‘Single family home neighborhood’ — the Madison Valley PCC mixed-use battle

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.

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54 thoughts on “‘Single family home neighborhood’ — the Madison Valley PCC mixed-use battle

    • These newcomer renters who claim to speak for the CITY should be ashamed.

      This is another project KILLING SEATTLE’s SOUL.

      City People’s Garden Center was forced off Capitol Hill, now they’re being forced out of Seattle and out of business. For shame.

      • Yeah, Paul is way off. I talked with the partners about the sale. They owned that property, too. They said they were saddened that the development ended up as a Walgreens and hoped that what would happen after they sold in Madison Valley would be different. They got their wish. It *is* different. But probably also not in the way they would have liked to have seen the change occur.

      • The real shame to this city are people who want to take one of the fastest-growing cities and place it into a time capsule. And claim rights to something that is not theres. Their behavior is quite disgusting, actually. As is there “I’ve got mine, screw the rest of you” mentality.

        It is laughable to say that an apartment building and grocery store along a transit corridor is killing Seattle soul.

        Thankfully, people like Paul are the minority.

      • It’s not realistic to expect things to remain as-is with no change, and we obviously need growth and housing along transit corridors. I just wish the apartment buildings going in had a little more inspiration to them. They all look like aquariums and habitrails that could be anywhere. Does it really have to be a choice beteeen no change or soul-sucking sameness? Can’t any architects design some new apt buildings that look like old Craftsman-styled houses, or something like that? It’s not so much just the growth, it’s that Seattle’s local-flavored architecture is often being ripped out and replaced with bland nothingness.

      • Paul, Seattle hasn’t had a “soul” for centuries. It was built into a city by white people who wanted to make money from timber, gold, airplanes, software, web services, and other lucrative pursuits. If you want spiritual enlightenment, try finding religion. Otherwise, don’t use “soul” as an excuse to exclude people younger and poorer than you from our great and growing city.

      • Jim: I agree with you about the blandness-bordering-on-ugliness nature of the new buildings. But I don’t think that architects are to blame…..it’s the developers, who are just out to make a quick buck during the Seattle boom, and who restrain architects’ creativity by presenting them with very limited budgets.

      • Design looks fine to me. Just build it already so we’ll have more housing where there is good transit and access to food and other services!

      • Housing is expensive enough without demanding the added cost, complexities and maintenance of forcing old world charm upon new structures.

        What we have today, as far as mid to larger scale structures, is much more visually interesting than what was built in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s….

    • Timmy73: Yes, agreed.

      I really don’t understand the esthetic grievances that some people have…maybe they just don’t like modern architecture?

      But let me be clear: the modernism that is popping up all over Seattle (and the country) today is FAR SUPERIOR to what we had in the past.

      Case in point: here in Seattle, if you recall, the general style of housing built during the last expansion, the run up to 2008 and the recession, could be charitably described as “ticky-tacky fake-craftsman.” It was a bunch of particle board and fake-craftsman elements haphazardly stuck onto whatever it was that was built.

      None, and I mean none, of these structures have aged well. In fact, only a decade on they look hopelessly dated and are often in need of major repair.

      What we have today is far superior.

  1. Would you go to a theater and insist that you be allowed to buy a ticket to stand in the aisle and block some of the view of people who are already there, because all of the seats are full? Do you call the people who got their tickets ahead of time selfish for not handing one over to you – for not being interested in letting you sit on their lap? Would you insist that the movie theater tear out seats and replace them with skinnier chairs and more rows with less leg room so that next time there will be extra tickets – and oh… btw, even though all that remodeling cost a lot of money, lower your prices, theater, because now you’ll be making more with more chairs and I cannot afford a ticket…

    • Wtf. We’re talking about housing, which everyone needs, not a fucking movie ticket. Context.

      If anyone wonders why gentrification happens, it’s also because litigious rich people keep development out of their neighborhoods…. Which btw, have shrunken in population while Seattle grows. Shame.

