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Developer ready to build higher if fight over Madison Valley PCC project drags on

Wednesday, activists are planning to protest outside the opening of New Seasons in Ballard to bring attention, they say, to the private equity investment firm-owned grocery chain’s anti-labor, anti-union activities. In Madison Valley, another grocery chain is facing pushback but the circumstances are much different. A land development deal to build a six-story, mixed-use apartment building, anchored by a new PCC grocery store in the heart of Madison Valley is about to close but opposition from a neighborhood group, if successful, could stop construction from breaking ground any time soon.

Community group Save Madison Valley has opposed the scale of the project since Velmeir Companies agreed to purchased the property currently home to City People’s in 2016. Velmeir expects to receive final approval from the city in the next few weeks to begin work where the garden store currently resides. But a Save Madison Valley appeal could gum up the “master use permit” process.

“The area is ripe for development, but it’s been a development on steroids,” said Melissa Stoker, SMV spokesperson.

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According to Stoker who lives next door to the proposed site, among other things, the development will be too large to suit the neighborhood, and the underground garage “is doomed to be a huge traffic problem.” The area is widely known as a bottleneck traffic zone, which SMV believes would be a cluster made worse by the PCC.

Velmeir vice president Geza de Gall says he hand picked PCC grocery for the development. “This is one of the last places we saw that has an opportunity to bring a solid community based oriented provider in PCC and an opportunity to bring some residential density into the market where there is a bit of a void,” he said.

The building is designed for an underground parking lot below the market with room for more than 160 vehicles, 75 apartments in three floors above the market, and six townhouses behind the complex. Under contract with the property owners, the land purchase price will be public record once the permit process is resolved and the deal closes. For now, it’s a secret.Big money or no, the Save Madison Valley group says it will take the case to court to stop the development altogether if necessary unless the project is significantly altered to meet their requirements for a smaller project. The developer grappled with an high level of community feedback during the lengthy process and worked with architect Charles Strazzara to revise the design over the course of three design review board meetings. “I thought we went in with a design that met concerns with neighbors, but our initial design morphed significantly for the better and there have been some meaningful changes,” said Geza de Gall.

Velmeir developers have met with SMV on four occasions since 2017. “It’s their neighborhood, they have strong emotion and it’s their right,” said Geza de Gall “But you know, the project is not going to be half the size because from an economic standpoint, it would not be viable.”

The group was formed in March 2016, shortly after Stoker says she learned of the land action. Since then, the community group has reached out to PCC and met with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. “The Design Review Board did make some adjustments,” said Stoker “but they don’t have a lot of authority.”

More than 100 public comment letters have been sent to the city’s design review board and other agencies since then, arguing the development’s size, parking entrance and tree handling. More than 75 of them have been from members of SMV, with 13 letters written by Stoker. From the way the Land Use Action permit sign was hung in 2016, to the number of trees that will or won’t be deemed exceptional, Stoker and SMV have been passionately opposed to nearly every part of the mixed-use building. Fundamentally, “the codes have been misinterpreted by the city to allow this design,” Stoker said.Lisa Rutzick, Design Review Panning Manager for the city says, “People love City People’s and are attached to that. It’s a really easy neighbor to have. They’re getting a development that’s taking advantage of the full zoning law. There’s a lot of things mixed up in it and people don’t want change to happen, or just not as dramatic.”

After seven years of aggressive developments in Seattle, Geza de Gall says the angst that SMV is experiencing is in kind with general development fatigue seen more lately around Seattle but “SMV is a very vocal minority,” he said.

Still, the design review process has yielded several changes to the originally intended structure, including crawling vine greenery on the street facing facade, decorative garage door screening, and a reduction of the originally proposed number of parking spaces below ground to make way for the townhouses.

The escalation of the debate between SMV and the building may lead to the opposite intended effect. “If we are still in the review process a few months down the road, that gives us the opportunity to rethink and go in with an even larger project,” Geza de Gall said. The Velmeir development was greenlit prior to the 2017 HALA overlay requiring developers to allocate between 5-7% of units to affordable prices within 60% AMI and the planning around Mandatory Housing Affordability and upzoning.

