Don’t Phuck with Phinney

You could almost hear the unofficial slogan of the neighborhood — “Don’t Phuck with Phinney!” — resonate through the halls of Ballard High School last night as the Northwest Design Review Board met to discuss the Condo That Nobody Wants in the school library.

(Disclaimer: Yeah, I live on Phinney. But I wouldn’t doubt this kind of thing is coming to a corner near you soon!)

About 80 people, civil but mightily ticked off, gave the board an earful from the get-go, including a white-haired senior who told Mr. Whisper, the board chair, that nobody could hear him — to a chorus of affirmation. Mr. Whisper, who spoke so quietly that I could not begin to even hear his name, responded by raising his voice slightly while seated in the opposite direction of the audience. Deirdre Bowen, a neighbor of the proposed project, finally had to specifically ask that he rise and face the people that the board had so graciously encouraged to attend.

It was a rocky start to a rough evening.

The four-story, 19-unit, big, imposing and many would say ugly condo (correction: apparently the project is now for apartments, although it was earlier identified by the city as condominiums) apartment project is proposed for 6010 Phinney, the corner of Phinney and 61st. Existing structures that house popular neighborhood businesses — not chains, by the way — including Chef Liao, the Daily Planet, Phinney Ridge Cleaners and Roosters cafe, would be torn down. The businesses would also go away, to be supplanted by ground-floor commercial space. Maybe an office or two, perhaps yet another tanning salon or nails boutique.

Beyond its address, the project seems not to have a name (unlike the Roycroft, across the street, and Fini, north on the ave). One occurred to us: Mondo Non-Condo. It is such a mish-mash of design cacaphony, and towers so insultingly over its neighbors, crowding pedestrians on Phinney Avenue and shadowing homes all around, that you can’t help but hate the thing.

Members of the so-called public have been working with the sponsors of the development for months and even met in January to discuss concerns. The main result has been catastrophic: The primary residential entrance and underground parking entrance were moved to 61st Street instead of where they should be, and where virtually all similar projects place them, on the main corridor of Phinney Avenue.

What this means for narrow, currently untrammeled 61st Street is, as one neighbor put it, a “NASCAR speedway to and from Aurora” for traffic accessing the project. It also creates safety and congestion problems where relative quiet exists today.

Attorney Esther Bartfeld, who was instrumental in the neighborhood’s successful battle to keep a massive, mall-sized parking garage out of the Woodland Park Zoo, pleaded with the board to reconsider the entry location. When the board protested (I believe its point was that it had already changed the location once, putatively but not actually in response to citizen concerns), another neighbor put it bluntly: “We’re telling you, we want it moved back. You were right the first time.”

So upset and vocal were neighbors from the starting bell that one board member testily admonished the crowd, “This cannot proceed in the fashion it is going right now!” The problem, he said, was that the Design Review Board did not have yea-or-nay authority over the project, and that there was a certain meeting protocol that had to be followed which presumably did not include unruly citizens asking pointed questions.

Before his outburst, it was determined through repeated questioning that the DRB had never actually recommended that a project not be built — which is precisely the action most of the audience favored.

The official part of the meeting began with what I like to call Dental Therapy, meaning a Novocain shot of bureaucratese and design specifications guaranteed to discourage the public from any hope of having an impact. As Bert Sacks, who was sitting next to me, put it, “I have a feeling this is pacification of the audience — he keeps talking and talking and we’ll all fall asleep!”

Slides showing the shadow footprint of the project at various points of the day drew considerable interest, but the audience had to ask what time of year (autumn), and one person noted that solstice shadows should be included — “it will make a big difference.” Good catch. One technique developers use is to supply data that seemingly covers concerns, but does so only in a way to put their project in the best possible light (so to speak!).

There were innumerable other concerns: The design, broken up vertically by a handful of different materials, looked like Belltown, not Phinney. Why not lower the structure to three stories? Why not do step-backs on upper stories as with Fini, to mitigate (somewhat) shadows and the “prison wall” effect of big structures next to homes? Residents spoke of losing trees and gardens, of noise and traffic concerns. Craig Fryhle asked if the rooftop commons available to residents for parties and gatherings could be moved to the Phinney side of an elevator tower, which as currently positioned would bounce noise into the neighborhood.

