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.
“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.)