As 17th and Galer turns: Latest from the Volunteer Park Cafe dispute

It’s been a while since we updated the situation around the Volunteer Park Cafe and a dispute with neighbors at 17th and Galer that has grown into a major land use process with the City of Seattle. The last time we broached the subject to round-up some of the top CHS food + drink stories of 2010, the comments again crackled with frustration from all sides — those who oppose the cafe’s effort to secure the city’s permission to continue operating at the site, those who support it, and those who have heard just about enough, thank you very much. But the story has progressed and news is afoot. We’re stepping back in.

Coming soon is likely a public hearing on the Volunteer Park Cafe’s application for a change of use permit to formally allow the business to continuing operating as a restaurant on 17th Ave. Mike Silva, a consultant hired by the cafe to assist with the change of use, said the goal is to kick-start dialogue and publicly put to rest some of the ongoing misinformation Silva says the Volunteer Park Neighbors group is spreading about what the cafe is trying to accomplish. “We’d like to address this in a public forum, where the city can corroborate that, ‘yes, indeed, it’s not part of the application, so won’t be permitted.’”

In June 2010, we first reported on the dispute between a neighbor and the Volunteer Park Cafe that lead to a complaint with the city that the cafe was operating illegally as a restaurant in a building permitted only as a grocery market. In October, we documented the objections to the application of the Volunteer Park Neighbors group and their nine proposals for the cafe to continue operating in the neighborhood as a restaurant. You can learn more on their Web site

With bringing on Silva as a consultant, the cafe isn’t the only side that has geared up for the dispute.

CHS has learned the neighbor group opposing the cafe is working with high-powered Seattle lawyer Peter Buck of the Buck Law Group and DPD is already facing significant legal questions. According to DPD’s Bryan Stevens, Buck, who Stevens says represents a number of neighbors concerned about the proposal, has filed a request for an interpretation of DPD’s application of the land use code. “Mr. Buck is suggesting that the originally permitted use has lapsed and therefore the space cannot be changed to a restaurant use,” Stevens said. In other words, Stevens says Buck is questioning whether it is even legal for DPD to grant a change of use in the case. Stevens says DPD must answer that one prior to making a decision on the cafe’s proposal.

Meanwhile, the Volunteer Park Neighbors have company. A new group, Friends and Neighbors of Volunteer Park Cafe, has formed to support the cafe in the neighborhood. Silva tells CHS the group has collected signatures for a petition supporting the cafe from neighbors on the immediate block — minus a few who side with the VPN. With FNVPC, VPN, consultants and lawyers, we’re hoping day to day life isn’t too weird on 17th Ave.

What’s next is more time for additional information requested by DPD to be gathered and then time for the department to make a decision. Prior to the holidays, DPD was still saying “several months” and told us one key component still required was a parking study from the cafe to examine conditions on the streets near the restaurant. VPN’s spokesperson Cliff Meyer said he believes the cafe’s Heather Earnhardt and Ericka Burke are dragging their feet on the study to delay a decision. The cafe says the delay is due to a change in the request from DPD to require a professional traffic consultant to perform the study and the difficulty in finding an available consultant.

As for the upcoming public hearing, Meyer said he supports a public dialogue but that it would have been more appropriate last summer and that he believes this, too, is a stalling tactic.

Stalling or not, the costs for VPC continue to mount. In addition to whatever fees owed to consultants for the information they are responsible for providing, Earnhardt and Burke have also payed around $3,500 in fees to DPD for various forms and filings thus far. Silva says the cafe is getting support from the Office of Economic Development which has provided a staffer to help navigate DPD’s permits and procedures. And he says the support from the community continues to be strong. You can sign up for a supporters e-mail list here

We also asked Meyer for an update on his group’s activities. Given some of the past frustrations with our coverage of his group’s issues, we’ve included Meyer’s update, in full, here:

Public hearing
VPC would have to pay DPD to hold a public hearing — probably costing $1,000, from what I’m told. If VPC is considering this expense, I’d rather see them use that kind of cash to feed the homeless. It’s hard to believe that a hearing would provide DPD with new information beyond the comments already submitted, although it would further emphasize how VPC’s attempt to expand illegally has led to divisiveness in our neighborhood.
VPN has no issue with all the people who love the food at VPC, and would like a neighborhood cafe on that corner. In fact, I remain one of those people! VPN hopes all cafe supporters will urge Ericka and Heather to honor our neighborhood’s residential zoning — and the rights of nearby neighbors — by agreeing to some reasonable, binding limits VPN proposed for the size of their restaurant.
Opinion is split
Neighbors’ opinion is split almost evenly on VPC’s plan for a restaurant with patio seating. We are heartened by the support we found in canvassing the neighborhood in the fall. We visited the homes of  112 nearby residents and learned 44.3% oppose both the restaurant legalization and use of patio. More information at background on the canvassing is at
VPN encourages dialogue on the facts
Volunteer Park Neighbors would like to invite neighbors to discuss the issues in small-group salons, to be scheduled at people’s convenience. Contact us at or 425-298-6575. More info at
Parking Study?
We’re eagerly awaiting results of the parking study that DPD requested 3 months ago from the Cafe. VPC has moved so slowly in its attempt to become a legal business that we wonder if they have any respect for the zoning law meant to protect the neighbors who live near their business. I think they know that promoting the restaurant as a citywide destination ensures that the parking demand is far greater than that of a little grocery store. The data some of the neighbors collected show that the cafe draws many cars to the neighborhood. See
VPC office is illegal
We’re gratified that DPD determined that the cafe owners cannot use this application to expand the building’s non-residential uses to the second floor, where VPC currently — illegally — has an office. That space is supposed to be residential. (This was in the Dec. 15 Correction Notice, which also requested floor and site plans from VPC.)
We’d STILL like to support the cafe
We remain open to hearing from the cafe’s owners, and would support legalization if they and the building owner agreed in a legally binding document to a few conditions, primarily that the restaurant won’t expand beyond the first floor’s interior.

102 thoughts on “As 17th and Galer turns: Latest from the Volunteer Park Cafe dispute

  1. Volunteer Park Neighbors was pleased to learn yesterday from DPD that a March 15 deadline has been set for the parking study (requested by the City back in mid-November) and site plans (requested in early Dec.). DPD doesn’t set such deadlines unless an applicant is delaying the process.

    See for the history of this conflict.

  2. As I recall, previous comments of this topic have tended to be long and involved. It’s good to hear the whole story and to hear both sides of it, but it would be even better if these “theses” started with a simple ( say 5 lines or fewer) summary of their major points.


  3. Actually, you are mischaracterizing yet again.

    DPD always sets deadlines.

    Nor is a public meeting a stalling tactic. It’s a public forum moderated by the city, where neighbors can voice their concerns (maybe even some you don’t agree with), ask questions, listen to both sides, and get authoritative information about the process…outside of your preferred ‘small salon’ spin zones.

    For someone who comments so frequently about this story, you seem either remarkably poorly informed, or to be willfully spinning with a vengeance.

    To date we’ve tried not to engage in tit for tat with your group’s frequent misstatements, we didn’t think it was productive to keeping a pleasant neighborhood, or furthering dialog. But the taking the high road has mostly led to a proliferation of misinformation.

    Finally, Cliff, your group’s public position over the past few months has been to say that you really want dialog and to support the cafe, but meanwhile in private your side’s stated position to the cafe and city have been that if the cafe and landlord don’t agree to sign your group’s restrictive covenant on the land, you’re not willing to talk, and want the cafe closed.

  4. Mike Silva is inaccurate. Neither of the DPD’s “Correction Notices” carried a submission deadline. I had wondered about that and one other element re the parking study, and asked John Shaw at DPD, back in November. I believe his response is public record, so I will include it below, but xxx out email addresses, which seem to cause problems with the CHS comments function. (Justin, help!):

    From: “Shaw, John”
    Date: November 29, 2010 3:46:30pm PST
    To: Cliff Meyer
    Cc: “Kemp, Scott”
    Subject: RE: Parking study re Proj 3011437

    Mr. Meyer,

    Thank you for your comments. With respect to the parking study, it does not need to be completed within a specific time frame; however, projects generally need to respond to requests for additional information reasonably promptly. I don’t have any detailed knowledge about prior uses on the site; I’ve been informed that the last legally established use on the site was a grocery store, with a residence above. This would be the use to which the current use needs to be compared.

