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Public Meeting Redux

25 Apr

This evening, an open public meeting took place at Stevens Elementary School to discuss Volunteer Park Café’s application to change the land-use of the space it rents (the first floor and one of the second floor residential units of 1501 17th Ave. E) from ‘grocery’ (and in the case of the upstairs, ‘residential’) to ‘restaurant.’

The meeting was well attended and remarkably civil. We thank everyone who attended for sharing their views concisely and with respect. We hope neighbors can continue the discussion in the same successful vein.

The meeting began with a brief recap of the situation by Scott Kemp, the planner from The Department of Planning & Development (DPD) assigned to this case. After Mr. Kemp spoke, representatives from VPC and VP Neighbors spoke, primarily reaffirming our commitment to working together and in conjunction with DPD. Mr. Kemp then opened the meeting for comments.

By and large, Mr. Kemp simply allowed residents to speak. Occasionally, he would step in to explain points of law or to clarify a question about the process required to change one non-conforming use to another.

A specific point addressed by Mr. Kemp seemed to clarify greatly the issue of the “agreement.” In effect here are two “agreements”:

  1. The private agreement currently in process between three entities: the building’s owner, the resident who filed the initial complaint with DPD, and VPC itself; and
  2. The public decision by DPD regarding the request for the change of nonconforming use.

Mr. Kempt clarified that the public decision is just that: a matter of public record, available to any resident who requests it. The private agreement is between the parties involved.

Without giving a date or time frame, Mr. Kemp stated that he would soon announce  the DPD’s decision regarding the land-use change.

We would like to acknowledge that we heard a number of residents register concern that they did not feel invited into VP Neighbors.

  • We invite any resident to contact us with suggestions as to how we can address your concerns.
  • Please contact individual members of VPN or through the contact information listed on this site.

In closing, we would like to reiterate our message from last night. While the currently permitted use of the building is as a grocery, Volunteer Park Neighbors has always stated the current best use can be as a restaurant with limits that make sense for our residential neighborhood.

Members of VPN remain committed to working with Volunteer Park Café towards an agreement that would allow VPN to support VPC’s restaurant permit application, while also protecting the character of our neighborhood now, and in the future.


VPC again ordered to correct and re-submit floor plans

23 Mar

For the second time, DPD has ordered VPC to correct and re-submit floor plans for its proposed land-use change.

The restaurant’s recently submitted plans (requested from DPD in Dec., 2010) omitted correct building plans for the 2nd floor. VPC set up an office where legal use allows only for a studio apartment or similar residential use. The improper office is still in use.

DPD (Seattle’s Department of Planning & Development) also is reviewing a Parking Study it requested from VPC in mid-November, 2010, (submitted on March 14th, 2011, with the above-mentioned corrections of floor plans). DPD stated it needed such a Study to compare parking impacts of the small grocery (that existed until 2002, as the last legal use for the building) with that of the proposed use (the restaurant now operating illegally).

VPC’s study doesn’t attempt to compare the actual parking demand of VPC to that of the defunct grocery.

  • Instead, VPC cites generic numbers from a guide used by parking planners; which states that
  • in an urban setting, a small grocery or convenience store generates about half the parking demand of a small restaurant.

This important to DPD’s decision regarding the legalization of Volunteer Park Café:

  • the City’s zoning laws are supposed to protect homeowners against a big increase in the impacts caused by a business “grandfathered” into a residential neighborhood.

You can read the most recent correction notice here. The document is public record.

VPC ordered to submit parking study, site plans by March 15

15 Feb
Today, The Department of Planning & Development (DPD) gave VPC a deadline of March 15 for the site plans it requested in early Dec., and for the parking study requested in mid-November. DPD doesn’t set such deadlines unless an applicant is delaying the process. 

DPD determined that both elements were insufficient in the Condiitonal Use Application VPC filed in September.

  • Documentation such as traffic counts and photos demonstrate impact or lack of impact.
  • Our photos (below) document some of the impacts neighbors are asked to bear as a result of VPC’s current restaurant.
  • You can view additional documentation here and here.

17th Ave E on 10/9/10 (VPC open). Gray roof on right is VPC.