      • Agree with Nettles. And there’s an additional reason this movie theater analogy is non-sensical: people occupy movie theater seats for all of two hours before someone else gets to use them. But houses they occupy for decades. Many of the people you’re saying don’t serve to buy a home cause they “got here late” weren’t even adults or perhaps not even born when most local residents bought their homes. The idea that the young don’t get to buy homes in cities because they were born too late is so incredibly entitled it’s quite hard to fathom.

        And no I’m not young – I’m pushing 50 and bought a home here 12 years ago.

        There are so many other things about this analogy that are wrong and insufferable, but I’ll just stop there.

      • You don’t even know what gentrification is…. over development of existing communities that displaces current residents (just what you are advocating) is gentrification…. It is most certainly not “rich people” keeping you out of their neighborhoods… And FYI there a good many of the people on the in the area south of this development who are in no way rich… many of them have owned those properties a long time and are struggling to afford the property tax increases that have come with rising real estate prices and they are the ones who will be most impacted. Even though personally, I don’t even think that spot is really a bad place for development, along a major arterial, in an already fairly well developed spot, I still think the people most affected have every right to complain and be heard, whereas you are just whiny and jealous…

        You want a spot in your neighborhood of choice, tailored to your budget given to you rather than doing what everyone else does – find something they can afford and work to make that community a home.. or work to move on to something you want more.

      • CD neighbor, your argument is ridiculous.

        First off, neighborhoods change. It’s a fact of life. Madison Valley and its needs in 2018/2019 is not the same neighborhood that was around 10, 20 years ago.

        Also, if current residents have a veto on literally everything, then Seattle will become San Francisco and I think that is a road we do not want to go down.

        Finally, and this is where the “oh, but the residents and their property taxes!” argument gets stuck in my craw:

        I am supposed to feel for long time residents and their property taxes? I am supposed to feel sympathy for someone who bought an asset only to have it massively appreciate?

        Really? I don’t think so.

        “Oh, boo hoo! The home you bought in 1975 for basically $5 is now worth fifty gajillion! How AWFUL FOR YOU THAT YOUR ASSET MASSIVELY APPRECIATED!”

        No, CD, I feel no sympathy.

        And you really need to rethink your stance on all this, it’s pretty incoherent and/or self serving.

      • @PD: Have you heard of the concept of “house rich, cash poor.”? Or of people living on a fixed income? There are many people (especially seniors) who bought their home years ago, but whose income is low and paying constantly-increasing property taxes is a real burden, if not forcing them to move elsewhere.

      • PD – people who’s house value has risen get nothing unless they want to move, and even then they have to use that money to acquire alternative housing. For the most part, few but the developers are getting money out of this… In fact, it is eroding the ability for families to pass on much, if anything to the next generation, as for many, their home is their largest, perhaps even only, asset. A senior, if they want to stay in their home, may defer quite a large part of their taxes each year, but when they die all of that money becomes due – all at once… That often means that the house must be sold to pay off that debt and the family has to leave the area – and without necessarily realizing any of those fantasy massive gains you somehow think they are making, because much of it goes to paying back taxes.

    • Bob: Widower Grandma on a Fixed Income, who is always the go-to in these discussions (because she’s oh so sympathetic, isn’t she?), has no business living alone in a 2- or 3-BR home in a residential neighborhood in a city with a housing crisis.

      It’s a really bad use of resources.

      And I don’t care–at ALL–about her sentimental attachment to her property.

      Grandma-on-a-fixed-income needs to move to a more appropriate housing situation if she’s taking up an entire single family dwelling because of nostalgia and sentimentality.

      Let me be clear: Widower Grandma living alone in a single family home because…reasons? has no business being there. It’s great our taxation system incentivizes her to move to a more appropriate dwelling, and to take the windfall of selling her home first bought for $5 to achieve that goal. Grandma, in short, needs to go and it’s great our system pushes her out.

