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.