, have large and smaller native trees and plants, and provide understory for foraging. This language was provided by ecologist Matt Patterson of Steinbrueck Urban Strategies, who suggested that we move the discussion from numbers to function or service – he suggested we look for any replacement to be ecologically responsive and maintain the current link to the larger urban forest corridor.

● A minimum of a 20-foot setback. While one could argue the bigger the better, Patterson felt this is sufficient to create an ecologically responsive landscape that maintains urban ecological functions, and benefits the neighborhood. This is also the standard used in residential neighborhoods.

● The garage fully underground on all sides: no one should have to see it, smell it, or hear it.

● No entrance on Dewey. Traffic engineer Ross Tilghman strongly questioned the viability of putting traffic from 70+ residences on the small, oddly configured streets of Dewey, Republican, 29th, 32nd, and the surround.

Strazzara and De Gall listened, but repeatedly emphasized that while they are listening to the community, they will take their guidance from the Design Review Board. At the October meeting the Board asked that the developer offer an option that has residences on Dewey; Strazzara and De Gall said they will offer that as one option at the EDG on January 25. Their next design will be available on the City’s website ten days prior to the EDG meeting on the 25th. Strazzara and De Gall said this design is different from the first two in substantial ways. We’re waiting to see and will be looking closely.

Meet Neighbor - Amy

 

 

I moved here twenty years ago because my husband insisted upon living in the "core area". Well he was right. Love living here in Madison Valley. Love being so close to the Arboretum and having such easy access to downtown Seattle. Love having had a "reverse commute" for several years. Especially love the walkability of Mad Valley and surrounding areas. Love the wide variety of home styles and sizes and people styles and sizes too. All kinds of interesting people and no snobs! Hope it stays this way through all the growth and development.

Commercial Development process listens to the community; Residential does not

Guest post by James

First Appeared in Madison Park Times

Having participated in the proposed PCC Market building’s early design guidance process, I was impressed by how effective citizen’s voices could be in shaping neighborhood development.  On the other side of the coin, residential building is rapidly changing our community, largely without local review or input.  This is happening in my neighborhood, as it is in many neighborhoods across Seattle. 

One of our neighbors was displaced earlier this year and his home was sold. The developer who bought the home plans to demolish the small, quaint Craftsman and remove the 1,540 square-foot green canopy, which includes mature apple, cherry and plum trees.  He also plans to combine the storm and sanitary water outflows.  Combined sewers are strongly discouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency because overflow events—also known as combined sewer overflows, or CSOs –expose residents and the environment to raw sewage/pollution.  Our neighborhood is also prone to internal water backups.  Many of us in the area remember the tragic drowning of resident Kate Fleming, whose 10-year passing is remembered this month.

The proposed construction is very different from all other buildings on our block face.  The front wall will begin only 20 feet in from the property line and will rise 40 feet in elevation.  It will sit on a lot smaller than the average property size, yet will be taller and more massive than every other building. Compared to its northern neighbor that sits on a 50 percent bigger lot, the new building is two stories (20 feet) higher, more than twice the length (over 50 feet), and has three times the above ground living area (3,650 square feet).  The end result will present a 1,500 sqare foot, largely blank wall that will cast a deep shadow over its neighbor for most of the year.  

The design does not follow Seattle residential design principles of preserving qualities of the neighborhood (reinforcing open and green spaces), matching the height, volume and character of surrounding buildings (which are mostly in the American Craftsman and bungalow styles). What is the purpose of publishing these guidelines if they go unenforced, and are so misaligned with the profit-driven motives of developers?   If Seattle is serious about offering affordable housing, is it socially responsible to take a relatively affordable home off the market and replace it with a gargantuan box priced $1.5 million or more?

The building process is difficult for neighbors and little is done to mitigate that difficulty.  During the first eight months that the property was acquired by developer/Realtor Wilcynski, it was neglected to the point of being an overgrown eyesore that became a rat harborage.  Hundreds of falling apples and plums were left rotting throughout the summer and fall, providing an ample food source to rats that now have started spreading to neighboring lots and present a public health threat.  Soon demolition will commence, followed by many months of noisy and dirty construction.