      • Wow.. we’ve really got some true colors showing now. It’s just great to use up and then abuse our elders. Yup, pack all the old people out because they are useless and space wasting and you want, want want. Wow…

        You make me REALLY happy I don’t have kids.

  2. I mean, kudos to them for being open about their classist desires to prevent people from living in apartments nearby. Shame on our legal system though for letting this drag out so long.

    Dear PCC, why not come down to 23rd and Jackson where we will welcome your union grocery store with open arms?

    • To be clear, the SMV group is a vocal and well-funded, but small, group of residents and their views do not represent the majority of neighbors in Madison Valley. Most of us have been waiting with baited breath for years for PCC to finally be developed here. They will certainly be welcomed with open arms.

    • Aren’t you already getting a spectacularly huge new grocery store at 23rd and Jackson with that new Vulcan project?

      As far as I’m concerned, “Save Madison Valley” is the biggest problem Madison Valley needs saving from. I can’t wait until this stupid, pointless, waste-of-time battle ends so I can walk to buy groceries at a PCC near my home. Bring on more development!

    • Do you realize that the rent on those apartments is about twice what a mortgage is for each of the neighbors? It’s hardly rich vs. poor.

      And please do take PCC to 23rd and Jackson. It’s a much better location for the traffic increase it will bring that the tight bottleneck on Madison and 29th.

      • We live only a couple blocks from this, and will be more than happy when it’s finally built and the PCC is up and running. “Single family home neighborhood”… There are around 10 restaurants already in place within 3 blocks, and two large condo buildings directly across Madison from this new project. In fact, some of the loudest voices of protest have come from the tall condos just across the street; for all their talk of preserving the homey neighborhood character and a few trees, I get the feeling that what they’re really mad about is that it will block their own pricey view to the south.

      • SL – Of course YOU want it because you are blocks away from it so will suffer none of the burden. And no, actually, none of the SMV people live in the condos across the street. It’s the folks on Dewey, with homes 23 feet from what will be a 6 story behemoth towering over them and putting them in constant shadow. Add to that a 150 car parking structure that will dump on to what is a tiny, winding residential street already narrow and difficult to navigate if you have 1 car coming in each direction. I honestly get so tired of the “I live nowhere near the noise and traffic so *I* want to be able to buy overpriced, artisan mustard (literally 1 person’s argument) within walking distance of my house. And screw those folks on Dewey!” Those of us nearer to it that already we can hear the equipment on the top of other businesses all night long. So adding a building that will have 24 hour refrigerator units on the roof and trucks coming and going until 11pm, and a full time traffic cop required (per the builder, not per SMV), just so a rich developer can create ZERO affordable units and $3500/mo. apartments on top of your rich people grocery story? Yeah, plenty of neighbors who are not rich and do not live in the lofts think this project stinks. Hence the ouster of the community council president.

  3. This is the first time I’ve commented on this project and was fairly neutral for a long time.

    I love the idea of having a PCC in our neighborhood. We desperately need a market in our area. Red Apple is nice, but has been very slow to respond to competing with Whole Foods or Trader Joes. The people in Madison Park, Madison Valley and surrounding neighborhoods want healthier alternatives as they tend to be increasingly conscientious consumers.

    I don’t love the idea of the size of this enormous project.

    I don’t love that they are forcing a huge amount of traffic onto a very narrow street like Dewey. You wouldn’t either if you lived there.

    I don’t love the fact that traffic will be awful – far worse than projected along Madison, into the Arboretum and going to Bush School. Anyone who believes the impact will be minimal is just asking to be lied to.

    I don’t like that they (and the City) have circumvented some rules to allow for development on a sensitive slope. Maybe the construction will re-enforce the area, but the scope of this seems motivated by dollars over practical safety.

    I don’t like that there’s no affordable housing in this plan. That seems shameful to me.

    The tactic of threatening to make the project bigger if community members want the developer and City to act responsibly was where I stopped supporting the project and realized that the developers are d!cks.

