Archive | October, 2010

A beautiful letter to DPD from Montlake resident

30 Oct

I live down the hill in Montlake, and have kids at Stevens Elementary so I frequently visit the Volunteer Park Café.

1.       I believe that the Café simultaneously brings value to the extended neighborhood while negatively impacting its immediate neighbors (I will not into the cases of harm because they are well-documented here:

2.       I believe that the mark of an enlightened society is when members of an unafflicted group lend support to an afflicted group

I do not feel personally impacted by the plans of the Café to expand. However, I do want to comment on a few things. There is a natural propensity to enjoy the value of the Café without feeling or acknowledging the impact it brings to its immediate neighbors. Unfortunately for those homeowners, they are at a real disadvantage to find supportive voices  – they are relatively limited in number, they don’t have an installed base of supportive clientele, and they don’t have anything to offer (they are simply private citizens).

It seems to me that the Café owners have capitalized on this imbalance to harness the energy of contempt-without-investigation, to rally their clientele for their cause. However, I see evidence that the Café has a history of willfully disregarding their zoning limitations, has made misleading pledges of cooperation with their closest neighbors, and lacks a willingness to compromise (in the form of an offered settlement) even while they themselves are outside the law.

I’m sympathetic to the homeowners because they appear to be unfairly burdened with proving the negative. This is backwards. I think that the burden of proof should be on the Café, that they should be required to have the support of their closest neighbors before receiving a permit to expand.

And I would hope that someday my fellow citizens (and the DPD) would look out for me in similar fashion if I was at a numerical disadvantage like this.

David Kaill
Kombi, Inc.

Before this public process, two members of Volunteer Park Neighbors had a passing relationship with David. All of Volunteer Park Neighbors thank David for is nuanced understanding of this complex situation.


List of Confirmed Violations by Volunteer Park Café since 2006

26 Oct

Staff not permitted to serve (ie: carry out) anything to sidewalk customers. No alcohol at all is permitted outside 'grocery' space.

Volunteer Park Cafe has been open for more than 4 years without the required zoning permit.

  • This includes nearly one year since the City identified it as a violator.
  • The City is allowing the restaurant to stay open until it resolves it’s current land-use violation.

In May, 2010, VPC stated publicly, “We are not in violation and are legally compliant. We just need to change our non-conforming use.”

  • The statement followed directly VPC’s zoning violation from The Department of Planning & Development (DPD).
  • At that time, we knew only that VPC was operating outside its nonconforming use of “grocery.”
  • We have since learned that  VPC has a long list of land-use violations.

Reading it can be disorienting, especially for those who experience VPC solely as a well-looked-after customer. We have documentation for every claim.

1. No Use Permit

  • VPC opened as a restaurant without obtaining the necessary land-use approvals.  in other words, VPC has operated illegally since the day they opened.
  • Their current location, 1501 17th Ave. E., is part of a Single Family 5000 zone (single-family residences on lots no smaller than 5,000 square feet).
  • City of Seattle Land Use Code allows “non-conforming” uses under certain conditions.
  • The only business approved for 1501 17th Ave E. is a grocery; this non-conforming use applies only to the inside of the first floor of the building.
  • The second floor and back yard are ‘residential,’ in keeping with neighborhood zoning and land-use.
  • VPC is currently seeking a land-use change to allow ‘restaurant’ use of the first and second floors of 1501.

2. No Building Permit

  • VPC made changes to the interior of the building, including construction of a new commercial kitchen.
  • Permits helps ensure that fire safety and other codes are being met.
  • Fire safety is one of our primary concerns, given the occupied residential units above the restaurant, and the proximity of VPC to our homes.

3. No Sidewalk Permits

Sidewalk tables ready for standard but illegal dinner service.

  • When it opened in 2007, had no SDOT permit for sidewalk seating.
  • Soon after opening, the restaurant began serving food and alcohol on the sidewalk front of the restaurant’s entrance.
  • VPC applied for sidewalk permits in the spring of 2010. SDOT turned down the request.
  • In August, 2010, VPC obtained sidewalk permits.
  • VPC now has two (2) Street Use permits.
  • One is granted for the area directly in front of the building’s entry on 17th Ave. East. The second is for the stretch of the building that runs along Galer.

4. Misuse of Sidewalk Permits

  • Both permits (Use Code 14B) have the following restrictions:

¤ A maximum of four tables; two chairs each, open to the public.