For as long as anyone lives in my house, it will be in the shadow of a monstrous, rectangular box that diminishes the open and green qualities of our neighborhood.  The negative impact to public safety (flooding, slides, construction), health (rats, debris), environment (pollution, combined sewage overflows, destruction of trees), housing accessibility and quality of life should outweigh any profit-driven motive. Given the developer’s track record and the sensitivity and history of Madison Valley, it is a dangerous mistake to inflict this insensitive, big-box development upon our environment and our residents.

SMV and PCC: A Short History

Early this Spring Madison Valley learned that the property City People’s Garden Store sits on was being sold.  The first players we were introduced to were the developer, Velmeir, and the architect, Meng Strazzara.  We all waited in anticipation to learn who the anchor tenant would be.  And then the announcement came:  PCC was coming to Madison Valley.

Some people were happy: organic produce around the corner! PCC deli take-out for dinner every night!  Others were worried: what about Bert’s Red Apple? Essential Bakery? What about the traffic?  Many landed in the middle – neutral about the tenant, but very much focused on this new development coming to our neighborhood.

Save Madison Valley reached out to PCC on a number of occasions, wanting to respect their role as an anchor tenant—with both its strengths and limits-- and to engage them about the development that was ubiquitously being identified as “The PCC Project.” 

On May 23rd we sent a letter to the CEO, Cate Hardy, and to long-term Board member Carol Binder, explaining who we are and asking to meet with them to talk about our concerns and enlist their support in advocating for a more responsible and more conscientious design.

CEO Cate Hardy and Carol Binder agreed to meet with us June 17.  At that meeting Ms. Hardy told us that PCC was not involved in the design of the project, and that our concerns belonged with the Design Review process. Ms. Hardy also said she would pass our concerns on to the developer and architect.

On June 27 we sent an open letter to PCC addressed again to the CEO as well as all of the Board members individually. We wanted to be sure that the entire Board was apprised of the concerns that many in our community have, and some of the specific ideas we hoped they would help advocate for: a smaller footprint, reduced parking, affordable housing for families; preservation of the tree canopy.

There was no response to our open letter of June 27.

After the first Early Design Guidance meeting on July 13, we again reached out to PCC.  In a letter dated July 22 we sent a copy of our presentation to Ms. Hardy asking to meet.  We told her of the Design Board’s unanimous support, and conveyed that the Board had suggested PCC be involved as the developer and architect work to incorporate the changes that were recommended. 

Ms. Hardy declined to meet with us.

On July 30th Save Madison Valley wrote an open letter describing one vision of what responsible development for the City People’s site might look like.  We sent copies to PCC’s CEO, Board members, as well as the developer, architect, and still current owners of the property.

On August 7th we sent another email, again asking Ms. Hardy to meet with us.  We addressed the apparent contradiction between Ms. Hardy’s claim that PCC is not involved in the design, and that the first floor, entryway, and garage are designed to PCC’s specifications.

Again Ms. Hardy declined.

On September 26 we emailed PCC to say that three of us would be attending the Board meeting the following day.  (PCC’s website states that members are welcome, and asks that you email in advance to let them know you are coming.) 

The text of the comments we made at the PCC Board meeting on September 27 is available here

There was no reply from Ms. Hardy, or any of the members of the board, at that meeting, or in the time since.

We still hope we can engage PCC in a dialog about the unique qualities of this site and this neighborhood, and that they will use their influence as the anchor tenant to make this building one that aligns with PCC’s values of commitment to high quality, accountability, sustainability, and environmental conscientiousness.

If you have thoughts about this proposed development – do you want to preserve the mature urban tree canopy?  Put the exposed garage underground?  Do you want a smaller garage or a smaller store?  Are you concerned about the impact of traffic?  Please consider sharing your thoughts with PCC’s CEO Cate Hardy or the Board of Trustees, at:

catehardy@pccnaturalmarkets.com

board@pccnaturalmarkets.com

 

Traffic Flow

Guest post by Carla

Sitting here at essential bakery, looking out the window, I see a bus a FedEx truck and a Charlie's produce truck in a kind of gridlock at the intersection of MLK & Madison in front of Bailey Boushay.

