Neighbor puts Volunteer Park Cafe in a pickle over plans for outdoor seating

**UPDATE 6/29/10 3:31 PM: Volunteer Park Cafe not going anywhere anytime soon**
The Volunteer Park Cafe has been churning out “always fresh goodness” in a former neighborhood grocery store at the corner of 17th and Galer for more than three years but its new effort to add a garden and patio dining has put the restaurant in hot water with the city. A complaint filed by a neighbor with a bone to pick has owners Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt scrambling not just to make sure they have the proper permits for their new garden and sidewalk seating plans but also filing paperwork for the restaurant as a whole.

According to an e-mail sent out by the cafe to customers and media, a neighbor who was not happy with VPC’s plans for increased outdoor dining discovered that the 1904 structure’s use is officially approved as a grocery store, not a restaurant. VPC says the neighbor turned them in. It’s a Department of Planning and Development technicality — and a violation of city law, the department’s inspector decided:

Below, you’ll find the note from the cafe e-mailed to the restaurant’s newsletter and media list asking for letters of community support to be sent to Burke at as the restaurant mounts a campaign to have a change of use approved by they city. “We need to present a supportive agreement as to why the city should grant us a change of use,” the e-mail states. “We just need to change our non-conforming use and with support from the community it will happen.” A message posted inside the cafe on Sunday afternoon notified customers that a video was being shot in another effort to illustrate support. Also posted was a fresh DPD permit application notice for sidewalk cafe seating dated June 21.


Photos: CHS

You might have noted that the original complaint was made to the city back in mid-May. In the e-mail, VPC’s owners say they tried to make a “win-win” situation but apparently time has run out. The DPD warning shown above requires compliance by July 1.


Burke and Earnhardt also say that the lease they signed lists the property as a cafe. Seattle Met reports that Burke told the magazine she may have to resort to a lawsuit but is considering buying the building in an effort to keep the matter with their landlady out of court.

There hasn’t been an honest to goodness grocery operating in the space since at least 2002. Before VPC, the building housed the infamously odd Cafe Europa. It apparently also was operating in violation of the city’s muni codes. Volunteer Park Cafe might also not be alone in the neighborhood distinction. Not far away near 19th Ave E and Aloha, the approved use of the building that is home to the usually-packed-with-families Vios Cafe is also listed in the DPD records as “grocery store.” In addition to housing the kid-friendly Greek restaurant, it’s also the location of a dentist’s office.

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126 thoughts on “Neighbor puts Volunteer Park Cafe in a pickle over plans for outdoor seating

  1. That is ridiculous!
    I’ve lived on Capitol Hill my entire life and have never seen that space put to better use. Surrounding land values will only improve with the upgraded space in the back of the “cafe/grocery.” Since the most recent incarnation business they’ve painted the building and, in my opinion, cleaned out the dubious crowd that used to frequent the last tenant’s coffee shop. A vast visual improvement to say the least.
    Some people have too much time on to spend on shortsightedness. Silly neighbor – look at the big picture!
    I for one fully support the new cafe AND their new outdoor space. We don’t need any more weed strewn lots.
    Love thy neighbors :)

  2. I wouldn’t want the patio and the noise associated with it. If I was the homeowner I would put up the same stink.

    I’ve always wondered how VPC was allowed in this residential neighborhood, guess we know now. They got greedy with the outdoor patio and are paying for it.

  3. I can’t blame the neighbor either–that place is *loud*.
    It used to be a nice quiet street.

    And what’s up with that note? Why are they talking like spoiled little girls?

    Any more sugar and I will vomit my farm-fresh goodness.

  4. “I’ve always wondered how VPC was allowed in this residential neighborhood”

    This is disingenuous at best. How long was Cafe Europa there?

    As for the neighbor, I can see being concerned about an outdoor patio, but what he has done is dig up a technicality in an attempt to put a local business out of business. I hate things like this. Grow a pair and negotiate with the cafe owners.

  5. Silly commentor, you only look for the picture you want to see.

    Easy for you to say because you don’t live next door. That patio will be the equivalent to your neighbor having an outdoor party every night of the week. This isn’t going to increase land values for people living close by.

  6. …is horrible and I’m not just talking about the awful font selection. Why does it matter that their landlord is 90 years old? Why the need to call out the neighbor’s name?

    Also, I don’t see why anybody should bother writing them letters of support. Sure, they’re a nice place to eat and the place is laid out well but it’s not like they’re doing charity work or anything. They charge exorbitant prices and therefore attract an exclusively yuppy crowd.

  7. I sent my letter in support of VPC to Ms Burke. As a small business owner in the neighborhood, I find some of the comments here naive, reactionary, and un-Seattle.

    Also, as a longtime resident of the neighborhood I find myself allied with VPC because I believe they are great for the neighborhood. Yes, the next door neighbor has legitimate concerns about noise. I have legitimate concerns about 520. See where that gets us?

    Please send you letter in support of VPC. NIMBY is a poor substitute for being a good citizen. If you crave quiet, please move to Maple Valley and let the rest of us get along with city life.

  8. Nowhere is the neighbor called out by name in the note.

    The VPC is fabulous restaurant and a wonderful gathering place for the neighborhood. I hope they can work this out.

    That said, I wouldn’t want to live next door to an outdoor dining area buzzing with people every night until 10pm or later. At least, not without getting a share of the profits, and I assume VPC offered some money when they refer to trying to negotiate a “win win” deal with this guy.

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they only serve a dinner once a month. The rest of the time they close fairly early. So it isn’t like “a party next door every day of the week. I, for one, believe that this is restaurant is a local treasure, and poeple don’t know what they would be missing if they close down.

  10. The neighbor IS called out by name. “Ho is unhappy about the beautiful garden …” “Ho” is the name of the neighbor.

  11. With Seattle’s weather being what it is I don’t see there being a party outside every night of the year. By the way, if across the ally isn’t close enough for you to include me as a neighbor maybe you should look up the definition. The cafe closes early due to its residential restriction. This isn’t a night club everyone, its a neighborhood cafe. Jeeze. Give me a break.