Ironically, if SMV appeals the permit decision, Velmeir says it may join the still optional HALA program. If they decide to revamp the cost structure to include affordable units, the city would allow an additional 10 vertical feet to the building.

“It’s clear after a year of engagement with SMV that we weren’t going to get to a place with them of getting along,” said Geza de Gall. “But I do know the project is viewed in political circles as being consistent with land use objectives.”

“Madison Valley is where a lot of emotion occurs,” Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson says about the situation. “That’s because it’s a neighborhood that has a lot of infrastructure and a lot of support but is primarily a single-family neighborhood,” he said.

“We as a city have had intentions which say if you’ve got a lot of good stuff, we want to see that more people can live by that good stuff because it should be shared by more residents as the city continues to grow,” Johnson, who chairs the land use committee spearheading Seattle’s affordability and development changes, said.

City People’s, meanwhile, has a lease that keeps the garden store at its longtime location until June, “and then month-to-month until the new development breaks ground,” the Seattle Times reports. Its ownership continues its search for a new location. A permit has been filed to make way for demolition of the E Madison garden store but it also remains under review.

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40 thoughts on “Developer ready to build higher if fight over Madison Valley PCC project drags on

  1. We live a few blocks from here, and family grew up here. My take, and I could be wrong, is that you have a bunch of people fighting density who are actually the same people who recently gentrified this neighborhood. I don’t like calling people names, so suffice to say it is not a good look.

    There are 15+ restaurants within 2 blocks of this location. Millions are being invested in BRT infrastructure that will benefit this neighborhood rapid transit every 6 minutes. If there is anywhere that needs increased density in its retail core to justify transit upgrades… this is the place.

  2. So no affordable housing, lots of parking, another grocery. That doesn’t seem to be aligned with what we are supposed to be doing. Personally I also liked the idea of putting city people’s on the roof of the new development – but I guess that is too much planning…

  3. Not every development is going to be perfect for everyone. IMO, adding new 80+ residential units along a busy transit corridor is a positive. A few blocks away on Madison a developer recently changed their plans from 125 apts to 7 lux townhomes. That is the kind of wasted opportunity that really harms progress towards stabilizing the housing market.

    Main corridors like Madsion have to add density as quickly as possible. The zoning is in place in these areas, and the city is investing a hug amount of resources to increase transit capacity along these corridors. We need density on roads like Madison and Roosevelt ASAP to keep up with the demand.

    I wish City People could stay. But that is not the issue here. I really have a hard time having too much sympathy for people who move into a SFH right next to a busy road zoned for 6 stories… and then tries to block development of that site. Meanwhile those SFH have doubled in value in the last few years largely because new housing is constantly being blocked by those same homeowners who have gained all that equity.

  4. I can see how parking is not needed for every resident of the new units, given it will sit right at a new BRT line. But if there is a place that needs parking, it is a grocery store. Both to make the grocery economically viable, and to enable a broader area of people to use it beyond those who live along the BRT line.

  5. @local. I agree with you 100%. I thought I was the only one here beating the “we need to maximize housing on transit corridors” drum.

  6. Yep. IMO density is the answer, and you got to try and be pragmatic. The city needs a ton more housing. It needs lots more affordable housing too. But building costs are really high to where it is hard for developers to justify putting up anything but luxury units. Developers won’t build unless you have proper zoning and a chance to make a profit. You have to make it more profitable to put in 125 apts than it is to build 7 townhomes.

    Say you want 150 affordable units. The only way you can get the private sector to build that would be to pay them a huge sum or have the 150 affordable units be part of a much larger project where it is only a fraction of the total build (like what is happening in Yessler Terrace.)

    A much pragmatic approach is to encourage/allow the private sector to build a ton of market rate housing at high density (for which there is ample demand and yet almost none of downtown development is condos.) Force them to build a percentage of affordable homes as part of the projects as a cost of doing business (the current model.) At the same time the city needs to find ways to get existing older housing stock to get converted into affordable housing. That makes a ton more sense than building from scratch at a huge loss.