    John Shaw
    Senior Transportation Planner

  5. Thanks for saying that. I agree, and will stick to brief, factual statements while keeping the tone civil.
    Cliff (on behalf of Volunteer Park Neighbors)

  6. VPN stands by the information we present on (Send comments or concerns to

    In this process, it is VPC (as applicant) that must ask and pay DPD to hold the hearing. VPC filed its zoning application on Sept. 16, and the “official” DPD public comment period ended in October. As of yesterday morning (Feb. 15), VPC had still not asked DPD’s lead planner on this case to schedule a hearing. CHS readers can draw their own conclusions about the timing, should such a request be made now.

    We *do* welcome dialogue, and have been rebuffed by VPC on the patio issue, although a very civil dialogue (including very real progress) has occurred on issues such as garbage spillover and collection hours, and delivery-truck parking. We remain open to discussion, in person.

    We continue to welcome people to participate in salons, and would be happy to invite VPC’s Ericka and Heather to join in. Email us at the above address.
    on behalf of Volunteer Park Neighbors

  7. I am shocked that VPC would choose Mike Silva based on some of his comments posted previously on this blog. Either their intelligence is an issue or they have no interest in working with anyone. This isn’t the guy to help solve your problems.

  8. Mike,
    I will save you a post as well. You don’t need to tell other commentors to “sack up” if they don’t use their real names. You have already used that line on this blog once before.

  9. In the interest of accuracy, I called on Mike to sack up. This was back when he was posting anonymously as “Mike with Curls.”

    Thank you for your note, Noname. I hope you come to a salon.

  10. Sigh.

    I’ve never posted as “Mike with Curls”. A) I don’t have curls, for whatever probative value that provides. B) I wasn’t working for the cafe at any time I posted in the past. C) I always fully attribute my posts with my real name, because I am not ashamed to write pointedly, and honestly, on topics I am passionate about.

    The comment section of this blog is not the private dominion of VPN to bully others, and quash opinion’s that differ from yours by sheer number of shrill, overwrought, or erroneous responses. So you’ll have to excuse me for having no particular interest in apologizing for calling out anonymous posters obviously from your side.

    As for my effectiveness in this job, I think you’ll find I’m quite capable. Even if I resist further tedious argument in the comments, because it bores everyone besides the immediate belligerents and proves nothing.

  11. I come through the neighborhood often, as I have garden clients close by and I always stop in for a lunch bite. I have never had an issue parking, which leads me to believe there is always available space and I’ve never seen trucks blocking the roads. I would support the new licensing wholeheartedly!

  12. Any neighborhood in Seattle or elsewhere should be proud to have an establishment like VPC. Stay strong Ericka and Heather! You have given Seattle a gift, it is terribly unfortunate that some don’t have the vision to see it as such.

  13. Having lost a battle with a community 30 years ago to serve hard liquor at my restaurant that when I purchased it have a conditional use to serve hard liquor. After addressing community council and agreeing to a service bar only, someone in the city government rescinded my conditional use permit. When I went to city hall with my high priced lawyer he said the city attorney said someone pulled some strings and unless I had $50,000 to take on the city I was SOL. Now all bars in Madison park have liquor and they were just handed them on a silver platter. I hope these folks win their right to have a restaurant.

  14. This is the definition of a friendly neighborhood cafe. I can only imagine the childish egos that must be present to oppose something that has been in place for years and years. Sometimes those childish egos have plenty of money to promote, and nearly legitimize their views, and the world is a worse place for it. Next I expect apple pie and picnics will face similar foolish opposition.

  15. We’re talking about a little restaurant for christ’s sake. It’s not like they’ve set up a motocross track or a rifle range or something. For the love of god doesn’t anyone have anything better to do than mess with these people?

  16. Regarding the office issue: surely Mr. Meyer is writing some of his blog posts from the “office” in his own residence. Most people have an office in their residence. Having an office is not a nefarious scheme. Is he spying on Heather and Ericka through the windows? If they take a nap upstairs is that allowed? Would a nap make the 2nd floor a residence? How about taking a shower? What if someone sleeps there 1 night a week — will it be a residence then? It’s just unbelievable that Mr. Meyer has nothing else going on in his life as to be dredging up yet another silly issue with VPC.

    I also take issue with the statistics Mr. Meyer presents about canvasing the immediate neighbors. Talk about lying with statistics. He makes no mention of the people living close to VPC who their group was unable to survey. I would be one of them. And I live close enough that I’m one of the neighbors who was sent a letter by the city to offer comments during the comment period. Hard to believe I was the only home in the immediate neighborhood who either wasn’t home or declined to answer the door.

    If I had been home, I would have told them to a) get a life and b) be careful what you wish for — don’t like a lovely little cafe with fantastic food and a beautiful patio to enjoy the rare Seattle sun? How about a grocery store selling lottery tickets, malt liquor and cigarettes? Perfect!

  17. Let’s call a spade a spade here.

    The whole reason this came about was simply that VPC made the HUGE error of opening a restaurant where they were not permitted to do so. Then, when they got found out, they cried about it (figuratively, of course) and went on about how the owners invested so much into the business and could lose it all.

    They wanted special treatment, an exemption to the rules everyone else must follow. Some how, though, they seem to have got a pass when the ENTIRELY appropriate thing would have been for the City to walk in, examine the permits and tell them that what their operation was illegal and it would need to be shut down immediately. Then, they could have applied for the permits to run the business as it has been run and see where that took them.

    VPC got greedy, it seems, and wanted to expand their revenue line (with a patio) and didn’t seem to care what impact it would create for their neighbors or the immediate neighborhood. From a casual observer, it seems all they cared about was making more money. I’m happy the neighborhood had some checks and balances on this situation — what was to stop them from expanding even more later on down the line?

    Truly, I hope that there’s no love lost for VPC, but the fair thing would be to shut them down until this is resolved. The resolution should be to allow them to do what their permit indicates they can do (a grocery store) and until (and even if) they can secure the proper permit to run a restaurant, they shouldn’t be allowed to do so in that space.

  18. So, it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to violate permit rules because they’re a small business?

    And, surely, as long as they aren’t on your shortlist of acceptable-in-your-opinion businesses?

    While I agree that in the long run, this is probably not the largest issue out there, ever, it’s simply about the rules. Business owners sign up and agree to follow a certain set of guidelines given out by the City, state, whatever overseeing authority that oversees their operation and can’t decide to change that without getting prior approval to do so.

    VPC, however small and quaint it may be, and the owners, however nice they might be, have to follow the rules. They’re designed so everyone plays on a level play field. No one should get special treatment.

  19. On some of the articles CHS ran early into this debate, a poster using the handle “Mike with Curls” was just nasty. A bunch of people called him out (Justin being one of them; thank you, Justin). Many felt, and I was one, that if Mike with Curls was going to take pot-shots, he should be at least willing to use his real name. It was in this instance that I suggested he sack up.

    I was under the impression that MIke Silva and ‘Mike with Curls’ were one and the same. I apologize to Mike Silva

  20. Apparently, Brian, the answer to your question is a resounding “NO!”, Alle and Cliff, Queen and King of the NIMBY’s, have decided exactly what kind of neighborhood everyone gets, and are throwing money at their lawyers to get their way. I wonder how many of the 44% in their push poll also signed the petitions to allow VPC to stay in business.

  21. Apparently, Ericka checked with a lawyer before breaking ground on her illegal back patio almost a year ago. Before we went to DPD, we went over to speak with Ericka and Heather. We reminded them that the entire neighborhood knew the “cafe” operated outside its legal zoning. We told her that if she moved forward with her patio, we would file a complaint with the City.

    Ericka replied that her attorney told her they were legal. Looked right into a neighbor’s face and said it.