  12. The neighbor has dug up a technicality? Huh? What?

    Code says that a grocery is allowed there, NOT a restaurant. How is this a technicality? The code is there to prevent a restaurant operating in a residential neighborhood and causing problems (noise, parking, smell of garbage, ect) to the neighbors.

    So I go out and drive 100MPH on I90 and get a ticket. Is the speed limit only a “technicality?” No, it’s a law.

    VPC is operating illegally, plain and simple. After seeing that letter I hope on July 1st the city throws a padlock on their front door.

  13. To bad they’re not. The “outdoor seating” is nothing more than taking up all the sidewalk space. Their garbage pit behind the place was disgusting for the longest time. Their customers park all crazy on galer on the parking strip and mill around like cattle.

    I like the idea of a neighborhood cafe, but the actual practice leads something to be desired.

    And about that old bag 90 year old owner, bet it’s Groucho’s wife. She can go burn in hell with Groucho. Maybe when she finally dies I can bust in and get my dad’s coin collection back (which I sold when I was 4 for penny candy).

  14. perhaps a similar zoning issue exists, that might get the loud, over-serving, douchebag-attracting LOOKOUT to close down. we who miss our quiet part of the hill can only hope.

  15. Actually, no, the neighbor doesn’t really have a point. Yes, owning a home conveys certain property rights, but it doesn’t give you the right to remove neighborhood resources because you’re not happy with them being next to your little petty fiefdom. Particularly, when you consider that the neighbor purchased the land to build his home from VPC’s landlord in the late 1980s, and built a house smack on top of a retail space that existed there for a hundred years.

    In fact, Mr. Cranky Pants who is supposedly such a stickler for following land use rules, seems to be in violation of the area’s zoning for single family homes on 5000 square foot lots. His lot, subdivided from the original VPC lot, is only 3500 feet. Just walking down the street, it sure doesn’t look like he built next to the existing VPC structure with enough noise buffering clearance, per DPD rules. But hey, rules are meant to only be applied to everyone else, right?

    VPC may get loud inside when it’s busy, but I’ve never heard tons of noise leaking outside throughout the neighborhood. It seems like some sort of deal could be worked out for the better of both parties and to allow the rest of the neighborhood to continue to enjoy the cafe. But what we have here is simply the case of a rich guy who’s in the local development scene thinking that he’s really really special, and he can use his savvy about local development rules to fuck with people he doesn’t like, rather than negotiate…no matter if the rest of the community
    show more
    appreciates the place. And no matter if he stupidly crammed his home onto a substandard lot, on top of an existing retail space.

  16. Ya, the neighbor gave me a good idea. I think I’ll move to Georgetown, then bitch about having a flight path overhead, because I’m a homeowner. Waaaaaa.

  17. it says he, not ho. i suspect there are multiple men living in the area surrounding the cafe. so, in fact, nobody is being called out by name.

  18. I’m not supportive at all for VPC. Zoning exists for valid reasons, and they should move to areas zoned for retail/commercial activity. I, for one, would like to come home to a quiet _residential_ neighborhood. I don’t need a retail/consumer experience defining “neighborhood” and “community”. This space would better serve the community if it were something like a community center. I would prefer to see the restaurant go and work towards making something like a community center happen.

  19. Commenters should sack up and post with attribution. Otherwise, I attribute all the negative comments to a certain rich douchebag neighbor, and his hired help.

  20. Mike Silva ignores one crucial difference. The Seatac approaches have been in place for decades. I know, because I live under one of them, here on the Hill. “Bitching” about them would be silly, because they were already flying overhead when I chose to move to the Hill.

    In contrast, I lived at my current residence long before the neighboring Lookout opened. I moved to a reasonably quiet, residential neighborhood. With the arrival of the bar, that quiet is disturbed all night, every night, by over-served drunks screaming their fool heads off, from the Lookout’s rear deck, from the sidewalk in front of the bar, and on the way to their cars at 2 AM.

    The Lookout is a bad neighbor. Now we will investigate if the same permit-based strategy being used on VPC is applicable to the Lookout. I sure hope it is! If it succeeds, it will be good riddance to bad rubbish.

  21. I used to enjoy the VPC, and went in there often because the food was good. The owners were often there, but I never got a greeting or a smile, even though I was a regular. I never really felt welcome there, so probably won’t miss them when they’re gone. If I owned a restaurant, I’d be nice to everyone because you never know when you’d need your customers to write a nice letter to the city.

  22. You may be in luck, or it could get worse. Word is that the Lookout’s owners are trying to sell the place, so they are probably not long in that location. But the next tenant may be even worse, so you may not get any relief.

  23. No, actually, there is no difference. You moved into a neighborhood that may have been quiet, but clearly had existing retail space. Those buildings weren’t erected since you moved there. You’re still bitching, even if you’re smart enough to be able to pick a literate, nonsensical, pseudonym.

  24. Erika B could take a lesson from the owner at VIOS: inside is a oldstyle marketplace, in addition to the restaurant and playarea. THAT’s a win-win.
    IMO, Sidewalk seating should be a ‘NO’ in a SFH residential zone like this, but a patio should be okay so long as they close down around 9pm.

    I’m curious about a doublestandard: if the mansion-owners on Federal Ave (stealing 2800+ squarefeet from Volunteer park) can blame their realtor (for selling it to them as including that 2800 sq ft) and the city (for not catching it/re-surveying 15 years prior), why can’t VPC?

  25. Sean:
    “That said, I wouldn’t want to live next door to an outdoor dining area buzzing with people every night until 10pm or later”

    SMC noise variance should keep that from happening. 10pm is the cut-off time for residential noise.

