Volunteer Park Cafe can stay, B&O Espresso will have to go — eventually (but could come back)

Two decisions published by the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development on Thursday are critical to the future of two Capitol Hill food+drink businesses. Volunteer Park Cafe can stay and continue to operate as a restaurant at 17th and Galer. B&O Espresso? It will have to go. For now. Details on both, below.


Here’s a text message CHS received from VPC’s Ericka Burke about the decision that was finally published on Thursday approving a formal change of use for the property and allowing the cafe to continue to operate in the residential neighborhood it has called home since 2007:

In a nut shell- glad it’s, hopefully, all over. Thx to my biz partner, heather, and my staff for roughing out this very hard period of time. Huge thx to our supporters!  Thx to System Six, our book keeping firm, who has keep us from going bankrupt thru thus very difficult financial time. Hope that the divisiveness of neighborhood heals and I can focus on my business and creative development.

We’ve included the entire decision, below. In addition to formalizing the conditions a group of neighbors required of the cafe, it documents the value of a business like Volunteer Park Cafe to a modern city neighborhood:

One of the benefits of living in a dense city, and of living in Seattle particularly, is the close proximity of multiple sources of commercial service and entertainment. Among these are restaurants and coffee shops that are accessible locally. The most highly valued of these are often small enterprises which become a part of the neighborhood and are highly valued for the addition they provide. These local uses do not come entirely without negative impacts such as noise, odor, traffic and parking congestion. The density of living necessary to suppor (sic) these kinds of amenities in urban communities also creates an ambient level of potentially irritating impacts.

Impacts from a common use, such as a neighborhood restaurant, although in many instances negative, are not of the extreme kind or degree which would be considered inherently injurious to property in the zone or vicinity.

The decision brings to a close a year-long DPD process that was mostly nailed down in the days surrounding a community meeting held in April but on hold as VPC was required to finish paying the more than $18,000 in fees required to permit the change of use. CHS first began reporting on the situation between the cafe and some of its neighbors led by resident Paul Jones in early summer 2010.

Appeals of the decision can be made through September 15.

Attachment Project 3011437 Id 43223011437

Meanwhile, the decision affecting B&O Espresso wasn't really about the E Olive Way cafe at all. The 1650 E Olive Way project can go forward, DPD ruled almost two years after the initial application, even though people generally hate the proposed design and it will slice away an already dwindling western view from Capitol Hill:

View shed studies provided by the applicant illustrate that the placement of building mass at the wedge shaped corner at E. Olive Way and Belmont Ave. E. produces the greatest amount of view blockage from E. Olive Way east of the site. Based on the initial view study for the proposed project, DPD requested that the applicant reduce the amount of view blockage. The view analysis performed by the applicant‟s architect showed that some views from Olive Way would be blocked by the proposal. The applicant responded by pulling the building back from the corner, increasing the size of a small open space at grade. This resulted in increasing the scenic view from E. Olive Way from east of the project site but still producing some obstruction of the scenic view. As part of the consideration, it is understood that future development west of the project site could potentially be permitted without SEPA review (e.g. adding new mechanical equipment and screening on the roof of the brick apartment building to the west) and could cause similar view blockage. It would be unreasonable to reduce this proposal to the extent necessary to maintain fully all of the existing view only to have the view blocked later by projects not subject to view mitigation.

While the impact of the revised proposal is adverse, it is not expected to be significant. No further mitigation based on SEPA public view protection policy is warranted.

The conditionally approved project calls for a six-story, 78-unit building with 3,600 square feet of retail and two live-work units at ground floor and underground parking for 52 vehicles. Architects Nicholson Kovalchick also designed the Roy Street Townhomes project in Lower Queen Anne. The property is being developed by John Stoner.

At the beginning of 2010, the developer of the project told CHS that B&O was slated to return to its longtime home once construction was completed. But that was a long time -- and a string of design reviews and DPD decisions -- ago. CHS asked B&O representatives at design review meetings over the past two years about their plans. Majed Lukatah refused to answer specifically when we asked him if B&O was planning to leave and not come back to the new development. We'll check in with B&O but maybe a regular can fill us in first.

Regardless of B&O's fate, the old (not a historical landmark) building won't be coming down anytime soon. There are no demolition permits on file for the location yet and no paperwork has been filed for any construction permits. But given the number of cranes at work on and around Capitol Hill, you have to think it's only a matter of (more) time.