THE BACKGROUND:

  • In May of 2010, the DPD found VPC in violation of their land-use, which allows a ‘grocery.’ Since 2007, VPC has been illegally operating a restaurant.
  • In Sept., after missing two deadlines, VPC filed a Administrative Conditional Use Application, requesting a land-use change. The document requires VPC to demonstrate that their proposed use (‘restaurant’) will cause no more impact to the neighborhood than the current use (‘grocery’).
  • Same vantage on 10/4/10 (VPC closed). Gray roof on right is VPC

    Currently, VPC illegally operates the restaurant they are proposing in their CUA. This complicates matters.

  • DPD has allowed VPC to continue to operate as-is until the land-use is resolved.
  • DPD has since asked VPC for the two corrections (described above) to their CUA.

VPC’s Application: The Back Yard – The Heart of the Conflict

26 Jan

VPC is asking neighbors to live this close to its impacts:

View of  patio at lunch, taken from neighbor’s kitchen.

As a reminder, VPC did not open in a commercial or mixed-use neighborhood. We live in a residential neighborhood. VPC rented a ‘grocery’ space in a quiet, residential neighborhood, named itself a cafe, and proceeded to operate an illegal restaurant. For this reason, DPD found VPC in violation and required VPC to submit the Administrative Conditional Use Application.

2. VPC’s application states that “No food or beverage service is proposed for the outdoor area behind the restaurant.”

  • Setting aside for the moment that the not-proposed service has taken place:
  • VPC’s Improving Customer Relations page states, “Our permit application with the city does not include out-door seating in the garden …. Yes, we may have stated we were considering it in past press statements, but mere grousing doesn’t contravene (sic) the actual facts presented in our permit application to the city.”
  • As noted by Capitol Hill blog, “The application doesn’t say people can’t take their food outside. Nor does the application document mention limits on special events that might fill the area on a regular basis. It’s the kind of thing that could well be within a permitted (restaurant’s) rights. It could also drive nearby neighbors nuts.”
  • In their application, VPC states the patio will “provide an outdoor area for the single family residence located above the restaurant, and other activities allowed in single family zones by the Seattle Municipal Code.”
  • Over the summer, VPC illegally used the patio for service (above) and for a special event (below) they claim was “allowed in single family zones by the Seattle Municipal Code.” It drove us nuts:

Second view of  patio from neighbor’s kitchen.
And the party is just getting started:


  • Party in full swing. We will not endure this level of impact.

 

3. VPC has never stated conclusively that they will not apply for patio use in the future. That VPC claims they “do not plan” patio service is simply not believable.

Bricked, tented, and ready for events VPC states are 'allowed in single family zones.'

Bricked and tented; patio service should not be 'allowed in single family zones.'

 

  • VPC did not build a brick patio in order to use it primarily for gardening.
  • VPC never had the legal status to operate restaurant, yet has done so since opening in 2007.
  • VPC has not yet managed its current size in manner respectful to neighbors, yet insists it will operate fine on a larger scale.

Next: Building Permit CompliancePlease subscribe to our blog.

VPC’s Application: Noise/Hours of Operation

22 Jan
In their Administrative Conditional Use Application, VPC contends that it generates noise levels compatible with a residential neighborhood. This claim is not based on any formal analysis.
  • We feel it is unreasonable to expect neighbors to tolerate noise from the restaurant later than 9pm.
  • Staff should endeavor to be out by 10pm at the latest.
  • Our neighborhood is not zoned for commercial use. It is not zoned for mixed use. VPC chose to open and then to expand in a residential neighborhood.
  • Regardless of whether VPC is granted the change in land-use from ‘grocery’ to ‘restaurant,’ it will be held to the limits of the residential neighborhood.

VPC’s application refers to “natural noise buffers” and “physical distances” as mitigating factors.

  • There are no natural noise buffers.
  • The physical distance between VPC and the single-family residence directly to the north is only  6-1/2 feet. The residence is five feet from the property line. VPC is 18 inches from it.

Noise was not an impact when a grocery store, which closed at 6pm, occupied the inside of the first floor.

Next up: The Back Patio. Please subscribe to our blog.