It's stimulated me to think about the impact of the new development on traffic not only at that intersection, but at Madison and 29th and Madison and John rippling all the way to Madison and 23rd.

In other words, we shouldn't underestimate the impact of deliveries in and out of the neighborhood.

Be a light. Be a flame. Be a beacon.

Kate_memorial.jpg

Over the last nine months, our Madison Valley community has joined together to try to shape the development being proposed to replace City People’s nursery.  Many people working hundreds of hours have reaped the unexpected benefit of coming to know our neighbors better.  It’s drawn us much closer as a community. 

Some of us have lived here a while.  Many in our community came together to help our neighbors a decade ago in the aftermath of the Hanukkah eve storm.  We remember a significant loss from that storm: on December 14, 2006, Kate Fleming died at the end of 30th Avenue East when a flood trapped Kate in her basement.

Kate was an extraordinary person.  She would light up wherever she was, and in her presence we all felt special.  We miss her still and will remember Kate on Sunday, December 11 at the memorial dedicated to her. 

Please join us at noon on December 11.  Madison Valley residents will gather at Kate’s memorial on the south side of Madison about 30 feet west of the bus shelter across from Pagliacci Pizza to pay our respects and help weed and clean up the area around her memorial.  Please join us for this important event honoring Kate.

Early Design Guidance #2 Summary

Early Design Guidance: Round 2, happened Wednesday evening, October 26th.  The outcome: We’ll all be returning for a third round.  Overall, the Design Review Board said they were pleased the developer had made some changes in the right direction, but the Board unanimously agreed that it wasn’t enough yet.  A big thank you to the East Design Review Board members for upholding standards of excellence in design for this important project coming to our neighborhood! 

SMV EDG2

The Board seemed comfortable with the Madison frontage of the project, yet remained concerned about a number of aspects that affect the sides facing Dewey and Republican.  Specifically they asked the developer to address further the scale and bulk, the loss of the tree canopy and its replacement, the exposed garage, and questions about access (via Madison exclusively, or split onto Dewey also).

The Board got creative and offered some ideas of their own, too:  like housing on the Dewey frontage, rather than the two-story garage. 

If you missed the meeting you can read our summary of the Board comments that follow to get an idea of what happened.

Recap of Board comments & recommendations

Height, bulk & scale

  • Massing along Madison is ok.
  • Massing along Dewey is too much & does not respond appropriately to the residential part of the neighborhood.
  • Madison elevation has fair modulation, other side does not.
  • Board commented that there should be trade-offs (e.g. setback vs. height/bulk) and commented that 15’ setbacks are not needed with a smaller building.

 Residential frontage (Dewey)

  • Board had a strong (negative) response to the above ground parking garage on Dewey and tall walls.
  • The building frontage on Dewey should have more appropriate use, for example residential instead of parking. This needs more investigation.
  • Use should mirror use.

Parking garage access

  • Board is ambivalent about split access vs. single access. Board is ok with single access on Madison if it makes more sense.

Neighborhood impacts

  • Board had concerns about light spillage from the exposed garage and the street scape on Dewey.

Trees

  • Some board members expressed confusion about the changing status of exceptional trees and wondered if a circular argument was used to explain the status change (trees are no longer exceptional because they will not survive the development).
  • Board would like investigation into what can be done to preserve some of the existing trees.

Madison streetscape

  • Board would like to see a more generous sidewalk.
  • The vestibule is not a gathering space. It’s an entry and should be re-imagined as a proper vestibule.

Thank you for your support.  Please stay tuned for more about the next stages.  Visit our website, our face book group and page, and sign up for our email updates if you haven’t yet.

 We look forward to Saving – and growing – Madison Valley together.

You're Invited!

