Tag Archives: land-use violation

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.

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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: 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

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.”

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

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.

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.)