Tag Archives: Heather Earnhardt

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.


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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: 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: 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.

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.”

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.

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.)

CHS: “Neighbors have plenty to say about Volunteer Park Cafe.”

31 Aug

As a companion piece to his earlier article, editor “jseattle” at CHS (aka: The Capitol Hill blog) wrote the first news piece showing the conflict from other than VPC’s perspective:

Unlike two other news outlets in the city covering this story, we haven’t mentioned his name on CHS until now. Here’s why. The man who made the original complaint to the Department of Planning and Development about Volunteer Park Cafe’s land-use issues wasn’t the only neighbor to complain to the City of Seattle, a group forming to represent neighbors in the area says.

According to the group, the situation at 17th Ave and Galer isn’t Paul Jones vs. Volunteer Park Cafe. It’s a growing group of residents who live nearby and have concerns about the scale the popular restaurant is trying to achieve …

Jones said he took his concerns up with the cafe in February and was informed that the owners had been advised by a lawyer that their use of the space was legitimate. Jones said he knew better and filed the complaint with DPD in May.

Jones also tells CHS that he didn’t intend to be part of the story. “You’re the first people I’ve talked to,” Jones said. “When I made the complaint, the city said my name would be confidential. ‘We highly recommend you not communicate with the owner and that you allow the city to handle this,’ they said.”

When CHS asked DPD staff to provide names of neighbors who had complained in the situation, we were told the names of complainants were confidential.

You can read the full article here.

Double-whammy parking impact.

16 Aug

12:30pm at corner of 17th and Galer.

Two parking impacts at once: delivery truck blocks “Stop” sign and red zone, while across the street in the shade, two cars block the fire hydrant.

The two parked cars belong to VPC owners Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt.

Note all the available legal parking.

VPC hosts illegal event on new patio

5 Aug

Illegal event, apx. 20 people; half the number VPC hopes to serve at each dinner seating.

This evening, Volunteer Park Cafe hosted a gathering on their new back patio. Billed as a benefit, the event nevertheless violated their zoning.

UPDATED 10/14th: VPC again seats diners illegally.

Several neighbors complained about the excessive noise. One neighbor complained directly to VPC owner Ericka Burke. A screaming match ensued between Burke and the neighbor.

The back yard at 1501 17th Ave. E. is zoned to the residential upper floor. Only the grocery space on the first floor is zoned for non-conforming use as a business. The split zoning and the non-conforming use status both defer to the primary zoning of the neighborhood: SF 5000 (single family homes on lots of at least 5000 sq. ft.)

If VPC wishes to use the back yard of 1501 for restaurant purposes, they must apply to the city to change that specific land use from residential zoning to non-conforming use as a restaurant.

At tonight’s event, approximately 25 people populated the back patio. Should VPC successfully change the back yard zoning to ‘restaurant’ and serve lunch and dinner, they have stated they expect to be able to sit up to 40. One could extrapolate that nightly dinners would be twice as noisy as this evening’s illegal event.

Bike parked on neighbor’s plants.

15 Jul

For unfathomable reasons, cafe customers “park” bikes on neighbor’s plants.

VPC publicly attacks neighbor, requests support.

25 Jun

**Updated 10/08/10: In retrospect, it appears that this action  by VPC — posting of the flyer and concurrent e-mail of identical misinformation to the press, customers and friends — lead directly to a spate of inflammatory and ill-informed articles which generated literally hundreds of vituperative posts. The result is a bitter, combative and painfully public fracas, benefitting no one.

Yesterday, Volunteer Park Cafe contacted their customers with a page-long message, beginning:

An unhappy neighbor is making our lives difficult. He is unhappy about the beautiful garden and patio we are building. We have on many occasions tried to make this a win-win situation for both parties, but he has chosen to go directly to the city… {sic} And unfortunately, because he knows his way around codes and the permitting issues, he has uncovered a very unfortunate zoning issue with the cafe.

On an unspecified date, the cafe posted the identical message as a flyer in their window. (Flyer not dated.) Below is an electronic copy of the flyer:

Parking impact: truck delivery.

14 May

Is parking so congested on 17th Ave E. as well as Galer, that truck parks in the red zone? Or is it just closer to the door?

Did VPC owners ask the truck to re-park legally? Or is there no space on 17th, Galer, or in the alley behind VPC for a truck to legally park for delivery?