“We have a garden, apple trees, plum tree, plants in our windows — that’s a lot of shade,” said next-door neighbor Bruce Ramsey. Step-back upper stories, he said, “and we would get a little more sun.”

Ridgers also complained about a “tunnel effect” of putting another big structure across the street from Roycroft. Irene Wall, president of the Phinney Ridge Community Council, has talked about density planning in Seattle creating “canyons of glass and steel,” where winds whistle along sidewalks plunged into day-long darkness.

“You’re creating Phinney Canyon,” one neighbor protested.

Then there was the issue of parking, technically not under the purview of the DRB but a topic of opposition nonetheless. For 19 units only 23 parking spaces are planned. Do reality math and you can figure at least 15 more cars added to street parking.

No parking is set aside for ground-floor businesses. Why? Code calls for parking only for businesses occupying 1,500 square feet. The Mondo Non-Condo business will occupy only — by amazing coincidence — 1,400 feet.

Several representatives of what we ’60s types like to call The Youth of Today were there and gave the board an earful. Why were they holding a “public” meeting when they couldn’t represent the views of the public in their decision-making? What would it take to get the project shut down?

“We’re saying we don’t want this thing,” one high-schooler said. “We’d like you to tell us how to make it go away.”

After nearly two hours of citizen unrest, the board huddled to discuss the project. Catherine McCoy, the land-use planner assigned by the city Department of Planning & Development to the project, recorded the proceedings on a digital recorder. I asked if it would be transcribed.

Alas, she said, the city lacks resources to provide transcriptions.

I volunteered to transcribe it. Just send me the digital file, I said. She said she’d consider it, but I’m not optimistic. She did say that a full accounting of the discussion would be provided.

For the insatiably curious, details of project No. 3006773.

We’ll report back on the board’s deliberations.


  1. 2


    Hey Paul, you hysterical NYMBY, either the density is going to be in the city, or there is going to be sprawl. Stop being so intolerant of architectural diversity. What else doesn’t “fit” into your neighborhoods?” Black people? Gay?

    Fucking intolerant architectural bigot.

  2. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @2 Please post your address so we can steer a condo developer to your block and see how you like it.

  3. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    C’mon Paul, you know “public hearings” are merely window dressing. Everything is run by money and developers have the bureaucrats in their hip pockets. The whole thing is a charade. Who are these “Northwest Design Review Board” people, anyway? I never heard of them. Are they elected? I never had a chance to vote in that election. Who appointed them? The Northwest Condo Developers Association? Why is anyone still building condos, anyway, when there are thousands of foreclosed homes in this city that no one wants to buy? So many questions; no answers. Things are out of control. The people don’t have any say about anything anymore. Everything is run by money.

  4. 5

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Hey Paul–
    One of the biggest planks of the Progressive movement is “Smart Growth”…right??
    Smart Growth is high density in the existing Urban Growth areas where all the infrastructure (roads, schools, water & sewer etc.) already exist. as opposed to the dreaded URBAN SPRAWL you Progrerssives continuously screech about. Right???

    This seems like an ideal “Smart Growth” project…increasing the tax base and meeting every single one of the Progressive Smart Growth planks.

    So riddle me this Paul—-
    If you oppose sprawl….and you oppose Smart Growth, what exactly do you want???

    Ohhhhhhhh, I know….Smart Growth IN SOMEONE ELSE’S NEIGHBORHOOD!!
    Checkmate you duplicitous PINHEADED KLOWN!!

  5. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Not long ago, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which is chaired by ex-Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran, who was a slippery and untrustworthy politician back then and still is, held a string of public hearings on Puget Sound Energy’s requests for rate increases and to sell itself to an Australian hedge fund. (You know, the guys who “add value” by acquiring companies, stripping them of assets and firing employees, then flipping them.)

