A news blog for Seattle's Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods


100 people attend Fred Meyer presentation

July 10th, 2009 · Comments

About 100 people packed the Phinney Center’s Community Hall Thursday night to get a closer look at Fred Meyer’s plans to replace its current store and the Greenwood Market with a Fred Meyer supercenter.

Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce President Steve Giliberto moderated the meeting, and opened by saying that we need to make sure we’re looking at this project from a long-term perspective. “This project will affect the neighborhood for the next few generations,” he said.

As we previously reported when FM first presented its proposal to a Chamber meeting last month, the $77 million project – covering more than eight acres from 85th to 87th and 1st to 3rd – will include a huge, one-story Fred Meyer; an 800-stall, three-story parking garage with three stories of residential on top (along 87th St.); 40-50 parking spots on the roof next to the garden center, (this space is also “programmable,” meaning it could be closed to parking and opened up to a community event like a farmers market); two stories of residential units along 85th and 3rd; about 20,000 square feet of retail space for tenants other than FM; open space near the main entrance along 1st Ave. NW. and a tiny pocket park adjacent to the bus stop on 85th.

This is the proposed main entrance to Fred Meyer along 1st Ave., with open space, ground level retail and residential on top.

Tom Gibbons, director of real estate development for Fred Meyer, said he has been working on this project since 1997, the longest he has ever worked on a single project. He said when Fred Meyer builds a new store, it usually takes far less time and money than this project has, which has brought out numerous voices from the neighborhood as Greenwood grapples with its urban village designation and problematic zoning. “Kroger says they could build six Kroger stores for the cost of this one Fred Meyer site,” Gibbons said of FM’s parent company.

Members of the Greenwood Community Council (GCC) and the Greater Greenwood Design and Development Advocacy Group (GG.DDAG) are trying to have more of a symbiotic relationship with the FM design team. They’re not only meeting with FM on a regular basis to try to get Fred Meyer to design the project more to the neighborhood’s needs and wants, but they’re also working on getting the city council to rezone the entire site. The problem is that the site is currently zoned C1-40 – that’s a commercial designation that encourages big box stores that are 40 feet high. The GCC wants it rezoned as Neighborhood Commercial with a 65 foot height limit. NC zoning requires density, walkability – and a whole lot more character.

For example, when Fred Meyer presented its first plan, it was simply a great big box. The building “turned its back on the neighborhood” with 25-foot-high walls with no windows and just one entrance, GG.DDAG Chair Evan Bourquard said. “We’ve come a long way from where we were six months ago,” he said, but added that his group still has quite a few concerns.

As did a number of people in the audience. “We have a place for big box retail. It’s called Aurora,” one man said.

GGLO Architect Ted Panton said he understands the neighborhood’s concerns and is not just professionally attached to the project. “Like all of you, I have skin in the game here. It’s my neighborhood, too.”

Several people, including Greenwood business owners, expressed concern about the other retail space, wondering whether it was the size and configuration that a storefront business needs, and worried that it would simply add to the empty retail spots at several new developments in the neighborhood. Gibbons responded that Fred Meyer has a number of national retail clients who follow them into all their developments because they do well there. That then prompted concerns about national retailers pushing out local retailers.

Some people said they wanted the development to be less than 65 feet high, but developer Bruce Lorig said that would reduce the amount of residential units, making the project unfeasible. (Only the back portion of the development with the parking garage and residential units would be close to 65 feet high. The southwest corner would be closer to 30 feet high.)

GG.DDAG is actually advocating for even more density, which Bourquard said would support all Greenwood businesses by bringing more shoppers and clients right to their door.

Another man suggested integrating the housing more with the urban plaza in the center of the space. He wanted “more eyes on these spaces” at all times. “How do you activate this, how do you keep this alive at all hours of the day?”

A member of the audience explains his ideas for open space to the GGLO architects.

One complicating factor is the peat bog that much of downtown Greenwood is built on. A number of people at the meeting expressed serious concern that their houses would be damaged if the water table is affected by building in the peat bog, as happened when the Safeway on Greenwood and 87th was built several years ago. FM has hired consultants to help them work through that process with the city.

Former Greenwood Community Council President Kate Martin said she’s very concerned about sinking the parking garage 15 feet into the bog. “Let’s respect the bog,” she said.

