Despite a “compliance due” date of July 1st, CHS comments talking about padlocks on the doors and this Slog post and interview with one of the restaurant’s owners, a violation of the city’s land use law isn’t going to close the Volunteer Park Cafe on Thursday. Or next Thursday. Or many, many Thursdays from now. In fact, according to information provided to CHS by a Department of Planning and Development spokesperson, VPC will have months to put its business in order and work through the public process that surrounds a change of use application with the City of Seattle.
“There is a date for compliance,” DPD spokesperson Bryan Stevens tells CHS. “If people are making progress, we will give them time.” Stevens said that process could take anywhere from three to five months. And while it plays out, VPC is free to continue its business.
“As long as they are making progress, we do allow them to stay in operation,” Stevens said.
As we first reported this weekend, VPC has found itself in a bind as a dispute with a neighbor over the restaurant’s ambitious plans for increased outdoor dining has boiled over into a violation of the city’s land use rules .
Stevens said it’s a matter of history that modern businesses ever existed at 17th and Galer — and that same history might be what allows VPC to win its effort to change the allowed use for the 1904 building. “A store technically isn’t allowed in this zone,” Stevens said. “Since the store has been there for over 100 years, there is an opportunity to change the use.”
Here is what comes next. Volunteer Park Cafe’s owners Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt must submit an application for a change of use with the DPD. Once that application has been received and publicly posted (you’ll see a sign go up at VPC and a notice on the DPD Web site… and CHS, of course), there will be a two week public comment period. During those 14 days, neighbors, community members and lovers of scones can send in their feedback to the DPD. You’ll find information on how to address those comments when the notice goes out.
What follows after that is what will guarantee that VPC is free to continue business until at least early fall. Stevens says that DPD will conduct an analysis, weigh feedback and write a decision. That process is not a quick one and could take weeks. And even then there will be more public process. After the decision is published, there will be another 14-day period for public feedback. Any appeals will be heard by the city’s hearing examiner, not DPD.
“When you have a public process it takes a little longer to complete,” Stevens said.
Here is the section of the muni code describing the process and outlining the factors DPD will be considering:
SMC 23.42.110 Change from one nonconforming use to another nonconforming use.
A nonconforming use may be converted by an administrative conditional use authorization to another use not otherwise permitted in the zone subject to the following limitations and conditions.
A. In single-family, residential small lot, and Lowrise, Duplex/Triplex zones, a nonconforming multifamily use or structure may not be converted to any nonresidential use not otherwise permitted in the zone.
B. The proposed new use must be no more detrimental to properties in the zone and vicinity than the existing use. This determination shall be based on consideration of the following factors:
1. The zones in which both the existing use and the proposed new use are allowed;
2. The number of employees and clients associated or expected with the proposed use;
3. The relative parking, traffic, light, glare, noise, odor and similar impacts of the two uses and how these impacts could be mitigated.
C. The existence of a single residential unit, such as a caretaker’s or proprietor’s unit, accessory to a nonconforming commercial use shall not be treated as having established a residential use, and such a unit may be converted or changed provided that it is the only residential use in the structure and comprises less than half of the total floor area of the structure.
D. Parking requirements for the proposed use shall be determined by the Director.
E. If the new use is permitted, the Director may require mitigation measures, including but not limited to landscaping, sound barriers or fences, mounding or berming, adjustments to yards or parking standards, design modification, or limiting hours of operation.
One additional factor that might be in VPC’s favor: According to Stevens, part of the analysis on change of use situations is whether the change will be more detrimental to surrounding properties than the use that the structure had already been approved for. In essence, VPC’s application to change the building’s approved use to restaurant won’t be weighed against the impact a busy cafe makes in comparison to a single family home but, instead, with a grocery store.
On the other hand, another recent example of a similar situation in Beacon Hill raised in the CHS comments shows just how expensive and challenging and extensive grapple with the DPD can be.