VPC’s Application: Street Use Permits/Noise

18 Jan

The Administrative Conditional Use application requires VPC to demonstrate that noise emanating from sidewalk seating for the proposed use would be no more than that from the previous legal use (in this case, a mom-and-pop grocery).

  • Any business at 1501 is fully accountable for all noise it generates, regardless of whether it operates under ‘nonconforming use: grocery’ or ‘nonconforming use: an eating and drinking establishment.’

In its application, VPC omits any measurement of the interior noise levels, which are certainly far louder than those of a neighborhood grocery.

  • Groceries of this size would rarely have more than a handful of patrons at one time. It is hard to imagine all of them  be engaged in conversations at the same time.
  • Based on full capacity use of the interior seating configuration during a typical Wine Dinner, there are likely to be 15 to 20 conversations in progress (including employees); plus sounds of glasses, plates, etc.
  • When VPC’s inadequate ventilation causes staff to open the front window above the entrance, some neighbors receive a barrage of dining noise. The level can be quite disturbing throughout warm months.

The below information is posted not to further hammer VPC. We post it to underline our objection to their proposed expansion.

Illegal sidewalk service is common; in fact, is one of VPC's key attributes

 

Until late into 2010,VPC operated sidewalk service without any permits from  Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

After obtaining permits, VPC operated outside limitations laid out by their permits.

  • Taking orders and serving food: not allowed under their current sidewalk permit (14 B).
  • Allowing alcohol: no alcohol at all is allowed on the patio, not even if customers carry it out themselves (as they are allowed to do with food).
  • Seating: VPC improperly stuffed 16 chairs and 8 tables onto the 17th Avenue E. frontage.
  • We have correspondence in which SDOT acknowledges that the permit for 17th allows half that amount.

Drinking alcohol on sidewalk also common; also illegal

 

After 10pm, neighbors often have to suffer with the noise made by the departure of loud, often tipsy dinner patrons.

  • VPC’s well-attend “Wine Dinner” nights can be particularly loud, and run particularly late.
  • The Sept. 10, 2010, “Charles Smith Wine Dinner” packed the house and ended at 11:30 p.m.
  • VPC’s Facebook page boasts the consumption of 72 bottles of wine.

Given VPC’S poor record of mitigating their impacts, we do not expect that fewer impacts will result from operating a larger restaurant.

This post continues a series of posts analyzing VPC’s application to change their land-use to legalize the operation of their restaurant.

VPC’s Application: Commercial Delivery & Parking

13 Jan

This post continues a series of posts analyzing VPC’s application to change their land-use to legalize the operation of their restaurant.

VPC’s Administrative Conditional Use application states:

In order to address the potential parking and traffic impacts of commercial deliveries for both the existing and proposed use, the Volunteer Park Café and Marketplace has made a request to SDOT that a 30 minute (sic) load unload zone be placed in adjacent to the restaurant.

Once a solution is identified, Volunteer Park Café and Marketplace will share it with neighborhood representatives to make sure they prefer the proposed solution to the current situation.

Currently, VPC has put no resolution into effect. Furthermore, all other feasible locations for the proposed 30-minute zone would simply move the traffic disruption to that area.

Illegal delivery parking creates hazard. (Sept., 2010)

 

Commercial delivery vehicles park on the planting strip on Galer, immediately west of the 17th & Galer intersection:

  • blocking the sight triangle at 17th and Galer by parking;
  • blocking the view up Galer to the west. (This condition is compounded by pedestrians crossing to/from the VPC as well as pedestrian and automobile traffic due to Stevens Elementary School just one block east.)

Galer delivery: identical parking, luckily no school bus

The intensity of the impact, quantified by the number of daily deliveries, has increased from that of the grocery store.

VPC’s Application: Owners Compound Parking Problems

7 Jan

Photo A: Co-owner Earnhardt blocks hydrant

As noted here, VPC’s owners usually drive their cars to work.

Photo A shows VPC Co-owner Heather Earnhardt parked so as to block access to the fire hydrant directly across from her own restaurant. There are many legal spots available.

Photo B shows a parking double-whammy: one Monday last summer, VPC was closed per its usual hours. Plenty of parking spots. However, a VPC vendor parked in the stop sign “red zone” in front of the VPC. Across the street, Co-owners Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt each parked illegally, blocking the fire hydrant.