    The PSE hearings played to packed houses all across the Puget Sound region. You had to RSVP to get in. The public testmony was 100% against the rate increases and merger. Why should PSE get higher rates when natural gas prices have fallen by 50% since last summer? Why should PSE get a higher return on equity, when their ROE is already in double digits and banks and the U.S. Treasury are paying retail savers less than 1%? Why should PSE’s CEO be allowed to collect a $20 million bonus for selling a local utility to foreign flippers?

    Well, you know what happened: Sidran and another commissioner voted to give PSE a 9% rate increase and approved the sale of the company to the Aussie financiers. The thousands of consumers who appeared at the public hearings got screwed. Again.

    Yesterday, I posted an excerpt from a Mother Jones magazine story that says state utility regulators allow investor-owned utilities — you know, monopolies — to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from ratepayers for federal and state taxes they never pay. How many consumers know they’re being charged in their utility bills for “taxes” the utilities don’t pay and the utilities simply pocket that money as additional profit and/or executive bonuses? You can probably count on your fingers the number of citizens who know about that. You see, when the Money Men and their complicit bureaucratic toadies sheer us like that, they prefer to do it in secret. They figure we won’t complain about being robbed if we don’t know we’re being robbed.

    Money runs everything.

    Piss on you, Mark Sidran and Pat Davis at the port commission and all the rest of your ilk.

  6. 7



    Paul is nothing more than a hypocritical NIMBY. 40 Years ago he’s the same type of person that didn’t think black people “fit” in his neighborhood.

  7. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Remember how we voted against a stadium tax, and they taxed us and built the stadium anyway? Ordinary citizens don’t count for squat. We’re nothing but sheep waiting to be shorn. Money runs everything, and as long as you have a single nickel in your pocket, someone out there will scheme to take it from you. The Money Men don’t add value to anything (Exhibit A: U.S. Economy) and don’t work or produce anything (Exhibit B: Dow Jones Average); their sole skill and activity consists of taking from you and giving to themselves.

  8. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    So why should I work or produce anything, when no one else does? Under Reaganomics, the less you produce, the more you get paid, and the lower your taxes are! I hate that fucking system and sincerely believe it will destroy our country (it already has; see Exhibit A), but I can’t do anything about it, so I just go with the flow. Instead of working or producing anything, I sit on my fat rabbit ass all day in front of a computer screen flipping stocks, and the Republican Tax Code pays me for this by giving me a 2/3rds discount on my taxes! That’s unfair as hell to the working class, but it’s an offer I can’t refuse! I do it so I can live like a Republican, too. Why should Republicans have a monopoly on living like Republicans? I want some of that, too, and I deserve it more than they do, because I did work and produce something once upon a time, which is more than any Republican has ever done.

  9. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @7 I think we should load up your neighborhood with condos and black people. Diversity and more human contact will be good for you. Social isolation has fucked up your head.

  10. 13

    Diane spews:

    Most in the neighborhood do not object to a new building and more density. They object to the current design, which is very modern and does not fit the neighborhood. I know Paul Andrews and can assure you he is no bigot.

  11. 15



    Diane, if I am from Africa, and I just bought a plot of land in your neighborhood, should I be allowed to build a house with African influences on my plot, or would you oppose that because it does not fit the neighborhood?

  12. 16

    worf spews:

    I just looked at the drawing in the link provided, and while the design is certainly bland and uninspired, I wouldn’t exactly call it ugly. Overall, it is probably better for a new building to look, well, new, rather than trying to tart it up with a few faux period piece sconces to make it “fit in” with the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood. IMHO

  13. 17


    @13 … I’m no bigot, but do kind of like being thought of as a hysterical NIMBY. Diversity is hardly the issue here. Whatever you call this project’s design, it will look cheesy and out of date in 5 to 10 years. Why not have something that will fit in with the flavor of the neighborhood as it exists, and reinforce what we think of as Phinney? BTW this is what design review is supposed to consider.

    As for blacks, middle class, gays and other diverse elements, the price tag on these units, whether apartments or condos (apparently in Seattle you can ping pong back and forth with impunity), are sure to be set at a level that in and of itself discourages diversity. As Joe Wall put it so well at last night’s meeting, “We’re not wealthy people (on Phinney). We’ve just lived here a long time.”

