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In Tuesday’s Transportation Committee, we voted on a street vacation to facilitate a new development project at Fauntleroy Way SW and SW Alaska Street (map to site, link to SDOT memo on the legislation). The Committee voted 5-3 to recommend approval of the alley vacation. I voted against the alley vacation and will share my rationale here.
My no-vote is not a vote against redevelopment for the benefit of the people of West Seattle – it’s a vote for development with robust public benefits that bring to life the pedestrian-oriented vision outlined in the West Seattle Triangle plan. I am taking this position after touring the site and meeting with neighbors, business owners and many other stakeholders involved in this project.
The West Seattle Triangle Plan calls for a people-oriented pedestrian environment that encourages a walkable neighborhood environment. On this block, a pedestrian-oriented mid-block connector was envisioned. Instead, the proposed project would deliver an auto-oriented mid-block connector with a sidewalk to separate pedestrians from the traffic.
In the Urban Design Framework completed in 2011, the community’s vision for the site was this — note specifically the pedestrian-focused mid-block connector where the proposed alley vacation lies (click on the image to enlarge):
Instead, the with the alley vacation, the mid-block connector becomes a magnet for vehicle traffic. Overall, the project is expected to result in about 4,981 daily visitors accessing the parking garage, with an estimated 1,627 residential trips and 3,354 retail/commercial trips. During peak evening hours, the development is estimated to see about 600 car trips per hour. Finally, about two semi-trucks and 20-40 smaller delivery trucks going in and out of the mid-block connector each day go against the community’s desire to see this as a truly pedestrian-oriented amenity. While the pedestrian connector meets basic thresholds for safety standards, a sidewalk in an alley full of busy traffic does not meet our vision for a pedestrian-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, mid-block connection.
Collectively, the pedestrian realm improvements including the small plazas, street improvements on the frontages of the development and the pedestrian mid-block connector, do not create the pedestrian environment called for in the Triangle plan and thus to not provide sufficient public benefit to warrant the vacation.
Further, after hearing from many folks involved, I believe there are alternate ways to develop this site that meet the desired use, height and density appropriate for that zone and, most importantly, are more in line with the goals of the Triangle plan.
Background on vacating the public right of way
There is no right under zoning code or elsewhere to vacate or develop public right-of-way. Seattle’s street vacation policies that have been developed over the years attempt to provide consistency and predictability for community members and property owners. Every street vacation decision is an exercise in legislative discretion.
The city’s policy framework for evaluating a street vacation has three key elements:
- Protection of the Public Trust: the public trust functions of rights of way are defined as circulation, access, utilities, light, open space and views and through the street vacation policy, the City must ensure that these are met.
- Protection from Adverse Land Use Impacts: ensuring that the post-vacation development is consistent with the land use pattern in the area and with City policies and codes.
- Provision of Public Benefit: the vacation must provide a long-term, tangible benefit proportional the scale and impacts of the project. The Council has defined what it will accept as public benefit in the Street Vacation Policies.