Photo B: delivery truck in red zone while across the street, both owners illegally block hydrant.

VPC’s Application: Customer Parking Impacts

3 Jan

17th Ave. E., facing north (VPC open)

This post continues a series of posts analyzing VPC’s application to change their land-use to legalize the operation of their restaurant.

As we state here: “VPC’s application tries to downplay VPC’s success by stating that it rarely reaches full occupancy.” The section related to  “Parking” {page 2, #3} is a classic example.

We experience parking impacts daily, particularly on weekends. VPC relies entirely on on-street parking. Its customers monopolize parking spaces that would normally be associated with residences.

This issue did not exist when a grocery store operated at this location.

17th Ave. E., facing north (VPC closed)

VPC offers no hard data on traffic or customer travel habits, nor does it demonstrate how they know whether or not their patrons drive. Instead, C-owner Ericka Burke offers weak assurances that many current employees walk or bike to work. This is an unsubstantiated claim. It cannot be relied upon to determine impact.

Additionally:

  • any and all of those employees could quit and be replaced by workers who drive to VPC;
  • both owners live far from the restaurant. They usually drive their cars to work;
  • VPC attracts people from well beyond the Capitol Hill neighborhood. They are listed in the worldwide guide, Zagat.
  • The grocery store drew from the local neighborhood.

In October, 2010, Volunteer Park Neighbors undertook a parking study. Photographs and parking counts documented significant differences in parked vehicles on Mondays (VPC closed) vs. Saturday (brunchtime).

Results of parking study (Oct. 4 - Oct. 9, 2010)

Click here to see the zones we established for the purpose of our parking study.

Notes on the Seattle Land Use Code

  • The Code calculates parking for a restaurant at 1 stall/250 SF.
  • For sales & service – general, the requirement is 1/500 SF.
  • The restaurant parking impact based upon this simple measure is double that of a grocery store.

In its application,VPC states that the City Land Use Code excuses it from providing off-street parking. Setting aside for a moment the puzzling fact that VPC quotes Land Use Code while operating illegally, the lack of an off-street parking requirement does not excuse VPC from mitigating its own impacts.

On Nov. 17th 2010: Seattle’s Department of Planning & Development (DPD) issued a Corrections Required notice, asking VPC to provide a parking study comparing the neighborhood parking impact of the previous legal use (a grocery store) to that of the restaurant the are proposing.

VPC’s Application: Building Permit Compliance

28 Dec

This post continues a series of posts analyzing VPC’s application to change their land-use to legalize the operation of their restaurant.

VPC’s “Improving neighbor relations” page states:

“From day one, our commercial kitchen was inspected and approved by the city to meet all regulations, including exhaust. As part of the current permit process with the Department of Planning and Development, we will again work with the city to ensure we meet all regulations for cooking exhaust.”

VPC passed the inspection by the Seattle-King County Health Department. There is no evidence of VPC having filed for or received Building Permit Compliance to allow construction of the kitchen, the exhaust system, or other related components. Separate City department oversee health inspections and building code compliance.

Both are critical. They are not interchangeable.

Any change in land-use comes with a retroactive compliance. VPC’s request is no exception. This stipulation is posted on the Notice of Proposed Land-Use Action (photo) that The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) placed on VPC’s fences during the public comment period.

The City takes seriously the life safety impacts associated with a restaurant occupancy, as seen in:

  • building code provisions that use fire-rated construction, barriers; and
  • additional measures to reduce risk to firefighters and adjacent properties.

With an apartment above and close proximity to single-family residences, VPC’s restaurant creates a significant risk that was not present prior to the creation of a commercial kitchen in the 100-year-old wood frame structure.

Click here to read additional critique of VPC’s application.

Coming Next: Odor ImpactsPlease subscribe to our blog.

Updated 3/5/11.

VPC’s Application: Errors in Written Submission

23 Dec

Our comments about basic errors in VPC’s Administrative Conditional Use application are framed by the following two elements of the code:

  • “The proposed new use must be no more detrimental to properties in the zone and vicinity than the existing use.” {Note: existing use is: ‘nonconforming: grocery.’}
  • If the new use is permitted, the Director may require mitigation measures, including but not limited to landscaping, sound barriers or fences, mounding or berming, adjustments to yards or parking standards, design modification, or limiting hours of operation.”

