Fuller Sears Architects
A nighttime view of a mixed use project planned for 4755 Fauntleroy Way S.W.

UPDATE 2: Mayor McGinn opposes Whole Foods project in West Seattle; Orders SDOT to not OK alley vacation

Whole Foods and project developers respond as PR battle sparks

Update 2 for July 18
Shortly after the Whole Foods corporation responded to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's denial of an alley vacation for a massive mixed-use project in West Seattle, developers of the project (Lennar Multi-Family and Weingarten Realty Investors) have joined the debate.

In their response, the developers recall the West Seattle Triangle Plan adopted less than two years ago "calls for the vacation of the alley in this block and the creation of a new mid-block connector - goals this project has fully embraced."

McGinn, in his letter to SDOT manager Peter Hahn, said he opposed granting the alley vacation because the mid-block connector will be used for Whole Foods delivery trucks as well as pedestrian traffic, posing public safety risk and diminishing public benefit.

In their response, developers wrote, "The proposal to vacate an on-site alley went through exhaustive vetting by DPD, SDOT, the Design Commission and the West Seattle Design Review Board. Under the City’s established process, the Design Commission unanimously recommended approval of the alley vacation and, just last week, the West Seattle Design Review Board also recommended approval of the project. Strong public support in favor of the re-development was seen at all meetings."

Here is their full statement:

Less than two years ago, the City Council adopted, and Mayor McGinn signed, an ordinance creating the West Seattle Triangle Plan. The Plan calls for the vacation of the alley in this block and the creation of a new mid-block connector - goals this project has fully embraced.

Mayor McGinn’s comments are surprising given the Mayor’s past support of developments that add housing and retail along transit lines and bike lanes. In fact, our re-development is designed with alternate modes of transportation in mind. We orientate the project’s most prominent architectural feature with the West Seattle’s Rapid Ride bus stop, three transit lines run in front of the project on Fauntleroy and we are voluntarily widening Fauntleroy Way SW to add a bicycle lane.

The re-development furthers the Mayor’s sustainability and public safety goals, creating safe, walkable streets by adding wide sidewalks and creating a new ‘green street’ with public plazas and community open spaces.

This project is consistent with City process. Seattle has a very thorough process for deciding if a project has created adequate “public benefit” to vacate a site’s public alleyway. This process respects the inputs and recommendations from City Boards and Commissions and the public.

The proposal to vacate an on-site alley went through exhaustive vetting by DPD, SDOT, the Design Commission and the West Seattle Design Review Board. Under the City’s established process, the Design Commission unanimously recommended approval of the alley vacation and, just last week, the West Seattle Design Review Board also recommended approval of the project. Strong public support in favor of the re-development was seen at all meetings.

A public benefit package valued at more than $2M is the result for the West Seattle community and includes the following:
• Activation of a city-designated Green Street on 40th Ave. SW
• Creation of 5,000+ s.f. of public plazas and open space on site
• Widening 40th Ave. SW on the north end of the block
• Creation of 6-10’ wide bands of landscaping around the project
• Addition of a 5’ wide bike lane on Fauntleroy
• Curation and installation of public art
• Funding for design of a new city park on 40th Ave SW

The parameters for our project, including its size, footprint and scale, were guided by the vision set forth in the community’s West Seattle Triangle Plan and are strongly supported by the community. This was the Plan approved by the community and the Council, and signed by Mayor McGinn.

We look forward to continued dialogue with the City and our neighbors in West Seattle as the project moves forward.

Update 1 for July 17
Mayor McGinn sent a letter to SDOT directing them to deny an alley vacation request for a huge mixed-use project in West Seattle based on factors including Whole Foods' non-union workforce he said is denied "livable wages and benefits."

In response, Whole Foods Corporate Office has responded with a statement, shared by Ann Marie Ricard with the company:

The information that Mayor McGinn shared in his letter regarding Whole Foods Market is factually inaccurate and it’s important for us to set the record straight. The vast majority – 70-80 percent, depending on the store – of Whole Foods Market’s team members work full time and that will be reflected in the team members we hire for our West Seattle location. That’s opposite of many other supermarkets, where part-time employees are the norm.

We do more than provide team members with fair and livable wages and benefits. We create a great place for our team members to build a career. We offer training, competitive benefits, stock options for all team members, gain-sharing and much more. Company benefits include a team member store discount of 20-30%, health care coverage for domestic partners and a health spending account to help cover health care expenses. Nearly all of our part-time workers can participate in our health care benefits. Our average wage for non-leadership Team Members in our Seattle stores is $16.15/hr. which is excellent for grocers.

