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Fred Meyer presents building plans to packed Chamber meeting

The controversial plan to replace the current Fred Meyer on 85th Street with a much larger store, including groceries, along with other retail and hundreds of residential units, was presented to the Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast meeting this morning.
Chamber meetings usually attract 20-30 people; today’s meeting had about 50. About 10 of those were associated with the Fred Meyer project, including architects, developers and public relations folks. The meeting was mostly civil, at times contentious, and at the very end devolved into a bit of incivility between two parties, before Chamber President Steve Giliberto cut them off and reminded everyone that the project was going to happen no matter what, and it was in everyone’s best interest to respectfully guide the outcome.

When we first reported on the project back in April, the initial proposal was for a big-box super center that would take over most of the space between 85th and 87th streets, and 1st and 3rd avenues, including the spot currently occupied by Greenwood Market.
While that is essentially still the case, architects at the firm GGLO have substantially redesigned the project to have much more of an urban village feel. The majority of Fred Meyer itself would be underground, with space for other retail tenants and 200-300 residential units above ground. The picture below is the view from 85th Street looking north.

Project planners stressed that these drawings are very preliminary and simply represent general ideas. They are so preliminary, in fact, that they are not yet providing the public or media with digital files or paper copies of the drawings. (I took these pictures of the drawings with my cell phone camera.)
Greenwood Shopping Center Inc., which owns a substantial portion of the land of downtown Greenwood, proposes giving Fred Meyer a 50-year lease for the site.
Depending on the final design, the Fred Meyer would be about 160,000-170,000 square feet (Fred Meyer says their Ballard store is approximately 200,000 square feet). Another 20,000 square feet would be retail for other tenants.
Fred Meyer hopes to start construction in late 2011 or early 2012; construction would take 18-24 months.
Geology plays an interesting role in the project, because of the Greenwood Bog and a grade change of 15 feet from 85th to 87th streets. Many nearby residents say development of the Safeway at 87th and Greenwood caused a permanent change to the hydration of the bog and ground, which made their houses, sidewalks and traffic circles sink several feet.
The plans call for excavating somewhat at the 87th Street end, where a three-story parking garage would be situated, with the project leveling out to street level by 85th Street.
If they can get a variance from the 40-foot height limit from the city, they’ll put residential units on top of that parking garage. (Current drawings show about 270 residential units.) Retail space for other tenants would buffer the view of parking from the 85th Street side. Cars would enter from three places: 85th St, 87th St., and 1st Ave.
A pedestrian plaza would be at the intersection of 1st Avenue and Morrow Lane, the new driving/pedestrian-friendly European-inspired road that winds through The Sedges at Piper Village, an apartment complex on the other side of 1st Avenue (and is also owned by Greenwood Shopping Center Inc.)

1st Avenue remains, but the architects hope to add traffic calming features, possibly different colored pavers, that would slow down traffic. Bike racks would be sprinkled throughout the site. There would be numerous sets of stairs for access to the site.
“This is a very exciting and innovative project,” GGLO Principal Chris Libby said. “It’s nothing like anything Fred Meyer has done before. We tried, through the design, to keep it as walkable and pedestrian friendly as we can.”
Parking also would be available on “the lid” by the Garden Center, as a loading area. But Ted Panton, project manager for GGLO, says that is a “programmable site,” where they can kick out the cars and use that area for a farmers market or other non-car use at various times. The picture below shows the Garden Center near the middle, with parking areas directly south and southwest.

The residential units fronting 3rd Avenue could be designed in the traditional East Coast style of front stoops set back a little from the sidewalk. The units fronting 87th would be walk-up flats.
Some people today seemed relieved that the current plans are much better than what had been previously presented. Others, however, were disgusted.
“Where do I start?” said Kate Martin, immediate past president of the Greenwood Community Council and a neighborhood activist who has worked on this project for the last seven years. Martin said it’s a better design than before, but it’s not even close to the “wonderful, walkable downtown Greenwood that really sets us free from car reliance.”
Tom Gibbons, director of real estate development for Fred Meyer, stressed that Fred Meyer is not a regional draw, but attracts customers who live within a one to three-mile radius of the store. Gibbons said while Fred Meyer would normally like to see more than the 800 parking stalls proposed in this plan, they realize the neighborhood wouldn’t support that.
Several people in the audience thought the proposed 800 parking stalls for the store and residential units were far too many, especially since the city wants to encourage transit use. They’d like to see less parking but better bus service. A better bus stop for the #48, which runs along 85th St., is incorporated into the design.
“This is such a wonderful plan compared to what was presented by Fred Meyer before,” Ed Medeiros, executive director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, said, although he’s still worried about traffic on 85th Street and would like to see less parking on the lid by the Garden Center and more of a plaza area up there.
Neighborhood resident and business owner Abby Brockway said she was sad that Greenwood Market would have to go, because it’s very community-oriented in having neighborhood barbecues and getting involved. She said she had no idea if Fred Meyer gave money to the community or not, and said they need to do a better job putting a community face forward.
“Change is inevitable and it’s really unfortunate that Greenwood Market has to go,” Gibbons said. “Everybody’s watching this. It’s gotta work.”
Evan Bourquard, an architect and volunteer member of the Greater Greenwood Design and Development Advocacy Group, told me after the meeting that his group will write a memo in response to today’s presentation. As soon as we get it, we’ll post it here on PhinneyWood.
And nearby resident Austin King wrote his own blog post about today’s meeting, which really boils down a number of issues that people are concerned about.
Here’s a brief summary of positive points provided by Fred Meyer and its p.r. staff:

  • The new Fred Meyer will employ about 300 people, almost triple the current number.
  • Sixty-percent of current Greenwood Fred Meyer employees live within two miles of the store.
  • Fred Meyer will offer priority consideration to Greenwood Market employees when the market closes.
  • Wages range from 10 cents above minimum wage to $14.60 per hour, with some specialty positions such as meat cutters as high as $21.90 an hour.
  • The $77 million project will employ more than 200 construction workers for more than 400,000 hours of labor.
  • All Seattle-area Fred Meyer employees are members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 or the Teamsters Local 117.
  • Sales tax revenue of the new store is projected to be more than $4 million in its first year.