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

18 Apr

From Sept. 30th through Oct. 27th, 2010, The Department of Planning & Development (DPD) held a public comment period in response to VPC’s application to change their land-use (currently ‘grocery’) to allow for a restaurant. During this period, we canvassed for neighborhood sentiment. 

  • We found that 44.3% of the residents we were able to assess opposed VPC’s request.
  • This same 44.3% stated an objection to the use of VPC’s back patio for commercial purposes.

Our canvassing was separate from the DPD’s comment period. Many residents took part in both.

Let us be the first to say that the results knocked us backward.

From the get-go, the media portrayed us as a single, cranky neighbor who was trying to shut down VPC. Later, VPC’s Web page called us “a small (but vocal!!) minority.” Though VPC had dropped the “trying to shut down,” that was the message which continued to wrongly—and painfully—define the debate.

Going door-to-door, we felt opinion shifting.

  • We did not, however, expect to find that the largest single opinion would align with ours.
  • We recognize that our results reveal a surprising sea change in neighborhood opinion.

Which is not to say that the restaurant finds itself without support. A significant proportion of those whose position we were able to assess—45.6%—favored VPC’s land-use change, compared to 44.3% against.

VPC’s support came in degrees:

  • 12% favored ‘restaurant’ change and patio use; and
  • 33.6% favored ‘restaurant’ but not patio, or said they did not yet understand enough about the patio use to state an opinion.

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

Primary objection is to patio use

Concern over VPC’s patio expansion originally lead the group now known as VP Neighbors to file a complaint with DPD. In 2010, the restaurant had been operating outside their legal zoning for more than three years. (In May, 2010, DPD found VPC in violation.)

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

We are not willing to live with the possibility of 30 or  more seats on a patio or use of the second floor.

  • The ensuing impacts on our lives and on our families would be too great.
  • For this reason, we ask VPC and the property owner to sign a legal document that would clearly limit commercial use to the first floor of the building.
  • If they can do so, we can support the legalization of a reasonably sized restaurant from which the whole community can benefit forever.

Beyond any concern we have about VPC, we are concerned that any future owner or renter could use the patio without permitting. Maybe the City would do some-thing, maybe not. The neighbors don’t want to find out.


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: 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.


  • 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: 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 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. {}

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:

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.

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.

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.

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 application now public record.

29 Sep

Today, the Deaprtment of Planning and Development (DPD) made public VPC’s Administrative Conditional Use application. In the document, applicant Ericka Burke formally requests a change in land-use of the space VPC rents from ‘grocery’ to ‘an eating and drinking establishment.’

The application is not available on-line. Anyone wishing to review VPC’s proposal will need to truck on down to  DPD’s Public Resource Center at the Seattle Municial Building. You want to read Project #3011437.

In the following days, we will be posting our opinions. You can read our overview here. You can also take a look at what we feel is a somewhat limited analysis by CHS (aka: the Capitol Hill blog.)

Neighbor files complaint against VPC, citing zoning violation.

18 May

Today, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) received a complaint citing zoning violation by Volunteer Park Cafe. The Notes section of the complaint reads: “The grocery has expanded its use with a cafe.”

DPD assigned the case #1022656. A zoning inspection is forthcoming

Technically: the main floor of 1501 17th Ave. E. is zoned as an exemption (‘Non-conforming use’) to the neighborhood’s residential status. As stated in the Notes section of the complaint: “The grocery has expanded its use with a cafe.”

Technically, the DPD inspect will determine if VPC has changed their land use from ‘Non-conforming use: Grocery’ to ‘Non-conforming use: A Eating and Drinking Establishment’ without proper permitting.