Council OKs West Seattle plan that lit minimum-wage debate
A West Seattle alley vacation that jump-started the city’s debate over the minimum wage, during last year’s mayoral race, was approved Monday by the City Council.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle City Council on Monday approved an alley vacation that allows a big new mixed-use development at the West Seattle Junction to go forward with the anchor tenant Whole Foods.
Opposition to the alley vacation roiled the 2013 mayoral race and ignited a citywide debate over the minimum wage when then-Mayor Mike McGinn rejected the developer’s request, saying Whole Foods didn’t offer good enough wages and benefits.
City policy requires a long-term public benefit when selling a public right of way such as an alley. Wages and benefits aren’t part of the definition of public benefit, but McGinn argued they should be.
In urging his colleagues’ support, City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said the project, on the site of the former Huling Bros. car dealership, would replace the “bleak vista” that now stands at the major entryway to West Seattle.
He said the project is consistent with neighborhood planning that called for a large-scale development at Alaska Way Southwest and Southwest Fauntleroy Way and improved pedestrian access and circulation.
Rasmussen noted that in addition to paying market rate for the alleyway, the developer would build a midblock connector to provide a pedestrian walkway through the project, small plazas at several corners, landscaping, street art and furniture, 389 apartment units (20 percent of them considered affordable housing) and 595 underground parking slots.
In all, Rasmussen said, the value of the public improvements around the project totals $2.4 million, not including the cost of the alleyway, which has not yet been set by the city.
The developers, Lennar Multifamily Communities & Weingarten Realty, must now submit building permits for the project, but Rasmussen said the project is expected to meet Seattle land-use codes.
West Seattle restaurant owner and resident Dave Montoure testified that the project would jump-start economic development on a long-neglected block.
“When I saw the density coming to the neighborhood, I thought, ‘This is a great place to open a business,’ ” he said.
But opponents said the alley vacation would set a precedent for national chains such as Whole Foods to be favored above local, small businesses and that the pedestrian corridor, which also would be the access to the grocery store’s loading ramp and underground parking, would be shared by hundreds of cars and trucks a day.
Deb Barker, a former land-use planner and West Seattle resident, said the design was suburban and lacked the gateway presence that the neighborhood had sought at the location.
“If you care about businesses not listed in Money Magazine, if you care about a true pedestrian experience without trucks rumbling past, you’ll vote no,” Barker told the council.
Elena Perez, a West Seattle resident and an organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21, called the project a land-grab by the developers. She urged the council to vote no, saying the “overwhelming conclusion” of residents was that the project didn’t offer adequate public benefit.
UFCW funded robocalls opposing the project and helped organize resistance under the name “Getting It Right for West Seattle.”
The international office of the union, which represents grocery workers at several West Seattle supermarkets, donated $50,000 to McGinn for the general election after he opposed the alley vacation in July.
Councilmembers Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant voted against allowing the alley’s sale, saying it was a discretionary City Council decision that they didn’t have to go along with.
Licata said the pedestrian corridor would be dominated by delivery trucks, that the public plazas were small and that the public benefit would not truly benefit the community.
“West Seattle deserves more,” he said.
But Rasmussen said the city has clear criteria to establish the definition of public benefit and determine when a public right of way may be sold.
The city policies were developed, he said, “so political pressures such as were felt today could be buffered by clear policies and guidelines.”
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @lthompsontimes