An $85 filing fee — and lots of billable hours — is holding up a Madison Valley mixed-use apartments and PCC grocery project but the long, drawn out Seattle process to develop the property might finally be set to move forward.
Conflict between a community group attempting to use the State Environmental Policy Act as a defensive blanket and developer Velmeir Companies will come to a head by December as the city’s Hearing Examiner is slated to make a decision on an appeal against the project.
Save Madison Valley, a group aimed at maintaining the area as a “single family home neighborhood,” has been working, it says, to ensure that Velmeir commits to mitigating the environmental impacts of its 82-unit, mixed-use six-story development at 2925 E Madison.
The project passed through the first stage of the design review process finally in January 2017 after a relatively rare three sessions in front of the board. The design from Meng Strazzara was fully signed off on last September — but the project isn’t yet close to breaking ground.
Save Madison Valley is asking the Hearing Examiner to reverse the design review decision and the city’s determination on the project’s environmental impact and require the development to undergo new rounds of costly, time consuming review. It’s a strategy cut from similar cloth to the legal fight holding up Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program that has cost the city plenty in legal fees — and maybe 717 affordable apartment units.
But Velmeir may not have to wait for December to move forward.
Lawyers at Foster Pepper filed a motion in October to dismiss 10 of the 15 issues raised in SMV’s appeal on the basis that they are outside the examiner’s jurisdiction, insufficiently pled, or that the issues are allowed by the Seattle Municipal Code. The city supports the dismissal, according to its latest filing in the case. The Hearing Examiner hasn’t yet announced whether it will side with the developer on any of the contested elements.
Claudia Newman, a partner at SMV’s law firm Brickling & Newman, expressed optimism that, if the full appeal is heard, the work of SMV and her firm will result in a mitigation of the environmental impacts of the development.
The appeal is slated to be heard by the Hearing Examiner starting December 10th, and will continue, if necessary, for four more days. Newman expects the hearing to require the full schedule.
The building, the units of which are meant to be owned by middle-income residents, would be anchored by the new PCC grocery store, but SMV and its representatives from Brickling & Newman, a law firm specializing in environmental concerns, argue that the development would tower over the single-family homes of the neighborhood and have “significant adverse environmental impacts,” according to their August notice of appeal.
SMV says that Velmeir plans to remove the nearby steep slope that is home to a forest of trees and received a waiver from protections in the Seattle Municipal Code, in addition to receiving a “green light” to remove all the trees on site.
“Velmeir didn’t even try to minimize the impacts of its development and (Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections) didn’t even ask them to,” the appeal asserts.
According to a document sent by Bricklin & Newman to SDCI, 39 mature trees, over 20 native plant species, and approximately 14,500 square feet of tree canopy would be removed by the development.
On top of the environmental concerns, SMV also argues that the 140 spaces of parking provided by the developers will cause an increase in traffic congestion in the neighborhood.
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“It’s their neighborhood, they have strong emotion and it’s their right,” Geza de Gall, Velmeir vice president, told CHS in May. “But you know, the project is not going to be half the size because from an economic standpoint, it would not be viable.”
At the time, Velmeir said it was prepared to redesign the building as a larger project if an appeal delayed construction and the city’s housing affordability was put in place. The appeal happened but the MHA is still caught in its legal battle so, for now, the threat doesn’t have many teeth.
Velmeir representatives did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
CHS first reported on the rumblings of redevelopment in Madison Valley in March of 2016 as word spread that the neighborhood’s beloved garden shop was going to be displaced by a new mixed-use project. But this wasn’t your typical displacement. The longtime owners of City People’s and its unusually large tract of E Madison land said the decision to sell came with much more caution about picking a developer to work with after watching with surprise and disappointment when the garden store partners previously sold their 15th Ave E home only to see a Walgreens rise on the property.
Coming up on three years later, City People’s is still on E Madison with a month-to-month lease until the new development breaks ground.
During the scheduled December hearing, SDCI, Velmeir, and SMV will get a chance to make their case with witnesses and exhibits. Velmeir listed 51 exhibits and 16 witnesses, while SMV’s preliminary filing included 11 witnesses, five of which are Madison Valley residents and one of which is a “hobby birder,” and 38 exhibits.