  26. having endured many of the previous editions of the cafe, this cafe is such a gem. It has successfully created a sense of community for many of the neighbors (myself included who live within walking distance) who before had no real opportunity/reason for meeting each other. While there may be people out there who don’t want to go to the cafe for various reasons, then don’t go. However for those of us who crave alittle more interaction with the neighborhood, the cafe provides a wonderful atmosphere to see a neighbor for coffee, have our children enjoy a familiar place where they feel welcome and safe to enjoy that gumball, where people actually put some thought into creating yummy food and supporting local farms, etc. The only neighbors I know who don’t go to the cafe are the ones watching their waistline. I live in the immediate neighborhood, am affected by parking, etc, but the tradeoffs are so worth it. I say if you want to make a stink about the cafe, maybe this particular neighbor has outgrown living in the city and needs to find a more quiet area to call home.

  27. Yes, Mike, it clearly had retail space. The question is, what is permitted to occupy that retail space? The Artemis/Lookout was preceded in its location by a grocery store. A grocery store is a much quieter operation than a bar with a back deck. If it turns out that the permit for the location specifies a grocery store, I will be quite happy. Bye bye troublesome bar, hello charming market that closes at 10PM. And peace will be restored to the corner of Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue.

  28. Tell the neighbors of the Lookout about the 10PM noise ordinance, when they’re awakened from their sleep at 2 AM (again) by noisy drunks leaving the bar. You might think that repeated calls to the SPD about noise ordinance violations would make a difference, but you would be wrong.

  29. Taking this to its logical conclusion, VPC would continue to prosper as a fabulous local grocery store (they have all kinds of things for sale like juice, milk, bread and greeting cards) where you can buy things to eat and someone wonderful can serve you coffee. It will have some outside seating where you can enjoy the sun when it appears and home prices in the neighborhood will continue to appreciate. (Why would someone buy the brick house across the road and spend lots of money fixing it up if they didn’t think they could make some money, hope they have all their permits!)

    Or, the VPC could shut down. Now someone could think that this is a viable space for a grocery store, although no one has in this century, or it could remain vacant. An empty space, a window might get broken, so the owner would naturally board up the windows, a great canvas for a tagging. Then the unsecured back door could be entered by local youths looking for somewhere to smoke. Tobacco, weed, meth you make up your mind. Naturally the back yard is back to being full of weeds. A carelessly discarded cigarette into the dry grass, the building catches fire but the fire dept. manages to douse the flames. The building is scarred but standing. A neighbors dream.

    A tad extreme you may think, I agree, the space would probably be remodeled and the space would probably be rented to 10 Seattle University students who would really enjoy many games of beer pong in the new back yard!

    Careful what you wish for..

  30. I love VPC! What a community resource. The owners of the restaurant have been more successful at that site than any other past business. I’ve lived around the corner for 22 years and am thrilled by the how VPC uses their space to promote community. Perhaps it is not technically zoned as a cafe but I would be in favor of a zoning change to make it both grocery and restaurant. It brings stability and a tax base to a neighborhood in difficult economic times when houses are selling below their market value. Neighbor’s have always known it was a commercially zoned property. Let’s make the best use of it! Perhaps, VPC could give up some of their backyard space to accommodate a little off street parking to please neighbors. Most people walk there anyway. The restaurant is small so there are limited people who are able to comes as would be the case with a full time grocery. The crowd isn’t rowdy. You see neighborhood families and multi generations gathering to dine. You see friends from all over town meeting at this central location who enjoy the opportunity to sit, stay and chat for a while. It’s a site that has become famous for dashing in for a coffee and a baked good in the morning, just like a grocery with a stock of commonly found goods. Surely, some happy compromise could be made as it provides access to community comfort unlike any business or cafe establishment in the area. It is a community gathering place that keeps up property values. It’s expansion to improve the sidewalk and to enhance the use of its back yard is only meant to improve the quality of their business, the pleasure of their customers and the overall quaint look and feeling of the neighborhood. I believe VPC should be allowed to move forward by the city. Keep VPC cafe as a community meeting place away from the commercial areas of 15th Ave East and Broadway. VPC is a positive element in the neighborhood. It does not draw a dangerous group of people to the area or an abundance of panhandlers. The vibrancy of the business keeps neighbors out and about in the evening which creates a “block watch,” thereby keeping the neighborhood alert and safe. Let’s work together to keep VPC and community alive and thriving . It is drawing a gracious community to a gracious place of business. Those that enjoy VPC are your neighbors, their family and friends. It obviously draws people together is a positive way.

  31. If you call Vios a market because of the amount of food they sell “to go” the same applies to VPC. Not only entire meals provided to local neighbors, but bags of goodies, pies and bunt cakes, granola, coffee beans, beer, wine…

    Sadly, I suspect Vios would have similar zoning issues if a mean undersexed neighbor wanted to look into it. I guess we should just shut down every near-residential establishment in the city and hovel up in our palatial homes. It would be so quiet!

    And since we’re fixing the noise problem, I’m also sick of all of these people on capitol hill having fun. Your fun is getting in my way and making me feel really bad about myself. NO MORE FUN!

  32. The neighbor’s name is public record (a married couple), but VPC doesn’t name names. The house next door to VPC was built in 1988 by and the property records seem to indicate that the original owners are still there, so it’s not like they are new to having a restaurant next door to them.

    If you’re really interested, just look up Property Parcel #1342300240

  33. How can you call VPC a community meeting place?

    I guess you could say it’s a community meeting place…as long as you have the means to throw down $80 for a dinner for yourself and another person.

    A community meeting place for the rich.

  34. 1. I’ve been to the VPC three times and twice we had to leave because it was so loud that we could not hear each other and decided to go elsewhere. The time we stayed we didn’t stay long because of the same problem and the coffee wasn’t that great.

    2. For the poor guy that keeps talking about the Lookout, I feel for you man. I used to live there at Tri-Bell when it was Alice’s grocery store… not noisy. Then I moved out when they build that behemoth ugly condo next door because of construction noise. I imagine the bar is hell though.

    3. I feel for the neighbor. Good for him that he found the loophole. I’m always surprised by these loopholes that were “missed” like the houses on the West side of Volunteer park that are STILL encroaching on the park. Just because it’s a cafe and not a bar doesn’t mean that someone who lives in that quiet neighborhood wants to hear yacking b*tching moms and screaming babies all day long while they are trying to relax in their yard.