    Ericka had retained an attorney back when we here at VP Neighbors weren’t even VP Neighbors. We were just neighbors who thought the “cafe” was a great little place and that the owners would respond reasonably to reasonable requests.

    Ericka threatened a lawsuit.

    The lawyer who contacted us on Ericka’s behalf is perhaps even more acknowledged in the field that Peter Buck. Ericka’s firm is more expensive. So, yes, money is being spent. On all sides.

    I would like to remind everyone the reason everyone’s money is being spent:

  22. VPC stated something similar on their application for the land-use change, but they didn’t back it up with any data. This is why DPD asked VPC for Corrections.

    You can see photos of VPC’s parking impacts here:

    and here: (

    For the parking study, DPD wants VPC to provide the kind of documentation we do on these pages, supporting their claim that the neighborhood will not experience greater impact if VPC is allowed to legally operate the restaurant they are proposing.

    It gets confusing b/c VPC is already operating the restaurant they are proposing. They have, illegally, since 2007. VPC calls the process we are undergoing “rezoning.”

    This is inaccurate. “Re-zoning” happens before opening in a way that violates land-use rights. VPC is in the process of requesting a change in land-use, having been found in violation of their land-use by DPD. If granted the land-use change, VPC would be operating legally for the first time since opening.

  23. I don’t live in the area immediately around VPC, but I am a customer. And I have walked, driven, and bicycled to come eat there. On those occasions when I have driven, I’ve never had any problem finding more than one empty parking space on 17th. So if there’s a huge parking problem, I haven’t witnessed it.

    For those who are voicing the “not in my backyard” sentiment, consider that we each share each others’ neighborhoods. I may come and park in yours occasionally to go to VPC, and you surely come to park near my business (and in our lot) when you go to events at the Seattle Center.

    And that’s as it should be. We are all part of this city. And, unless your completely self-absorbed you might be able to consider the greater good in allowing VPC to continue to operate as a successful small business (not an easy thing to do these days), and a positive contributor to life in Seattle.

  24. It seems to me that a group of disgruntled neighbors is calling out a family friendly restaurant on a lease/zoning technicality. The reality is that many people enjoy the neighborhood presence of the Volunteer Park Cafe. I’m sorry its next door neighbors don’t, however calling the cafe out on an age old zoning technicality is childish. It’s not as if the cafe opened its doors a month ago, there has obviously been a long lasting zoning issue at the site that was never addressed, to all of a sudden decide to go after the operators due to a request for some outdoor seating is baffling. One of the things I love about the cafe is seeing parents enjoying a quiet dinner with their children and then allowing their children to walk home while the parents finish their glass of wine. There are few places where this kind of neighborhood gathering are possible. I fully support the cafe’s efforts to defend itself and the investment it has made in its current location.

  25. I’ve lived here for quite some time – longer than the keepers of the VPNeighbors website, and I have to say that even with the patio and the outdoor seating, the current state of this property is way better than it used to be. All other establishments were kind of dumpy and didn’t last because no one wanted to go there. I want to go to the VPC! I run into neighbors and friends and I come away feeling like I belong to a community. I completely support the new licensing. From where I sit, the benefits to the neighborhood far outweigh the detractions. And besides – we would all do well to try to get along, and that is not happening here. The VPNeighbors say that they want to get along, but I find it hard to see how setting up a critical website exemplifies that. I find the VPNeighbors site to be mean-spirited and overdone. Criminy, I found dead rats in my yard once, brought on when my neighbor set out poison – just say “ick,” dispose of it, and move on! Other neighbors of mine spruced up their deck, got a firepit, and regularly had people over drinking wine, talking & laughing… yes, it was loud, but if I wanted total quiet I’d live in Issaquah. When you move next to a business, you have to accept that there is a business in your neighborhood, and it might change, it might grow… or it could be shut down and go back to being a scuzzy market, or worse. The owners of the Cafe are far from perfect, but this is not as bad as things could get. I’m truly amazed by the amount of time the VPNeighbors are willing and able to invest in this, to the point of being an obsession. If you have an issue with the DPD, take it to the DPD and leave it at that. Seattle has much bigger problems than this… please go feed the homeless or something.

  26. Larry Asher,

    It sounds like you might be new to the discussion, and that you might have a vision of VPC based on your experiences as a well-treated customer. People certainly share your current opinion.

    VPC is not a successful small business. VPC is a successful illegal business. And it is expanding illegally in a way that is impacts us legal people more than we care to accommodate.


    VPC has failed to comply with pretty much every requirement laid out by the City to legally run a grocery/café/restaurant. They saved a lot of money by not filing permits. They make a lot of money illegally serving food and alcohol on their front sidewalk. They want to make even more money by offering back patio service. All of this, they don’t seem to mind doing by breaking the law.

    Let’s think about that: breaking the law. It is hard to reconcile “law-breaking” with the cute little cafe with the nice staff and the gumballs; so we write it off. “Oh, yeah, they don’t have the zoning to run a cafe. Big whoop.”

    Perhaps zoning is no big whoop. But VPC’s disaffected approach to regulation is the we we can address the crux of the issue: VPC’s insistence on pursuing commercial use of their back patio. back yard.

    This conflict goes far deeper than easy parking. Neighbors have decided that we do not want to live next to a full-service restaurant offering sidewalk and patio dining and special events. We bought into a residential neighborhood: not commercial use, not mixed-use. We bought here before VPC literally changed their own-land-use, began operating illegally,…
    read more

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    d altered the nature of a street we loved the way it was.

    VPC want the neighborhood to change to allow their business to grow.

    This is the kind of conversation we hope to have in our in-home salons. Please contact us to schedule one:

  27. Several commenters think of VPC as a little restaurant. Here’s the math: the new brick patio could have brought total indoor and outdoor seating to 90+ diners (40 inside, at least 35 on the patio, 16 on the public sidewalk). That’s not little.

    Anyone who supports the idea of a *reasonably sized* restaurant at Galer & 17th should write VPC (, and urge Ericka and Heather to proactively work things out with nearby neighbors. As we had asked them to try many times in the past year.

    on behalf of Volunteer Park Neighbors

  28. Mike,

    You say often that the neighbors are mischaracterizing. It is precisely because of claims such as this that we came up with the idea of the salons {}.

    We welcome the idea of being in a private room with a handful of neighbors at a time, honestly listening to their concerns and addressing them with our concerns – backed up by data: photographs documenting impacts, City documents and other elements of public record. And also our experiences. Experiences are not only a valid part of this debate, they shape an individuals position.

    We do want dialogue with the “cafe”. We do not find this in conflict with not supporting the illegal restaurant VPC has operated since they opened and have expanded with an equal disregard for requirements so basic as building permits. VPC wants a really big operation on the corner. 44.3% of the neighbors we were able to canvass with do not. {}

    Which is not to say that VPC finds itself without support. 45.6% were for the proposed change, in varying degrees:
    -18% favored ‘restaurant’ change and back patio use;
    – 27% favored ‘restaurant’ but not patio, or said they did yet know enough about patio use to state an opinion;

    Finally, 10.1% remained undecided about the issue as a whole. It seems clear that the most reasonable compromise is: legalize the restaurant, agree to no patio use. We offered this exact compromise []. I cannot tell you the level of disappointed I felt when VPC turned us down.

    Our sense is that Ericka and Heather turned us down b/c Ericka (our last communication from…
    read more
    ather was that she was backing off from the debate) will not give up her vision for commercial use of the back patio. If you and she finds our requirement restrictive, please keep in mind that they are no more nor less than those Ericka herself agreed to when she signed her lease and when she chose to open in this residential neighborhood. Big-patio places are the stuff of commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods.

    I do have to say that the idea of Ericka taking the high road gave me a chuckle.

  29. As uncomfortable and time-consuming as conflict can be, I have found it empowering to be able to define for myself the reasons I moved to this neighborhood and to make it a priority to keep the elements I love and to work with my neighbors on the elements that could be improved.

    I have learned a lot about my neighbors over the course of this very difficult experience. Yeah, it’s costing me a lot of time and money. I may never see a ‘pay-out.” I feel like these are the benefits and consequences of making choices.

