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 and who are concerned about what happens long after the cafe has served its last delicious, buttery scone.
“I think a neighborhood cafe is an asset to the community,” Volunteer Park Cafe neighbor Jones said. “But the issue is the growth that they have had. The expansion they have had is out of scale with what the neighborhood can support.”
Cliff Meyer also lives nearby and is acting as the unofficial spokesperson for the unofficial group forming to organize neighbors as Volunteer Park Cafe prepares to submit its application for a zoning change to permit it to continue operating as a restaurant in a building that is zoned for a grocery store. He says the group doesn’t speak for everyone, of course, but is doing what he can to talk with others in the area and get them involved. Meyer also reached out to us after seeing our post Tuesday morning about the latest in VPC’s process with the city. By the way, if you live in the area and would also like CHS to get your side of things on future neighborhood issues, we’re easy to reach — firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy.
Meyer, who works as a communications consultant, says the group is going by the name Volunteer Park Neighbors for now until somebody thinks of something better. And, he says, their mission isn’t to kick Volunteer Park Cafe out of the neighborhood.
“We think a compromise in which a business has certain limits would be wonderful for everyone,” Meyer said.
“This is not one next door neighbor that is doing something that is spiteful,” Meyer said. “This is a group of people who have been patient and polite and trying to work with the owners who feel like we have been backed into the corner.”
Meyer said he feels that the handful of neighbors who have filed complaints and who are working with the group have legitimate and fair issues that need to be raised — no matter how loved Volunteer Park Cafe is.
“I’ve been a customer and it’s great cafe,” Meyer said. “My family has enjoyed the cafe. We’ve spent hundreds of dollars. We felt like we were great neighbors.” But, like Jones, Meyer said that he and a half dozen other neighbors in the group are concerned about the restaurant’s growth and have specific areas of business they want to see addressed if Volunteer Park Cafe is going to continue to operate in the neighborhood.
Meyer listed the group’s priorities for CHS:
- Fire safety related to a busy commercial kitchen in a residential neighborhood
- Limited seating
- No crowding of sidewalk with patio seating
- Fix overflowing dumpsters
- Better solution for delivery trucks
- Limited operating hours and patio and garden hours
Better parking solutions
Jones, who works in the contracting and construction business, said he has known about the zoning for the space since he moved into the neighborhood 31 years ago and a grocery store operated on the corner. He said back when he was making the decision to buy the house neighboring the old grocery, he was concerned about the future of the store and spent an hour down at City Hall talking with staff about the limitations for the space.
When the cafe first opened, Jones said its scale wasn’t a problem for the street. But dinner hours, a more and more crowded sidewalk seating set-up, increased popularity and traffic and, finally, the plans VPC started making for its garden dining area convinced him that something needed to be done.
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.
Jones’ name getting mixed into this situation is only part of the communication problems that have also been in play. When Volunteer Park Cafe sent out information about their patio and plans for a garden and chicken coops to the media, Jones and Meyer say they neglected to talk to neighbors about the project.
“We’re confused by their inability to simply talk with neighbors,” Meyer said.
While Meyer didn’t rule out meeting with the cafe’s owners, nothing is planned and the group is focused on the change of use application and public process that will follow. Meyer said he feels the process will be his group’s opportunity to lay out their concerns and put conditions on how Volunteer Park Cafe operates on the street.
“A good public process is important if the cafe owners have no interest in actually working with the neighbors,” Meyer said.
Jones is thinking about his home on Capitol Hill.
“Restaurants come and go. We don’t know who will be the next tenant,” Jones said. “The neighbors are looking more in terms of long term.”
“I plan on being in this house forever,” Jones said. “Chances are, I’ll probably be in the neighborhood a lot longer than they will.”