  35. NIMBY rich people suck. It’s not like this is a brand-new restaurant or a haven for bad behavior. It’s a smallish cafe that stops serving at 9 p.m. (or earlier). You live in a city. Get over it or move to Issaquah.

  36. I disagree completely. This restaurant has been here for a few years, with another one preceding it, and it’s not exactly a haven for drunks. As a neighbor, I strongly support VPC and the wonderful food they bring to our neighborhood.

  37. That’s strange … they are very nice to me and remember my name each time (even though I don’t always remember theirs).

  38. I’m sorry, but neighbors should recognize they live in a city with a commercially zoned establishment on the corner. If you don’t like it, move to Issaquah.

    I think all of the hate in these comments comes from one or two people, which is sad.

  39. Tammy, and where do you live?

    And how long before a business moves into your neighborhood, violates some codes and keeps you up all night?

  40. It’s easy to say NIMBY when you don’t live next door.

    I always like the move to the eastside suggestions. You must not be from Seattle.

    This is not “A City”, this is a residential neighborhood in Seattle. Otherwise, you would be seeing more business here.

  41. Tammy,

    You should recognize that you need to read first. It isn’t zoned for a restaurant.

    Don’t complain about the comments if you are going to suggest everyone who doesn’t agree with you should move to Issaquah. That’s not very neighborly or nice of you.

  42. I don’t think anyone is disagreeing that it’s not commercially zoned, there are just different type of commercial zones and VPC is operating under a different zone than the property allows. It’s that simple.

    Say the property is rezoned to allow a restaurant. VPC stays a few years, moves out, and another restaurant moves in. This new restaurant is a McDonald’s. Under the proposed rezoning McDonald’s would be allowed to operate in that space. How many of you would be throwing a fit over that?

    Granted you’d never see a McDonald’s open up in that space, however the principal is the same. A place of business can not ignore zoning laws for years then expect to have them changed because the business takes off. It’s not fair to the neighbors and to other local business owners. The legal precedent it would set would also very, very messy.

  43. Tammy, while I can’t guarantee that there are not shenanigans afoot with people posting from multiple aliases, we do have a lot of tools (and I do a lot of work) to make sure that kind of disruption doesn’t happen here.

    We moderate comments on CHS. Some say the hand is too light, some, too heavy. Guess the ones that think we’re getting it right are quiet :)

    The goal is to make the conversation as productive as possible. By the way, high volume activity (repeating the same thing over and over) is on the list of things we watch for. There’s no need to re-refute (and sometimes re-re-refute).

  44. I’ve known “Mr Cranky Pants” for the better part of 30 years, and I actually worked on building this house with him as my summer job when I was 16. There is not a more stand up hard working member of the community around, especially in this little blog we have here. The haters here are pointing their angst in the wrong direction.

    This plea for love letters is complete nonsense. What crap. Bottom line is VPC is a bad neighbor, and as it turns out, a bad neighbor that has been operating against the zoning for their location. Just because one of us was bold enough to complain doesn’t mean the rest of us like it. My sister lives on the block in question and walking through that debacle they call sidewalk seating weekends is dangerous and rude. Not to mention the idiots that think it’s okay to hang a “U” on Galer to get back on 17th.

    The “me first” entitlement attitude that the owners convey in their letter makes me want to vomit. I’m quite certain that the “unhappy” neighbor has come out numerous times to find his driveway blocked for some stupid yuppie running in “really fast” to get a latte and scone. Enough is enough. Good riddance VPC. Maybe I can get the space and open a grocery store.

  45. Only recently did VPC get aggressive and make plans to open up the patio for seating. The neighbor most likely didn’t like this plan (what neighbor would), went to VPC about their concerns, and VPC said they were still going forward with the plans. Neighbor finds zoning doesn’t allow it and files a complaint with the city.

    It appears this ONLY became an issue once VPC got aggressive with expansion. It’s been there going on four years and only within the last few months did the neighbor actually decide to complain about it.

    I hate to say this, but it seems like VPC brought this on themselves. VPC wasn’t being malicious. They were just doing what they believed the zoning permitted them to do.

  46. ltrain,
    Can you be more specific as to how VPC is a “Bad Neighbor”? Specifics would help frame the discussion. The zoning issue doesn’t count, as 1) it was just discovered, and 2) it seems both their landlord and they were unaware of it (or the landlord failed to disclose it) when they leased the building for a cafe. The previous tenant was also a cafe. Why didn’t the neighbor have an issue with that one?

    Does the fact that this location is popular make it “bad”? Do the patrons (who clearly have an income/social strata similar to the homeowners on the street) make the business itself a “bad neighbor”? Should VPC set a limit on the number of douchebags per hour who can dine there?

    What if this were a thriving grocery store that also sold sandwiches and other prepared items from a deli counter and allowed people to sit at tables outside (front or back). That’s technically not a “restaurant”, but would still generate parking issues and crowded sidewalks.

    It sounds to me like the complaining neighbors just don’t want ANY successful business there that draws customers. The alternative could be a lot worse, per Jez Manners’ “careful what you wish for” post above.

  47. This is a wonderful cafe and a great addition to any neighborhood. It is places like this that create a community — a place for all to relax and talk and meet one another. It is something that needs to be supported, and I for one, think that this expansion will be handled with the same grace as their food — as a gift to all who choose to engage!

  48. They are bad neighbors because they block the sidewalk. They are bad neighbors because they operate without regard for the neighborhood around them. They are bad neighbors (and babies) for writing that stupid disjointed letter. They are bad neighbors for the abomination of a junk heap out back they use for their garbage. Bad neighbor! Bad neighbor!

  49. It’s funny. I believe the cafe has become successful entirely because of their regard for the neighbors around them. Have you ever been in? Do you live in the neighborhood?

    Mr. Cranky pants hasn’t been in since the cafe opened. “Bad neighbor! Bad neighbor!” (also, who talks like that)

  50. Come on Scott, do I live in the neighborhood? Yes, I’m actually a 3rd generation hillrat. I own the house my great aunt once owned on 16th and Highland. I was riding my huffy around the hill before you were a geam in your father’s eye. Since you call it upon yourself to check OG status, may I ask what your hill pedigree is?