  30. $50,000 is a lot of money and I can understand how your experience shapes your opinion here. I see some significant differences in the situation you describe and the situation here with Ericka and VPC.

    Look what you did: you researched the reality of undertaking the kind of business you wanted to run. You found it financially prohibitive and did something else. That is what a reasonable business does. In this instance, Ericka did what she wanted first and found out about the financial and legal restrictions later.

  31. The City presents a clear difference between the level of impact caused by a business that takes place in a person’s home and the impacts caused by a commercial operation such as VPC’s.

    DPD disagrees with you on the uses that Ericka has in place – current as well as proposed – When asking Ericka for corrections, two months ago, they wrote:

    “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 other words: Ericka is not and will never be allowed to do what she is doing. You don’t have to spy on her to find out what she is doing. She keeps her shades wide open. She does not appear to care either that she is operating outside her land-use or that the DPD has reminded her that she is operation outside her land-use. I really am stumped as to what we can do about that attitude.

    I am the neighbor in charge of the canvassing. You can read about our process here: We are not interested making up facts to support a narrative that doesn’t hold water with the DPD. We want to understand the neighborhood’s opinion to that so we can make our best possible decisions. (

    We did our best to speak with every neighbor in the 300′ radius defined by DPD as impacted by VPC’s proposal to legalize their restaurant. We did not avoid people with differing opinions. We welcome the idea of Mike going door-to-door with his information….
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    cts always pan out in our favor. In canvassing, I found that residents had made up their minds based on the facts presented in context of the kind of neighborhood they want to live in and the kind of business they want to see on our corner.

    I am sorry we didn’t get a chance to speak with you. We did include opinions expressed by people in the 300′ radius in letters sent to DPD during the comment period. If you sent in a letter with the opinions expressed above, we recorded your voice as one of the 18% of the residents who share it.

  32. Yours and the above are precisely the kinds of issues we want to delve into in our salons, although we will ask attendees to avoid using insulting language. As long as everyone can interact respectfully, we’ll talk with anyone who wants to talk. you can ask us just to listen. You can ask for a moderator or we can agree to moderate ourselves.

    We have wide-ranging differences between what it means to be a true benefit to the long-term good of the neighborhood; about the choices involved in living in a city’s residential neighborhood vs. in the country; about what it means to have the situation become “as bad as it could get;’ and about what obsession looks like.

    It seems to be that we neighbors are as obsessed with the situation as VPC’s actions have forced us to be. Let’s meet and talk.

  33. the Cafe is a beautiful small business that brings together neighbors and cements the neighborly feeling in North Capitol Hill. I live at 23rd and Galer and the Cafe is part of my daily routine. I love the food, the employees and the owners. A small contingent of very crabby and unfriendly people specifically the neighbor immediately NORTH of the cafe is ruining the cafe for everyone.(I know, they have put up mean signs outside the cafe, they have taken photos of the customers and have been very mean — NOT GOOD NEIGHBORS to the cafe or to those who share the neighborhood). I have met countless wonderful neighbors at the cafe and gotten to know the neighborhood through the cafe. It is a gem and should not be put in a position to constantly defend themselves for a small, mean and strangely powerful contingent. The cafe has had to spend ridiculous sums in legal fees and it is just a small business trying to get by — one that employs people in the neighborhood. I want a public forum. Let’s bring this into the light and see who is for the cafe and who is against. Those against will be incredibly outnumbered and that is why they don’t want a public forum. I will be there with bells on and I am ready to be very vocal.

  34. Hey, Mike Silva:

    Below are the kinds of specifics I would like to hear answered at the public hearing. If you want to respond sooner, I will post anything you write, unedited, on You can contact me there.

    If Justin has asked VPC these kinds of questions these questions, I would appreciate hearing about it in an article.

    1. Ericka wrote on her first broadside {}:

    “We are not in violation and are legally compliant. We need to present a supportive agreement (sic) as to why the city should grant us a change of use.“

    If VPC was “not in violation,” why did the DPD issue a violation? If VPC was already “legally compliant,” why would DPD need to grant them a change of use?

    2. VPC was legally required to wait for the approval of an Administrative Conditional Use Application before opening. It took them more than three years to begin it, and it took a huge amount of pressure. In the three years before the neighbors called them out, the owners took no steps to legalize VPC.

    Why not?

    3. The DPD ordered Ericka to stop constructing the patio until she resolved the ‘grocery’ land-use for which they found her restaurant in violation. She then finished the patio. DPD infomred her that in addition to land-use for the ‘grocery’ space, she did not have the land-use for commercial activity on the patio. She then used the patio for commercial activity.

    Why is Ericka so comfortable operating as if she doesn’t have to follow the law or standard business practices? Why do her supporters continue their avid support in the face of it?

  35. You support the cafe defending itself that it is ok to break the law as long as it involves a good scone…? It’s ok to ignore the laws as long as it is for the greater good or if a business benefits? I’m not following you.

  36. I live in Seattle but have never been to the VPC. I don’t know any of the parties involved so am looking at this situation from a neighborhood outsider point-of-view.

    It appears that VPC is insisting that it get everything it wants: sidewalk seating, patio seating, full restaurant and bar even though the owners knowingly opened in a building zoned as a grocery store. This is not a ‘technical’ violation of zoning. This is a complete violation of zoning.

    Why are neighbors who are actually willing to support a partially modified use of the building being villified? How many of the individuals writing the nasty ‘stop picking on a small business’ and ‘I love this place’ comments actually live near it? Other than the one neighbor who commented in support of VPC it seems most of the other comments in support are written by individuals that drive to visit. This is based on the number of comment writers claiming that they never have trouble finding parking. Even writers who live within walking distance can not claim the same impact as those living across the street or next door.

    VPC is exactly the sort of cafe/restaurant I love to visit. From the pics it reminds me of the High Spot in Madrona. I would not mind living within walking distance of a business like VPC but I do not think I would want to live next to a business like VPC. The patio will be used primarily during weather conditions that will likely require surrounding neighbors to have windows open. All the smells and noise cannot be avoided by these neighbors.

    Had these neighbors moved near an operating restaurant it would be one thing. But to expect them to put up with a restaurant that opened illegally just because what opened is charming with good food and service is not reasonable. VPN seems ready to compromise. Why won’t VPC? Since when is ‘compromise’ the insistance that one side gives on everything and the other side gets everything it wants?

    What is the point of having zoning laws if exceptions are made everytime individuals from outside the zoned area like the non-conforming use?

  37. I am unhappy that this is still such a topic of conversation. Particularly the nit picky back and forth. The following is basically a re-post of what I said last August, although I am sure that I will make some updates and additions before I press send. I do not wish to debate the issue, but as the 2nd most impacted neighbor to the cafe, I think it is important that my opinion is noted.
    This is a very difficult issue for my wife and I, who have lived directly across the street from the Cafe/Grocery store for 18+ years now. We have seen a lot of different owners in our day, as it has cycled between grocery and cafe and back a few times. All of my observations are from this 18 year window.

    The very first people that were there when we moved in 18 years ago had a sign that said simply “Ice cold beer and cigarettes”, and along with some candy, it was about all they sold. There was some expired other groceries on the shelves, but they did not really move. It was a dive, and a blight on the neighborhood.

    The first place there that I think added something positive to the neighborhood was when a couple gentlemen acquired the place in the late 90′s and converted it to a cafe. They had a popular and wonderful brief run before their personal relationship failed, and it was sold. These guys were friends with most of the neighbors, and as far as I can tell, everyone was sad when they left.

    This lead to a series of failed cafe’s and groceries. The final owners, before it was sold to Erika and Heather, had it branded as “Cafe Europa”. Very few neighborhood people cared for this place, and it was clear that they didn’t care for us. Most infamous was the dispute with a neighbor who objected to the prominent display of Benito Mussolini’s portrait.

    As far as my wife and I are concerned, Ericka and Heather have done things almost entirely right. They have created a space that is very pleasing, and very popular with many people within the show more neighborhood and beyond. Starting about three months before they opened, they were reaching out to the neighborhood, and making us all feel welcome. We are still frequent guests of the establishment, and hope to be for many years to come.