    I lived in downtown Chicago, where you have 150K apts on the same block as 2M units (in fact my unit was 170K and Chance the Rapper is buying a 4M apt across the street.) I live in an old building that has become more affordable. He lives in a shiny new 40 story condo. Building all of those pricey new condos actually helped my building become more affordable and added a ton of money to the city tax base (his unit alone will generates 50K/yr in property taxes.)

  7. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting Seattle to become Chicago….. Just because more people *want* to live here doesn’t mean everyone has to be accommodated. I’m all for preserving affordable housing – but NOT through the destruction of neighborhoods. It’s the neighborhoods that make Seattle such an attractive place to live.

  8. I live in this neighborhood, and I can’t wait until I can walk to a nice grocery store. The loudest complainers should not get a veto in what constitutes an attractive place to live.

  9. We are talking about 6 story apartments on Madison, surrounded by restaurants and shopping… at the terminus of a major nor BRT transit line (costing $120M.) You are adding a PCC and 80+ apartments exactly where they should be. How is this destroying the neighborhood?

    Much of the neighborhood near this development had once been red-lined, became an affordable area for a diverse community… and has in recently years been ground zero of Seattle gentrification.

    I have no issue with the neighborhood continuing to evolve. No one is putting a big apartment building on a residential street. If someone moved in right by a busy retail corridor then you should not try and block housing being added along that corridor.

  10. 100%. I am also a neighbor and could not be more supportive of this development going forward. That’s the feeling I get from talking to most people in the neighborhood, but Save Madison Valley is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, so to speak. If all of this leads to affordable housing and greater height being added, even better.

  11. I’m not commenting over this one particular project, but the overall attitude of the city council and some vocal people of growth at any cost – and yes – there are places that they *are* advocating changing the zoning to allow 5, if not 6 story zero lot line, zero parking buildings on residential streets… and I do think this destroys neighborhoods.

    You want to help people – really and truly? Help them keep their homes in their families…. Don’t allow the market to give them little other recourse but to sell out to a developer when a parent passes and suddenly *all* of the deferred taxes come due all at once for the heirs. Rich people get 11 million dollars they can pass on to their kids tax free….. people of more moderate means often have little other than their home and because of our tax structure and insane property value growth passing that tiny nest egg on can be impossible.

  12. Sounds like SMV just want their own walled community (NIMBY?). ‘Affordable housing’ is a trigger for some people.

    But, weren’t these the same voices protesting *delivery trucks* in the area? So many other people nearby look forward to the ease of shopping – just a walk down the street. PCC delivers groceries, too (delivery!) … Just who are these car-clingy people who are so angry about increased traffic?

    … oh. Yeah … we see you.

  13. “Destroying” a neighborhood means tearing it down to run a freeway through it, or stopping investments in infrastructure and letting it fall apart. Building more new, up-to-code housing in a city neighborhood is the exact opposite of “destruction” – it increases neighborhood vibrancy, resiliency, and appeal. That appeal may have a negative consequence (gentrification), but none of that is “destruction”.

  14. @cdneighbor “Just because more people *want* to live here doesn’t mean everyone has to be accommodated.”

    Yep, it’s that kind of *I got mine already* attitude that got us to where we are now: expensive rents, rising cost of living, lower income families pushed out of neighborhoods. All because someone who WANTED a house in Madison Valley got there before someone who wants a home in Madison Valley now.

    You can keep the character of a neighborhood while also allowing certain areas to be more densely developed. While you might not want this to be another Chicago, if we keep shouting down density where it makes sense (transit corridors) what we’ll get is another San Francisco. We have to give somewhere and this development seems like a good fit to allow for some give.

    • You see the people who are in place as selfish…. I see the ones who are demanding everyone else move over as selfish…

      You don’t stand outside of a sold out theater and whine that they need to squeeze in more seats, do you? I’ll bet you don’t offer to let someone sit on your lap if you have a ticket…

      Wouldn’t I have loved to have been able to get into one of those houses a bit further north – of course… but that neighborhood had it’s renaissance 20 years earlier than I was looking for a home… Did I complain – did I demand that I deserved a place there, of course not. I found a home I could afford in a place that wasn’t already too full and too expensive. Now the newest comers think they shouldn’t have to do that. That is what I see…

      I don’t have any irons in this particular fire, but as a whole I do. Maybe right in that particular spot people should have know what they were buying next too – how long has it been zoned for 6 stories? For people like me and my neighbors, we are being force re-zoned (and for the second time mind you..) to allow only slightly smaller development (no commercial component, but 5 story, zero lot line, zero parking buildings) on our non-arterial, residential streets. We did not buy next to that and we don’t want it.