    Yes, I’ve been in that loud over priced “cafe” several times and frankly, I’m not impressed. But I do believe that people have the right to charge and serve whatever the market will support. Its just not for me.

    With that said, I do not like the sidewalk encroachment, I do not like the illegal and dangerous parking in the mess of gravel on Galer, I do not like the idiots milling all over the place, walking out in traffic without looking and creating a general nuisance.

  51. So your saying you don’t like people? Because the cafe just serves people.. They don’t tell them to park where they shouldn’t or walk to slowly for your liking.

  52. Come on little d. You know he isn’t saying he doesn’t like people. He is saying he doesn’t like self entitled people like you. See the difference now.

  53. This is the most reasoned post that I’ve seen. I don’t think there was any ill intent on the part of VPC, but they decided to expand their business in a way that would negatively impact a neighbor. He did research and found that the exiting zoning codes for the building do not support what VPC wants to do.

    I’m all for neighborhood businesses, and Cap Hill is better for having them sprinkled in with residences. But I think VPC is in the wrong here and that poorly constucted letter with the cutesy-poo fonts and passive-aggrssive tone makes it very hard to be on their side.

  54. As a neighbor to VPC, i completely disagree with all the bad vibe being tossed around about being a bad neighbor. Having lived next to many a nasty neighbor, they are a wonderful presence in the neighborhood and very neighborly. I think the neighbor who is making this an issue is just not happy that he’s living next to such a popular business. I’m not sure if it’s very neighborly to be so mean-spirited in this discussion. Some of you people need to get outside and go for a run, clear your heads, relax.

  55. Since when did putting in sidewalk seating become “being aggressive”. We’ve got several restaurants in our neighborhood, and the one directly across the street not only opens it’s front completely on warm days, but has sidewalk seating, and we LOVE it! It’s great to have places you can enjoy the good weather and not have to drive to. I don’t get these people freaking out about having something awesome in their midst.

  56. to VPC would be to back off the outdoor seating plan for now and get their zoning/use issues in order first. seems like if they try to go for broke and get a change of use AND the outdoor seating done they may end up biting off more than they can chew.

    i do like VPC in general, although i don’t live on the block so can’t speak to whether they’re a good neighbor.

  57. Yep, 2am is a not so unusual time for me to a awaken by drunks shouting as they leave the bar near me. A little bit of noise around 10pm from a restaurant is nothing compared to what many of us have to deal with.

  58. See the thread here about Arts on Beacon Hill dealing with the same issue. Everyone in the neighborhood is supportive of Arts but the battle has almost put them out of business I think. Maybe VPC and Arts you could work together to sort this out; by and large the neighborhoods appreciate having small businesses within them. The crazy thing is that Arts was DeVos Hardware or some form of a store for about 70 years before.

  59. I really hope somebody from the city takes a look at this thread. It shows very clearly that community support for the restaurant is not as widespread as the owner thinks it is or want it to be. The city need to take this into consideration when it’s making its decision.

  60. OK, –, I get it, you’re Angry Guy. But your taking it a little far. When you start calling other commentors “passive little bitches” you’ve crossed a line.

  61. Thanks Michael. Please consider utilizing the ‘report abuse’ link if there’s something that should be removed that the system or I haven’t gotten to yet.

  62. hey – how is it one person can dictate community? Community needs, community opinion?

    Horrible tale of city dept gone crazy, this needs to change.

    And Beacon Hill, that much the same story, is even worse.

    Sad day – ah, but the city cares about neighborhoods.

  63. No Senor Angerphile Trollkins (was “mean, undersexed”? really necessary?), it has nothing to do with to-go orders:
    I’m calling Vios a market because as you walk in on the right is a deli counter and some little jars of olive oil and spices and such, and other food things you can buy. Like. From. A. Market.
    If Erika and Heather adopted/refurbished slightly to a similar NYC-style market inside their space, and still keep the cafe AND add the patio, they’d be much more arguably within code / have a leg to stand on against threats from anyone; undersexed, neighbor, or not.
    I think they should make that change, and THEN pursue a deck/patio.
    Or are you saying they already have a market? ? (haven’t been there for over a year)

    In any case, I appreciated your sarcasm about palatial homes and FUN. *tip of the hat*.

  64. Interesting definition of passive aggressive Mr. –.

    Using name and making valid points in public forum = passive aggressive.
    Whining while anonymous = righteously aggrieved.

    I’ll be looking for your pithy response in an hour, from whichever of your likely multiple pseudonyms you choose to use this time, as I’m sure you’re really busy getting your O’Reilly Factor on now.

    By the way, are you the neighbor, his wife, or his PR person?

  65. I say, again, the neighbors home is on a lot too small for that residential zone. So, fine, if we’re going to be sticklers about zoning laws, which is fine by me, well, what are all you pro-neighbor folks willing to say the neighbor needs to do? Let VPC attempt to rezone properly, and by the same token the neighbor should get some realistic expectations about the situation of his home, which he crammed next to a retail establishment that preceded it by nearly a hundred years.

  66. The Lookout address is within an NC1-40 zone. However, a search of DPD permit actions for that address shows only one land use entry, Project # 3009403. That Land Use application (filed by the owner of the Lookout) includes a Description of Work of “sidewalk cafe,” and that application is undated and UNresolved. Anyway, the Lookout is hardly a sidewalk cafe, being a bar with rear outside deck.

    This has been brought to the attention of the DPD in a formal complaint filed against the Lookout today. Here’s hoping the Lookout’s last last call is fast approaching. It may leave unanswered the nightly question, “How can Lookout patrons be so rude and immensely thoughtless, that they think it’s OK to yell at the top of their lungs at 2 AM in front of rows of darkened apartments with open windows?” But I won’t lose any sleep over it. Au contraire, mon frère.

  67. actually, undersexed was totally rude and inappropriate, thank you for pointing that out. more than willing to point out my literary shortcomings. and i am sorry.

    in the past year i have seen vpc retail as much or more than Vios. i suppose thats all i meant to say.