1. Applicant states that existing retail use extends to the second floor.

The entire upper floor is a dwelling unit and not part of the retail space previously permitted by the City as a non-conforming use. Currently, VPC uses a portion as an office.

2. Existing use is documented as retail and no change is proposed to the dwelling unit on the second floor.

VPC is proposing to formalize the second floor office use. Their statement that “no change” is proposed upstairs is incorrect. The entire upper floor is a dwelling unit.

3. ‘Number of Clients’ is stated as rarely more than 45, which VPC contends is rarely reached. They also state that 45 is the maximum occupancy.

  • It is quite common for more than 50 customers and staff in the space.
  • The restaurant is often packed in this way on weekends or for special events.

4. Preamble: The applicant compares retail uses that have accessory food or beverage service to a restaurant use.

  • This is irrelevant. VPC is a full-service restaurant and functions as such.
  • We are unclear as to their reason for mentioning drug stores and flu shots.

5. Applicant states that there will be no changes to the existing kitchen.

  • Although the improvements such as the kitchen, toilet, restaurant areas, etc., are “existing” the applicant built them without a permit and for a use not properly permitted.
  • Any changes made at the time that the VPC began occupancy of the space should be considered, under the Seattle Building Code, as a change in occupancy.
  • The provisions under the applicable code should be complied with retroactively.
  • The proposal as submitted fails to address very serious life safety concerns associated with the restaurant use operating under a dwelling unit.
  • Furthermore there appear to be issues related to the compliance of the kitchen exhaust and possibly other areas not as readily visible or apparent.

6. Applicant states in various instances that the new use is no more impactful than current. It appears that VPC is comparing  to their own restaurant use and not to the grocery use.

As is the case with other aspects of VPC’s application, they state opinions as facts. VPC offers no data that is grounded in analysis.

Here is a PDF of the Volunteer Park Cafe and Marketplace – Conditional Use Application

VPC’s application: Overview of our critique

20 Dec

In addition to the more technical critique of VPC’s application found here, we are concerned that VPC continues to operate outside of compliance with City and State legal requirements. They do so with the attitude that a large following of supportive patrons provides them permission.

Much of the language in their application implies that they have communicated effectively with the neighborhood and that they have been thoughtful and considerate in their proposal.

This is not the case.

Updated 4/8/11.

DPD asks VPC for additional corrections: floor plans, etc.

15 Dec

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is requiring Volunteer Park Café to submit additional corrections to their Administrative Conditional Use application. The DPD seeks information that VPC neglected to provide in the original filing by VPC, requesting a  change in the land-use of the space they rent from ‘grocery’ to ‘an eating and drinking establishment.’

UPDATE 3/23/11: DPD issued a second corrections notice for upstairs floor plans.

The “Corrections Required” notice, issued Dec. 15th, states:

Please provide existing and proposed floor plans for ALL floors of the structure and please label all rooms and existing and proposed uses. “Existing” uses are uses that have been established by permit from our Department.

In addition, the Corrections Notice informed VPC that they could not use this ACU process to change the use of the second floor from its current, conforming use {‘residential’).

Please keep in mind that the Administrative Conditional Use application is to convert one nonconforming use to another nonconforming use. Any portion of the structure which has only ever been permitted as residential, cannot be converted to a nonconforming use.

In 1905, the second floor of 1501 17th Ave. E. was designated as a single-family dwelling; ‘residential.’ (The first floor of 1501 has the non-conforming use ‘grocery.) At some point, the upstairs split into two apartments, both also ‘residential.’

At a later point—perhaps as recently as early 2010—Volunteer Park Cafe rented the smaller of the two upstairs apartments to use as an office. The restaurant continues to operate the upstairs office, despite the DPD’s Dec. 15th  reminder that their current use of the space is illegal.