    My wife and I tried to remain “above the fray”. We are friends with the people on both sides of this dispute, including Paul and his wife, Cliff and Alle, and with Erika and Heather. I know that they had legitimate complaints, and I don’t want be dismissive of them. I also believe that most if not all of their complaints that I did agree with have in fact been addressed.

    We support the Cafe. Of all our years here, we have only had what I consider to be “good tenants” in that space for perhaps 5.5 years, and that includes these past 4+ years that VPC has been there. We will be extremely disappointed if we lose the cafe.

    The neighborhood itself appears to be very split in their feelings. We know many people who love the place, and of course we have friends who are on the “complaint” side. But this situation should *not* be construed as having any kind of unanimity of opinion amongst the neighborhood. VPC does have neighbors who support them.

    Here is what I believe to be the major problem with the VPN approach:

    1. They’ve indicated that they “support the existence of the cafe”, but would rather have it shut down than exist in it’s current state.

    The problem I see is that all of the problems that VPN sees here, are due to the success of the cafe. Parking, People and increase in Garbage are the natural by-product of success, and will exist with any successful business. Any changes that VPN is successful at pushing through will negatively impact the ability of *anybody* to succeed there. So I see the VPN position as one that will accept a business there as long as it is barely able to stay afloat. IF VPN succeeds in pushing Heather and Ericka out, I predict that the message will be loud and clear to any future occupants, that success is impossible because of the neighbors. And to suggest that the VPN goals do not include such major changes up to and including shutting down the cafe is to be less than honest.

    2. VPN believe the cafe to be a detriment to the neighborhood.

    I totally understand Paul and his wife’s concerns. They share a property line, and their kitchen window looks into the cafe’s back yard. I don’t really understand Cliff and Alle’s. We see the hydrant in front of our house get blocked very briefly on occasion (and in fact occasionally do it ourselves) and have left notes on windshields when someone blocks our driveway. Setting Paul’s shared property line aside for a moment however, and that synopsis of the parking is in my opinion the entire sum of the negative impact to “the neighborhood”. But to get a true picture of the total impact, you also need to factor in the positives. Just having a successful business there rather than one of the string of countless failures that were there before, and might take the cafe’s place in the future. Drug dealing, filth, and late night burglaries are some of the complaints WE across the street had, which have been non existent the past 4 years. Our opinion is also colored by the fact that we enjoy going over there for morning coffee and dinner, and meeting friends and neighbors when we do so. Ericka has probably fielded more complaints by me when she skimps on Vegetarian menu items than any other customer. As for being a drag on property values, I am not in a position to know one way or the other. However, every real estate flier in the immediate neighborhood for the past three years has listed proximity to the cafe as a “selling” point, which means that at least the listing agents consider it to be a plus. If a dive moves back in there, then THAT will be a negative in my opinion.

    3. VPN believes the cafe makes too much noise, creates too much garbage.

    Again, during the day, that is the price of having a successful business in the neighborhood. I believe the garbage problem has been addressed. As for noise, we honestly don’t mind. For noise we are probably the #1 most impacted neighbor. The front of the cafe focuses their noise directly towards our front door. We have not observed what we would call “excessive” noise during the day. There is some, but in fact that is one of the things we find charming about living in an urban neighborhood, and prefer it that way. And we are puzzled by the post-10pm charges. Being the middle-aged people that we are, we usually turn in at the reasonable hour of about 10pm, and have never found the noise at this time to be excessive. We used to be woken in the middle of the night by break-ins there under prior management, so we are not oblivious to noise. But I can say for certain that there has not been any sort of pattern of chronic excessive noise past 10.

    In conclusion, I understand the issues regarding whether they are zoned correctly etc. That is the leverage that VPN is using to get the changes that they want, and nobody that I know believes that to really be the “reason” for the trouble, just the handy legal tool that is available. I believe that VPN is being short sighted and not considering the consequences of their “success”, should they prevail.

    As before, I hope for this to be my lone post on the matter, and will not be engaging in debate.

  38. This case clearly highlights a big problem in Seattle zoning. Walkable restaurants like VPC can only add value to a neighborhood yet Seattle’s antiquated zoning laws make it very difficult to own and operate them outside of fairly narrow areas which are often well outside walking distance for most people.

    To the litigious neighbors who object to the cafe, I strongly encourage you to look into moving to the suburbs. You’ll find the quiet and copious parking you obviously seek and likely make a tidy profit on your house in the process. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding a buyer who will be thrilled to live adjacent to nice parks and cafes.

  39. I love the move to the suburbs comments. That is so tired. If you don’t like neighbors who are involved in their community then perhaps the suburbs is best for you and not the other way around.

    Does the case really highlight a zoning problem or a lack of accountability problem on the cafe owners for not doing their homework?

  40. If by “tired” you mean “used often” you are correct: it is used often because it is the only reasonable response to the people who want everything that a city has to offer, except they want it all a few doors down from the because they don’t like being kept up as late as 10 pm.

    Clearly: we are all involved in this: I’m in contact with the DPD just like the rest of you.

    As far as VPC not doing their homework? It probably highlights both problems. Had they done enough research, they would have discovered just how messed up seattle zoning is, probably wouldn’t have bought the business in the first place, and the nimbys would still have the failing minimart that used to occupy the spot.

    At any rate, I feel fortunate that they didn’t do enough research because now they are mounting a fight to get the site’s zoning changed and if successful, we’ll all have a nice cafe that we don’t need to get in our cars for.

  41. Thank you CameronRex. It feels great to have this clear-eyed assessment of the situation from someone who is not involved, who is the kind of person who might actually enjoy VPC but can see the difficulties they present.

  42. No, by tired I mean an unreasonable response from someone who doesn’t understand that a city such as Seattle is still made up of residential neighborhoods that offer a variety of lifestyles depending on where you live. “Seattle” isn’t one size fits all. With that variety comes a set of zoning laws which any reasonable business owner would follow so they don’t end up in a situation like this and any reasonable business owner would be willing to compromise on.

    With or without the patio or late night dining you still have a great cafe.

  43. Brian, thank you for your openness. I’m disappointed that you believe we or VPN have ever said the cafe is a detriment to the neighborhood. I was a frequent VPC customer until its owners chose to ignore neighbors like me and build a patio enabling expansion to 80-90 seats. The added noise, garbage problems, etc., of outdoor dining and special events would affect more than just the next-door neighbors. I believe such impacts would be far less noticeable at your home’s location, Brian.

    We have always supported the idea of a reasonably sized restaurant — the current 40 interior seats. Do the lines out the VPC door indicate anything other than a thriving business? This zoning process that is robbing everyone of time and money is happening because VPC’s owners *would not* (and still won’t) discuss operating within reasonable (profitable) limits.

    Brian, I respect you as a community-minded person. Speaking on my own behalf (rather than for VPN, since I have not consulted the full group), I’d like to suggest that you work behind the scenes and move VPC beyond its unyielding stance on keeping the residentially-zoned patio in play.

  44. I would be really disappointed if the cafe left the neighborhood. It’s been a vital gathering place for neighbors. Please don’t leave.


  45. I’ve seen the phrase “NIMBY” being hurled at the group of people who oppose VPC. They get the label from the folks who support VPC simply because the pro-VPC group thinks that the anti-VPC are a bunch of whiners who simply oppose VPC because they can.

    What’s completely hypocritical about this is that the pro-VPC group are asking that the anti-VPC not be in their neighborhood and should move off to the suburbs.

    What should occur here is that every party should get what was always intended and then get a say if that needs to be changed. The anti-VPC group is entitled to, at this moment, a quiet neighborhood sans a restaurant. There’s been no permit granted for a restaurant in that neighborhood. VPC should get to be a grocery store, since that’s what they was always intended and was written on the permit granted for the property. The pro-VPC folks can get what they want with a future permit change hearing and proceeding with that process to allow an authorized, permitted restaurant to operate in that neighborhood.