  14. 18



    Yes, diversity is the issue. You are intolerant of architectural diversity. You are sort of an architectural bigot. Excluding homes from your neighborhood that do not look like all the others, like whites used to exclude blacks from neighborhoods because they “did not fit.”

    Shame on you.

  15. 19

    Colonel Jocko 'Biff' O'Hanrahanrahan (Ret.) spews:

    re 7: You don’t fit in the neighborhood, either. Crack dealers are not welcome.

    Since you have a streak of libertarianism, you, like your mentor, W.F. Buckley Jr., are in favor of legalizing drugs.

    Therefore, you are a drug-dealing crack house operator.

  16. 20

    Colonel Jocko 'Biff' O'Hanrahanrahan (Ret.) spews:

    re 18: You just can’t wait to sell your crack to all the little black kids in the condos.

    You drug dealing pimp.

  17. 21

    Colonel Jocko 'Biff' O'Hanrahanrahan (Ret.) spews:

    re 18: ‘We shall overcome’ Troll and his damn crack house for black children.

    I see right through you. The only difference between you and that right wing crank Penn Jillette is that you use hard drugs and sell them to black children.

    You make me sick. You hypocrite!

  18. 22

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    13. Diane spews:

    Most in the neighborhood do not object to a new building and more density. They object to the current design, which is very modern and does not fit the neighborhood. I know Paul Andrews and can assure you he is no bigot.

    They don’t like the design???
    Then get the neighbors together to buy the property and create whatever design your little hearts desire.

    You KLOWNS have zero respect for private property rights….unless of course it’s your own.

    Diane..what if a group got together and didn’t like your house design, our landscape or whatever. Where do you draw the line.
    You don’t like the design???
    Go “F” yourself.
    Zoning can dictate density.
    But Design?
    You don’t like the design??
    Are you really talking about the design??
    So Diane wants to regulate individual taste on private property.
    No wonder Seattle is such a clusterf*ck.
    Diane, really….you don’t like the design?
    Wow. Too bad for you.

  19. 23

    eric spews:

    As the Producer of the film Mondo Scooterama I object to your suggesting the name Mondo No Condo for this development. You’ll be hearing from my attorney’s. ;)

  20. 24

    ArtFart spews:

    You gotta be a little bit careful what you wish for…

    Over in Wedgwood, some folks weren’t too happy when the property on 35th NE that was once an A&P supermarket, and for the last 20 years or so was the Stroum Jewish Community Center, got sold to a developer who gave notice that it would be torn down and replaced by a five-story condo block.

    Said developer apparently went bust, because for the last year the place has been vacant, surrounded by a perimeter of “rent-a-fence” that hasn’t prevented it from becoming encrusted with graffiti. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if there was eventually what’s sometimes referred to on the east coast as a “successful fire”.

  21. 25

    ArtFart spews:

    We had occasion to drive through Winslow on Bainbridge Island this morning, for the first time in about a year. Where you turn off the main road to get to the foot passenger entrance to the ferry terminal, all the little cottages have now been replaced by several rows of condos-comparatively low-profile and rather cute in design. For what Joe Bageant likes to refer to as “fuck boxes”, those ain’t bad.

  22. 26

    Colonel Jocko 'Biff' O'Hanrahanrahan (Ret.) spews:

    re 22: Start gearing up your talking points for gutting SS. That will be next ion the national agenda, and with your record of being on the wrong side of everything, you will be in favor of gutting it — even though we paid for it.

    Have you no respect for what’s already been paid for by the recipient’s?

  23. 27

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    WTF??? Waaaaaay off-topic
    What does Social Security have to do with Progressive Smart Growth advocates rejecting Smart Growth using “design” as an excuse??

    Take your Geritol and a nap.

  24. 28

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    To Diane the Design Nazi–
    So Diane, I’ve been thinking about alternatives to the Design Crisis in your neighborhood and have come up with a few options to consider. First, I hope you will educate yourself on the Land Use laws in place at the time of this application. That is what matters in a Court of Law…not YOUR feelings or taste.