    • Yes, I truly don’t understand the people defending the developer like mad, when the developer refused to include any affordable housing. Why defend $3500 per month apartments while at the same time calling the opposition classist? It’s shameful that there is no affordable set aside, and shameful that a narrow residential street will now have a 6 story building 23 feet from 1 story houses, and a parking garage that will turn Dewey in to a driveway and turn Madison in to even more of a gridlocked nightmare. Even the developer says there will need to be a traffic cop day and night. Why cram it in to that narrow street? Money, that’s why.

      • If you add more high-end housing, people that can afford high-end housing will move out of their current housing that may be less high-end. And some other move in their less high-end places from their current middle-places, and others move into the other places… and all across the economic spectrum, more housing becomes available.

        Like, is it really controversial that more housing means more, you know, housing? Some of the current mediocre places may have to drop prices to compete with the newer places, and hey look, we have cheaper housing.

      • What’s so bad about $3500/mo apartments? According to Redfin, the least expensive nearby house to the proposed PCC is $1,375,000. Assuming you put 20% down ($275,000 in cash) you’d need to pay more than $6,000 a month to own that house.

        Not everyone wants to live in a big house for $6,000 or more per month. I welcome all new housing for Seattle’s current households.

    • Your comments shows you really have no concept, Privilege and Jason… Do you really think that most of those houses are worth $1million…. please.. you are looking at the newest and biggest…

      A lot of those folks bought those houses down there 20-30-40 years ago. They may not be paying anything if they haven’t refinanced to get equity out of the home at some point in time. They likely could never afford even a $3500 rent – but they don’t have to, because they planned ahead, purchased a home and paid it off… And you want to throw them out to start all over again. You are making a huge assumption that they do not have deferred taxes or financing, home repairs or other bills that would nearly or completely eat most of what they would make, which would be way more modest than $1million, for one of the many small houses on small lots and still have to provide a new home for themselves that they can afford on their now fixed incomes… Not to mention you are proposing uprooting them from the communities that they’ve lived in and know – all because you think you deserve their spot in what is now a nice neighborhood (do remember it was probably considered to be undesirable when they moved in….), at a price you want. And you call the people who live here selfish…

      • CD Neighbor, trying to explain that is wasted O2. The renter mindset has no concept of the expenses it takes to maintain a home; that property taxes go up way faster than your income; that homeowners bear a more DIRECT brunt of property tax increases than renters do; that your house appreciating does not turn it into an ATM that pukes out cash; that as you get older your skills probably aren’t the same ones that people getting paid $150-200k now have; that you don’t move out of your perfectly good house just because it’s worth a lot of money now, and you *could*; that your retirement budget doesn’t keep going up to match ever-increasing property taxes. They just won’t ever get it. The only thing they see is “oh, boo-hoo, I feel sorry for you that your house is worth a lot of money”. Why not follow that up with, “Just shut up and sell it, and get out!” ? (‘and go where’ doesn’t matter). Because that’s the next step to their “logic”– if they even thought it through. Anyway, just a waste of time.

      • CD and Jim, Seattle was just fine before you arrived. We’ll still be fine after you’re gone. Quit projecting “selfish” and “waste of time” onto people younger and wealthier than you are. Consider living in a less expensive city without public schools, mass transit, and social services if you have grown tired of paying to support such amenities. There are many such cities. Some even have restaurants that will sell you a burger and fries and give you change back from $8. We’ll still let you onto the comments section of local news sites so you can complain about how much better Seattle was when you were young. After all, you do claim to love community, and local news comments sections include communities of people as bitter as you two are.

