The B&O in limbo

The news of a proposal to build a new, multi-use building on the site of the B&O Espresso has come as a shock to many Capitol Hill residents.

"Everybody seems upset," said Majed Lukatah, who has owned the B & O for 30 years.

He explained that regulars as well as out-of-town customers have all come forward and expressed their concern for the future of a business close to their heart.

B&O Espresso, at 204 Belmont Avenue East, not only serves coffee, desserts and an diverse food menu, but also serves as an important cultural landmark and gathering place in the heart of Capitol Hill.

"I'm so sad to hear about that [land use proposal]; it is such a shame," said customer Christine Daviscourt.

With the neighborhood surrounding B&O in a continuous state of change over the past decade, many neighbors see this business as a beacon of stability among the recent condo developments and chain coffee shops. The difference between B&O Espresso and the multitude of other coffee shops in the vicinity is clear, not only for its décor, but also because of the loyalty shown by its neighbors.

Daviscourt, like many neighborhood residents, is a regular customer. She prefers the B&O's pastries and service.

"I go into the B&O every Sunday to buy shortbread cookies for my grandpa," she said. "They are the only cookies he feels are worth eating these days."

Daviscourt also recalled how she brought her grandpa to lunch once at B&O and the owners still tell her "to tell grandpa, I say 'hello.'"

The B&O Espresso has come a long way since its inception in 1976. Taking its name from the street intersection it is located on, Belmont and Olive, the business has been expanded to fit the needs of a rapidly growing neighborhood.

"It was a little place that served espresso and cookies. Now it serves a full breakfast, lunch and dinner," said Lukatah. "We also have added a bakery and two full kitchens."

Over the years, the restaurant has expanded from having only eight tables to current seating for roughly 100 people. However, while the business has grown, Lukatah has been unable to purchase the property on which B&O is housed.

In 1999, the building went on the market for $800,000. Lukatah wanted to purchase the property at the time, but was outbid by current owner Jim Stoner, who paid $1 million for the property. Lukatah explained that while an extra $200,000 is not a lot of money for some business owners, it was simply too much for him to afford. However, Lukatah sees Stoner as helpful regarding the B&O Espresso and it's future.

The new building may allow for a revised B & O to remain at its address. A proposed design calls for approximately 2,400 square feet of space for a café; the B&O currently occupies 4,500 square feet. Lukatah said Stoner has been willing to look at designs that provide for more retail space, even up around 3,400 square feet. Another question lies with whether the retail space will be rented or owned by the future tenant.

"I want own a condo, to own my own business space," said Lukatah.

Lukatah said he is willing to move B&O if he found a better building, but would consider staying if he was able to purchase the retail space.

Loren Bradford, project manager for Nicholson Kovalchick Architects, explained that the question of whether this building will be composed of condos or apartments remains undecided at this time.

According to the posted land use notice, the intended project is a mixed-use apartment building. It would house a retail space on the ground floor and have 75 units above it, with a 78-stall parking garage below the surface.

This design is one which the city has picked to begin the design review process.

"The city chose this plan, but there were other plans," said Lukatah.

The design was proposed by Nicholson Kovalchick Architects, a two-year old firm. While not all details of the project are known, Nicholson Kovalchick is known for building similar mixed-use buildings, including the current construction of Westlake Heights, a multi-use building located on lower Queen Anne near Lake Union.

The goal of the firm, according to the company's website, "is to produce high quality, livable designs and to help those designs become a reality. We strive to improve the quality of the urban fabric through design."

Bradford explained that the project is only in the planning stage and the upcoming public meeting will help to guide the design process.

"This is still a really rough idea," said Bradford. "The public interest is taken into the discussion. We also receive a series of recommendations given to us by the Design Review Board."

He sees this proposed building as fitting in with Capitol Hill, helping to deal with the highly dense residential and business aspects of the community living side by side. He sees the mixed-use buildings as providing more people with the chance to live and work in the city.

"More people can walk to work or take the bus to work," said Bradford.

A Design Review meeting regarding this project takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, at Seattle Central Community College, room 3211.

The meeting will provide explanations from the planners of the project and also allow for public comments about the project. The Design Review Board will also give their comments and identify the important priorities in the project.

William Crane is an intern with the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@capitolhill

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