    Let’s assume the developer has the right to build his project as designed. You could:

    1) Offer to pay for the cost of re-drawing all his plans & engineering AND any additional cost of construction resulting from the design change you approve of. Doesn’t that seem fair?? Certainly Diane, you & “the neighbors” would not expect the project owner to pay for your whims & desires. That doesn’t seem fair does it?? Perhaps if your “mob” approaches the developer with a proposal in writing on what you want and how you will pay for it, he will consider it in a “neighborly fashion”. S
    Sounds like you folks don’t care to understand how much the developer already has invested in HIS plan for HIS property. Pretty easy to spend OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, isn’t it diane.


    2) Out of a sense of “neighborhood fairness”, perhaps if the developer might consider changing his plans to meet your whims & desires IF you allow him to go thru your neighborhood and list things he doesn’t like about YOUR properties. Each “neighbor” would agree to make improvements to their property at THEIR own personal expense to meet the whims & desires of your new “neighbor” Mr. Developer.

    3) Get a life.

  25. 29

    ProgressIsGood spews:

    The Daily Planet by the way is a “vintage/Antique” junk shop that is a front for drug selling. The owner was busted a few months back for selling oxy and xanax out of the back of the shop.

  26. 31

    Stealth spews:

    Regarding the visiting architects comment in support of the project that apartment dwellers need affordable housing. The Roycroft had a 800 sq foot unit for sale @ $385k a couple of years back. That’s affordable?

    Condo prices are over-inflated in Kong county, with recently annual increases of 50%!

    I for one vote against the Phinney Canyon project. Nice that the board sort of glossed over that point last night, not. I was amused that it was the design team that brought the canyon issue to light.

  27. 32

    gleep spews:

    Why don’t they go build it on one of the countless abandoned building sites where people would MUCH prefer a building to a big muddy hole?

    I don’t really care what they claim about secured funding; I’m sure the hole-leavers had a great song and dance, too.

  28. 33

    ArtFart spews:

    Cynical seems to be so over-the-top about defending the “rights” of developers to do whatever the hell they want, he must be heavily invested in a few REITs.

  29. 34

    Anon spews:

    I AM a neighbor, and I can guarantee that I live closer to this building than you do, and frankly, I want this build. There is a crack den in the middle of the block, and a part time restaurant on the corner.

    What annoys me is there are a lot of people around that want nothing to change. No Zoo parking lot, no new buildings. Just keep things like they are. That’s a fine attitude IF you want to buy the block and leave it alone. But if not, STFU. It’s not your property. Some of the loudest critics don’t even OWN anything – they just complain about what others own.


  30. 35

    Colonel Jocko 'Biff' O'Hanrahanrahan (Ret.) spews:

    re 27: The subject, as you yourself expostulated endlessly on, is property rights. Which is what I am talking about.

    You narrow or broaden the topic to suit your present purpose. I could as easily state that the topic is humorous ways to ad an ‘F’ sound using a ‘ph’, instead: as in, phuck you sinical.

  31. 37

    61st St. Neighbor spews:

    I was at the meeting, and I personally think the existing buildings are such an eyesore that the new one, ill-fitting and ugly as it is, would be an aesthetic improvement. I also think that we need to allow some high-density buildings if we want to avoid urban sprawl, and my backyard is as good a place as any.

    What I object to is that I think it’s a sucky time to be building this sort of huge project. There are lots of big-box condos and street-level business spaces standing empty in the neighborhood as it is. Don’t boot out existing restaurants that do serve the neighborhood and replace them with a half-empty monstrosity that does no one any good, not even the developers. Design something more modest, so you can afford to charge cheap enough rents that we can get some of that much-vaunted diversity of neighbors and attract useful businesses, like restaurants, that don’t have as huge a profit margins as the real-estate brokers and investment advisors who seem to have an affinity for such commercial space.

    Then you might actually make a profit instead of failing out before you even finish the thing and leaving us with a big fat hole in the ground.

  32. 38


    When so many of the youth oriented media are going facist in the name of densification this article is refreshing.