    Now, it’s another story completely if VPC can successfully alter their permit and get the City and neighborhood on board. BUT, it needs to do it in a legitimate fashion and not expect exceptions and special treatment from anyone. They aren’t any more special than any other business in Seattle. If they can secure the correct permits, they should operate as their new permit indicates they can. Until then, they should cease being a cafe and go back to being a grocery store.

    Our bureaucratic process shouldn’t offer special treatment.

  46. Please operate within the rules and regulations that everyone else must follow as well. We don’t want you to leave but we also don’t think you have earned special treatment because you didnt do your basic homework and haven’t shown the ability to learn very well along the way.

  47. I still believe the current zoning laws are out of date, that VPC is a great addition to the neighborhood, and hoping we can all move past this – together. Enough of the vitriol! Let’s make this the neighborhood we want to live in.

    I live *footsteps* from the cafe up the street on 17th. The only thing that keeps me from going there every single day is the price of their lattes. I call for a neighbor discount!

  48. Just calling out that while we’re working to make this the neighborhood/city we want it to be… We should all take the passionate energy surrounding VPC zoning and focus on stuff that really matters – like changing the statute which allows police officers to kill without having to face a jury of citizens to determine if there was just cause.

    While I could complain endlessly about $4 lattes and noisy Sunday mornings – there are bigger fish to fry.

  49. As a residents of Volunteer Park Cafe’s immediate neighborhood for 32 years, my husband and I feel truly fortunate to have this fantastic restaurant within walking distance, a friendly gathering place that serves great food and is consistently respectful of and responsive to the community. We have patronized every business that have operated from this location from the grocery store that Dorothy and her husband ran until now, and feel very lucky that the Ericka and Heather chose our neighborhood. Count us among the many loyal neighbors and supporters who look forward to many years of great meals at VPC.

  50. We didn’t realize you were facing such persecution. We will visit more and support you with our dining dollars. Perhaps, if I eat enough of your incredible sandwiches and that AMAZING chocolate Bundt cake, it will help defray some of your legal expenses. On a side note, when I first saw the Bundt cake I thought ‘Bundt Cake…really? No one eats Bundt cake; didn’t those pans all get recycled in the ‘70’s?” And then I tried a piece…IT IS THE BEST CAKE I HAVE EVER TASTED! If you are reading this, don’t try the Bundt cake – you will be hooked. :)

  51. And you could put a grocery store in this spot since it is zoned for that. It’s not zoned for what the cafe is trying to do. Have you been following this?

  52. VPC is the best restaurant in the Seattle area. It does not have average food, it has great food, and what a cool ambiance. I recall the old store and bakery. What a positively drastic and positive change. VPC gives life and vibrance to a nice neighborhood, it just seems to fit right in. I’ll have a chicken arugula sandwich please!

    Seems to me jealousy and greed must be involved in the opposition, as well as a good dose of low self-esteem and envy of the Seattle cultural lifestyle, which emphasizes collegiality and respect and fun.

    I will be mailing a donation of $1000 to help defray legal expenses, an unjust burden imposed on the restuarant’s owner who abides by VPC’s awesome slogan “always fresh goodness.”

    Hats off to a great restauranteur, Ericka Burke, and the wonderful people who eat and mingle there. I can’t even imagine this beautiful spot not being there. Trust me, people want to see it expanded and also would like the curmudgeons to crawl back in their holes and hibernate. Ought to eat a big meal at the restaurant first so that a slow metabolic rate can be maintained during hibernation.

    Go Seattle go, go VPC go!

  53. Where were you when the cafe could have used $1000 to do some basic research into what it would take to open a grocery store in this location that they wanted to expand to a cafe without the proper zoning and permits?

  54. if only the zoning would get changed, and a family unfriendly restaurant would move in and piss off everybody within at least a two block radius.

  55. How can a husband and wife team of curmudgeons cause so much grief for a couple of women entrepreneurs if not the entire neighborhood that supports them?!!? Ill will is not healthy for anyone, your glucocorticoid levels must be off the charts. I cringe with every post on this subject especially when most of the posts come from this nutty husband and wife team. This is embarrassing. Life is too short. Move on already.

  56. Maurice,
    I will match your donation. I, too, will send $1000.00 to the lovely hard working women at VPC.
    This is a way supporters could help!
    Rally VPC fans.


  57. You could ask the same question of the ignorant entrepreneurs who can’t seem to follow the rules and violate their permit. Makes me cringe every time someone expects special treatment.

  58. I think it’s great that everyone loves the Cafe and is so supportive of the pretty, hardworking owners (nobody works as hard as they do)
    It is so unfortunate that the curmudgeons have the law on their side. :(

  59. Thank you very much for this well-reasoned and calmly stated comment. It’s not just because I get tired of being called NIMBY – although that is preferable to ‘crazy,’ or being told that Cliff and I are the only neighbors who object to VPC offering food service and preparation on the patio:

    I object to “the only neighbors” and “crazy” because of the inaccurate use.

    NIMBY is closer to accurate. VPC’s patio is less that 80 feet from my back yard. VPC built the patio to increase business. This will increase the amount of food odor, noise, and traffic and parking (customer and well as delivery from vendors). This will greatly impact my ability to enjoy my backyard.

    It is more accurate to call me N.I.-80 feet from-M.B.Y. I’ll own that handle; it’s a perfectly reasonable position.

  60. I think this is a great comment – one much more likely to generate substantive debate with a greater chance of neighbors talking to instead of yelling at each other.

    I hope Tanya and people like Tanya contact us to set up a salon.

    Many of the comments here seem to be responding to a call for VPC supporters to get on the comment section and show their support. “Support” does not have to be a passionate and unilateral “thumbs’ up girlfriends.”

    Support can be, “I love VPc and would hate to see them move — but the neighbors are not asking VPC to move. They are asking VPC to scale their operations to the zoning allowed by the neighborhood.”

    I was one of the neighbors who went to VPC with the proposal: VPC operates within the legally allowed scale and I write a letter to DPD in support of your land-use change.

    VPC said no. Despite that no, if Ericka even today decided that she wanted to take me up on the offer, I would write to DPD. Every single member of VP Neighbors has made that commitment.

    Thank you again, Tanya.

  61. Noname,

    I appreciate your support. I think at this point, though, it’s better not to dip to the level nastiness that VPC and its supports are throwing out. I understand the impulse; I’ve certainly dipped, in comments on past articles. It felt great in the moment. Looking back, I see that at times, I was conveying a sense of ineffectual frustration.

    Your posts here seem no where near my then-level of frustration. That’s good, I promise you. :) RIght now, it is all we need to do to state the facts. In this debate, the facts always pan out in our favor.

    By the way, I invite you to add your name to a list we have for people who want us to send them information.

    Please call us at (425) 298-6575 or
    Email us at:

  62. 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’).

    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 to their CUA.

  63. If I may, Allie, and anyone else still here from VPN (the group opposing the patio)…
    Personally, I feel for you and your frustration with the cafe owners. However, having read about this and reading the comments while following your links to the website, I gotta say: You’re coming off as hyperbolic and enraged over nothing. I appreciate that it isn’t nothing, but hear me out. I followed one link (the zoning one) where a picture of the patio, intended to expose the lies and deceit perpetrated by the cafe owners, is published. Of course, one would expect a scene worthy of action by the police, given the level of self-righteousness the author exhibits. Instead, we are shown -the horror!- a quiet backyard meal scene laid out modestly on one table. Just sayin’: crotchety asshole neighbor alert ( I fear the person behind the camera much more than the one responsible for the scene before it). Also, you keep repeating a handful of what you must think are persuasive facts (they are operating illegally!), but I doubt this is winning any hearts and minds (Nobody cares that they have an office in the apartment above, for God’s sake). Having participated in my own NIMBY battles (see CHBP posts), I can tell you that there’s a fine line between using these comment sections for clarifying major misconceptions, and becoming more annoying than the problem you’re trying to solve.

  64. Tonight, just before I was about to go to bed (around 10 or so), I observed a man tying a bungee cord from neighbor Paul’s truck to a tree, and stuff a planting stake up his exhaust pipe. I don’t know if he thought this was a good way to support the cafe, but I would like him to know that he was observed. Lights were out at Paul’s, so I did not wake him up to tell him, but I informed the cafe, who called the police. Ericka was down right horrified. The man was close to 6 ft tall, thin with not much hair, and was carrying a shopping bag with handles, and he left heading North on 17th. Unfortunately, I did not recognize him.