  68. The city has a need for another place to drop $8 on a latte and pastry?

    Community opinion? The only opinion that matters here is the neighbor. Big deal, you won’t have a little cafe to go visit to thrown down fifteen bones on a sandwich and coffee. Whereas the neighbor will have the constant noise of a few dozen people eating, drinking, and talking for 80+ hours a week right next door. The poor guy won’t even be able to keep his windows open.

    Sad to say, but if it looks like the city hasn’t budged on that studio in Beacon Hill there’s absolutely no way they’re going to rezone this building.

    No way, no how. Stop in on Wednesday for your last chance to visit VPC before the city shuts it down for good.

  69. I am absolutely freaking flabbergasted that ANYONE would complain about Volunteer Park Cafe! Complain about having the best food in Seattle in most cosiest coveted little niegborhood restauant right within walking distance from their house?! I would give anything to have a place like VP Cafe in MY neighborhood! Sounds to me that the person complaining needs to move to the suburbs or to Stepford to be with thier own kind.

  70. The ladies who run this place are friends of mine that have busted their asses for years in the food industry. They are people with a lot of heart that have worked from the ground up to make a dream come true. People who have a passion for food and only want to share their talents with others and make an honest living doing what they love. I and many other people here on the South end of town would give ANYTHING to have such a nice place like that in our neighborhood. Maybe the fucker complaining about an awesome cafe right in his back yard should move to MY house and see how he likes living behind a delapidated, abandoned, single wide trailer that was reported to have asbestos in it and is considered a health hazard to the surrounding neighbors. The air sparkles with insulation fiberglass when the wind blows, its so recked. This property breaks every health code in the book and is contaminating the soil and air. The county has let the property be like this for 5 years and has done NOTHING. Try living with a REAL reason to complain about code issues for a while. And oh…I’m not a yuppy and I eat at VP cafe. In fact, I’m working class and barely make my bills. I go there because Heather makes the best desserts in Seattle. Dam I wish you guys would open a location in Georgetown!

  71. Anyone making the case that VIOS and VPC are groceries would be saying that virtually every restaurant is a grocery, since they routinely offer prepared food and beverages to go.

    People who live in houses near the VPC moved here long before it attracted lines out the door for lunch and full houses for 5-night-a-week dinner. As a nearby neighbor, I’ve watched as Heather and Ericka steadily built their business through a combination of great food, friendly atmosphere and location (let’s face it, restaurants aren’t permitted in residential areas like this, so the nearest competition is far away).

    As a regular, I was happy about this until, without consulting nearby neighbors like me, VPC started building the outdoor patio and barbecue (yes, VPC plans — or planned — to do outdoor cooking for potentially dozens of customers). I learned about this through p.r. VPC fed to bloggers/reporters at Seattle Weekly and Seattle Metropolitan, starting in early spring.

    I liked having a small cafe in our neighborhood. But I am against the vague backyard plan that the owners have *never* fully detailed. It seems the VPC would expand from 40ish seats (including current tables on the sidewalk) to … what, 70, 80?. Would that be one night a week? More? Days? Smoky barbecue? Tents to allow service on rainy days? Heat lamps to deal with cool days/nights? (We don’t know — VPC started out with NO dinner service.)

    That’s too much for a small “grocery” in a purely residential area. And, now we all know that this is pretty clearly illegal under the zoning. Come on, Heather and Ericka, let’s have some real explanation, and not a campaign against the people who were fully within their rights, after being tolerant for years, to call the city.

  72. It seems there is a lot of discussion regarding the status of this building as a grocery store. A grocery store by definition is a place that sells primarily food and other non edible items. When the building was zoned as a grocery store Seattle probably had an abundance of local grocery stores selling fruit and vegetables, soap, flour, milk, and eggs etc. to a population who had limited access to cars or supermarkets.

    Grocery stores in the idealized world are now non existent as the populous prefers to shop at QFC, Whole foods, Trader Joes etc. once a week and store perishable goods in fridges and freezers. (Yes people go to farmers markets and some niche stores exist but for the most part this is not “the norm”)

    The aggrieved in this thread wishing to see a Grocery store to their definition get to the grey area in which the business sits at the moment. They sell food and other non edible products, not a fruit cart out front, but coffee and snacks for people to take out or eat in. They will also sell you a meal which you can order to go or eat in. How much more products like soap and fruit and vegetables, flour, eggs etc. are required to be sold before they are a “grocery” store. The City of Seattle decides and decides in the context of this being a “grocery” business in the 21st Century.

    Regarding the development of the back yard; The owner of the building has the right to change the space as they see fit within the regulations laid down in the city. They are removing grass and weeds and laying a patio and planting herbs and vegetables. This seems a reasonable thing to do in a garden.

    One comment states they may barbecue back there and have people eating and drinking. Is this an unusual activity in a garden in Seattle?

    Assuming the neighbor complaining is the one adjacent to the VPC, it seems that he was happy to buy a lot next to a business and residence and expected it to stay to his liking until he sold his house for a profit or died. This is just not a reasonable expectation in a crowded city. The same way his neighbor on the other side lost a huge amount of light and had increased noise from his residence being built.

    Just because people don’t like something doesn’t make it “illegal” , zoning and all other regulations for that matter have grey areas. If you don’t think so, call the IRS to get yourself audited, or call 911 every time you go 35 in a 30.

    Final thought is that the residence upstairs could use the back yard to have loud parties and basketball competitions every day if they desired. The grocery store could be a Swedish grocery that smokes it’s own fish 24hrs a day, paints the building blue and yellow like the flag and advertises in the windows with neon signs. All within the cities rules until someone says different.

    Love thy neighbor.

  73. Mike, I’m not sure why you think all city lots need to be 5000sf, this is simply not the case. If it were Seattle would be square.

    From Seattle’s Single Family Residential Zones DPDS_007439.pdf, “Various exceptions allow for smaller lots…”

    Please find something else to cry about.

  74. You just kind of sound really mean spirited. Maybe living in a city isn’t for you? Have you considered somewhere more on the outskirts?

