Wednesday is the final day for public comment on Volunteer Park Cafe’s application to permit its continued operation as a restaurant at the corner of 17th and Galer in the middle of a Capitol Hill residential neighborhood. If you haven’t added your thoughts to the process yet, you have a few hours to do so. We talked to both sides of the issue this week as the deadline approached.
17th Ave resident Cliff Meyer is acting as spokesman for the group of neighbors he says oppose the cafe’s application for a change of use for the 1501 17th Ave East building where VPC has operated — in violation of city zoning laws, it turns out — since 2007. Meyer says he and his wife Alle Hall have been going around the neighborhood this last week to talk with residents about the application.
“Lots of people aren’t aware the cafe wouldn’t work with us,” Meyer told CHS. “It took this process and even then they’re not being honest,” Meyer said.
Meyer and Hall have documented what they say have been failed attempts to work with the cafe on noise, traffic and issues like garbage and pests on their Web site, http://vpneighbors.wordpress.com/. We wrote about their site here. They have been reluctant to say how many neighbors their Volunteer Park Neighbors group represents but CHS has definitely heard from two who have requested anonymity but wanted to let us know they support Meyer and Hall. And, of course, we have also talked to the original complainant who threw the cafe’s zoning problems into daylight, the cafe’s neighbor Paul Jones.
The partners behind the cafe have been busy, too. Heather Earnhardt and Ericka Burke said they worked with the Seattle Office of Economic Development in preparing their change of use application including the nine proposals the cafe included to improve their presence in the neighborhood. The duo also recently posted a new page on its alwaysfreshgoodness.com Web site. The “Improving neighbor relations” page highlights the nine-point plan and also includes charts from an online real estate service illustrating the change in home values for the area related to the rest of Capitol Hill as evidence that the cafe hasn’t had a negative impact.
Beyond that, Burke said she feels like it’s time to let the DPD process play out. “They’ve formed a group and are going door to door but at this point I don’t feel like there’s anything we can do,” Burke said. “We have a lot of support.”
Burke said one big boost has been working with staff of the Office of Economic Development including a former DPD planner who has helped them better shape the application and their plan to be less impactful on the neighborhood. “When all this blew up, they said, ‘Hey what can we do? Someone go and help these guys, they need it,'” Burke said.
Burke also received a letter of support from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce’s interim head Michael Wells.
To illustrate the gap between the neighbor group and the cafe, consider the most visible sticking point: Volunteer Park Cafe’s new back patio. Meyer says the biggest issue remains how the cafe uses that patio. “The number one priority has always been that it’s backyard just can’t be part of the restaurant,” Meyer said. “The patio can’t have 30 or more people on a regular basis. The city has told them that they can’t happen. But in the application, they’re still saying they can use it.”
Burke says that’s not the case and that the application lays it out. “It clearly states there would be no service. We’re not proposing food service on the patio.” And she’s right. The application does, indeed, say there will not be regular service on the patio.
But it doesn’t say people can’t take their food outside. Nor does the application document mention limits on special events that might fill the area on a regular basis. It’s the kind of thing that could well be within a permitted business’s rights. It could also drive nearby neighbors nuts.
Sorting that out now falls to DPD. You can submit your comments online here. Once feedback is collected, a Seattle Department of Planning and Development planner will complete an analysis of the situation, weigh feedback and write a decision. After the decision is published, there will be another 14-day period for additional public feedback. Any appeals will be heard by the city’s hearing examiner, not DPD. DPD staff have told CHS that it will likely take months for a decision on the application.
In the meantime, Volunteer Park Cafe will be able to continue to operate at the corner of 17th and Galer. To the east on Galer, Stevens Elementary School is a few blocks away. To the west, Volunteer Park. In between, live the typical Hill mix of old time residents and the newbies attracted to the history and walkability on the edge of the dense city streets to the south and west. But it will be more than that mix that helps decide what happens next for the cafe.
Burke was reluctant to speculate on what will happen but did say the cafe has a strategy should the DPD deny its application. She was also cautious to say what she has learned from the situation. “Speaking with neighbors and learning what is important to them has been good,” she said. “This is the third business that I’ve owned. The landlords have been more strategic in the other situations. In that case, I never had to worry about things like zoning. If i open another restaurant, the first thing I’m going to do, of course is look at the zoning!”