    Have we really been reduced to this? Have we lost all perspective? I hold this blog partly to blame, because it has given a platform for nutters on both sides. It would not surprise me if the perp was just joining in on the twisted fun that passes for debate around here.

    Engaging in vindictive vandalism is going to help NO ONE’S cause. And I would like to make it clear that we are all still neighbors, and we need to be looking out for each other, even if we disagree about a neighborhood cafe.

    I would like everyone to GROW UP, and I’d like to respectfully ask that jseattle stop giving a public forum to the lunatic fringe.

  65. Alle, I understand that you are aggrieved and passionate about this subject, but I really don’t think that last comment was in any way helpful.

    At 9:45 Ericka was cleaning up tables. I know because I was here, working and trying to stay out of the way. I can assure you, the tables have not been equipped with keyboards that are designed to take input from the swipe of a cleaning rag.

    You have your arguments, we have ours. But let’s try to leave out making baseless claims, which however emotionally satisfying in the moment, only serve to make it harder to talk, live and work in close proximity to each other, and most importantly reach a resolution. Other commenters might come here and say things that are completely asinine from your perspective or the cafe’s, but as principals in the dispute if we resort to that it only becomes harder to work things out.

    I came here to post about the vandalism, and while that is surely 100% wrong, the raw emotion of your comment serves to illustrate that people on both sides of the issue need to remember this is a zoning dispute. Not World War III. Let’s try to ratchet the invective down a bit.

  66. Vandalism is not acceptable. No one at the cafe is happy that it occurred in our neighborhood.

    As Brian said above, the police were called. They drove the neighborhood looking for the person who thought this was a bright idea, but did not find him. We also walked the neighborhood as soon as Brian alerted us, and before the police responded. At Ericka’s request, I’m still at the cafe now, and will stay here a few hours more. The morning crew that shows up early to bake has also been alerted to keep an eye out.

    Since we don’t know who did this, we don’t know why they did it, but presumably it was someone trying to ‘support’ the cafe in the zoning dispute. If that was the case, let’s make it clear. Support is welcome, but only appropriate support. The City has a process for dealing with zoning disputes, and that includes public input. Let’s all stick with the process.

  67. Okay, I typed out a ridiculously long response about how dumb it sounds to call on a neighborhood blog to stop discussing a relevant issue in a reasonable and professional manner. Then I realized that I just don’t have the heart nor enough coffee in me (yet) to care that much.

    Just keep in mind that to those of us on the outside who remain relatively neutral about the whole debacle, there appears to be “lunatic fringe” on both sides. The hyperbole of that phrase with regards to this issue cracks me up, by the way.

    Everyone has a right to voice their opinion, even if you don’t agree with it. If some nutter decides to act on things he’s read online (and we don’t have proof that he was anything other than your random, typical jerk with too much time on his hands) then that is unfortunate. Clearly VPC condemns this type of thing just as, I assume, the other side would if the situation were reversed.

    Good on jseattle for providing excellent coverage of this matter, thanks to VPC for calling the police, and how lucky this block is to have neighbor Brian on alert. You don’t see enough of that these days.

  68. Just a reminder to all that we do actively moderate comments via systems and human intervention. You also can help by reporting abuse if a comment is a personal attack and inappropriate or notifying us at if you see something questionable on the site.

    We will continue to cover the VPC story in as fair and complete a manner as possible. We’ll look into the vandalism incident and update if information from SPD warrants.

  69. OK. First just let me say that my comment was left last night well past my bedtime, right after witnessing the incident that upset me very much. Both of those factors contributed to an emotional post, that in retrospect was over the top.

    I do not (this morning) mean to suggest that jseattle should be censoring this blog. Indeed, it would probably just appear elsewhere if not here. But I still believe that the anger expressed by both sides contributes to the kind of actions I witnessed last night.

    I also did not mean to accuse one side of being the “lunatic fringe” over the other. I honestly just want my neighborhood to return to the level of civility we had a year ago.

  70. I live in a different part of the hill and have never been to this cafe and to be fair have not really spent anytime paying attention to this story until today. But after rereading the stories on CHS and that blog that the neighbors have put together. And, well.. it just seems like a lot of bitterness over something that is kinda petty? It just doesn’t seem like VPC did anything that was really all that bad.

    Anyways, I feel bad for them and I hope their request goes through.

  71. As a neighbor of the VPC, I am grateful for everything they have brought to our neighborhood. The Cafe has transformed a rather quirky and poorly functioning store/market/food provider into a wonderful place to gather with friends over delicious food. The “community” table that spans the length of the Cafe sets the example for bringing neighbors and friends together over a cup of coffee or a delicious pastry. I am saddened not only by the current dispute, but by the tone of the dialog from those that oppose the VPC.

  72. You sound like you are selectively choosing what you want to hear/read. The tone is poor on both sides. More importantly, the actual issues that need to be addressed seem to be ignored because the baked goods are yummy.

  73. We have lived within easy walking distance of the Volunteer Park Cafe for over 40 years. We remember well the time when it was called “Grouchos” from the somewhat gruff demeanor of the owner who sold penny candy to neighborhood kids (including our kids. Something which seems to have been overlooked, perhaps purposefully, is that the “grocery” has been a “restaurant” also for at least the last 15 years, with several owners. Until Erika and Heather took over, the success of the previous owners was mixed at best.
    We have been delighted to have VPC in the neighborhood. It seems that the zoning issue never reared its ugly head and turned neighbors against neighbors until there was actually a business which was successful. The de facto zoning change took place years ago. I hope DPD recognizes this fact and sends this dispute away so this lovely neighborhood can put it behind us.

  74. I remember those signs.
    Please don’t pour hot oil on my plants.
    Please don’t let your pets sit on my tender plants.
    Something like that.

    Bad neighbors!

  75. We have lived down the street from the cafe since 1980 and have observed various owners of this cafe. Erica and Heather are by far the best owners and have done a wonderful job of improving the building and the clientele. When we first moved into the neighborhood the store only had candy for the grammar school down the street along with a thick layer of dust. Over the years we had many owners and one such owner had a clientele where where you could by street drugs and it was very sketchy, not to mention armed robberies! We support the current ownership and wish them well and a long prosperous ownership on our block!

  76. A whole lot of it. That’s what’s served up at VPC. Not cookies, not soup, not “noisy dogs and patrons coming and going”. Love. For years I have sauntered in the door and been smiled back at by all who work there. Given an extra sugar cookie in the shape of a dinosaur “just because”, and now, I live in Paris, FR and they send me a bag of ground SEATTLE QUALITY coffee, to go with my pain au chocolate. They love people there. And what’s wrong with a little bit of love in your neighborhood? To have a “neighbor” like VPC, is a life’s dream. I write this from Paris where I live in a city full of good food, the city of love, and it is lacking, in that VPC is not here. If I have to get on a plane, fly 22hours, chain myself to the counter, I will love it right back.

  77. I’m curious: Is there some deeper story here? Like, someone slept with someone, or insulted someone’s ugly baby, or something? This all seems like so much effort and drama, and not nearly enough reasonable motivation.

    Also: It’s foolish not to see the real depth of the ‘maybe you should move to the suburbs’ argument. Suburbs are bad cities.
    Good Cities, like businesses and like families, GROW.
    Upward, mainly, and grow in quality as well. You’re asked to ‘move’ because the majority of city dwellers understand a city, that it has a living -not static- nature, and your words/actions have made it seem you do not.
    Likewise, I’d ask: Should Microsoft have stayed a 20 person operation? Or was it a good thing that they’ve grown??
    You talk about these cafe owners making money and breaking laws as if there’s a ponzi scheme in your backyard. As if capitalism is a shame. Not so. There are more red lights being run and fire codes being ignored in this neighborhood that could use your diligent attention. Heck, look to the west side of the Cafe’s namesake park and the land use violation there, where several mansions on Federal have STOLEN square footage from the Seattle Parks Dept (aka yours and my park). Use your sense of neighborhood protectionism and ample resources against THEM, as that’s closer to real criminal theft than the missteps of a couple of cafe maestros.