    This area is likely going to become more popular with time.

  75. Just adding my voice in support of one of the finest businesses in the city, Volunteer Park Cafe. VPC has been a fabulous neighbor to the residents of Capitol Hill! Warm and welcoming to people and their pets, buying locally, and providing a walkable alternative to residents looking for coffee, a bite to eat, or a “third place” to hang out. The beautiful patio/garden they are creating will increase the benefit to the neighborhood. No initiative, no matter how beneficial to the community as a whole, can satisfy everyone. We must not allow the greater good to be sacrificed to the whims of one selfish individual.

  76. It is a clear delineation of income strata when the biggest gripe in a neighborhood is a delicious, friendly, locally owned and community conscious cafe. It is so interesting to me that people complain about the price of their food, in a town that considers itself part of the “slow food” movement. It cost the same amount to buy a burnt latte and pre-packaged, dry, nasty scone at Starbucks – but where would the “support-local” effort be in that – oh conscientious Capital Hillers? When was the last time any of you baked or cooked using high quality, locally grown, ingredients? Anyone who does with any regularity can attest to the cost and time of such endeavors. I for one, appreciate being able to go there and know that the food I am eating was bought and prepared in the same way that I try to cook at home, just much tastier. Yes, it can be a bit noisy at times but it is a small space. From what I have witnessed it is often people talking from one table to another – neighbors talking to neighbors – and I have enjoyed being a part of that. I am guessing that those of you who oppose VPC wouldn’t mind it being one street over –perhaps just not on YOUR block. Seriously? If your biggest problem is having to walk past a neighborhood gathering spot, a flourishing, locally owned business – in an economy where more small independent businesses are floundering then succeeding, then I hope that none of you ever have to deal with any real neighbor problems. Big f’ing deal if you have to negotiate through people hanging out on the sidewalk, at least they are not asking you for spare change. If you find that walking through such situations to be too difficult or dangerous perhaps you could just cross the street – or move to neighborhood where you just drive your car to get your imported, prepackaged crappy food and you can avoid any chance of having to (god forbid) interact with your neighborhood community

  77. Tracy – why haven’t you reported this trailer? Just because you live in a miserable place means others should live in misery as well?

    Your reasoning doesn’t make any sense.

    If the owners of VPC cafe are such wonderful and caring human beings, I’m assuming their win-win was for them to give all the profits back to the neighbors?

  78. The business owners are providing a service for very happy customers, but you are entitled to keep whomever you want out of the neighborhood? Who exactly is the “greedy” one?

  79. This NIMBY attitude is one of the major problems with Seattle. Although I can no longer afford to live on the Hill, I grew up there, and my mother graduated from old Broadway High. The idea that this little corner cafe is some how a nuisance is utterly ludicrous. The neighbor in question is a selfish passive aggressive person who frankly has no business living in the city. Incidently, I now live on a street with several restaurants and two pubs. Occaisionally I am wakened by noise. Too bad. I choose to live in the city. It has certain annoyances. I deal. If there were an actual pattern of problems associated with a business on my street, I would go talk to the business owner and try to work it out. but then I’m not a selfish, passive aggressive person.

  80. I always loved eating outside at this place when I lived there and saw it as one of the best things about living in a walkable neighborhood. But much of the rest of my experience with that posh section of Capitol Hill was that it was infested with exactly the same sort of entitled attitude on display here.

    Invoking your “property values” is just a roundabout way of saying that your feelings should carry greater weight because your house is worth more money. Hey, guess what? You live in a city, not on your own private island. The presence of a corner cafe is not placing an undue burden on you, and only somebody with no real problems and too much time on their hands would be trying to get rid of such an obvious community asset.

  81. After re-reading the comments, I’m in awe at the self righteous attitudes being put on display.

    Heather and Ericka, I hate to say this – but ya girls screwed up. Big time. You signed a lease without performing proper due diligence. Opening a business takes a lot of money and the both of you never even considered confirming the facts stated in the lease. It’s something that would have taken less than an hour yet you both neglected to do so. It’s now time to pay that price unfortunately. I do doubt you’ll make the same mistake again.

    What I don’t respect is the finger pointing at the neighbor.

    “A neighbor is making our lives very difficult” – no he isn’t. for nearly four years he tolerated your restaurant. It wasn’t until the decision to expand service to the back patio that he decided to finally complain to the city. You were going to make his life more difficult (constant noise coming from the patio) and he took action. You brought this on yourself by your plans to expand and impact his quality of life.

    “We are not in violation and are legally compliant” – no you aren’t. The building is zoned for a small grocery yet a restaurant is being operated in the space. How is this being legally compliant? Why is the city going to start levying fines beginning on July 1st if you are not in violation?

    And to whoever called the neighbor “selfish” – seriously? What about the owners of Volunteer Park Cafe? It wasn’t until they got “selfish” with plans to expand and increase their revenue that this whole mess got started.

    No one wins in this situation. The neighbor, VPC, and the customers. Everyone loses.

  82. Zoning laws exist for a reason. If they can legally have the zoning of the building changed, then they should do so. If not, the fault is theirs alone and they need to move out.
    Using the landlord’s age as an excuse is weak. If their landlord had failed to build their roof to code and it collapsed, would they be saying “well, that’s OK, he’s old. it’s just a city code, those laws don’t really count.”