      • I want to live on Park Ave in NYC with a view of Central Park.

        I demand you build or give me a place I can afford! Oh and can you throw in a Rolex too?

        Give me a break. Go find a place that you CAN afford and stop bitching about what you cant.

  15. I see lots of strawmen being constructed in the comments around this proposed development and it’s opponents.

    Why is it bad to ask that a development conform to the City’s published and long established Design Guidelines?

    Why is it bad for members of a community to actually become involved in the development plans of their neighborhood?

    Just letting developers build what ever they please really isn’t the answer here.

    The City has an obligation to those who live there, and pay the ever increasing property taxes, to ensure that growth is appropriate.

    • The process has been taking place at this location for a few years now, including multiple revisions. The building conforms and has passed, but now a few people are threatening to sue to try and dissuade the development. They are not trying to get the building to conform. They simply don’t like having a 6 story apartment building on a busy commercial street where the city is building a transit hub- even though that is what is zoned for and what most would agree is in the best interests of the area.

  16. This is awesome, I hope they go through with adding the extra 10 feet to the development. The SMV group will be unhappy no matter what is built on that lot, so may as well maximize how many units are built there instead of trying to placate them.

    • I live a block off of 23rd/24th near Madison Valley. That corridor mostly SFH, but is also eventually slated for BRT. I fully expect there will be some of my neighbors up in arms when the road is upzoned for greater density. Hopefully enough of us will balance out the noise and help pave the way for increased housing along city transit corridors.

      We could literally add thousands of apartments/condo’s along these transit corridors without “destroying the fabric of our neighborhoods.” It would be an ideal area to encourage family sized units that help with the housing shortage without adding more cars to the road (because they are BRT they can be built without 1:1 parking.)

    • How many extra units does 10 feet actually add? Why not instead get rid of the cavernous parking garage? If we’re looking for density on a transit core we really need hundreds of parking spaces?

  17. Luxury apartments roughly three times the cost of my mortgage and zero units set aside as affordable. More rich people housing and more rich people grocery stores. I’m not crying a river for the developer.

  18. I can’t wait for the day I can walk to my local PCC instead of driving to the Madison COOP. The SMV people come off as elitist NIMBYs. I know it’s Schadenfreude, but it would make me happy to see the additional 10 feet green-lighted. After all, it’s for *affordable housing*, who want’s to argue against that?…

    • Looking at their video, I see there concerns. But when you buy a home in the bottom of a valley across from a busy retail street zoned for 6 stories… you sort of have to expect that a 6 story development will be placed there.

      The review process has been going on for years, and it sounds like the final version at least tried to increase tree cover and make both sides of the building attractive. But when the goal of SMV is to prevent 6 story buildings in a busy corridor zoned for 6 story buildings… then I’m not sure how much support they should get in this current housing environment.

  19. I’m a homeowner just a couple streets away and was at one of the first meetings where City People announced the sale and new development. I heard two groups protesting very strongly: 1) everyone that wanted City People to stay — something that obviously wasn’t in any way possible given the sale and all of the negative economics of buying the property themselves, doing all of the necessary upgrades to the building and lot, etc. — and 2) neighbors from the tall condo building across the street, arguing how this development made no sense, was too big, would be on an unsafe slope, etc. — even though the same could be said about their own building! (What I think they really feared was that the new construction would block their views and sunlight to the south.) There are a group of about 8-10 houses at the very end of the valley, below and behind the new development, that definitely would have their western sky and sun affected, and would lose a narrow band of greenery on the hillside from them up to Madison. While their concern is very real, they’re a very small percentage of residents in the neighborhood. understanding that City people is not going to be there no matter what, most people I talk to are happy with the current plan and the PCC market that will come along with it. Traffic will be impacted during construction, but the latest design I think handles shopper’s traffic pretty well. I really think Save Madison Valley should be named save Our Very Own Little Corner of Madison Valley Everybody Else Be Damned.