Save Madison Valley is throwing a party – a fundraiser – and we hope you’ll come! Bring a friend and join your fellow community members for an afternoon of food, drinks, and fun – and a chance to catch up on news about the development planned for the City People’s site.

We’re gathering Saturday October 1st, 3:00-6:30 pm, rain or shine, at the corner of E. Thomas St. and 31st Ave. E. in the horse’s corral.

At 4:30 Peter Steinbrueck, nationally recognized architect, design strategist, and community planner will talk about the development and be available to answer questions.

Save Madison Valley commissioned The Tilghman Group to provide an independent analysis of the developer’s traffic report. We will be sharing the results of that analysis. Come hear about the real impact the increase in traffic will have on our community.

Everyone is welcome. We are asking for a suggested donation of $10 to $100 per person. Cash or checks made out to Save Madison Valley, a non-profit organization.

This event has been generously underwritten so all proceeds go to support SMV’s advocacy efforts. Cash or checks only on the day of the event, please. If you prefer to use a credit card, you can do so before the 1st on our website by clicking donate.

Many thanks to neighbors Virginia Wyman, Dee Wyman, and Ann Wyman for planning and hosting this event.

 

Madison Valley has been my home for almost 40 years

Guest post by Yvonne

I moved to Madison Valley 38 years ago. I was young and single, and my neighbors were mostly older people who were raising their children. My neighbors became my family and they looked out for me.  My two sons grew up here, and now my granddaughter visits often. 

As the older people passed away, the make-up of the neighborhood began to change.  Even as new people have moved in, there’s still a neighborly and kind feel to our street. One thing that hasn't changed is we continue to look out for each other.  We still feel like family.

Yvonne

Madison Valley is a great place to live. I always felt that our street was the best kept secret of the neighborhood. It's quiet and I often feel a sense of peace and calm. I worry that the noise and congestion from an oversized development will negatively impact the reasons many of us moved here. 

Over the years I've enjoyed shopping at City People's.  I also used to be a regular at Hair by Boyce, when he was in the neighborhood.  Now I enjoy two of the newer additions, Pagliacci and Simply Soulful.

Madison Valley is a Treasure

Guest post by Shannon & Floyd

In search for the perfect place to raise our children, my husband and I found Madison Valley - a neighborhood filled with important intersections for us.  Madison Valley is where city and nature, people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, and old and new Seattle come together. 

12963545_10153534648143059_6607200450966919049_n.jpg

Our young children can ride their bikes and play basketball on our fairly protected street and we can walk to several lovely, quaint restaurants for a meal or to the arboretum for a play date.  In the over 5 years we have lived in Madison Valley, our lives have been enriched by the unique character of our neighborhood and the diversity of our neighbors.  Our children are exposed to the gifts a city brings through this diversity while getting to play in their backyard surrounded by trees and green space.  Madison Valley is a real treasure and we cannot imagine living anywhere else.   

Early Design Guidance Summary

Summary

The July 13th Early Design Guidance (Design Review) meeting at Seattle University was attended by all six of the East District Design Review board members, along with the City Planner, Magda Hogness.  Charles Strazzara, the architect hired by Geza De Gall, the local representative of Michigan based, Velmeir Corporation and designer of the project, presented to the board and public for the first 20 minutes.

The large crowd of over 100 people listened as Mr. Strazzara highlighted aspects of the project that he said would bring a “vibrant retail experience along with a mixed use residential” to Madison Valley.  Mr. Strazzara held up the arborist and geotech reports, and the traffic study, none of which were public at the time of the meeting.  He said the arborist found no trees meeting the criteria of “exceptional.”  The geotech report supports removing the entire hillside under the property down to E. Dewey Pl as a way for the building to stabilize the area.

Next, Mr. Strazzara gave a brief overview of the three building options.  Option one has an interior courtyard, necessitating pushing the building’s mass and volume to the edges of the property lines and making for “a big wall on Dewey, with a maximum height of 70 feet.”

The second option places the courtyard on Madison, making this a retail/pedestrian plaza.  This option would have the retail entrance below the sidewalk on Madison.  However, the mass and large wall issues, especially on the east (Dewey) and south (Republican) sides remain a challenge with this option.

