This "Getting It Right For West Seattle" poster is showing up in shop windows throughout the peninsula as locally-owned businesses and local residents form solidarity against a massive mixed-use project proposed for the Fauntleroy Triangle. The coaltion was organized by a national advocacy group called The Main Street Alliance.
UPDATE: Coalition organizes against Whole Foods project, calls for ‘smart development’
Grumblings about the blistering pace of development in West Seattle and how it is quickly changing the peninsula’s longstanding small town charm have mostly resided in the usual places: online comment sections, coffee shops, bars and backyard barbecues.
In the past month that has changed into more formal opposition with the introduction of “Getting It Right For West Seattle,” a self-described “coalition of West Seattle businesses, residents, workers and visitors who care about smart development in West Seattle’s gateway area.”
Update for July 26 in italics: It's worth noting that Getting It Right For West Seattle was formed in large part from the help of The Main Street Alliance, a national advocate group that "works strategically to provide small businesses a voice that promotes vibrant businesses and healthy communities, and fosters leadership development of socially responsible business leaders."
We spoke with Boris Popovic, a canvasser for Main Street Alliance, who shared how "Getting It Right" came together.
Popovic said Main Street was alerted to the Whole Foods project by UFCW21 - the food workers' union that has been vocal in their opposition to the natural grocer because they do not allow their workers to unionize. From there, he said, Main Street canvassers reached out to West Seattle business owners and community members.
"And then we realized, my god, everybody has something to say and nobody really knows much about this (project)," he said. From there, the Getting It Right website and outreach plan was formed.
We asked Getting It Right who is paying for the website, advertisements and outreach, and are still waiting on a reply. UPDATE (shortly after this was posted): A Getting It Right spokeswoman said, "UFCW21 is volunteering resources to support the website and materials. They're happy to do it! They have 900 members living and/or working in West Seattle and are doing what they can to provide tools for local workers, residents, and business owners to speak out. This is not new, UFCW21 has a long history of coalition work. I would challenge you to find any pro-development, pro-Whole Foods lobbying efforts that are independently funded by local Whole Foods employees."
The “gateway area” referred to a few paragraphs above is the welcoming corner of West Seattle known as the Fauntleroy Triangle, where Fauntleroy Way and Alaska St. intersect. The corner represents a potential major change for West Seattle as the site where a massive mixed-use project including a Whole Foods grocery store is proposed.
The Whole Foods project shot into citywide consciousness in the past few weeks when Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn stepped into the conversation, ordering his Department of Transportation to deny an alley vacation request for the project that will take up nearly two city blocks and include hundreds of apartments and underground parking spots. Developers wish to have the city turn the alley over to them, and in return they have promised a landscaped mid-block connector to provide public benefit. The kink is they also want to use the connector for Whole Foods truck deliveries, which critics (including McGinn) say poses a public safety hazard to pedestrians.
Getting It Right’s concerns expand to other issues as well, stating the "mega-project" will “increase West Seattle’s traffic and congestion … create low-wage jobs and housing unaffordable to those workers, drive away existing local, small businesses and set a lower standard for future development in West Seattle.”
Popovic said a specific example of how the project could be developed in a smart fashion, to help maintain a vibrant local economy, is if the developers and Whole Foods were willing to allow small, local retail storefronts along Alaska St. instead of just the grocery store.
"I think a lot of this project is driven by Whole Foods’ demands, right," Popovic said. "For example, Whole Foods has been flexible in other parts of the country and they can be flexible here," adding that putting smaller scale retail along Fauntleroy (the current plan) is placing them on “the least walking friendly side of this project.”
The groups website, www.gettingitright4ws.org, is broken up into information on the project, testimonials from business owners and citizens opposed to it, a FAQ page and a survey that asks questions like, “What makes West Seattle special to you?” and “What community characteristics do you most value?”
They are also distributing a poster to locally-owned retailers that states, “Make West Seattle Development Work For Everyone.”
Included in the testimonials is that of Bruce McPherson, owner of West Seattle Produce at 4721 Fauntleroy Way S.W. (just east of the proposed project), who is a prime example to the group of a locally-owned businessman who would find it difficult to press on with a Whole Foods located just across the road.
“I’ve been around a while. Many fellow business owners around here are my friends. When we look at this Fauntleroy megaproject, it’s hard not to think of it as a little bit ridiculous,” McPherson wrote on the website. “Maybe more than a little bit. Not only does some far-away developer want to bring in a big box intent on bullying someone like me out of business right away, this megaproject is a traffic and a parking nightmare, on top of the one we already have and that everyone is complaining about. Just ask around. Alone that issue will cost many of us some of our customers. Let’s develop, of course. But let’s be smart and inclusive about it and let’s not kill the local economy in the process.”
On July 23, Getting It Right sent a letter to City Council Transportation Chair (and West Seattle resident) Tom Rasmussen “urging rejection of the Alley Vacation proposed for the Mega-project at Fauntleroy and Alaska,” continuing “….we strongly support the Mayor’s statement of opposition to the proposed transfer of public property to the developers of this mega-block … We are aware that the Seattle City Council has final authority over alley vacations. We urge you as chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee to let the Executive’s decision stand."
The letter (available for download at the top of the story) is signed by 28 local business owners and several union representatives, local religious leaders and residents.
Opposition to the project is not universal. At the past few design review meetings for the Whole Foods project, for example, community members who spoke up were near unanimous in their praise of the plan and public benefits it will provide.
As one commenter at www.westseattleherald.com put it, “Mike McGinn just lost another vote! Many of us here in West Seattle are very much in favor of this development and looking forward to replacing the eyesore of old car lots and gas stations with an attractive mixed use development. Whole Foods has been picked as one of Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” for 16 years in a row and definitely pays more an hour than Trader Joes that already has a home in the same area …”