    The details of the neighborhood’s authority in this matter are important and need even further quality work – the balance point here is tough to find.

    62st and Phinney is a good place for a 3 story building and the zoning is mostly correct – a four story building is arguable, and the zoning code might need to be tweaked to reflect that in the future.

    The developer does have the authority to build on this location.

    But when it comes to Design Review that is an authority that belongs in the hands of the neighborhood itself, not some downtown run agency.

    Building good relationships with your neighbors is important for any business and a credible design discussion is the way to do it.

    The only people that profit from a negative conversation, as this looks like it may have become, are the downtown lawyers – in the end the developer and the neighborhood will both lose if these sorts of practices are accepted and encouraged.

    Perhaps someday the media punks will realize this, perhaps not.

    In any case, Paul, if you want you can public record request the tape. Hearing a few select audio quotes from the meeting would be interesting.

  33. 39

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    Design “review” with your neighbors all you want.
    Design “decision” is not made by some neighborhood mob who obviously do not include openly neighbors who WANT the proposed development. I have seen neighborhood design review in action. It is disgusting. You have mainly a bunch of assholes with zero qualifications spewing ideas out their asses about how to spend more & more of someone else’s money. Pretty easy to do for folks with time on their hands….but to what end?

    I’m unclear what the current building & land use codes allow on this site. Certainly if the developer wants more there is a process…which should be fair & open to everyone. BUT, usually this process is hi-jacked by a group of opionated folks against something who recruit others by spreading untruths…and make neighbors who disagree with the mob very uncomfortable. So you get a flawed process.

  34. 40

    worf spews:

    True dat. Wanna see what no development looks like, go to Detroit. I am glad I live in a place where they are building, not burning.

  35. 41

    Conan spews:

    Change is going to happen, and this seems like a perfectly appropriate project for an urban neighborhood. After all, this is not the suburbs. This site is not going to be the old building with Chef Liao forever unless some wealthy neighbor loves it enough to lose a heap of money by buying and operating the building as is. If you don’t feel like this size of a project fits in your neighborhood, then you are in the wrong neighborhood. Issaquah awaits.

    If you want nearly 2 parking stalls per unit then you really will have to move to Issaquah. This is unheard of, really.

    My suggestion is that you put your energy into constructive criticism and let the DRB know what principals you think are important to you as a neighbor to help guide the design of the project. This is in the DRB’s purview. If you simply screech and howl that you want it to go away, it is too big, and there is not enough parking (all things that the DRB has not say in) then they will not be able to hear the pertinent insights you may have into what is important in your (our) neighborhood.

    I live in the neighborhood too, but the tenor of this discussion and the DRB meeting don’t sound like the sharp, sophisticated neighbors I know.

  36. 42

    Frederick D. S. Marshall spews:

    Dear Paul,

    I appreciated your good review of the meeting. I was the neighbor who spoke about two “different” light studies both showing equinoxes, when solstices would give us minimum and maximum shadow lengths, whereas the two equinoxes will by definition show essentially the same shadows. Oddly the city requires showing both equinox light studies and does not require solstice light studies.

    You also quoted me above reiterating an earlier speaker by arguing that the designers had it right on the first pass when they put the parking entrance on Phinney.

    There were some great community speakers that night with many valid concerns. I do not think the majority fit either of the stereotypes being batted around by most of your respondents (anti-growth or pro-growth), because those are both frankly reductionist, childish positions to take. Every building project needs to be assessed on its own merits, not as a symbol for whatever our favorite demonized opposition may be.

    Looked at on its own merits, most of the community opposition is not opposed to all development under any conditions, contrary to some of the comments above. With some reasonable changes I believe the developers could win over the community, but based on the design that was presented it’s safe to say they do not want to.

    The designers have been put in an impossible position in which they have to meet the requirements of the developer, even though those requirements are measurably destructive of the neighborhood in a number of preventable ways. By an uncomfortable process of elimination, we are left with the conclusion that the developer’s constraints have been selected to maximize the income to be gained from the development to the exclusion of all other factors.

