Last week, around one hundred and twenty people gathered at the Bush School Community Center deep in Madison Valley to attend a presentation and question and answer session with architect Charles Strazzara on his conceptual ideas for what the future mixed use development project on the property that currently houses the much-loved City People’s garden store on E Madison will look like. And since many members of the audience weren’t keen on seeing such a large project go up in the Valley, it was a lively — and at times heated — meeting. And there are still weeks until the project’s first design review in July.
“We’re in that interim of space between now and the submission of that EDG packet. I want to work with you until then. We want to become a good neighbor,” Strazzara told the crowd.
CHS broke the news back in March that the owners of the triangular lot that is currently home to City People’s is in the process of selling the property to the Michigan-based developer Velmeir with plans to build a four-story mixed use project with a 25,000 square-foot commercial space for a PCC grocery market, 75 residential units, and 164 parking spaces. Since the April announcement of the project, neighborhood concerns about the development have coalesced in the form of a group called Save Madison Valley, who say they to have hired a land use attorney to help them shape the project. Members of the group were present at the May 17th meeting, sporting black Save Madison Valley t-shirts and ready to have their say on the Studio Meng Strazzara design.
The event — organized by Madison Valley Community Council, its president Lindy Wishard and Jeff Floor, a member the Central Area Land Use Review Committee (or LURC), an organization which seeks to facilitate dialogue between neighbors and developers working on projects in central Seattle—was an opportunity for architect Strazzara to explain his ideas for the project and show of preliminary graphic renderings with a powerpoint as well as take questions from the attendees and hear their input.
Floor from LURC asked the crowd to be respectful of the presentation after several outbursts from audience members . “Typically when we get a developer to show up it’s much closer to the EDG phase or after. And not all developers want to do it so I’m appreciative when they want to do it,” he said. Given the preliminary nature of the concept renderings featured in the presentation, Strazzara, Floor, and Wishard asked the audience not to take photos, a request that displeased some. “What’s respectful about not taking photos,” shouted one attendee.
Strazzara’s presentation and vision for the project attempted to address neighborhood concerns about the scale of the project, particularly on the portion of the development that would be built on the declining slope that faces east onto Dewey Place. The project will consist of a series of setbacks, the most extreme of which will face Dewey. “This is our preferred option,” said Strazzara. “It really pulls the massing up to Madison. On Dewey we won’t have [a] long wall.” Dewey could still face the highest portion of the project at 40’.
Strazzara was keen to stress the fact that he doesn’t want to build out the project to the full mass and height allowed by the lot’s zoning code. “I didn’t take advantage of that because I think we’re going to be very sympathetic that [neighborhood concerns about scale],” he said.
The project’s parking garage is planned to be concealed and below grade, with a entrance and exit on Madison avenue. Strazzara said that while developers usually want to build as little parking as possible under city code, he’s including more than required to placate neighborhood concerns about loss of parking for residents. The 75 residential units will be a mix of studios, one bedrooms, and two bedrooms, though a specific breakdown hasn’t been decided on. Strazzara said that they plan to set aside some of their units as affordable using the multifamily tax exemption program.
At one point Strazzara said that bringing multi-family housing to Madison would be a “nice way to bring affordability to the Valley.” Attendees scoffed and one said “Come on, it’s not going to be affordable.” Strazzara backtracked, apologized, and said market rate multifamily units are affordable when compared with the cost of single family homes.
Though the atmosphere was tense and passionate throughout the presentation, afterwards, when Floor with LURC asked the audience to break into groups to come up with their ideas of what could improve the project, members of Save Madison Valley complained that event organizers had bumped the group’s presentation on their organization to the end of the agenda.
“There is an organization here called ‘Save Madison Valley’ that has been completely shut down by the organization of this meeting!” yelled one attendee.
Discussion of the project raised concerns about traffic and parking impacts of the project. Some said they wanted to see affordable residential units, some suggested building townhouses against the side of the project facing Dewey to mitigate the wall-like effect of the development’s tall east face. Many expressed disapproval of the overall project size.
“What we would need to stomach it was that it was vastly reduced in size,” said one attendee to applause from around the room. “We want less of everything, fewer units, less commercial space. PCC is not an amenity, we don’t need grocery store,” said another.
Not all opposition to the project is about size. Here are some examples of feedback already received by the city on the project — including support for the development:
Wednesday night brings two projects in front of the review board as a lofts project set for 1820 Boylston tries to pass its second round in the recommendation phase and a 23-story senior living facility planned for 620 Terry on First Hill begins its early design guidance phase.