    At what point will the VPN anti-cafe folks admit that evolution requires some change and that their fear of this change, not the ‘laws being broken’, are their primary motivation?
    You keep slipping in comments like “that’s not the neighborhood I bought into”. Yet, you cannot “buy” your neighborhood in a city as large and good as this. You buy only the home. You cannot be old man Potter, seething at George Bailey’s creativity and heart, here. Potter’s the villain in that piece for a reason, and you know it. (Or, watching that movie, did you turn it off when George and Mary “broke the law”, tossing rocks at the windows of that old house?)
    Change comes to neighborhoods and keeps vitality and hope flowing. What in the world do you think the people with homes on Broadway think of the last 50 years? Or in Pioneer Square? Belltown? Ballard? What arrogance to think you can stop veritable rivers like Time and Progress from flowing through our city.
    Like it or not, the Capitol Hill neighborhood has the 2nd highest density of the city – your little pocket near 17th has resisted acknowledging that fact, but it remains fact and you remain on Capitol Hill, just blocks from the urban village boundary.
    Ericka and Heather were ahead of the curve & ahead of their time: they saw what the neighborhood , and city, needed. When you and I are mere dust, guess what? The neighborhood WILL have changed. All neighborhoods change. Get onboard already.

    Last: you realize that all this latrine-stirring has brought the cafe MORE business, PR, money, and supporters, right? This blog post alone has 3600+ views. Your group of quasi-nimby anti-business homeowners, and a few government middlemanagers, is stagnant: it will not grow. Their support can do nothing BUT grow. Your battle seems incredibly unwise and ill-chosen.
    Progress always wins.

  78. Yeah, no exceptions, no special changes, everything done by pre-approved permit and there should be no flexibility or even this lengthy/costly review process for the public. Because all food establishments always follow every law, everywhere in the city. And all food establishments are exactly the same. Those tiny laws & codes are THE most important thing ever, of course.

    Like how farmer’s market food vendors have three-sink-sanitation systems in each booth and all the foods are kept at or below 42 degrees,
    Or how mobile food trucks offer the required ADA-accessible lavatories of regular restaurants,
    Or how every employee touching any food always wear gloves like they’re supposed to,
    Or how every delivery driver has a food handler’s permit,
    Or how every single cafe in the city never has SOMETHING to work on after a health inspector’s visit,
    Or how when those kiddie concerts are held in cafes the fire code occupancy level is strictly followed (and enforced at the door by a firm but personable bouncer)
    And how underage patrons are never, ever, served alcohol,
    And how every worker is a legal employee and all immigrants are legal,
    And how every piece of food is pure and healthy for you,
    and how waiters and cooks, even when there’s no backup staff at all, still manage to get all their breaks as required by the department of labor,

    Right? Why should there be a break in tradition, a special case for these cafe owners? My god, what kind of precedence would we be setting??!


  79. Noname, have YOU? There have been several cafes on that site in the last 20 years despite the ‘grocery’ designation. I recall there being a bit early in this posts about how Ericka and Heather were sold the lease as being “ok for a cafe”.
    Besides, the ‘grocery’ zoning is from quite a long time ago, and this kind of zoning has always been, and will be, meant to change as needed. It’s needed now.
    Not unlike the dodgeball group at Cal Anderson (a park which we also share this neighborhood with); the use evolved. They set up in a tennis court, entirely against the ‘law’. They had community support from both players and spectators (aside from a few tennis advocates clutching their court possessively), they took their desires to the city and the city judged if change has indeed occured…
    and the happy ending is: Dodgeball is now legal on the tennis court at Cal Anderson/BobbyMorris.
    In democracy, progress always wins!

  80. VPC is a fantastic restaurant & it’s a plus for Seattle that it’s in a neighborhood. If we are a city we should be having this mix. The patio would be a lovely outside place for people to gather and enjoy the bounty of VPC!
    The hours of the restaurant aren’t even late. Should we not have dinner parties in our backyards?
    I don’t really want the answers to these questions as the discourse has gotten so ugly but just saying….Is the restaurant business really where greedy people flock?!
    VPC is the kind of place urban places are seeing more of – people from within & nearby neighborhoods can walk or bike there to enjoy great food that is prepared with care & from local farmers & purveyors.
    I have always had a great experience there & hope to continue to do so.

  81. dear !!!:

    Yes a dinner party every night might be annoying, but it’s still not
    a. illegal
    b. any of your business if it’s in their yard.
    Perhaps you’d prefer all your neighbors fire up their cars to go out for a dinner date. Burn fuel, drip oil, create noise and scan their headlights through everyone’s windows at every turn. And then, later, jockey for parking, drive home drunk, and/or make noise opening the garage/getting out/slamming doors at 10pm. There’s always two sides, friend.

    The zoning of a commercial space there is for a reason: it encourages locals to us the nearby mini-village rather than drive to Pike/Pine, 15th, Montlake, etc. It rewards pedestrian traffic rather than vehicle traffic, making the neighborhood
    Less Polluted and
    It also encourages neighborly interaction* by bringing people together in a common ‘third place’. (*which seems short in supply, judging from these comments, no?)

    …Perhaps the city officials long ago knew what they were doing!

  82. A few days ago, I saw an argument between neighbors right across from the cafe. I think it was an argument. One woman was yelling a lot and the other was mostly calm and just responding.

    I haven’t ever commented on this blog, although I have read it regularly since this started. I am a loyal cafe customer, and want them to continue. Originally, i really wanted the patio to be a great place to have a great summer dinner, because I know Ericka could do that really well.

    Then, one of the people who are against the cafe came around door to door. She was really respectful and honest, and she answered my questions so that i understood some things that I had asked Ericka to explain once, but she couldn’t.

    The woman from VPN never asked me to change my opinion, but she did ask what I planned to write to DPD, if I sent them a letter. I said Ii now agreed with VPN, that the cafe becoming a restaurant was a good idea, but that having seats in the back was too big for the neighborhood. I said that I still really, really wanted the cafe to stay. She said something that was o logical that I still remember it. She said, “That sounds like something you can write to DPD.”

    This VPN woman was one of the women in the fight the other day, in front of the house right across from the cafe. She was the one staying very calm and trying to answer the other woman, who was really screaming at her about the cafe problem.

    Since the VPN woman came to my door, i see her now in the mornings when she walks her child to school. Some of the cafe staff and some customers make fun what she is wearing or her hair (I think she has really cool hair), and I still have not been brave enough to say, “She came to my door. She is very respectful and listened really well.”

    I probably never will because I know I am not brave in that way. I could never do what she does, or the other neighbors who are standing up even when it is not the popular or easy opinion. And I like the cafe enough that I will keep going. It makes me kind of hypocritical, I know that. I don’t really know what to do except post here and hope that the VPN group knows that there are people in the neighborhood who support them, even if we don’t say anything.

    I don’t I think l will go to the public meeting that they are talking about. I am worried that everyone will just scream a lot. II felt really bad the other day, when I saw the neighbor scream mean, mean things at at VPN then slam the door on her. Other customers in the cafe saw it, too, and I don’t think it is fair to the VPN.

    i wish VPC would not have that meeting.

  83. Smitty,
    I am a loyal cafe customer and I want them to get their restaurant land-use. (I wrote about this in the next comment.) But now that I understand the technical issues better, what the cafe wants to do is illegal. They want to have what they call commercial use on the back patio, but the back patio has the zoning of the neighborhood, which is residential. The VPN page points to city documents that describe this, so even though I love the cafe and like Heather a lot, it is not legal to have a business out there.

    So it is our business if it is in the VPC’s yard because the yard is residential. That’s why the cafe is breaking the law, because you can’t have a business in a residential zone.

    Also, even though the cafe is a neighborhood place, on days that it is busy, there are a lot more cars parked on the street. so that means that all those people are driving HERE, which wastes gas, too.