Finally, option three, the one “preferred” by the developer, “pulls the majority of the building mass towards Madison, steps back the retail entrance 9 feet and provides a setback near the corner nearest the pea patch.”  Also, it provides a “10 foot setback on Dewey, 15 feet on Republican, and would have a recessed ‘back wall’ terraced to the upper floors, with a 46.6 foot wall facing Dewey.”

Mr. Strazzara said that the third option’s height calculations do not require zoning exceptions.  He said parking in this option would be “subterranean.”  Importantly, in this most recent version of option 3, the proposed parking garage entrance for tenants would be on Dewey, while the garage entrance for retail customers, freight loading and trash services would be on Madison.

Mr. Strazzara then moved to “design direction.” This would include using superior materials such as “brick, wood, steel and glass” on building exteriors.  Half of the 75 units would have balconies; the retail floor would be 16 feet high, rather than the 10 feet for the residential and parking garage floors.  The retail supermarket would have windows high up on the east wall.  There would be landscaped rooftops.  A staircase requiring approximately seven landings is planned from the northeast corner of the building down to Dewey Place.

Next, the Review Board members asked clarifying questions of the architect.  One question was what is the relationship of the third level roof terrace to Dewey.  Mr. Strazzara said that from Dewey there would be “36 feet of concrete, then the next three floors would be wood frame.”  The podium [retail] level allows for “mature landscaping (trees) directly above the podium level, with grass vegetation above that.”  The third level is planned to be an “activity level, with space for private rooftop terrace amenities, not a communal space.”  Also, the design calls for “keeping people away from the edge.”

The board’s next question was about the grade directly below the northeast corner where E. Mercer is undeveloped.  Mr. Strazzara said the “highest portion of the building façade is on the south east side of the hill climb assist, not on the right-of-way.”

The next question was to explain how and where services such as trash and retail loading would be.  Mr. Strazzara responded: “There would be a shared curb cut on Madison,” (where the current one is for the City Peoples’ parking lot) but Velmeir may ask for a “departure to extend the curb cut.”  Just inside the garage entrance would be trash services (bins and compactors), with the loading zone for trucks past this along the northern edge inside the garage entrance.  The loading bays would not accommodate large semi-rigs.  The proposal calls for “great signage” near the supermarket entrance.

Another board question was asking for an explanation of how the architect’s rendering showing full-size trees would be accomplished.  The architect said that there would be both deciduous and conifer type trees, breaking up the façade on Dewey with different tree types, likely primarily a columnar type.  For the blank wall on Dewey, the architect is “looking at ‘green’ walls, possibly ivy.”  For the parking garage structure he is proposing “5’x5’ cutouts” and a “decorative grid.”

Next, the board wanted to understand whether any of the plan options do not have “above ground screened parking on Dewey.”  In response, Mr. Strazzara said that while the “neighborhood guidelines promote subterranean parking, the proposed option is considered 70% subterranean.”  He went on to say that the garage structure is “predicated by the retail and residential space having something to support it.”  Also, 122 parking spaces are the code requirements; the project proposes 156 spaces as “we don’t want overflow parking on the street and the grocer has parking requirements.”

When asked by the board if the preferred option has “any departures,” Mr. Strazzara said that it does not contain any departures.

The board asked about the garage entrance on Dewey and what mitigation would be proposed.  The architect said that the “ramp would be at the west [?? should be south] end of Dewey.”  Another board concern was the visibility impact of concrete.  Mr. Strazzara was not sure what materials would be used.  He thought, some sort of “recessed wall, possibly stone baskets or poured concrete.”  Mr. Strazzara said:  “I like exposed concrete if it’s detailed correctly; it gets richer-looking over time.”  He continued: “At the grocery level there would be some sort of board; the Madison façade would be a type of long board, like the Ballard Commons, a high cost material.”  Also: “brick facing in keeping with Madison Lofts, and steel and glass for the retail storefront.”

