A mixed-use building proposed to replace City People’s Garden Store on East Madison Street in Madison Valley went through its fourth public comment meeting June 6, and the project’s most vocal opposition remained unhappy with the design.
One area resident, former city personnel director Mark McDermott, went as far as to reference an infamous quote from the destruction of Ben Tre in the Vietnam War.
“The city has decided that it has become necessary to destroy the village to save the village,” McDermott said, paraphrasing an anonymous U.S. Army officer’s explanation for a bombing operation that killed up to 1,000 civilians. “... This project is not welcome in our community.”
A mixed-use residential and retail building anchored by a PCC Market grocery store has been proposed to replace City People’s Garden Store since early 2016, when the store owners announced their retirement and sold the property to Leap Associates, a company registered to a West Seattle condo.
In every iteration, the design has risen four stories from its frontage on East Madison Street, and six stories from its rear on the lower valley slope adjacent to Dewey Place East, a primary complaint of the residents of the bordering neighborhood of single-family homes. Several of the residents of this valley neighborhood organized into a protest group, Save Madison Valley, following the initial proposal of the apartment building in 2016.
The third and latest proposed design for the project, submitted to the Department of Construction and Inspections in January, responded to two complaints from valley neighbors. First, that the rear of their homes would face the relatively featureless rear wall of a parking garage and, second, that traffic into and out of the parking garage would detrimentally bottleneck traffic on East Madison Street.
In their updated design, the architects added a row of townhomes on Dewey Place East for the stated purpose of transitioning the building character into the single-family neighborhood. The architects also added a second residents-only entrance to the building’s parking garage, accessible from Dewey, to split the flow of building traffic. The design has 82 units -- seven more than the original design -- and 140 parking stalls -- 16 less than the original design.
Save Madison Valley members did not react well to the design updates. Several said that the attempts at compromise had made the design worse.
“You have now put 10 front doors ... on an undersized city street,” Paul Crouther said.
Melissa Stoker* argued that Dewey Place East, at 19 feet wide, was more akin to an alley than a street, and should not have additional vehicle traffic directed to it.
Tony Hacker, one of several speakers who lives across from the proposed building site, said he believed the design was even bulkier than a year prior. He added that he believed the design was not in character with the buildings on three of its’ sides. (However, it would be comparable in height to the building immediately across East Madison Street.)
“Trying to fit the design into the proposed site is like trying to fit a very large square peg in a very small round hole,” Hacker said.
Former Madison Park Community Council president Mark McPherson said he feared the loss of the property’s trees to construction. He noted that the speakers before him had been emotionally charged, but said he believed that was because the project was representative of the pattern of development and gentrification across Seattle.
“It’s that kind of project, because the question is, when does a project go to far?” McPherson said. “This might be the project that goes too far.”
Some supporters for the project attended the meeting, but almost none spoke. It found one champion in real estate broker Marion Holder, who said she was not familiar with this particular project, but generally supported dense development.
“Amazon is bringing in 30,000 new residents to the city of Seattle,” she said. “They need places to live too.”
The proposed project, located at 2925 East Madison St., has yet to undergo environmental review. That step will take place sometime in the next few months, land use planner Magda Hogness said. The address is noted by city records as resting on a 40 percent steep slope in a liquefaction zone.
*: Melissa Stoker has contributed multiple guest editorials to the Madison Park Times’ opinion page, but is not affiliated with the newspaper.