In its application, VPC suggests that their office, 265 sq ft on the 2nd floor, is legally permitted for retail use. Here is the text from the applicant’s Page 1, Question 2:

The proposed change of use is within in an existing two-story, wood frame structure with an unfinished basement. Specifically, the existing use of “retail sales and service, multipurpose” is made up of 1,690 sq. ft. on two floors. The main floor has 1425 sq. ft. and the 2nd floor has 265 sq. ft. The associated basement is used for storage for the existing use. The proposal is to change the existing 1,690 sq. ft. plus basement “retail sales and service, multipurpose” use to “restaurant.”

Clearly, DPD disagrees; as does Volunteer Park Neighbors. Click here to read our our critique of the technical issues in VPC’s application. You can read less technically oriented comments here.

The final element of the Correction Notice asked VPC to: “Please provide dimensions for all structures on the lot and their distances from all property lines.”

DPD asks VPC for study of parking situation

27 Nov

The Department of Planning and Development has requested that Volunteer Park Cafe provide a study that will compare the neighborhood parking impact of the previous legal use (a grocery store) to that of the restaurant.

UPDATE: Due to lack of compliance by VPC, on Feb. 15th, 2011, the DPD gave VPC a firm deadline of March 15th by which to submit the parking study.

The  original request, dated Nov. 17*, 2010, covers all on-street parking within 800 feet of VPC, and states:

“The parking counts should be made during the expected peak time for the restaurant, and counts should be collected on Monday, when the restaurant is closed, and at the same time on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, when the restaurant is open. Additionally, parking counts should be made during the expected peak time on either Saturday or Sunday.

“Please also provide an estimate of the peak on-street parking demand that likely was generated by the prior retail use on the site, and indicate the likely times and duration of this peak demand.”

No due date has been set for the study. In its original application to DPD, VPC doesn’t discuss differences between the parking demand  for a small grocery (the only current legal use for VPC’s space) and the destination restaurant VPC has become. VPC contended that the majority of its clients arrive via foot, bike or bus, but didn’t explain how it arrived at this estimate.

We believe this action demonstrates that DPD values public comments that pointed out the variety of traffic and parking issues VPC has caused. The obvious downside is that this request delays decision-making at DPD.

*The request appeared on DPD’s website on Nov. 27th, but was dated Nov. 17th.

Updated March 28th, 2011.

Canvassing Results: Passenger Load Zone

23 Nov

Customers block driveway (1 house north of VPC)

Participating in our door-to-door discussions, many neighbors shared problems tey felt were a result of VPC’s gradual expansion. Parking and traffic safety issues were primary among their complaints. Several neighbors suggested that VPC establish a Passenger Load Zone.

VPC has no parking lot or passenger load zone. Instead, customers routinely park:

  • in the red zone adjacent to the stop sign at 17th, in front of VPC’s entrance;
  • in front of the neighbor’s driveway (above); and
  • across the street, blocking the fire hydrant; additionally
  • customers regularly use neighbors’ driveways for U-turns (below).

Customers use same driveway for U-turns

VPC customers and vendors routinely commit these parking and traffic violations, even when legal spaces are available.

In their Administrative Conditional Use application, VPC acknowledges that it provides “zero” customer or delivery parking. A common mitigation in such instances would be for the applicant to establish a “Passenger Load Zone” in front of the restaurant. In VPC’s case:

  • A Passenger Load Zone in front is impossible, due to the existing stop sign on the corner of  17th Ave, E, and Galer.
  • An obvious alternative – the north side of Galer St., adjacent to VPC – is also a No Parking zone (though often used illegally for VPC customer parking; see below).

    Corner of 17th and Galer is No Parking Zone; cannot convert to Passenger Load Zone

In other words, VPC has no parking to offer customers beyond residential street parking.

The sheer number of visitors per hour is far greater than the last legal business in the same space.. VPC’s planned expansion will only compound the problem.

44.3% oppose VPC’s request to change land-use to restaurant, also oppose patio.

20 Nov

Shocked at robust support, VP Neighbors aims to engage neighbors in productive dialogue.

During the public comment period held by the Dept. of Planning and Development (DPD) regarding VPC’s bid to legalize as a ‘restaurant,’ we canvassed the neighborhood.

  • We found that 44.3% of residents opposed VPC’s request for a land-use change from ‘grocery’ to ‘an eating and drinking establishment.’
  • This same 44.3% is against the use of VPC’s back patio for food service or preparation.

