Save Madison Valley is facing a lengthy uphill battle when it makes its case for why the City of Seattle erred in permitting the construction of a major multifamily housing project in the neighborhood earlier this year.
“We’ve been told, and we all know, community groups rarely win these kinds of things,” said Melissa Stoker during the Sept. 18 Madison Valley Community Council meeting.
The neighborhood group in August filed an appeal with the Seattle Hearing Examiner, which challenges a final recommendation of the design review board, the director’s decision on a land use application by architecture firm Studio Meng Strazzara and the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection’s land use code interpretation for The Madison project at 2925 E. Madison St.
A preconference meeting was held on Sept. 13, and the hearing is now set for the entire week of Dec. 10.
The Madison would replace City People’s Garden Store with a six-story mixed-use development that includes 82 housing units and a PCC Market. A tree canopy sloping down from East Madison to Dewey Place East would also be removed; six townhomes are planned to front Dewey.
Save Madison Valley is arguing that the city erred in determining there would be no significant environmental impacts from the development, and did not properly apply its own codes when assessing the Velmeir Properties project for a master use permit.
The appeal states the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections director did not properly analyze adverse impacts related to slopes, surface water, groundwater, sewer, wastewater, flooding, trees, land use, wildlife, transportation, parking, noise, infrastructure, aesthetics and construction.
Stoker said SMV is working with its legal counsel to gather data and witnesses as it builds its case for the weeklong hearing.
The neighborhood group has spent more than two years challenging aspects of The Madison’s design, including during the lengthy East Design Review Board process.
Because the design review board lacked information that would have been provided through an accurate and complete environmental review, SMV argues, it made improper and uninformed decisions. The board also did not “allow for meaningful public participation,” according to the appeal.
SMV doesn’t expect the project to be canceled, even if it wins its appeal before the hearing examiner, Stoker said. The hope is that the city will have to do a better job of reviewing the project, Stoker said, including requiring an environmental impact statement for the property, which has at least 39 trees on it that SMV argues are significant by the city’s own definition.
“They could just say, ‘Looks fine — go forth. What are you complaining about?’” Stoker said.
If the hearing examiner sides with the city, SMV could file a lawsuit in King County Superior Court, Stoker said.
Calvin Jones, who rents an apartment in the Central Area, said people his age feel locked out of the “American Dream” because homes in Seattle are unaffordable, and questioned whether Madison Valley residents opposed more homes in the neighborhood.
Stoker said SMV doesn’t oppose more housing, but the building being proposed “doesn’t comply with what needs to be there.”
“I don’t think this is an issue of not wanting homes there,” Stoker said, adding they feel a smaller project would be better.
Jones left the Madison Valley Community Council meeting about 15 minutes later, as attendees continued recounting the issues they see with the project.
Stoker said while the design review process is flawed, it did result in Velmeir having to produce more reports on the project, to which SMV responded with reports from its own consultants. Small victories included scrapping an exposed garage on Dewey, she said, though the entry point remains on the residential street.
“What they did was kind of tacky,” Stoker said, “because they plastered some townhouses on it.”
While the city required The Madison to include a landscaped pedestrian staircase from Madison to Dewey, Stoker said it appears the city may be working with Velmeir on a solution to its request to scrap that part of the project.
“It is like the nicest part,” Stoker said. “They have nicer trees planted and …whatever.”
Among the witnesses SMV’s legal counsel will call to testify during the weeklong hearing are arborists, traffic analysts and architects, including Peter Steinbrueck, who joined the Seattle Port Commission this year.
Stoker said Save Madison Valley’s work has been sustained by generous donors, one of whom is matching donations through Sept. 29. Find out more about the group at savemadisonvalley.org.