Attachment Project 3002133 Id 43253002133

18 thoughts on “Volunteer Park Cafe can stay, B&O Espresso will have to go — eventually (but could come back)

  1. Ericka forgot to thank this blog for its largely positive support of her side, without whom she would not have been able to stir up so much anti-neighbor sentiment. Justin: readers have called on you several times to give the neighbors a fairer shake, so I am not saying anything new. I am not a member of the neighbors group. But I see that this article quotes only Ericka. And why is the headline “VPC can stay?” Justin, you were at the public meeting. The City was straightforwardly that VPC was never at risk of closing. The question was the use of the back yard patio.

    VPC built a patio without checking that they could use it as part of the restaurant. The neighbors knew that was illegal. I believe them when they say that talked to VPC, who would not stop their plans. So the neighbors stopped VPC’s illegal action using the proper legal action. However, this blog always identifies the neighbors as “The neighbors opposed to VPC’s expansion.” Justin should have written, “The neighbors opposed to VPC’s illegal expansion.” That kind of accuracy would have caused much less strife in my neighborhood. I’m OK with VPC in the neighborhood, but I won’t be going there.

    Ericka talks about healing and all that, but what is she actually doing for us to help us heal? Except for focusing on her business, like she says.

  2. Sad about B&O. Why are developers so often fine with forcing ugly designs no one likes onto a neighborhood and pushing out long-standing, beloved businesses like this? Oh right, so they can make a bunch of money.

  3. Why can they make a bunch of money? Oh right, because tons of people want to move to Capitol Hill creating a demand for more condos.

  4. First, cut it out w troll-y crap and false defenses — “it’s HIS BLOG” is garbage and not how I run the site or my business.

    As for the original comment, I spent my effort contacting DPD and Ericka on this post that was written Thursday night on a decision posted earlier in the day. They were the most important voices and insight to get into the piece in my judgement.

    The neighbors group has a blog and can easily contact me if they have more to say on this matter. The last time I spoke to everybody this spring, their side had its say in a big way — the conditions haven’t changed in the final draft finally published here at the end of summer.

    The land use decision was about whether to approve a change of use for the property so Volunteer Park Cafe could continue as a restaurant at its location. That application was approved. Reducing it to a decision over the patio leaves out much of the story.

  5. It’s not the condos themselves; it’s the fact that they’re fucking ugly. And that neighbors give input that they’re fucking ugly, but the developers don’t care.

  6. The “ugly” project to located where B&O now stands went through a very rigorous design review process. I went to a few of the meetings and was happily surprised by the number of articulate, thoughtful neighbors who attended the meetings and commented on the design. I’m not sure if you attended any of these meetings, Meg1220 …if not, you should’ve. The design of this project was greatly influenced by neighbor and review board comments and considerations but there is only so much that this process can influence.

    B&O had planned to move up to Broadway before the economy stalled this project, in hindsight, moving up there was probably the smarter decision since rents on B’way have gone up considerably since then. They were hardly pushed out, they’ve known about this project for years and could’ve had a seamless transition to a new space but chose not to go that route. Who knows, maybe they are tired of the restaurant biz?

  7. I’d like to correct an error in the story, and add context that is lacking. The modest limits the City is placing on the restaurant were the result of the City planner consulting with owner Ericka Burke and nearby neighbors, and not “conditions a group of neighbors required of the cafe.”

    The City process began because Ms. Burke knowingly disregarded neighbors’ concerns and the residential zoning, and began using the backyard to further expand seating for what she had already grown from a sleepy grocery/cafe into a thriving restaurant with nearly 60 seats (including sidewalk seating). Neighbors had no choice but to ask the City for help. The City ordered Ms. Burke to stop that backyard use. The City then required the restaurant to apply for the correct kind of permit.

    This process has cost neighbors impacted by Ms. Burke’s choices tens of thousands of dollars and innumerable hours. We had been living in a quiet residential area with a sleepy business before VPC constructed a full kitchen and created an immensely successful destination restaurant open 15 hours most days. We have always supported the idea that the restaurant is a good use for the 1st floor of the 1501 building, and have been asking that the business observe reasonable limits and comply with health and safety laws. We wish to respect the restaurant as an asset to our community. I hope that is what the future will hold.

  8. Well, as a neighbor who didn’t have time to jump in, I think the Cafe is great and I’m sorry the nice little patio in the back won’t be used. In my humble opinion, the neighbors who raised a fuss ought to move to the nice quite suburban neighborhoods they seem to want Seattle to be. It’s a city. The restaurant isn’t noisy. It was a deli with sandwiches before VPC moved in — probably, less quiet than now. VPC is a big plus for our neighborhood and as for the people who were so up in arms about backyard patio dining, well, I hope they’re so considerate of their own neighbors — no backyard barbq’s, no big parties, no stinky wood fires, and so forth — I mean, after all it’s such a quiet and sedate neighborhood after all.