¤ No alcohol permitted.

¤ Pedestrian passage of 5’-0” maintained at all times.

¤ No service of food or beverage permitted.

  • Through the summer of 2010, VPC’s standard sidewalk set-up used all tables and chairs on the front sidewalk (17th Ave. E.).
  • This set-up violated the required 5-foot passage.
  • VPC served lunches and dinners, including alcohol, in clear violation of the SDOT permit.

5. Misrepresentation on application for liquor liscence.

  • VPC stated incorrectly that they were a legally permitted use.
  • VPC failed to disclose their proximity to a school as required under the law.

6. In early 2010, VPC began building a patio area in the backyard with a clear intent to use it for commercial purposes.

  • Again, VPC did not seek the necessary land use approvals.

Oct. 12, 2010: illegal commercial use of back patio.

7. Use of Patio after DPD Warning and Violation Notices

  • Despite full knowledge as of spring 2010 that the patio could not legally be used for commercial purposes, VPC held backyard events on at least 3 occasions over the summer.
  • At this time VPC had not legalized their restaurant, let alone obtained legal land-use for commercial use of the patio.
  • Violations continued even after VPC submitted the application stating that they did not plan to use the patio for commercial purposes.

We have always been willing to live with — and enjoy — a legally compliant 40-seat restaurant, despite VPC’s impacts involving noise, traffic, parking, cooking odors, garbage overflows and more.

We’re not willing to live with the possibility of 30 more seats on a patio or use of the 2nd floor, and the ensuing greater impacts on our families.

Final advice for DPD letters

25 Oct

Letters to Seattle’s Deat. of Public Development” are due Wed., Oct. 27th. Volunteer Park Neighbors encourages anyone who misses the deadline to submit, regardless. We are engaged in a public process that includes a number of phases, any of which can be influenced by your opinion.

Your letter to DPD doesn’t have to be a definitive statement about the situation or an up-or-down vote. DPD wants to hear your questions, observations, and suggestions as much as they want your opinion about impacts on the neighborhood. For example:

VPC’s inability to accept their responsibility in addressing the impacts of their business on our neighborhood and on our lives is why, at this time, we do not support their request to legally operate the restaurant they have been operating illegally at our expense.

Click here for additional information regarding VPC’s misuse of their illegal back patio and how that might influence your letter.

Volunteer Park Neighbors is asking the City to deny VPC’s zoning change on the grounds that:

  • they operate at a shocking level of illegality; and
  • they are clearly intent on expanding to include a patio, which, according to our data, the majority of the neighborhood feels would cause too many negative impacts.

Rather than expanding, VPC should put their energy in to legalizing their existing business.

DPD responds to latest patio misuse, 10/12.

24 Oct

As updated here, yesterday, Seattle’s DPD responded to our concern that VPC was getting up to its old tricks, serving on the patio for which they are not zoned.

According to the DPD, “Ericka said they had a photo shoot for a magazine. She also said that she asked those young people to leave when she saw them and the tables were removed when they were completed.”

VPC proved long ago that they get their way by getting away with the little stuff first. Right now, they have their hearts set on opening the back patio.

  • Civilians shoot a bunch of pictures. A photo shoot is a commercial activity.
  • VPC does not have zoning to use the patio for commercial purposes.
  • Unless the upstairs residents invited those young people as their guests and VPC did not charge them for their food, they are customers.
  • VPC is not zoned to serve customers on the patio.

VPC is in the middle of a defining public process. Now is the time for them to demonstrate that they understand that mitigating their impact is critical to running a business in a residential neighborhood; that in fact, it is the only way they will be allowed to do so.

Maybe VPC forgot to move the chairs. Maybe they forgot to lock the gates and someone saw the pretty set-up and thought it was OK to eat there. Maybe VPC forgot to mention to a customer who was heading out-doors with their VPC plate settings that dining on the patio was illegal. It sounds like VPC let them finish their meal.

Hold VPC accountable for the business decisions that impact the neighbors.

Perhaps accountability will give Ericka and Heather the motivation to move tempting chairs, to mention to customers that they are not yet allowed to eat outside.

Is VPC serving on their back patio?

14 Oct

Eating on the back patio at VPC. (10/12/10)

UPDATED 10/21: The City told VP Neighbors it would investigate. They planned to have a response by Friday, 10/22.

Although VPC has been ordered by The City Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to cease patio service, today, again, at least two people enjoyed dining the sun, using VPC’s tableware.

This summer, DPD shut down the patio as VPC did not have the correct zoning. Though VPC’s illegal land use (aka: zoning) also applied to their restaurant, DPD allowed VPC to continue restaurant operations while they rectified their zoning.

In order to stay open in the long-term, DPD required VPC to 1) change their zoning by public process or 2) come into compliance with their current zoning (‘non-conforming use’: grocery). VPC is currently involved in the public process. Should they be denied their zoning change, they can still operate within their existing zoning.

In its application to the DPD for zoning change, VPC says it expects to use the patio for outdoor cooking and “activities allowed in single family zones by the Seattle Municipal Code.”

New page: Your DPD Letter

14 Oct

By popular demand, we are launching a page devoted to ideas and language you can adapt for your comment letters to DPD, deadline: Oct. 27th. *Scroll down for information about VPC’s back patio.*

First, however, the neighbors recommend that you read about the core issue up for public comment:

Should VPC be allowed to change their current land use from operating a ‘grocery’ as the single exemption in a residential neighborhood to operating a restaurant, also as the sole exemption in a residential area.

Galer blocked on school mornings

In the close-to-four years since VPC has opened, they have more than doubled the impacts of any previous business in 1501 17th Ave. E. Should anyone wish to gauge impact, compare any time of any day of the week with the comparable time on any Monday, when VPC is closed.

The DPD wants to know if you have experienced negative impacts related to:

  • traffic (there is considerably more of it, leading to unsafe parking and illegal u-turns)
  • delivery parking (there is no place for delivery trucks to park without blocking a street, alley, or sightline)
  • noise (early morning set-up; closing clean-up,; garbage and recycling, city service as well as VPC’s; customers from wine dinners and Sunday Suppers pouring onto the street up to as late as 11:30pm)
  • Cooking odors (meats, garlic, pizza, baked goods; what if you are diabetic, or on a diet?)
  • housing values
  • Garbage and scavenders do not influence DPD’s decision. The city maintains that VPC should be able to address those issue. That they have not and may never does not matter to the City. Those issues should (and are, by Volunteer Park Neighbors) be addressed with departments of transportation, police, etc.

Be as specific as you can.

  • Rather than, “Back in the day, we could (insert issue) and now, because of VPC (insert difference) ” use specific instances: dates, months, seasons and/or years.
  • Rather than saying, “I’m worried about housing values” ask an agent or realtor for an assessment.
  • If you have a photo or video clip of what the street used to be like related to the issue you are describing, include it in your submission. If not, take a photo of VPC on any Monday, when it is closed.
  • It is particularly effective to include an image of the current situation related to your issue.
  • You are legally allowed to take photos as long as you stay on city property (street, sidewalk) or on private property with the permission of the owner, .
  • Although you are legally allowed to enter VPC, Volunteer Park Neighbors does not support this action. We have never done so and do not intend to. VPC gives us ample opportunity to document infringements without unduly disturbing their business.
  • People eating outside understand they risk being photographed in an illegal situation. If restaurant customers are uncomfortable, Volunteer Park Neighbors have long suggested that they eat inside the restaurant. Our goal has always been to keep VPC operations to what is reasonable to ask the neighborhood to support: first floor, inside the building.

Patio used illegally (8/5/10); half the number we can expect for outdoor dinners

In your letter, point to concerns you have regarding VPC’s stated intent to use their newly-built patio for lunch and dinner service, for wine dinners and Sunday suppers, for additional special events, and for out-door grilling of meats.

To be clear: VPC’s current proposal relates only to creating a legal situation for their currently illegal use of the grocery space on the first floor.

  • They wish to change their current zoning to reflect that which they have operated as from the day they opened: a restaurant.
  • In their submission to the DPD, the language regarding the back patio is at the very least, intellectually dishonest.
  • To date. VPC has illegally: remodeled to include a commercial kitchen, operated as a restaurant when zoned as grocery and leased as cafe; expanded menu offerings; expanded use of sidewalk seating; and now, opened a back patio.
  • Their words and actions show clearly that they have no intention to stay off the back patio.
  • Every single expansion of their operation has been taken without permitting, without consultation with the neighbors regarding possible impacts, without pro-actively offering offsets, and without willingness to address anything until neighbors brought down the hammer.

