Tag Archives: illegal service

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.

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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: 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

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.

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.”

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.

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.