Let us be the first to say that the results knocked us backward. From the get-go, VPC and the media portrayed us as just one “cranky” neighbor. Later, a VPC Web page called us “a small (but vocal!!) minority.” As we went went door-to-door, we felt a shift in opinion. We did not, however, expect to find that the single, largest opinion would align with ours.

We recognize that these results demonstrate a sea change. Thank you, neighbors.

None of this is to say that VPC finds itself without support. 45.6% were for the proposed change, in varying degrees:

  • 18% favored ‘restaurant’ change and back patio use;
  • 27% favored ‘restaurant’ but not patio, or do not yet know enough about patio use to state an opinion;

Finally, 10.1% remained undecided about the issue as a whole.

Our canvassing effort is separate from the DPD public comment period (9/30 to 10/27). Many residents participated in both.

We feel important to note that  our findings affect DPD’s ultimate decision only so far as:

  • DPD responds to concerns raised in residents’ letters; and
  • we offered to support VPC’s ‘restaurant’ if the owners would contain their business to the lease they signed and the zoning restrictions of the neighborhood they chose. VPC refused. {http://wp.me/p13gjT-D7w.}

We stress these points to underline that our goal has always been to prevent commercial use of VPC’s back patio. Instead, we hope that our canvassing result’s clarification of the neighborhood’s position will clear the way for a new and more productive dialogue.

Next step: small-group salons

Our canvassing process

19 Nov

We started at the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) with the file for Project 3011437. From the two-inch stack of letters, we complied a database of names, addresses, and notes on positions. Then we hit the streets.

During the public comment period, we canvassed 112 residents in 70 homes on 16th, 17th, and 18th Avenues E., between Garfield and Highland. Most were in the area defined by DPD as most impacted by VPC’s proposal. In instances where the DPD area stopped halfway up the street, we finished out the block.

We had no reason to demonstrate a false narrative that did not hold water with the DPD. Our opening question was: “I’d like to sound you out on the café issue.” At the end of each talk—some lasting up to an hour—we asked residents to define their current opinion as one of four options:

  • pro-restaurant and pro-patio;
  • against restaurant and against patio;
  • pro-restaurant but against or undecided about patio; or
  • undecided.

In the event that we were unable to speak with a resident who had sent an opinion to DPD, we recorded that opinion as stated in the letter.

The results:

  • 18.0% pro-restaurant and pro-patio:
  • 44.3% against restaurant and against patio:
  • 27.% pro-restaurant but against or undecided about patio; and
  • 10.1% undecided.

Fully expecting to encounter the ferocity that rages proximal to VPC and in public forums on the Web, we were astounded at the number of residents stating they had no more than a general sense that VPC was expanding and that some neighbors objected. Only one resident shut the door after asking the canvasser’s point of view. The exchange was civil.

The next step: small-group salons.

UPDATED 4/18/11

Next step: small-group salons

19 Nov

The results of our canvassing effort revealed that roughly 70% of the neighbors questioned do not want VPC to use their patio. Concurrently, 45.6% are in favor of VPC legalizing their ‘restaurant.’

Of major concern: patio food service without food "service."

Recognizing that this clearer understanding of neighborhood opinion does nothing to address the situation, and also that people all along the spectrum have valid feelings about VPC’s proposal to legalize, we are setting up a number of small-group salons with as many neighbors as wish to have further conversations.

At each salon, all attendees will be asked to take a privacy oath: What happens in salons stays in salons. Groups self-select, allowing attendees to trust that confidentiality will be respected.

There is only one rule: no yelling. As long as everyone follows the rule, where, when, and how the salons take place is up to attendees.

We suggest four to six residents at a time meet with one or two members of Volunteer Park Neighbors.

  • We can arrange for moderators, or agree to moderate ourselves.
  • We can discuss any aspect of the situation that remains confusing.
  • You can ask us to listen.

Our goal is to better understand each other’s perspective as we move towards the resolution. Our goal is to remain a neighborhood even if we remain somewhat at odds on this particular issue.

Please contact us to schedule a salon.

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: http://wp.me/P13gjT-bJ)

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.

Thanks,
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.


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.