In addition to our team members, we are also committed to the health and well-being of the communities where we do business. In every local community, we cultivate valued partnerships with a wide range of organizations – from school districts to non-profits to academic institutions. Programs like our Local Producer Loan Program and funds made available through the Whole Kids Foundation to add salad bars and school gardens are examples of this commitment to community. In addition, quarterly 5 Percent Days provide direct funding to local non-profit partners.

We’re proud to have been part of Seattle since 1999, and that our 6 metro stores now employ over 1400 Team Members. Many of those Team Members live in West Seattle, and they’re excited to work in their immediate community. We’re also looking forward to being part of this vibrant community as we are in so many others - socially and environmentally conscious citizens who contribute in many ways. This store will employ another 150 or so Team Members, most of whom will be local.

We’re reaching out in hopes to meet with Mayor McGinn very soon to share the facts and discuss how Whole Foods Market is absolutely in line with the City’s core economic goals.

Original post on July 16
Less than a week after the Southwest Design Review Board gave the massive mixed use project with a Whole Foods at the Fauntleroy Triangle the OK, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has stepped in to oppose the project and order the city not OK an alley vacation request required to move forward.

Alongside the design review process, developers have been working toward an alley vacation OK from Seattle's Department of Transportation. They hope to turn an existing public alleyway into a midblock pedestrian connection that will also serve as an access point for delivery trucks delivering to Whole Foods and other retail.

McGinn, in a letter sent to SDOT Director Peter Hahn on July 15, said the city will not recommend the alley vacation to City Council, citing a number of reasons from a lack of public benefit to Whole Foods’ inability to provide “livable wages and benefits.” It will ultimately be city council’s choice to side with McGinn or the developers.

"In this instance it is difficult to see how the alley vacation proposal meets our public benefit standards when it does not support equitable economic development as stated in our Comprehensive Plan, does not support community vibrancy and walkability, and does not support our local urban design plans. It is the position of the executive that because this project is not in the public interest, we will not forward a recommendation to approve this alley vacation request to the City Council at this time," McGinn wrote.

Based on the city’s street vacation policy, for the city to transfer ownership of an alley to a private developer (as would happen in this case) “requires us to confirm that doing so would be in the public interest” and meet requirements of protecting public trust (maintaining circulation, access, utilites, light, air, open space an views), providing a provision of public benefit (long-term benefit to the general public), and protection from adverse land use effects. Additionally, they can consider public support or opposition and compliance with city and neighborhood planning goals.

According to McGinn, the Whole Foods project (which will take up nearly two blocks at 4755 Fauntleroy Way S.W. and also include 570 stalls of underground parking and 370 apartments) is not up to snuff.

“(The project) does not provide adequate public benefit,” he wrote. “It falls short of meeting specific Comprehensive Plan core values and the Administration’s overarching commitment to just and sustainable development.”

McGinn provided the following specific shortcomings:

1) Economic Development Elements (Livable Wages and Benefits) – Siding with the argument from local food union UFCW 21, McGinn said the project's main (and only signed) tenant Whole Foods does not adequately support employees. Comparing wages and benefits to seven other supermarkets (with union employees) within a mile and a half of the site, he wrote, “Family health benefits and employee wage scales offered by the proposed anchor tenant are significantly lower that other similar businesses, particularly for the growing percentage of employees who work part-time.”

2) West Seattle Triangle Urban Design Framework and the Pedestrian Master Plan – The West Seattle Triangle Urban Design Framework envisions S.W. Alaska St. becoming a “’connecting main street’ with a vibrant street character and retail uses to help enhance the pedestrian environment,” McGinn wrote. Once again focusing in on Whole Foods, he said the tenant’s orientation within the development does not support that goal and while the midblock connection built into the plan is called for in the Triangle Framework, he said its public benefit is diminished by the plan to use that connector as a delivery access for trucks.

“The public interest requires that we do a better job of using our publicly owned right of way to foster sustainable, shared prosperity,” wrote McGinn. “For those reason I find that approval of an alley vacation to develop this project as currently configured is not in the public interest.”

With qualifying language including “as currently configured” and “at this time” it appears McGinn is open to changes in the project that may satisfy the city’s public benefit requirements, but no clear solutions were offered in the letter.

Accused in the past of being too pro-development in certain circles, McGinn’s stand against Whole Foods’ worker policy and a massive development at West Seattle's doorstep may appear as an about-face to some.

For developers Wiengarten and Lennar Multifamily Investors, McGinn’s edict is the next sizable hurdle of many they've had to leap so far, including two failed design reviews before finally getting approval from that board on July 11.

Seattle’s City Council will have the next move, with the power to move the project along (by giving their OK on the alley vacation) or stop it in its tracks. Once a date for that vote is decided, we’ll let you know.

McGinn's letter is available for download at the top of the story.

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