Following the board clarifying questions were 20 minutes for public comments.  A number of Save Madison Valley (SMV) members presented grave concerns with the proposed plans.  These are detailed in the full SMV presentation.

Public Comments

The first person had a preference for option 2 as it could provide a “central community gathering space, and that the proposed building is an opportunity to change the area from a pass-through corridor to a destination neighborhood.”  Also: “a bus stop in front of the building would improve the experience.”  The next person thanked the architect for “proactive community involvement.”  A Madison Lofts resident preferred option 2, wanted more setback on the Madison side, possibly terraces with trellis material.  This person also had concerns about the backlit signage for the retailer, the height of the storefront windows, the loading dock, and the HVAC equipment on the roof.

A local merchant who is also an area resident was concerned about construction noise, traffic, the width of the garage entrance, as well as how deliveries and garbage would be handled.  Another person liked the proposed design, but wants a combination of options 2 and 3 because “the community needs a gathering space.”

A resident spoke up that the existing trees should remain, does not like “70 foot walls,” and does not want the hill climb staircase as it would: “cause parking on the residential street.”  Also, requests resident entrance on Madison.

A member of SMV spoke about a report by an urban ecologist on the site.  This report states that: “14,500 square feet of urban tree canopy would be destroyed.”  The report also notes that “snags [standing dead trees used for wildlife] and possible exceptional trees as well as a possible exceptional grove of trees” was not noted in the developer’s arborist report.  Further, the ecologist’s report said none of the trees on the site would survive the development.  The replacement value of these trees is estimated at $206,000.

The next comments were in support of option 3.  This person also supports “maximizing the F-A-R [Floor Area Ratio] to keep units affordable.”  Also, this person said the parking “seems appropriate,” and that “small units attract people who want to be car-free.”  He went on to say that he does not think: “Dewey would be impacted as much.”

Another 28-year Madison Valley resident said he thinks: “the project is way out of scale for the neighborhood, is concerned for the loss of the canopy, and suggests building within City People’s boundaries.”  Another long-time resident expressed similar sentiments, feeling the “building is too big for this area and that people would drive to PCC as a destination.”

Another Madison Lofts resident favored options 2 and 3, and said that height would not be a problem.  Someone else who lives nearby would bike to PCC, likes the architect “not using hardy panel on the street side, feels the transition on the single-family side “needs work,” and likes the “effort on transition from Madison and Dewey, wanting to see those connected.”

A person identifying as an “affordable housing advocate” thinks the height and scale are appropriate and the studios and one-bedroom units are needed.  Also, that the building “addresses the tree canopy issue, and would stabilize the slope and storm water retention.”

Written Comments

The board received written comments which were summarized:

  • Site is already a bottleneck – this would not help – cites guidelines
  • Several letters that the note taker was not able to get down
  • Lack of support for loading dock
  • Dewey would need to be upgraded to support traffic
  • Tree canopy concern
  • Pedestrian hazard on Dewey entrance
  • Would like to see building utilize Seattle green building standards
  • Support for retail space
  • Option 2 has big impact on residents below

Deliberation

Following public comments, the board spent about 20 minutes deliberating.  An outline summary of those deliberations follows:

  • Height/bulk/scale
  • Unique to this area – three options are ok for Madison but need more sensitivity to Dewey – south Dewey façade needs more work (unanimous). Work should continue on Madison side
  • Appreciate a more thorough height calculation discussion – need to know how this was done and could it be improved
  • DCI is looking at this
  • Doesn’t happen till zoning review
  • Concern about relationship to steep slope
  • Massing is consequence of site – one tax parcel – aggregation results in bigger footprint
  • Blank walls are a big concern
  • Tree canopy needs further study (see below)
  • Access for loading services
  • Having both entrances seems logical
  • Would like to see more info about planning for trash / services
  • Gathering / community center
  • Courtyard – PCC in Columbia City has indoor / outdoor seating; feels like a destination where you can shop and eat… advocates working with PCC directly
  • Gathering place is desirable for neighborhood
  • Tree canopy
  • Would like greater understanding of urban forest
  • Board would be reviewing arborist report next week, including exceptional tree / grove issue, plus snags
  • Board wants to see more details with landscaping plans 
  • Some concern about columnar row of trees – planting within setback. Feels like urban landscape gesture. 
  • Transition to single family 
  • Expressing as if it is possible – but it’s four stories on Dewey on top of parking… does not think that it’s an appropriate transition
  • Two stories of parking makes it less of a transition
  • Some solution for impact lies with alternate parking solutions
  • Troubled by blank walls – although there’s landscaping, would require multiple years to grow. Also need to look at Madison Lofts as neighbors
  • Topography - Not most sensitive response 
  • Architect has provided generous setbacks – appreciated 
  • Blank parking wall on Dewey concerning – feels suburban and inappropriate