      • Nice Jason… you’ve shown yourself to be exactly what I thought…

        Too bad that you think I’m talking about my personal situation. Sorry buddy, I just understand what a lot of my neighbors are going through, sympathize with them and really hate the hypocrisy of your movement to keep the neighborhood ‘affordable’ for people like yourself with no real concern for the ones who already live here. I am much more for allowing for semi-permanent tax relief for lower income families so that they can stay in their homes and actually amass some of the generational wealth that is so easy for richer folks to pass on. You forget – well probably, more like have no idea, because you never experienced it, that this wasn’t *always* a nice and desirable neighborhood to live in. It’s grown into that and the families who’ve been here and fostered it deserve to be able to now receive the advantages that will come from that, rather than being shunted off to the next low income neighborhood…

        Personally, I’m here to stay – I’m not even particularly old, but my house is paid off. I’ve saved 1/2 a million $ by not having my allotted 2.5 children, which also means I don’t need to have any concerns about maintaining the ability to passing it to the next generation. I’m not on a fixed income, so I don’t have any problems being able to afford my taxes, even as high as they’ve risen, and buy burgers at the same time, and *gasp* don’t even mind paying for things like schools, parks and mass transit that improve this area. I’ve even voted for probably 99% of initiatives that have raised my own taxes – I’ve only not voted for a very few that I’ve considered to be truly wasteful.

        I’m not even 100% anti growth. If I had thought that this neighborhood was going to stay completely static and unchanged from the time I moved in, I probably would have chosen another area. I’m happy to see new businesses and targeted development along arterials and in commercial areas, but I also would not have chosen Ballard… and would not be particularly happy to see this neighborhood turn go that way. I do not support turning arterials into canyons or the mass destruction of family neighborhoods and good solid housing stock just to be able to push more people in..

        Go forge your own road kiddo… do what the rest of did, find a place that you can afford, even if it isn’t exactly everything that you desire and make it a home that you want to keep. I mean seriously… when I got here I certainly walked around the top of Capitol Hill and looked at all of the beautiful old homes and would have loved to have been able to afford to buy one and restore it – but I’m not old enough… That neighborhood too wasn’t always lovely or expensive – I’ve heard tales that it was a hangout of biker gangs and considered to be rough during the 60’s and 70’s. People bought those houses cheap and fixed them up. As they grew up and grew older, they changed and the neighborhood changed and is now a super desirable place and more expensive than I could afford – that is the way of things… I did’t whine and complain. I found what I *could* buy.

        Or just wait… there will be another downturn sometime and prices will come down.

      • Thank you for your offer to saddle new homeowners with higher taxes to cover exemptions for people who want a financial reward for having lived in the city for decades. As a younger person, I know how people can feel entitled to a certain lifestyle: low taxes, cheap burgers, free parking, etc. I will consider this entitlement program.

      • You crack me up Jason – you whine and complain that it’s too expensive for *you*, while at the same time really hoping that all of the amenities in the neighborhood (schools, transit, parks etc) tax me out of my home… and berate me for not wanting to pay for them, but then when I do want pay for them and can pay for them, you berate me for making the neighborhood too expensive for you. You are just a bundle of contradictions my dear.

      • Don’t worry about me, CD. Unlike you, I’m not asking for entitlements. I can pay my own way and still, despite my privilege, I’m advocating for more housing for people of all statuses. A simple non-sarcastic “thank you” will suffice. It is Thanksgiving, after all.

      • Jason, Jason – Show me where did I ever ask for an entitlement? I never said anything about taking any tax breaks myself, in fact I *specifically mentioned not needing or being eligible for them personally*, but still being in favor of offering them to the residents of this neighborhood.

        You are just lying to yourself about caring one whit about people of all statuses. You care nothing about the low and middle income people who already live here. You’re more than happy to bulldoze them away or move them into little cubicles so that you can have their property. What I want is for people to actually be able to stay and better the lives of the next generation. We don’t need advocates like you, who like to repeat platitudes and pat yourself on your back for being so wonderful, as you play right into the hands of the big developers.

        But hey, stick around for the day at least. I don’t have a crackpot uncle, so you are making Thanksgiving a much more real experience.

    • Jason – My house is worth nothing near that much, a house on my block sold for $500K last year, and my mortgage is $1600 per month. Stop doing math like the folks living around here just moved in yesterday to a McMansion. Perhaps, you know, walk or drive around the area so you actually have some idea what you’re talking about.

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