Gwen Davis
The Weingarten/Whittaker/Whole Foods project slated for 4755 Fauntleroy Way S.W. finally got the sign off by the Seattle City Council on April 21.

Weingarten Megaproject wins: city council says yes

By Gwen Davis

On Mon. April 21, the Seattle City Council voted to approve the Weingarten Megaproject’s alley vacation, 3-6.

The developers, Lennar Multifamily Communities & Weingarten Realty, will now build the Whittaker/Whole Foods project, once the building permits for the project pass (which are expected to meet city guidelines.)
Councilmembers Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant voted no.

A long history
This issue has been vexing West Seattle residents for months.
The alley vacation at the West Seattle Junction – covering most of the block at Fauntleroy between Alaska and Edmunds – will allow the developer to build a mixed-use development. The facility will include a Whole Foods, along with 370 apartments and 650 parking spaces.

According to city law, if someone wants to take ownership of a piece of public property – such as in this case – they must pay the city for the land, and agree to build a project that will benefit the public.
The debate began in the 2013 mayoral race when then-Mayor Mike McGinn rejected the developer’s request, since Whole Foods did not offer adequate wages and benefits, he said.
McGinn argued that wages and benefits should be part of the definition of “public benefit”, and therefore the developer did not meet the criteria.

However, the proposal had many proponents, including strong support from Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.

Rasmussen argued the facility would be a nicer entryway to West Seattle than what currently stands. Previous neighborhood planning called for a large-scale development at the area, he said, and this project would also provide improved access to the area, as well as better pedestrian convenience and safety.

The councilmember noted that the developer would additionally build a midblock connector to provide a pedestrian walkway through the project, as well as deliver landscaping, street art, furniture and hundreds of apartment units and underground parking slots.

The council said the value of public improvements around the project totals over $2.4 million, which does not even include the cost of the alleyway.

The alleyway cost still needs to be set by the city.

Deep concerns
Opponents expressed frustration. Some said this exchange would set a precedent for Whole Foods and other national franchises to easily invite themselves into communities that already have popular small businesses, thus forcing the small businesses out.

Deb Barker, a West Seattle resident and former design review board member said the developer came up with an original plan, but throughout the entire reviewing process with the Southwest Design Review Board (SWDRB) and the Seattle Design Commission, the plan did not significantly change, illustrating the developer’s cheap efforts.

Additionally, the project did not provide a suitable entrance, she said. This junction is what people will automatically see when driving to West Seattle, but it won’t look nice. Barker also noted that pedestrians will not be safe, contrary to what the developer claimed.
Opponents questioned whether this project would truly be of public benefit. Residents asked for a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) with the developer to establish terms and benefits accruing to the community from the transfer.

In early April, opponents, including Deb Barker, wrote a letter addressed to Rasmussen stating detailed concerns (which can be found at westseattleherald.com)
The opposition was also led by “Getting it Right for West Seattle” a coalition of West Seattle businesses, residents and workers.

We have enough grocery stores here, we don't need another,” said Marco Antonio West Seattle resident. “[We have a] Trader Joes, QFC, two Safeways, a PCC and Metro Market all within a few miles,” he said. “We have enough plus enough traffic. No more gentrification, please.”

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