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.