If history teaches us anything, we can count on the following:

  • Once VPC legalizes their first floor as a restaurant, they will serve out back without permitting. In fact, they already have.
  • They will ignore neighbors’ complaints.
  • The back patio could conceivably double VPC’s current impact (which, in itself, is double the impact of any previous business).
  • Many customers will have no problem with the impact on our neighborhood. Approximately 40% drive (and park) here from other parts of the city.
  • Customers will come to expect back patio service. Many in the neighborhood will accept it.

In the words of one concerned neighbor, “We could be talking about a high-end Bennigan’s.”

Please submit your letter to DPD by Oct. 27th.

Call received regarding illegal treatment of dog.

13 Oct

Volunteer Park Neighbors received a call noting how often an animal is left unleashed or illegally tied up in front of VPC. Owners are not permitted to leave an animal tied up on a sidewalk or street. Unleashed animals are not permitted on sidewalks.

Volunteer Park Neighbors can assist with recording your observations, but would like to point out that it is best for individuals to speak directly to VPC. Neighbors can help you determine your next steps and assist in any way we can.

Parking impact

10 Oct

View from neighbor's driveway.

Cafe customer completely blocks a neighbor’s driveway.

We are shocked that we were able to take this photo during the public comment period resulting from VPC’s request for a land-use change. The land-use change process asks VPC to demonstrate that their business would cause no more impact than the previous legal use of the space: a grocery store.

If VPC cannot try to reduce their parking impact during the public comment period, we have no reason to believe that that would make any attempt during a standard business operations.

Volunteer Park Neighbors requests that you make an informed decision.

8 Oct

As the public process goes public, neighbors are left wondering why VPC’s first and consistent course of action has been to take their stance to the court of public opinion. We wish that VPC had used the same energy to address our legitimate concerns directly with us.

Despite misinformation on the part VPC, neighbors have attempted to comply with the requests of several City departments curtail our activities to documenting the issues. That has been our attempt; often times, to our public disadvantage.

We hope you consider our honest attempt to do the right thing as you read VPC’s compelling populist appeal in contrast with our solid if unsexy documentation of legitimate issues affecting our daily lives, our very homes.

The issue up for public comment is: VPC’s requested zoning change from grocery to restaurant. Volunteer Park Neighbors offered to write our letters to DPD in support VPC’s zoning change if VPC would address our reasonable concerns. Chief among them is our object to their stated interest in expanding service to their back patio.

VPC’s website requests public support

8 Oct

Today, neighbors confirmed that VPC has gone public with their requests for letters and phone calls. On their homepage, VPC states:

YOU have the opportunity to let the city know how much we love and support the Volunteer Park Cafe. The cafe needs to change zoning from a grocery to a restaurant. YOU can make that happen …

REQUEST a formal public hearing.
Let Scott know you are a friend and/or neighbor and how much you love and need the cafe.
Let Scott know you support the zoning change to a restaurant.

Neighbors are confused as to the benefit of a public hearing, beyond stirring up a great deal of public outrage. Despite deliberate misinformation on the part VPC, neighbors have attempted to comply with the requests of sevearl City departments: document the issues and try not to cause a big ruckus.

Is should also be noted that VPC refers solely to “it’s easy” request to change zoning to a restaurant. VPC fails to mention:

  • their unwillingness to address neighbors’ legitimate concerns in what should be standard offsets (“mitigations”) any business – particularly a restaurant – should provide to the neighborhood.
  • their current illegal status: operating a full-service restaurant without first obtaining a zoning change.

Neighbors feel this public appeal exemplifies the VPC disingenuous approach to what should be their primary business concern at the moment: addressing their negative impacts on what they call their neighbors.

You can read the full request here.

Deadline for comments extended.

6 Oct

Today, the comment period for VPC’s request to change their land use to legalize a restaurant was extended to 10-27-2010.

CHS: “Inside Volunteer Park Cafe’s application.”

1 Oct

Subtitled “9 proposals to be a better neighbor,” CHS (aka: the Capitol Hill blog) opens their article with:

CHS has reviewed VPC’s application — and a two-inch stack of support letters the cafe submitted with the application — and has details below as well as information about how you can add your support to the VPC stack, voice your concerns about allowing the change of use, or both.

You can read the full article here.