Volunteer Park Cafe will face restrictions but working out deals to remain at 17th & Galer

The operators of the Volunteer Park Cafe appear headed toward deals with a group of neighbors seeking restrictions on the cafe’s business and the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development that will allow the popular restaurant to continue operating at 17th and Galer.

“We feel confident in the agreement that we are working towards and do not feel that it hinders our ability to run the business,” VPC’s Ericka Burke told the crowd of 60-some community members who attended a Monday night public hearing on the cafe’s application for a change of use with the city that will allow it to continue operating in a single family residence zone.

CHS reported last week that a joint-statement had been released by the cafe and the neighbors outlining progress in their negotiations.What specific elements will be part of a conditional use approval for VPC and what compromises will be struck separately between the cafe and opposed neighbors is not yet clear. Inside the Stevens Elementary cafeteria, DPD planner Scott Kemp said issues likely to be part of the restrictions will include limitations on an exhaust fan on the side of the restaurant, controls on the volume at which music can be played inside the cafe, and conditions on the future use of the space so that it cannot be used as a bar or music venue in the future.

Kemp would say that one likely condition with the city will be the restriction that the cafe not use is its backyard patio for “restaurant use.” In other words, chicken coops and a cafe garden are OK but customers will not be allowed to sit in the back area and the VPC will not be able to hold planned event dinners in the space.

“The backyard that got us into so much trouble will not be in use,” Burke said.

You might recall that when the VPC situation first flared up last summer, it was the use of the cafe’s patio that pushed neighbor Paul Jones to report the restaurant for operating illegally in a building zoned only to be a grocery.

Kemp declined to go into specifics of where the lines will be drawn between the city’s conditions and restrictions agreed on in what he said is a private covenant being negotiated between the restaurant’s landlord, VPC and neighbors living near the cafe. Kemp promised to send a copy of the draft conditional use approval to anybody in the audience who wanted to see it. CHS has requested a copy and will update as soon as we receive it.

Jones attended Monday night’s community meeting as his daughter presented a brief statement on his family’s behalf.

Volunteer Park Neighbors spokesperson Cliff Meyer (Image: CHS)

“We want volunteer Park Cafe to remain open and to continue serving our community,” she said.

“The operations must not degrade the residential character of our neighborhood.”

Also on hand were representatives from the Volunteer Neighbors Group, the group that launched a Web site and, with Jones, lawyered up to made their case despite a groundswell of public support for the cafe.

Cliff Meyer said he came before the crowd to speak as “a great customer” of the cafe. “I want it to be there,” he said. His poster-size sign spelled out his position on the matter. But he also said the situation has not been easy on him and his family. “We’ve gone through a lot of wasted time and money,” Meyer said.

Others who spoke said they came to support the cafe and make it clear that the neighbors group does not represent everybody living in the vicinity of 17th and Galer.

“We ask that you ensure that everybody is included,” one woman said. “A group called Volunteer Park Neighbors was created without me being involved.”

“We are all included in this,” another neighbor who said she had done some neighborhood surveying of her own told the crowd. “The vast majority of people totally support this cafe. We did everything we could to show we were in agreement,” she said, drawing the loudest applause of the evening.

“The ‘self proclaimed’ neighbors aren’t creating the conditions,” planner Kemp told the crowd. “Rules are set up first to protect property rights.”

More notes from the public comment portion of the evening:

  • “It’s really sad to see how divisive this process has been for all of us,” said Burke at the start of the hearing. “We don’t live in the neighborhood but we operate a business that is our heart and soul.”
  • Planner Kemp told the crowd he was impressed with the amount of respect being shown during the night’s questions and testimony.
  • Two neighbors tied for longest tours of duty in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city: 41 years each, they said.
  • Many speakers identified themselves by how many houses they lived away from the cafe. “I live eight houses away…”
  • Not all speakers besides the Volunteer Park Neighbors group were there to support the cafe. Objections were voiced regarding the cafe’s use of the sidewalk for seating and the amount of vehicles it draws to the area.
  • Kemp said, by the way, that he will not include restrictions regarding the sidewalk seating in the approval document as SDOT has already issued a permit for VPC. That permit, however, does not allow table service on the sidewalk — customers are free to bring their food outside and sit but cannot be served per the terms of the permit.
  • One speaker in support of the cafe said he will be holding his pre-wedding friends and family dinner at VPC this week. “It’s the epitome of community to us,” he said.
  • Another speaker said, as a small business owner, he was concerned that any deal worked out would damage the cafe’s ability to generate adequate revenue. “I hope the agreements that you are making allow you to stay profitable,” he said.
  • Times the legendary old market known as Groucho’s was invoked as an example of the kinds of businesses that have been in the space in the past: 2
  • Men wearing amazing rubber work boots as they addressed the crowd inside the elementary school cafeteria: 1
  • Number of times somebody asked for a “raise of hands” to show how many in the crowd were here to support the cafe: 1 (vast majority of hands went up. “We know,” planner Kemp said.)
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12 thoughts on “Volunteer Park Cafe will face restrictions but working out deals to remain at 17th & Galer

  1. I live within a block of the cafe and strongly support the cafe. As I hope is clear from the meeting and from your fair report above, the self-proclaimed “Volunteer Park Neighbors,” while entitled to their opinion, only represent a small faction of neighbors. As several fellow neighbors stated at the meeting, the rest of us (a significant majority of neighbors) have had nothing to do with the VPN group and their actions. Most of us who live in the area, including folks who live in the immediate vicinity of the cafe, support the cafe and its efforts to continue operating in the same manner that it has been operating.