  83. Jo, of all of the posters you appear to be the most put out by VPC. I am curious what your angle is. So far you have called them greedy, selfish, aggressive and naive in their business dealings. You would put the padlock on yourself if you could. Simply put these WOMEN have worked hard at doing things the right way. They are new business owners and of course bound to make some mistakes but that doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they are doing. They buy locally grown food and goods, compost, recycle and have even used reclaimed building materials for the patio. When they first told me about the plans for the back patio – yes, I am a regular – they were excited to take a space that had been a dead dirty back yard lot (clearly not a eye pleaser to the neighbor) and wanted to create a beautiful garden, complete with raised beds, stone work and tables and chairs for mostly overflow seating. I asked about heaters – no plans, lighting – no plans. Have you seen the size of their kitchen? How much more food do you think that they will be able to crank out? The neighbor’s worry over late night noise is totally unfounded – they close at 9:00 for goodness sakes. My own neighbors stay outside later then that making noise. And how long does the weather even permit such activities? Your win-win comment about sharing the profits with the neighbors only makes you appear more ignorant and bitter then your other angry posts. Clearly you are a neighbor who lives close by and hates to see the change associated with a successful business moving into a space that has for years been attempting to be just that – a successful business. My guess is that you had no issue with the bizarre cafe that existed there prior to VPC. I hope that it works out for them – I hope that all of the neighbors who do support them are as forceful in the voicing of support as you are in the disparaging of them. And on Wednesday, when you show up to take pictures of the non-existent padlock being put on – I hope you are knocked over by one of the many satisfied customers exiting with a freshly made pastry.

  84. It’s tragic to me that in this world full of corruption,vice, and war where greed and corporations reign, that this is the battle that’s being fought in our neighborhood. It takes a true lack of perspective in one’s life to find a way to demonize these women for having a successful small business, who make beautiful food in a great cafe in a great neighborhood. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but this world is not made up of one way streets, at some point we have to converge….
    That through short-sightedness, someone would try to put an end the cafe is sad. These are women that have worked extremly long and hard to get where they are, with families and lives just like we all do – and the fantastic selfishness and pettiness that this action takes saddens me. This is not about you or me, we are a community, and all of the voices are important, but as soon as a minority voice strips away a much loved small business and threatens the livelyhoods of the owners and employees there is something wrong. If this is how we work as a neighborhood it’s no wonder we’re in the state we are.
    I hope that people can find some perspective and realize this isn’t only about sidewalk space or noise, but lives, and being a community – and for my part the cafe is an important part of my community.

  85. Wow. So let me get this straight. Someone has the most EXCELLENT fortune of being able to live in one of the city’s best (if not the best) neighborhoods, next door to one of the city’s best (if not the best) restaurants. And this is how he chooses to spend his time???? What most of us wouldn’t give to be able to live in North Cap Hill … especially right around that lovely cafe (not to mention eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner there if we could). Hey, Buddy — maybe you should take on some volunteering with all of that extra time you apparently have on your hands and all of that zoning/city logistical expertise you’ve got. In fact, maybe you should take that time and talent and apply ’em to helping out small, local businesses who do the community and therefore the world a lot of good. Ahem. Like The Volunteer Park Cafe. Did you not know? That cafe sources from other local businesses, hires/employs local people, practices sustainability, feeds probably most of the families who live around there, plus provides one of the best atmospheres for … well … LIVING LIFE. Something you haven’t, obviously, learned how to do. Take heart, though, Mister. There’s still time. Or, if you STILL refuse to get a life, rest assured that when this blows over (because the community WILL come together in support of always fresh goodness) — and you hear the peaceful sounds of chickens clucking from the bound-to-be-so-beautiful garden next door — you will be most welcome to, well, MOVE OUT. We won’t mind — and I’m sure there will be many folks lined up, eager and willing to move right in.

  86. “How can Lookout patrons be so rude and immensely thoughtless, that they think it’s OK to yell at the top of their lungs at 2 AM in front of rows of darkened apartments with open windows?”

    Oh, you can’t blame that on Lookout. That’s the way people behave today. Esp since the arrival of cell phones, people, esp younger people, think nothing about talking loudly, wherever they are, whatever the hour. It’s nothing to do w/the businesses. I live on Mercer. There are no businesses in the immediate vicinity (I’m talking about four block minimum). Yet I’m frequently awakened at night by people going who knows where yapping on their phones, or fighting with their significant others. Ooh, I can see how that would irritate some of the posters here; no one to call the blame or threaten a suit or threaten to close the business! Granted, a bar in the block might make it worse. But it wouldn’t mean you wouldn’t still have the noise problem.

    I think the neighbor is being a pain in the rear. People are so overly hyper about everything these days and so quick to complain. A friend of mine on the Hill had some boxes stacked by a door and his neighbor threatened a suit. Why? They weren’t on the neighbor’s property, didn’t block anything. “You infringe on me!” If they’re not vandalizing your property, why not just shut up about up?

  87. Sophie, I have a serious problem with them calling out the neighbor, because he reported the apparent zoning issue “he” is making their life difficult? I’m pretty sure the City of Seattle is the one that is making things difficult for the VPC. His action was to ensure compliance for what he thought was a zoning violation — well within the rights of any citizen to do.

    For example, I built what I considered a beautiful cedar deck off the back of my house. Evidently my neighbor didn’t agree and turned me into the city. Did I ask the rest of my neighbors to start a letter writing campaign and call the offending neighbor out? No. I got a permit and I finished my deck.

    Business is business, it’s not personal. They should have simply taken steps to see what they need to do to become a legally operating entity, as ALL businesses need to do and move forward. Take the emotion out of it and solve the problem. Instead they start some rambling campaign pitting neighbor against neighbor, creating chaos where none needed to exist. Great little “community” we got here, eh?

  88. No matter how people feel about it, I think VPC needs to fix the zoning issue. It’s self-evident that they cannot simply continue to violate zoning law and it’s also self-evident that they are not “legally compliant” right now. (Unless my understanding of the relevant zoning is wrong…)

    I think the proper arena for debate on this is in whatever decision-making process takes place with regard to VPC’s request for a use change.

    And honestly I think there’s a heck of a lot of unecessary vitriol in these comments on both sides.

  89. Keep the Lookout OUT of this bitch fest. You crabby ass neighbors have been trying UNSUCCESSFULLY to close it down for a year now. You will only be wasting your time. All permits are legit, the staff DOES NOT over serve, (they actually cut people off quite frequently), and there are many other bars w/in walking distance of the Lookout, that contribute to the neighborhood douche baggery. The Lookout is a fantastic bar, with an amazing, happy neighborhood vibe, and unfortunately for you, an ever growing number of fans. Buy a pair of ear plugs and shut the fuck up.