    That is, this could be a good development, and many citizens said so, if only the developer would make a small number of reasonable changes to the design. For example:

    1) The number of parking spaces should be increased above the city’s wildly unrealistic minimum; yes, that means a second level of parking will have to be dug out, or perhaps it means there should be fewer residential units in this building, or perhaps it means the development should be an a different location that is large enough to allow the amount of parking actually needed.

    2) The height of the building needs to be decreased, not because we oppose increased density but because that density needs to be built up in a gradient in order not to destroy the quality of life of neighboring short buildings. This is not about being pro-growth or anti-growth but about being pro-healthy-growth and anti-sick-growth. Even the equinox light studies show the shadows will hurt the gardens three houses away; just think how far those shadows will reach on the winter solstice.

    3) The building needs to be stepped in on the top story on the west side, for the same reason.

    4) The driveway needs to be on Phinney to avoid congesting 61st, which is already a very narrow street – we have to pull over between parked cars to let oncoming traffic pass – and simply cannot effectively handle an additional twenty-eight or more cars coming and going to Aurora. Children play along this street and cats cross it throughout the day – anyone can see what will happen if we try to treat a residential street as a throughway. By contrast, Phinney itself could easily handle the load and would tend to route traffic back to Aurora via 50th, which can also handle the load.

    5) The size of the ground-floor retail space seems to have been calculated solely in order to dodge all of the developers obligations to the neighborhood. The four existing business units are to be replace with two smaller units of such a small size and awkward shape as to drive out all of the businesses permanently. I can’t speak for the curio shop, which I have never looked into, but the two restaurants and the cleaners are thriving businesses that are really loved and used by the community (for anyone who really cares about the market economy, note that this is no small accomplishment).

    Comparable developments up and down Phinney and Greenwood that have created similar retail spaces that are mostly unused because they are expensive, small, and awkwardly shaped; that is, this pattern of retail space moving in along with developments has paradoxically been strangling business in our neighborhood. Any new developer who repeats this destructive pattern of retail-space design clearly could care less about its effect on other businesses and the community. The City of Seattle should take note and change its zoning laws to ensure that all such retail spaces in the future are usable by the kinds of businesses the community needs; not all spaces are useful spaces. The current zoning laws are permitting short-sighted developers to sow the small-business ground with salt, stamping out the very businesses in whose mantle these developers like to wrap themselves, as though to oppose such a development was to oppose capitalism and freedom, when the converse is closer to the truth.

    Thus, and I think this fifth item is the very most important from the community’s perspective, if this developer really is pro-business and not just greedy and destructive, he will ask his designers to design the ground floor first and let the rest of the building design flow from that, where the ground floor is designed with the participation of the current businesses in that location to be sure the new design is compatible with the kinds of businesses that the neighborhood clearly needs. If the owners of Chef Liao, the cleaner, and Rooster’s became advocates of a new design for the building, if they said we love the look of this new space and we’d love to lease it, then the developer could win half the argument.

    But the developer will not do this, because creating larger business spaces would trigger the city requirement (and a reasonable and necessary one) for parking for said businesses, which the developer is currently dodging by offering such tiny and weirdly shaped retail spaces.

    Perhaps the developer will prove me wrong by doing just this and winning over the neighborhood, but the design itself – specifically those parts of the design about which the designers had no control because they were operating within the developer’s requirements – make it clear that the sole goal was to cram as much living space into the lot as the regulations would allow, to the detriment of every other consideration. If you look at the design carefully with these considerations in mind, it is immediately obvious how swollen the design is with residential space the location cannot support (because there is simply not enough room for the necessary infrastructure) and how impoverished it is on every other major factor.

    Compare this proposed four-story building to the Phinney Neighborhood Center up the street. The Neighborhood Center has enough support room around it to allow for parking, light, and more, the kinds of ancillary qualities that make a building both healthy in itself and also make the neighborhood healthier by having the building there. The contrast with the new proposed development couldn’t be more striking; this thing is deformed and crammed into a lot too small for it and with too little support around it, like a man with his arms and legs cut off crammed into a child’s chair.