  20. I live a few blocks from City People’s and I for one am furious that this project has been held up so long by NIMBY doofuses (stronger language withheld to spare J’s blood pressure). The nursery will be a big loss, neighborhoods should have a variety of practical retail, but Madison is a great place for new apartments and a better, closer grocery store than Safeway will be a huge boon to the neighborhood. Seattle needs to plan for its next million residents; delaying projects like this because of a well-organized #resistance is counterproductive.

    • What is the ideal grocery density ? You have red apple, Safeway, trader joes and the Madison market all along that street within blocks.

      • I’m not sure. But I don’t think Safeway/QFC complete directly with specially markets like PCC/Red Apple/Central Co-op.

        It looks like each neighborhood will have it’s own upscale grocer. Red Apple for Madison Park, PCC for Madison Valley, New Seasons for CD, Central CoOp for Hilltop, Whole Foods for First Hill.

        I’m not sure if there is enough density to support that, but I doubt many people are complaining about to many choices in upscale grocers. But the same thing is happing north of the cut.

      • @Nope. TJ’s and RA are exactly 1 mile each direction from this location. Quite difficult for many to walk that far with their groceries.

  21. Since CHS has covered this story before and there is essentially no new information here re the Madison Valley project, I’m curious to know what triggered this story. Could it be the PR person for the developer planting this story? It’s certainly framed that way. When the developer’s PR folks add themselves as “neighbors” to community Facebook pages one has to wonder…and the framing, well that’s on the journalist. Why not focus on the fact that zero affordable housing is being considered or provided by the developer? Why not talk about the kind of rent that will be charged? Or how much more housing could be included if not for the massive garage? Why instead frame this a a minority battle by SMV? This is almost – not quite but almost – as bad as the Madison Park Times referring to concerned community members as “little old ladies.” The design review board found plenty wrong with this project, repeatedly. The involvement of SMV and literally hundreds of community members who showed up for multiple design review board meetings meant a far better, much improved design. So good on them! And there is still plenty of room for further tweaking to make the building an appropriate fit for the odd/distinct location, perched above a quite historic (for reasons good and tragic) valley.

    • No need for PR conspiracy theories. The Master Use Permit application filing is a major final milestone for the project so of course we are going to check back in on this development which we have been covering from the outset and that has been dragging on for much longer than typical. It’s not your typical development, no? Perched on the edge of an area dominated by single family style housing, it’s an unmistakable flashpoint for a city struggling with growth and affordability. As for framing the article, we try to tell a story and, I hope, our readers appreciate our efforts to find as much truth as possible along the way. Anybody who has read CHS more than once knows that we’d never be a PR lapdog — lapdogs don’t bite :)

  22. SMV is a typical “not in the backyard group”. They are a very small but very vocal group of home owners who are afraid their property value will decrease with more housing built. They don’t care about the neighborhood. Just look at Dowey place E, just in the back of the project location : one side of the sidewalk is used by resident to store trash containers 7 days a week, and the other side has overgrown vegetation all year round . There is no way for pedestrians to walk on either sidewall, nor consideration to make the neighborhood better… It’s just personal interest….

  23. This is yet another example, similar to the SAAM project, where a very vocal minority led by one person (Melissa Stoker) delays a development which most people are in favor of. I hate to see City People’s go, and hope they find a new location, but this development looks great as is. It is in scale to the surrounding neighborhood, and the design seems excellent.

    As for the parking issue, this area has very tight street parking now, so it is very obvious that PCC needs to provide a certain number of spaces in order for their business to be viable.

  24. These Save Madison Valley dimwits have long since proved themselves to be unreasonable, and lacking the brain capacity to understand that only compromise allows for progress — and the city and planners have compromised for them over and over again! STOP LISTENING TO THEM.

  25. What the antis never say is how the addition of apartments will “destroy” the neighborhood. Heck, there’s a large apartment building ACROSS THE STREET from this proposed project. Sure seems like people still like the area – just like everywhere else apartment buildings have gone up in the city.
    Quityerwhining, home owners.