“This area is spongy,” Giliberto added with a laugh. “We’re putting a lot of concrete onto this spongy area.”

Lorig explained that the bog extends partially under the northeast side of the project, but that the majority of the project site is actually sand.

GGLO Principal Chris Libby, Developer Bruce Lorig, GGLO Project Manager Ted Panton and Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce President Steve Giliberto.

One nearby homeowner said he was assured his house would be fine when the Safeway was built. “I’m saying ‘bull.’ I had to spend quite a bit of money fixing my house,” he said. He wanted to know who was financially accountable if something happened to his house because the groundwater level in the bog was affected.

Giliberto ended the meeting by saying that he hoped 50 years from now, future generations of Greenwood residents would say, “They did the right thing.”

Fred Meyer’s next step is to present its proposal to the city’s Design Review Board at its Early Design Guidance Meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Ballard High School.

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  1. Austin King says:

    Great write-up! I have a really hard time following the who/what/when of Greenwood-Phinney events like the Early Design Guidance Meeting.

    I’ve created a Group on Upcoming to track this and future meetings relating to phinneywood development (Fred Meyer, Sidewalks, etc)

    Feed free to add events and send them to this group.

  2. Seattlejo says:

    Thanks for the great write-up. I’ve linked to it from the Greenwood Blog and of course added my thoughts.

  3. james says:

    yes, great post here. very informative.

    i’m all for responsible development but can anyone look at these plans and honestly say it fits in to the phinney/greenwood neighborhood or will enhance the neighborhood in any way? look around. it looks more like bellevue than seattle.

    very disappointing.

  4. jm says:

    Looks like a huge improvement over the existing drabness. Bring it on!

  5. James says:

    what i would like to see is smaller, more intimate. so not one buliding that takes up the same amount of space as three football fields — plus housing on top.

    and not 8 acres of unimaginatively designed, cookie-cutter, townhouses that at the ground floor will have shops like the Gap, etc.

    i travel through redmond/bellevue every day and the drawings look exactly like every single new, poorly planned “mixed-use” development that’s popped up there in the past 10 years.

    if we want greenwood/phinney to look/feel just like every area on the eastside, then this is the paln to support. if we want a neighborhood with it’s own charm & feel, then we may want to push for alternatives.

    the “at least it’s not one big ugly box” isn’t the bar we should be measuring this development against.

  6. Matt says:

    I for one don’t totally hate the plan. I like that they’re hiding the parking garage behind townhouses, and that the tallest structure (the 3 stories of apts on top of the 3-story parking garage) is set back from the edge a bit (behind the townhouses). I also like the fact that overall, there are paths through the area (across the lid, etc.), and that for cars they dead-end, but for pedestrians continue through. I also liked that the FM store was mostly hidden, and that there’s provision for other small retail.

    I wasn’t totally sold on the 85th/1st retail being street-facing only and presenting a faceless back to the garden center mixed-use parking, but that wasn’t a huge thing for me.

    I didn’t really like that it looked like the FM store only has a single entrance; I’d prefer to see at least a couple like the Ballard store has (not sure how feasible that is with this design).

    I tried to get a feel for how big the largest part (parking garage/apts at the NE corner) would be. I stood across from the Sedges’ open field and kind of eyeballed.. it seemed large, but not immensely huge, especially given the partial setback (and the fact that they’re talking about wider sidewalks on 1st & 87th).

    Overall, I think it’s great that FM is working so hard to try to get their plan to work with what they think the community wants. If the single large box store is inevitable, this is certainly a much better way to do it than anything else I’ve heard about or seen.

  7. Seattlejo says:

    James, I’m curious about what you would like to see? What looks more Seattle.

    My concern last night was that Tom kept talking about “tenants who follow FM around and want to put stores in the same development” I’d prefer to see more unique properties instead of the same old FM and its vendors.

  8. christy says:

    I normally don’t like that suburban style development look either, but in this case, I’m not sure we can do much better. The existing space is just blight–it’s awful, it stinks up that whole stretch of 85th and doesn’t do anything to encourage good development of nearby properties that are now trash strewn vacant lots. This is the style that developers are building in now and this is SO much better than what’s there. If anyone had any ideas for a better looking development, with more character, that would be great to pass on to the GCC and FM, but I don’t think we can just say “we don’t like it” without proposing a better idea–I’m afraid that we’ll end up with the status quo, which is just awful.