  2. “Most of us who live in the area, including folks who live in the immediate vicinity of the cafe, support the cafe and its efforts to continue operating in the same manner that it has been operating.”

    I attended last night’s meeting. It was clear from the moment that Mr. Kemp from the DPD spoke that there was no question that VPC would continue. Ericka then confirmed that she was working with the neighbors, who then confirmed that they were working with Ericka. Ericka also took responsibility for the lion’s share of the disruption in the neighborhood — for which I thank her and for which I will return to my patronage of her cafe.

    Ericka also expressed that she is a responsible business owner who is agreement with the proposed restrictions. The neighbors expressed that they are not holding grudges. Whether the individuals agree in their private heart is not the neighborhood’s concern. Our concern is to support their efforts to return our neighborhood to a calm and lovely place to live.

    Scott P. et al: If the primary parties involved are on board, can not you climb aboard as well?

  3. I want to commend all involved foe working together towards a joint resolution. Thats how it should work. Good work, DPD.

  4. People love the cafe. Never been an issue. What’s an issue is the cafe is operating illegally and it needs to be addressed.

    I was disappointed overall in the forum, the vast majority of people only wanted to exclaim their blind love for the cafe and not present any real solutions nor concern by its illegal operation.

    I’m a neighbor of over 40 years, I understand that the cafe is better than anything there before, but I also understand the cafe has no hood system, no fire protection, no ADA upgrades, and is exceeding the capacity for a restaurant of that size by a long shot (12 is the occupancy per King County regulations for a restaurant with one bathroom for staff and patrons). This is a 1900 era wood frame house that is one kitchen fire away on a Friday night from disaster. How fast do you think 40+ people are going to be able to get out of that place? I have seen first hand exactly how fast these structures are completely engulfed in flames and I’m surprised the fire marshal has not shut them down.

    These issues need to be addressed before I will support the cafes continued operation.

  5. Scott P,

    Not sure why you need to continue to make an issue of this when others are moving forward. That’s how the world works.

    Everyone supports the cafe. That’s never been the issue but people like you continue to make it one. Maybe you could spend some of your energy on finding a solution or move on.

  6. Definitely. The whole issue is really about coming into compliance with existing safety regulations and zoning laws. VPC got caught trying to do things under the radar and now we’ve all expended a ton of time and money and energy talking about this shit until we are gblue in the face. Which means no back patio dining (too bad that would have been nice especially in the morning) and full kitchen compliance. I can only think that if the VPC had handled this differently, above-ground, and talked to their neighbors beforehand they could have gotten a great deal of what they wanted. TOO BAD!

    What’s the takeaway from all this? Do things the right, legal way..I know its a lot of hoops to jump through but hell if the jokers running skillet with their $15 lunches can make it happen then why can’t someone as professional as teh owners of VPC?

  7. Glad to hear a resolution has been worked out. Given the fact that VPC was in direct violation of zoning laws, any resolution that keeps it in business should be considered generous.

    Like so many others in the neighborhood, my family and I love going to VPC. The popularity of VPC, however, is and should be entirely irrelevant to this issue. No one in our neighborhood deserves to wake up one day to find the house next door transformed into an illegal commercial business.

    Scott P – how would you like it if I transformed the house next door to yours into a gas station that sells gas at half price? I’d be quite popular with all the neighbors getting such a good deal, but it would come at the expense of disrupting your home. That’s not right, and that’s why we have zoning laws.

  8. Scot P. does not care.

    I have had too many conversations with my neighbors using the same argument. They don’t care. They want the cafe.
    -I say, I want the cafe. I say, the neighbors want the cafe, but the cafe has to operate legally.
    -They say, they caught the cafe on a technicality. I want a cafe.
    -I say, Ericka has said VPC is illegal and is trying to fix that by working with the neighbors. At the meeting, she said twice that she was was sure she could continue under the agreement she is signing. VPC will stay.. She just has to give up on the patio that caused so much trouble.
    -They say, i want the back patio.

    Now, because of what Mr. Kemp said at the meeting, I can say, the city won’t allow a patio. It is illegal, unless we change the whole neighborhood through a re-zone. Before, I could only say, That’s unfair to the neighbors.
    -They say, I want a patio.

    Some of my neighbors, as much as I like them, are irrationally entitled. They may read this. They won’t care.

  9. As far as I could tell some of the “Volunteer Park Neighbors” members are a bunch of crackpots projecting personal issues on to VPC. Now how about some of you take a step back and think about what you just put your bodies through over this little issue over the past year??? Go pick up a copy of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”. You probably just took several years off your lives plus you managed to created bad blood towards yourselves in every direction. Was it worth it? And please, hold yourselves accountable here because the negativity you have experienced and will continue to experience from your neighbors and the community is YOUR OWN FAULT. OWN IT. So sad.

  10. I would like to know the specifics of the covenant agreement between VPC and VPN, before it is signed. Why has a “silence” requirement been made if the covenant is truly in the best interest of both groups? It seems to me that the people who turned out for the meeting at Stevens school on Monday night deserve to know just what restrictions are being placed on the Cafe in this proposed Covenant.
    Josephine Harris

  11. It is a covenant between 2 private parties, it’s honestly none of your business unless you are one of the parties. I could care less what is inside it as long as both sides are happy with it.

  12. In reply to the comment that the contents of the covenant are “none of my business”, I beg to disagree. This covenant may be highly restrictive and it affects EVERYBODY in the neighborhood who enjoys the Cafe.
    Also, I find the comment “none of my business” rather rude, and not in the interest of an “open and friendly” discussion. It causes me to wonder if the anonymous “neighbor” is perhaps a member of vpn?