Tag Archives: zoning violation

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.

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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: 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.”

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.

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.”

Neighbors, VPC meet for second time.

12 Sep

This evening, a group of neighbors met at VPC with the cafe owners, one cafe employee, and Roque (pronounced: “Rocky”) Deherrera, from the Office of Economic Development at the City of Seattle. It was 4 days before their deadline for submitting the application to legalize their restaurant.

Neighbors were hoping VPC owners would demonstrate a serious effort to rebuild the trust they lost during the months they defamed their next-door neighbor and ignored concerns of others

At the meeting, we covered the following points:

  • The cafe intend to submit for conditional use application on September 17th.
  • They plan to include the current restaurant area and the small office upstairs and the basement (for storage) in their submittal.
  • They don’t plan to pursue permission to use the backyard for outdoor activity.
  • They intend to continue to use the sidewalk.
  • They stated that the building owner is on board with their plans.
  • They volunteered that they are not going to apply for a hard liquor license.

Responding to specifics from our letter:

Garbage: they say they have increased pickup to 3 per week, which the neighbors maintain is not adequate.

  • The cafe plans to construct a garbage enclosure, and offered to dump all bottles before 8 pm.
  • They listed Terminix as their contractor for pest control.

Odors: discussed non-compliance of their current exhaust fan and the odors wafting into neighbors’ yards.

  • Cafe asked if neighbors would be supportive of barbequing in the backyard for occasional events.
  • Neighbors said, “No.”

Noise: neighbors clarified concerns about reflected noise and noise at clean-up; reiterated that they would not support sidewalk seating of any sort.

Traffic: cafe acknowledged issues with deliveries.

  • Said that, three weeks prior, began working with SDOT discussing a 30 minute Load Zone (which may be located on the south side of Galer).
  • Discussed Galer, Auburn, Garfield, and 17th and possible mitigation efforts that could be initiated by SDOT.
  • Discussed VPC policing illegal parking in their immediate vicinity.

Covenant: VPC didn’t feel a covenant was necessary, that landuse permit would address the issues. Neighbors disagreed.

Timing: cafe agreed to respond to our letter in one week, which might be a copy of their application


The meeting ended with the neighbors suggesting that more frequent and regular meetings occur between the neighborhood and VPC. Neighbors suggested quarterly meetings.

In summary, the primary disagreements appear to be 1) sidewalk seating and 2) the covenant. The cafe owners appeared willing to work with the neighbors on the remaining issues.

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.

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: