A look down 15th Avenue West toward the Magnolia Bridge. Whole Foods Market opened a store on the street two years ago. Photo by Ian Ogburn
A look down 15th Avenue West toward the Magnolia Bridge. Whole Foods Market opened a store on the street two years ago. Photo by Ian Ogburn
Preliminary planning to rezone areas along the Interbay Corridor by the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) seems breathtaking to many residents who live near the area, and local businesses would like to see the community put first as the corridor separating Queen Anne Hill and Magnolia undergoes development.

Often called a drive-through area, Interbay has only a handful of residents who actually live there. It was originally a marsh between Salmon Bay and Elliott Bay — hence, the name.

Until recently, longtime businesses like GM Nameplate (2040 15th Ave. W.) and The Alpine Hut (2215 15th Ave. W.) have been the backbone of the business district along the corridor. Miscellaneous industrial, warehouse and retail stores dot the corridor from Fishermen’s Terminal to the north, and the cruise-ship terminal to the south, and 15th Avenue West on the east and 24th Avenue West on the west.

New preliminary plans from the city to retain industrial zoning have been met with opposition from many Queen Anne and Magnolia residents who believe that opening up the corridor for mixed-use would be more plausible.

More opportunities
For years, Interbay has been an area that simply connected Ballard to Downtown Seattle. Most people were too focused on their commute in and out of downtown to stop and shop. Amenities like the Interbay Golf Center (2501 15th Ave. W.) and Smith Cove Park have brought people to the area, but partly because there isn’t enough residential housing, no one seems to stay.

It’s also home to the BNSF Railway Yard, the Port of Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal and the Washington National Guard armory. Known more for its traffic congestion than anything else, Interbay has never been an area of interest for people looking to settle down.

Much of the land in the Interbay area is owned by businesses and organizations like The Freehold Group, but it’s ultimately the DPD’s voice that decides what to use the land for. The DPD has partnered with the Interbay Working Group in preliminary planning for rezoning in the area.

Two weeks ago, preliminary zoning and land-use recommendations from the Ballard-Interbay Land Use Corridor Study were presented to members of the community, stating their goal was to maintain a balance of office, retail and PDR (Production/Distribution Repair) use in the area. The group said that the industrial land close to downtown is a rare asset and unique opportunity for the city. The study highlighted the Dravus Street and Armory areas as the most fruitful.

In the Dravus area, the study described retaining industrial land closest to the BNSF railway track, encouraging local businesses to remain and not allowing further residential expansion. The study also recommended the expansion of the commercial neighborhood area along West Dravus Street by rezoning six parcels of land.

In the Armory area, the study recommends retaining industrial zoning and prohibiting residential use west of 15th Avenue West, reflecting environmental impacts and risks. Much of the ongoing planning for the area will depend on the National Guard and whether it will give up the land to the city for industrial use.

Bruce Wynn, executive director of the Interbay Neighborhood Association, said the study and preliminary planning has not aligned with what the community and local businesses want. He said that there is a lot of opportunity for Interbay, and that industrial rezoning would just make it worse.

“Longtime businesses are concerned about having control over the land they own: Most of them want it for mixed-use, but there’s all these restrictions because of the group that wants it to become industrial,” Wynn said. “The area of concern is development north of Dravus and development on Armory Way. We all kind of feel like we’ve been here before: They pitch a lot of ideas, but it’s more due process than anything.... A lot of people are losing money because they can’t do anything with their land.”

More mixed-use wanted
In the last few years, a retail site has been built along 15th across the street from GM Nameplate that includes a Whole Foods store. It has the characteristics of a strip mall-type area where people can shop at a variety of newer retail stores. But Wynn doesn’t like the idea of Interbay becoming a haven for small, corporate retail shops.

“If the strip mall is the future for Interbay, then that would be a disaster. It just takes up space,” Wynn said.

Whole Foods representatives say its been received with open arms by the community since it opened two years ago.

“It’s a great location, and we’ve had a good opportunity to connect with the community and partner with schools and nonprofits,” said Maura Hardman, marketing and community-relations representative for Whole Foods at Interbay.

Hardman said Whole Foods will continue to try to be a neighborhood grocery store that maintains a good relationship with the community.

One of the main issues community members have with the plan to rezone is its lack of ideas for residential development. The city’s preliminary plans to retain industrial zoning and restrict residential development are the opposite of many residents’ vision for a more mixed-use area that allows for housing and amenities.

“Ideally, what it should be is businesses on the second and third floors of buildings and cafes and bars on street level,” Wynn said. “With shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and then people above them that work there, you make the neighborhood exciting and vitalizing.”

But there is hope for people who wish to move to the area as it begins to expand. Slate Apartments & Lofts will open a housing project at the end of the year near West Dravus that will provide 236 units for potential residents, and another project is proposed for construction at a South Interbay site once considered for the monorail.

Kyle Fisher, owner of the longtime family-run ski Alpine Hut, a ski and cycle shop, said that he thinks Interbay is a potentially great area for people to live and work and that rezoning for industrial use is the wrong direction for the neighborhood. He said he would love to see the 15th Avenue corridor turn into a place like Dexter Avenue, where local businesses thrive.

“I don’t really see a positive in making the neighborhood more industrial,” Fisher said. “Interbay is already flourishing, and we want to perpetuate the community, not the commercial and industrial.”

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