Meyer thinks public sentiment may not be on his side but he believes the law will be. “We know the public comments,” Meyer said. “A lot of folks that don’t live near the cafe and they like it and they’re saying that.We agree that it is a great community asset. Without knowing there will be limits, we can’t support it.”
UPDATE 9:50 PM:
We have confirmed that the letter posted below in comments was sent to DPD by Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce interim executive director Michael Wells to clarify the Chamber’s position on the cafe. “We’d like to see the neighborhood issues addressed by the city,” Wells told CHS tonight.
Chamber board member Allan Jones of Russell Jones Real Estate is the brother of Paul Jones, the neighbor who filed the initial complaint against Volunteer Park Cafe with the DPD.
October 27, 2010
925 E Thomas Street
Seattle, WA 98102-5423
Department of Planning & Development
City of Seattle
Mr. Bradrick –
You may recall a previous letter from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce in regards to the Volunteer Park Café. The Chamber’s Board of the Directors has asked that I clarify our position on the issues at hand.
The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is committed to the economic vitality of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood. A significant factor in that vitality is the relationship between residents and business owners. We recognize that at times the priorities of business owners and residents may be at odds. Dialog between all parties involved is crucial in resolving those issues. In this instance, regrettably that dialog seems to have broken down.
We would like to encourage further negotiations between the Café and its neighbors in this situation. We recognize the legitimate concerns of all parties in the discussion and strongly recommend that all parties work towards amicable resolution. If there is any way that the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce may be of assistance in this matter we are more than happy to be of service.
Thank you for your time,
Interim Executive Director
Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce
UPDATE 11/1/2010 1:15 PM:
Volunteer Park Cafe’s Burke sent us a document she says refutes some of the accusations leveled by the neighbors group about the cafe’s response to their Good Neighbor Proposal. Here’s the VPC letter Burke e-mailed to us:
Volunteer Park Café would like to clarify VPN’s accusation that we denied to accept their “Good Neighbor Proposal.”
The neighborhood group states that we refused to accept their “good neighbor proposal.” This is only partially true. The Café agrees with all of the neighborhood’s issues, except two. First, the neighborhood group tried to bully The Café into subverting the DPD process by asking the property owner and the business owner to sign an unnecessary covenant against the land. Second, the neighborhood group asked The Café to give up its existing permits to have tables and chairs in the right-of-way.
Signing such a covenant is not in the best interest of the landlord or the owners of VPC, particularly when the DPD permit process is designed to specifically address neighborhood impacts such as parking, traffic, noise, and garbage, and more without use of a covenant. It should be noted that, like a covenant, conditions required as part of an Administrative Conditional Use Permit also run with the land, even if ownership changes.
It seems as though the neighborhood group has lost sight of the landlord completely. In fact, according to owner Dorothy Erickson, the group has made zero attempts to contact her personally to discuss the matter.
Item #3 of the proposed good neighbor plan asks for NO outdoor activity, including our sidewalk tables and chairs, which were legally permitted by the city. The impact of our tables and chairs is no different than a grocery store with a coffee service that furnishes tables and chairs as an accessory use.
VPN’s Good Neighbor Proposal:The VPN would like to be able to support operation of a small restaurant in the building and have given thought to what constitutes a good neighbor plan. A number of families known to be concerned have met and concluded they can give a binding commitment to not oppose land use permitting or operation of a restaurant in the building if you and Dorothy (landlord) will agree to the following as covenants that will run with the land.
1. Upgrade and maintain the building and restaurant operation in compliance with all non-discretionary state and local regulations including for example fire/safety codes, building codes, public health and liquor regulations, etc.2. Use best available methods to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood in areas of garbage disposal, rodent control, and odor control. 3. Keep all customer eating and drinking and food preparation (cooking. barbecuing or similar activities) inside the building and maintain hours of operation as they have been this last summer. 4. Assure an operation that curtails noise to be no greater than that which would be occasioned by a small grocery store or a single family residence.5. Insofar as possible, assure that patrons and employees respect parking regulations and assure that delivery vehicles follow an agreed to parkingunloading mitigation plan. 6. Limit all eating and drinking establishment operations, including office uses, to the ground level.