One of the most important applications ever filled out by Heather Earnhardt and Ericka Burke is now in the hands of the City of Seattle — and the neighbors and community members who now have the opportunity to formally sound off on the future of the Volunteer Park Cafe.
Owners Earnhardt and Burke have submitted their paperwork for an administrative conditional use permit that will allow the nearly four-year-old cafe to continue operating as a restaurant at an address that is only legally zoned for a grocery market. We’re working to get the application from DPD to post on CHS for all to see without making the trek down to the Seattle Municipal Tower on 5th Ave.
We have confirmed that the application has been accepted by the city but not yet posted in the Department of Planning and Development land use bulletins so the clock is not yet ticking for interested parties to submit their feedback on the application. Once the bulletin goes up — and a notice is posted at the cafe — there will be a two week public comment period. During those 14 days, neighbors, community members and Seattle foodies can send in their feedback to DPD. We’ll have more on that once a DPD planner has been assigned and we know where to direct feedback.
Once feedback is collected, the DPD planner will conduct an analysis, weigh feedback and write a decision. After the decision is published, there will be another 14-day period for additional public feedback. Any appeals will be heard by the city’s hearing examiner, not DPD. DPD staff have told CHS that it will likely take months for a decision on the application. In the meantime, Volunteer Park Cafe will be able to continue to operate at its location at the corner of 17th Ave East and East Galer.
The application stems from a dispute first reported by CHS in June in which a neighbor reported the cafe to the city for violating land use codes by operating a restaurant in a location where only a market was permitted. Volunteer Park Cafe claimed ignorance of the zoning issue and pledged to clear things up with the city. But neighbors living near the cafe say only getting the paperwork in order won’t be enough. CHS spoke with the neighbor who first reported the cafe to the city about his concerns about Volunteer Park’s growth.
“I think a neighborhood cafe is an asset to the community,” Volunteer Park Cafe neighbor Paul 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.”
A group forming to represent neighbors’ needs in the feedback process with the city provided a seven point list to CHS of areas they would like to see addressed before the cafe is authorized for the change of use.
- 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
CHS doesn’t typically give DPD land use bulletins this level of attention but the situation surrounding the cafe — as anybody who has witnessed the comment threads on CHS posts about the matter — represents many important Capitol Hill themes and is a significant land use decision in terms of how the neighborhood balances its growth as a business center and its desirability as a place to live. Themes are one thing. There is also the hard work of Burke and Earnhardt to consider in all of this and the real lives of the people who live nearby. Nowhere is the comment meme of “why do you live on Capitol Hill? move to Kent” less applicable. Nor does it seem like a positive solution for the cafe to be forced off 17th Ave East. People on all sides of the equation have valid, worthwhile points. Watching how the city functions to balance these and forge a solution everybody can live and do business with will be fascinating and important precedent for what life will be like for people living in Seattle’s most vibrant areas and the entrepreneurs who want to do business in that vibrant environment.