  9. I like the place and go there often. And live not too far away.

    I have never read more mean spirited and wacked out stuff than the constant tirades from the so called neighbors. If they were my neighbors, I would have moved LONG ago.

    I hope it cost the hundreds of thousands of $$$$$ and I hope they know they lost… and their stupid attorneys just scammed them to hell.

    And are the wierdest bunch of folks in this fair and tolerant city, bar none. A contest Justin?

    Think, all this over a nice little neighborhood cafe. (ie. good food too) Jeez.

    Yuk to all of you, “neighbors.”

  10. Boo! It is a sad, sad day when some ugly eyesore will take the place of a charming neighborhood cafe. The Starbucks “we’re in Hollywood” sign is bad enough. I realize change is inevitable anywhere but more ugly, cheaply-made buildings that will change the sloping scenery of Capitol Hill can’t be a positive change. What will these buildings look like in 10-20 years? I believe B&O is an amazing example of class and character that a small business can bring to a city section and it is a shame that it is getting elbowed out in the name of “development.”

  11. …VPC selling out to McDonalds or KFC. Now that it’s properly zoned for a restaurant a business that can make money should move in there.

  12. I criticized Justin for not including a response from the neighbors, just from Ericka. Justin replied:

    “I spent my effort contacting DPD and Ericka on this post that was written Thursday night on a decision posted earlier in the day. They were the most important voices and insight to get into the piece in my judgement.”

    Justin, at least you are consistent.

  13. I wonder how much of the “very difficult financial time” Ericka writes about was caused by the standard fees for changing one use to another, how much by late fines on those fees, and how much by lawyers’ bills.

    Whatever Ericka had to pay to change to restaurant zoning are fees anyone running a business would expect to pay. She can’t blame the neighbors for those fees. She can’t blame the neighbors for her own late fees. (Those records are on-line. I’ve read them. Ericka was months late on fees that really should have been paid five years ago, before she opened.)

    As for the lawyers fees, well, I am sure the neighbors have those as well. And they didn’t cause the problem. They may have reported VPC’s illegal actions, but the actions are VPC’s.

    I have watching this painful drama all year long. I do not understand why VPC didn’t take care of it by quietly working with the neighbors. I would never embarrass myself by going public with such obvious and easily avoidable mistakes. Ericka seems to think that the louder she is about her wrongdoings, the more likely it is that we will take her side. I’m with Bplow, above: I won’t be going there. VPC has hurt this neighborhood too much.

  14. Cliff points out (above) that Justin linked “conditions a group of neighbors required of the cafe” to an article he wrote, “City outlines draft of 7 conditions for Volunteer Park Cafe permit.”

    Shift emphasis from city to neighbors demonstrates bias.

    With another sentence (“CHS first began reporting on the situation between the cafe and some of its neighbors”), Justin links to his article “Neighbor puts Volunteer Park Cafe in a pickle over plans for outdoor seating. ” Why not link to another of his articles, one he claims right in the opening is more evenly reported: “Neighbors have plenty to say about Volunteer Park Cafe.”

    http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2010/08/31/neighbors-have-

    Demonstrates bias.

  15. The “oy vey” comment signed by “Ally’ carries the whiff of anti-Semitism directed at me. My being a Jew has never been a part of this discussion. You must know me personally, “Ally,” which makes your cowardly anti-Semitism al the more appalling. It shames you, not me.

    The following “smack yourself” comment shows a propensity to violence that has marked these comments from the first reportage. Cafe staff and supports demonstrated a classic escalation of abusive behavior: sustained verbal and written harassment, public ridicule, vandalism, and assault. If a husband were treating his wife this way, she would have ample cause to report domestic violence and get a restraining order.

    Thank you to Justin for telling the anti-Semetic and the violent trolls to stop. Given the past escalation of violence, I do not like seeing that people are still willing to use hate-speech on this blog.

    I did not “report abuse” for two reasons. First, I want people to witness the propensity for violence and racism. More critically, you don’t scare me.

    You cannot shame me for loving Judaism. i revel in my heritage, unburdened by the out-dated belief that being a Jew makes me better- or less-than anyone. It is a simple and as complicated as that.