    And yes, it would be nice if unique, locally owned shops went in the extra retail space. But there’s not exactly a glut of local business owners dying for more retail space.

  9. MonkeyPilot says:

    I agree, the project could certainly stand to be improved upon. But as christy says, the current blight is pretty bad, so even a small improvement is welcome.

    As far as locally-owned shops vs. chains, if you look around Seattle, there aren’t too many chain stores of any type. This seems like just a part of the Seattle aesthetic. And if few enough customers patronize them, they will go away.

  10. Bella says:

    And unfortunately, the more “unique” the project is, the more expensive it gets. It sounds like they are already spending a ginormous amount of $$ on this, how much more can you reasonably expect?
    While the plan may not be PERFECT, it certainly will be an improvement that should revitalize the area, which would be GOOD.
    It will be nice to have some nice, new clean, fresh buildings here.

  11. Seattlejo says:

    You have a good point Bella. Part of me worries that this won’t work out, FM will decide to do something else and we’ll be left with another property like the unrented property across the street or a an empty lot like Lelani Lanes is.

  12. Josh says:

    It will look great. The current setting is a dump. Fix it.

  13. Fnarf says:

    “if you look around Seattle, there aren’t too many chain stores of any type” — huh? Don’t get out much, do you? Seattle is overrun with chain stores, outside of certain very small historic shopping areas, one of which this project will probably obliterate.


    And the people who come up with these charming little watercolors that supposedly depict these industrial monstrosities should have their hands cut off. IT’S NOT GOING TO LOOK LIKE THAT.

    Can’t wait for the tanning salon and cellphone vendor and check-cashing joint to move in, to complete the Giant Neighborhood-Eating Freddy effect. Ballard, anyone? Do you want the Ballard FM in your neighborhood? Regardless of whether they paint it trendy “Craftsman” colors or not?

    This thing is about as welcome as a toxic waste dump.

  14. James says:

    I would argue that plenty of alternative ideas have been proposed but FM & Co. aren’t interested in them — so it’s not a case of “well, there’s no other ideas so this will do”. I think that misrepresents what the past 10 years have been about.

    It’s more a case of a property & business owner who are only willing to go so far in addressing the community needs. But that doesn’t mean we should settle for less bad.

  15. Elly says:

    Just wanted to jump in with a quick note to say I actually like the plan pretty well. It’s not perfect, but it never will be, never could be. I live within a block of this. This is a vast improvement over what is already there, and light years ahead of past proposals. I’m pleased that they are willing to invest as much as they are planning for a very different type of store than they’ve had in the past.

  16. Nater says:

    Fnarf is right: IT IS TOO BIG.

    It is simply the wrong size and scale for a neighborhood like Greenwood.

    If we don’t like what the current site looks like, we should be advocating for something that will look better, and function better, for the next 50 years, not a poorly hidden big box store ringed by (ew!) “national chains.”

    800 parking stalls?!? In a small neighborhood retail center?!? We need to fix this zoning anomaly, and the landowners need to find a new development plan that won’t sink the neighborhood and wipe out our community character.

  17. jm says:

    Greenwood community character: shabby and grubby.

  18. Iron City Mike says:

    For the haters – reality is, choices for that area are 1. vacant lot, 2. big box store, 3. new mixed use development being proposed. I’m all for option 3. In ideal world that block would be filled with local retailers and fairy dust, but there arent enough of them to go around. If there were, there wouldnt already be some many vacnat lots/storefronts on 85th. Only potential downside I see is the increased traffic at the already busy Greenwood and 85th intersection.

  19. PhinneyRidgian says:

    I’m surprised that no one but Iron City Mike has come up with one of the most obvious problems with this development. Here we have yet another high density project, that will, if successful, generate a lot of business to one small area, hence a lot of traffic. Is anything being done to ease what is going to be an incredible traffic headache? 85th is already unpleasant at “rush hour”. This is going to turn it into an all day rush hour, between business and apartment dwellers. And is the sewer system going to be changed, enlarged, adapted to handle all of the new townhouses, or is this project going to tax an already overburdened system?

  20. PhinneyRidgian says:

    One last thought: We should be calling a spade a spade. This isn’t Fred Meyer anymore, it’s the giant megacorp, Kroger. Telling us that basically, we should be grateful that we’re getting all this attention, because they could build 6 stores with what they’re supposedly spending on this one, does not make me feel better about this.

