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.