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April 22, 2014

West Seattle complex wins alley vacation; construction starts in July

Journal Staff Reporter

Courtesy Weber Thompson [enlarge]
The mid-block connector in The Whittaker will have two-way car traffic, loading areas for trucks and sidewalks for pedestrians.

Lennar Multifamily Communities and Weingarten Realty Investors are preparing to start construction in July on a mixed-use apartment project in West Seattle that has been controversial because of an alley vacation.

The City Council voted 6-3 on Monday to vacate the alley for the six-story, 389-unit project at 4755 Fauntleroy Way S.W. The project will have 68,000 square feet of retail, including a Whole Foods Market.

Brad Reisinger, Lennar Multifamily Communities' Pacific Northwest division president, said the first units will be done in March 2016, and the whole complex will be done in August 2016.

Lennar is the apartment developer, and Houston-based Weingarten will do the retail.

Vacating the alley will allow Lennar to put a mid-block connector between two new buildings on the site, which currently has two alleys. The north-south alley will remain and be improved, and the other will be relocated away from the busy intersection of Southwest Alaska Street and Fauntleroy to become the connector. It will have sidewalks, two-way vehicle lanes and loading areas for trucks.

Weber Thompson is the project architect. Reisinger said his firm is negotiating with a local general contractor but has not yet reached a deal. Weisman Design Group is the landscape architect, and KPFF Consulting Engineers did structural and civil engineering.

Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien voted against the alley vacation.

Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn had urged the Seattle Department of Transportation to reject the vacation because he said the project failed to provide the required public benefits. McGinn's objection was related to Whole Foods' use of nonunion labor.

SDOT supported the final plan for the alley vacation.

Reisinger said complaints about wages and nonunion labor had nothing to do with the development itself, just the retail tenant. He said a developer's job is to respond to city rules and regulations, but the debate over public benefits came up midway through the review process.

“When the rules are somewhat undefined it becomes problematic for us to plan and execute a project,” he said.

Lennar and Weingarten will pay market value for the alley and are offering a public benefits package they value at more than $2.4 million. It includes wider sidewalks, landscaping around street parking, underground utilities, seating areas and plazas, a new bike lane and weather protection for pedestrians. Reisinger said without the alley vacation, these benefits would not have been offered.

The project is named The Whittaker to honor former REI president and CEO Jim Whittaker, who is a West Seattle resident and was the first American to summit Mount Everest.

Miami-based Lennar is one of the largest home builders in the nation and opened an apartment division a couple of years ago.

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