  21. Rob McMurtrie says:

    Ok. Couple points

    – To the “too big” crowd, I say “It’s big now.” Why haven’t all the problems you described been evident already? Adding square footage doesn’t seem to be the problem as much as adding square footage to accommodate grocery (and, according to doomsayers, killing Greenwood Market). FM is talking about a 50-year lease so unless you think FM is financially troubled, this space will be occupied until the site needs redevelopment.
    – As to the other 20,000 sq. ft., I think it’s hard to make any assessment right now. There SHOULD BE a lot of vacant store frontage in the neighborhood given we’re in the worst recession in 80 years and consumer spending is way down. I’d be shocked if there wasn’t a lot of vacant stores.

    – Why all the hatred of national chains? Many “chains” are actually locally owned and run franchises. While I don’t want a Safeway and Sears on every corner, I’m not sure having national chains in the neighborhood ruins everything (witness Greenwood Market/Ken’s Market vs. Safeway; Bartell’s vs. Walgreen’s; McDonald’s vs. every local eatery; Tully’s vs. every local coffee shop). In fact, they can provide a lot of stability in times like these because they tend to be well capitalized vs. small businesses. I’d like someone in the anti-FM camp to point out their ideal neighborhood in Seattle – i.e. one without a “national chain” that also functions well.

    – At some point Kroger is going to give up on this site and look elsewhere. Then, we’ll have a beautiful empty building for the next 50 years. Yay! That’s the kind of development I want in the neighborhood.

    – Traffic concerns can be alleviated by making 3 lanes of 85th one-way in the west bound direction from the freeway to 8th Ave NW (with one lane east bound for local access only) and all lanes of 80th one-way in the east bound direction from 8th Ave NW to the freeway.

  22. MonkeyPilot says:

    @Fnarf: I’m not sure what chains you’re talking about exactly. The ones lining Aurora perhaps? A while ago, my wife and I received a gift certificate to the Olive Garden. Since one at Northgate closed, the nearest one is in Shoreline- exactly none in Seattle. That’s just one example. Even the McDonald’s (now closed) was an aberration. The fact is, most chain stores & restaurants exist outside of the city. So I’m not sure what you mean when you say it’s “overrun” with chains.

    I didn’t see any mention of traffic planning at this meeting. Was there any mention of accomodating the extra congestion? Rob- is that a part of the project proposal, or just a suggestion?

  23. Jason says:

    A couple of notes from where I am sitting:

    – As far as the grumblings on 800 retail parking spaces is concerned, it is better viewed as ~300 residential parking spaces and ~500 retail spaces that should help prevent all of the side streets from being clogged with overflow.

    – Also, the garage is not the element of the proposal being sunk 15 feet, it will be above-ground, masked from the street by housing. It is the store that is going down 15 feet -presumably into a sandier area – though I am skeptical that there will be ‘no’ impact on the bog.

    – Kroger/FM is working with the community to create an environment that is far different from what was created in Ballard – something they didn’t need to do, at a price tag far exceeding their standard business model. I give them some credit for that at least, even if it comes at the cost of them building on a scale large enough for their investment to actually provide a return.

    – if you are concerned about big chains moving in on the coattails of the FM, then don’t shop there and keep shopping at the other local shops that Greenwood has to offer. Though as someone else pointed out, those ‘coattail’ shops are often locally-owned franchises.

    – Not all of those retail outlets are going to be FM affiliates. Hopefully some of them can be diverse businesses that can provide more reasons to visit [and spend money] in our community.

    – I agree with many folks that parking pad in the southeast corner should be a multi-use area, ideally with many ‘eyes’ facing inward towards it, but keep in mind that those spots do feed directly to the retail shops going in on that corner. Events that can extend those shops out into that lot are great, but to remove their close-proximity parking access completely would be a detriment to the space and deterrent for a potential tenant.

    I *am* concerned about the impact on the peat bog, as well as increased traffic congestion, and hope to hear more about this tonight at Ballard High.

    my 2cents for now.

  24. JollyGreen22 says:

    It’s actually a really good idea.
    Why not bring something new and clean on that block? It needs it.

    And it’s not like we would loose all of greenwood.