    6) The aesthetic is ugly. I do not blame the designers on this either – they are clearly struggling to get any kind of design at all within (a) the developers’ single-minded focus on bloating up the space with short-term profitable residential units, (b) the at-times oddly counterproductive requirements of the city (like the requirement that each unit have tiny, unattractive, and nearly unusable balconies, the consequence of how the zoning codes are written), and (c) the obvious hostility of the neighborhood, who the designers would prefer to win over since like any serious professionals they take pride in their work.

    Many of the worst excesses of the design were obviously (and openly admitted to be) attempts to ameliorate the shock of an enormous, shadow-casting mass right next door to single-story houses. For example, the designers tried to break up or disguise the mass of this building by converting the exterior into vertical folds, each of which uses a different material to create the impression of separate, thinner vertical masses, but the result is that the building loses all cohesion as a whole or an aesthetic and ends up looking like a hodge-podge of parts. As one neighbor pointed out in the meeting, the effect from the north and south sides, which are the worst offenders, is of some kind of crowded, miniature city-scape of skyscrapers.

    The designers know how to fix this design aesthetic and could easily do so if the developers would let them. They studied neighboring buildings and were provided with examples by some of our neighbors.

    Further, where the designers were given any latitude by the various parties tug-of-warring them back and forth, they came up with some good design elements, like the lighting sconces, the greenery, and the green space on the roof top, none of which is perfect, but all of which show the developers’ interest in coming up with a good design aesthetic. Likewise, even though the vertical masses approach really doesn’t work for a neighborhood building (it would blend in in an industrial or office park), you can easily see how and why the designers settled on that approach in their attempt to make everyone happy. It doesn’t work, but there was intelligence at work.

    In the end, the problem is simple: the lot is too small to support such a massive building. It is not just external opposition by possibly irrational neighbors that is causing problems for this development, it is the greed of the developer leading to foolish constraints on the designers, preventing them from giving us a healthy way to increase the density at that location with damaging the building’s own internal integrity and spacial health, let alone the health of the surrounding buildings and community. The proposed building design is swollen and sick, clogging its own circulation and strangling its own potential to improve the site for which it is proposed. A better design is possible, and should be insisted upon; the current design should be opposed by the neighborhood and rejected by the City of Seattle.

    In fact, this is such an extreme case of an unhealthy project as currently designed that it makes an excellent test case for the oft-repeated assertion that the City of Seattle government is in the pockets of development interests. I do not know whether or not this is true, but we will all have a pretty good idea as to the answer after this ruling is made.

    Sincerely yours,

    Frederick D. S. Marshall

    Postscript: I must say I’m disappointed by several of the posters above. This is a serious issue and it deserves better than a petty flame war. Under such duress, people tend to polarize and advocate extreme positions they do not really hold, just in order to counteract the irresponsible attacks upon them. Nuance, which rarely thrives under such childish conditions, is a prerequisite for wisdom, without which human endeavors rarely end well.

    The spiteful and irrational accusations flung about by a few of the posters above does an injustice to one of their own central points: if we want to avoid sprawling out over the last of what’s left of our wilderness, we do need to increase density within the cities. Anyone who unilaterally opposes all development under any circumstances hurts and obscures the neighborhood’s real position – that density should be increased in ways that improve the health and vitality of neighborhoods instead of hurting it.

    Likewise, if a property owner complains about a proposed new development, we cannot make an honest claim that said owner is opposed to property rights – he or she is a property owner protecting his or her own property rights. The rights of property owners inherently come into conflict – the conflict over this proposed development is precisely such an example – and anyone who claims to be pro-property-rights had better acknowledge and respect the consequences of his own positions if he wants to be taken seriously as an adult participant in what is after all a serious conversation. Those who oppose the development in its current form are precisely exercising their option of acting to protect their property rights.

    These and other issues woven throughout these hearings must be addressed with nuance by both sides of the argument if we are to come up with sound policies and healthy businesses and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest in the decades ahead. Rants and random ad hominem attacks rather make me lose hope for our future.

  37. 43

    Frederick D. S. Marshall spews:

    Postpostscript: My apologies for the typos. I appear to have missed four when I proofed it.