Board's Conclusion

  • Option 1 least successful – wall on all sides, least respectful. Appreciated option 2, but affects single family residents. Likes hybrid, but needs to respect both sides of street
  • Height along Madison appropriate. Community stuff can be programed within building… interested in a massing option that would be more respectful of Dewey…
  • Option 3 most appropriate, but needs to come back for another meeting
  • Architect should continue to talk to community about preferred options; probably an amalgam of 2 and 3. Much more concerned about south side, parking options, trees. Needs to come back to board
  • Unanimous – project needs to come back. Key = massing off Dewey.
  • “Turning your back on neighborhood to south,” making screen; may not be best way to address single family. Paneling and row of trees not enough; this “doesn’t feel like building with life in it.”
  • Planner, Magda Hogness / DCI would notify parties of record

Following the meeting, a representative of the Department of Construction and Inspections visited the development site and issued a Correction Notice to Meng Strazzara (the architect) regarding the trees and applicable land use code. Click here to download the Correction Notice.

An Open Letter : Responsible Development in Madison Valley

Save Madison Valley was one of many voices at the July 13th Early Design Guidance meeting for the City People’s property.  We expressed concerns that mirrored many others’ in the greater community regarding the current plans to develop this property.  We also said that rather than simply opposing development, we hope to support and encourage responsible development.  But what does this mean?  Before offering an alternative, let’s review some of the facts.

City People’s sits on a unique site.  A large portion of the land is a steep slope overlooking single-family homes on two of its three sides.  The developer, with the aim to build the property out to its maximum capacity, is planning to remove the entire hillside, creating a building that is four stories on one side and six stories on the other.  In the process, this would wipe out the grove of trees--some over a hundred years old--which cover the hillside and serves as a buffer between commercial and residential property. Responsible development would not do this. 

Another consequence of this massive structure is a 156-car parking garage.  This is larger than the city’s building requirements – at a time when Madison Valley is about to be connected to the first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  Building an over-sized garage contradicts the move toward greater public transportation and is not responsible development.  And anyone who has driven through Madison Valley during rush hour knows it simply just doesn’t make sense. 

Because of all this—the context, the slope, the urban tree canopy, the congestion on Madison-- many in the community envision a smaller, less massive building.  This would be responsive to our community’s concerns and fit the neighborhood.  

A universal comment from people on every side of this conversation is that we all love City People’s and wish we didn’t have to say good-bye to them.  The fact is, we don’t.  The owners of the land City People’s sits on decided to sell.  That is their right.  However, the business owner and the forty some people who are the face of City People’s, feel differently.  They don’t want to leave us either.

So, these are some of the important concerns: a massive building that removes valuable green space, gets rid of one of the city’s last urban nurseries, adds immeasurably to already over-congested traffic, and reduces the livability and walkability of our thriving community.

What would be an alternative that makes sense to us?  We understand that PCC is committed to being in our area and has signed on to be the anchor tenant for the proposed development.  We think this could be a great fit.  What we would ask is that PCC considers a unique, more compact store tailored to this urban area and unique lot.  How about a 10-12,000 square foot grocery rather than a 25,000 square foot supermarket? 

