Business development and neighborhood preservation butted heads on Queen Anne recently when the Queen Anne Community Council (QACC) voted to approve a recommendation that Aegis Living obtain a rezone permit when developing its new facility at the corner of Galer Street and Third Avenue West.
Aegis Living – an assisted living franchise – sought to build a new facility that is four stories tall, instead of the currently permitted three stories – a difference of 10 feet.
The QACC decision will be considered by the City of Seattle, which frequently honors the decisions of community councils. If city officials agree to the building permits, work on the new facility is expected to begin in 2013.
The new development would be a four-story structure that would house about 66 assisted living bedrooms. The building would measure about 41,000 square feet. It would also include underground parking for 23 cars.
Neighbors of the proposed project expressed continued frustration at the QACC meeting on March 7 over their concerns that the project will impact pedestrian safety and increase traffic conditions. They were also wary of setting a precedent for raising the height requirements on zoning permits.
Neighbor Richard Gordon said that a neighborhood petition against the rezoning had amassed about 200 signatures. But he was concerned the QACC was ignoring the will of the people in the area.
“We are not opposing the Aegis project being built,” said Richard Gordon, a neighbor who expressed his concerns during the 30-minute segment for public comments. “It might not be exactly what I would wish for across the street from me, but you know, they have a right to develop their property. But do it with current zoning, three stories, and with adequate parking in the neighborhood, and with the site of entrance on Galer [Street] so it doesn’t ruin Third Avenue West.”
Gordon spoke to Martin Kaplan, the chair of QACC’s Land Use Review Committee (LURC), saying that local residents were not being represented in the process and that he hoped the committee would consider their position. LURC had already voted in favor of the project.
“[Martin Kaplan] told us at the last LURC meeting, ‘don’t worry about contract rezones! They are very rare.’ But we come to a LURC meeting and learned that 52 contract rezones have been approved by Seattle,” Gordon said. “They are being handed out like candy.”
Aegis representatives, during their portion of the meeting, claimed that having to restrict the facility to three stories would not be fair. The presenter of Aegis’ plan, Matt Rowe, said that buildings surrounding the site were taller than three stories. This was a matter of equality, he said.
“We want to be equal” with the surrounding buildings, Roewe stated, using PowerPoint slides and artistic projected images of what the area would look like with the new facility.
Roewe discussed how the rezoning would benefit the community, along with preserving nearby trees and other aspects of the property.
“There have been 40-foot tall Cyprus trees [in the area] which have been determined by the city’s arborist as significant,” he said, “So he’s asked us to preserve them. We’d like to get rid of them, but since he’s determined them as important, we are going to keep them.”
Roewe said he would work with the community and SDOT (Seattle Department of Transportation) to fix the sidewalks, resolve traffic issues, and improve landscapes and streetscapes. He offered to meet with community members and ultimately contribute to “Picture-perfect Queen Anne.
He said the development, along with the creation of additional parking spots at the facility would be a strong ‘benefit package’ to the community.
“We wouldn’t ask for something without giving something back,” Roewe said.
When Michael Derr, vice president of Aegis Living was asked before the meeting if the extra story would generate more profit for Aegis, Derr said he didn’t have any numbers.
“We don’t have an exact figure for [the increased profit]” said Derr. “The average rent for an average unit is hard to pin down because we have regular studios, large studios, one bedrooms, two bedrooms. We also have different levels of care.”
Near the end of the meeting, Kaplan said he was discouraged by how the neighbors have attacked LURC, which he described as “hurtful,” given how LURC had been serving the community for decades.
Kaplan also said he was offended by neighbors’ assertions that LURC had “buddied up” with big business and was not being responsive to the wishes of the community.
This debate has been ongoing for months. Prior to the early March meeting, passionate emails had been passed to and from neighbors, QACC and LURC members and Aegis representatives.
Neighbors asked LURC and Aegis, how would a rezone benefit the community. Neighbors also questioned the ingenuity of Aegis architects, Rowe and Derr, who had not been responding to emails, had not made themselves available to the community as previously promised, and were slow to provide the details about the benefits of the project.
In the emails, neighbors complained that Aegis’ argument that they were at a “height disadvantage” was not compelling. The fact that they wanted to add another floor reflected desire to increase revenue– not for reasons regarding equality, they asserted.
Neighbors also wrote how, if businesses were allowed to rezone, new residential parking zones (RPZ) might be triggered, which would potentially affect local businesses which would not be able to afford having to pay for parking in front of their own facilities.
Neighbor Koltin Stratiner wrote in an email that the entrance to the parking garage should be moved from Third Avenue West to West Galer Street, since the entrance on Third would create more traffic and create a safety hazard for pedestrians who are patrons of nearby schools and churches.
Aegis responded that the facility would have more parking spaces than the neighborhood has currently, thus adding a valuable resource.
Gordon countered that the plan at first would provide “190 parking spaces”. But in the meeting, that number was corrected to 20 additional parking spaces.
Gordon and others said they were concerned Aegis wasn’t telling the truth or didn’t know for sure what would happen.