This would leave enough floor space for another retailer – City People’s!  Yes, by reducing PCC’s footprint it would leave room for a new City People’s to stay.  Both retailers would be smaller.  This alternative would allow for the nursery to be on the rear of the site where it abuts single-family homes, while PCC would front Madison.  City People’s is an ideal commercial neighbor to single-family homes.  It is a business that thrives during the day, and is quiet and dark at night.  And PCC benefits from, and adds to, the already thriving business corridor along Madison. 

Some have asked for a development that incorporates public outdoor space for the community to gather.  PCC and City People’s patrons, as well as the greater community, would benefit.  This seems like a winning proposition for all – and a responsive and generous addition to the development of this land.

The Valley prides itself on having many family friendly qualities like schools, green spaces, bike lanes, and pedestrian-friendly zones.  Having more residential units available to families would enhance these qualities.  While the developer has made a nice gesture in response to public feedback and added more two-bedroom units, the current plan is still prohibitive for families because of the size and cost of the units.  Adding some affordable, family-sized apartments would bring in more families.

All of these alternatives result in another benefit.  Reducing the size of the building and increasing family-sized residences allows for the greatest possible reduction of the parking garage. On over 300 feet of the south side of the building as it is currently proposed, the garage is exposed, and there is an entrance on Dewey Place, a narrow residential street.  Responsible development would place the entire garage underground and remove the parking entrance from Dewey.  With BRT coming to our area, and by reducing the building’s parking spaces, we would be further supporting public transportation, reducing congestion and pollution, and helping to keep the roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Geza DeGall:  As the developer on this project, will Velmeir be responsive to Madison Valley’s desires for our community?  Can you balance profit with the appreciation of a community by creating a development that fits our neighborhood rather than offends it?

Cate Hardy:  Will you, as CEO of PCC, along with your Board of Trustees, heed the call of our community and take the steps to be a good neighbor by agreeing to a smaller grocery store with reduced parking?  Will you demonstrate those long-standing cooperative principals of being responsive to the community and good stewards of the environment?  Can this become a new model “urban” grocery for you?

Harley Broe, Judith Gille, Dianne Casper, and Carol Anderson:  As the owners of the property, if Mr. DeGall passes on this opportunity, can you take this lovely plot of land where you have supported a business that has given back to the community in untold ways for years, and sell it to another developer?  Better yet, a lot of people in the Valley are very serious about wanting City People’s to remain.  Some have talked of wanting to purchase the property.  One option among many is for the community to raise the money, much like the public did recently to purchase the radio station KPLU.  It looks like there may be enough community support to house two cooperatives here: a PCC grocery co-op and a City People’s nursery co-op-- along with family-friendly residences.  This would be a tremendous neighborhood asset, adding to the heart of our community and creating a truly desirable destination.

In sum, Save Madison Valley respectfully requests that those wanting to propose change in our community do so responsibly.  We urge that any development in our neighborhood takes into consideration more than just maximizing your profits, but also respects the values of this vibrant community, one that we want you to be a part of and a good neighbor to. 

Our Presentation to the Design Review Board

Here is the presentation Save Madison Valley made to the Seattle East Design Review Board in case you weren't able to join.

Click here to download the PDF.

Save Madison Valley also commissioned a report by Matthew Patterson, MSES/MPA detailing his analysis of the ecosystem on the development site. This report was submitted to the Design Review Board.

Click here to download the Ecosystem Report.

Design Review Board Asks Velmeir for Changes

Tonight Velmeir and Meng Strazzara presented their development proposal for the City People's site to the Design Review Board. Save Madison Valley gave a coordinated presentation of how the proposed Velmeir building was inconsistent with many of the City's Design Guidelines, and numerous people spoke up for and against the proposal as it was presented.

After listening to the architect and the community, the Board members discussed the proposed development with each other and found it to be lacking. The Board suggested several changes that it would like to see in the next proposal.

What does this mean? The proposed Velmeir development will need to go through a second Design Review Meeting giving the Board and the community another opportunity to weigh in.

Thanks to everyone who donated time, money, and energy. The journey is far from over and we will need the support of the community as we continue to advocate for development that brings a positive addition to the neighborhood.

Stay tuned for more information!